April 14, 2024

How do you shit?

by Cristóbal

Bardamu, fleeing from the policeman’s gaze, sinks into the submerged Metró restrooms of New York City. Unlike the gaunt looks on the surface, he sees—

Such free-and-easy intimacy, such extraordinary intestinal familiarity, and up on the street such perfect restraint. It left me stunned.

Sudden outburst of digestive vulgarity. Discovery of a joyous shitting communism.

Céline channels Rabelais. He brings forth the scatological—not death, as the esch” is barred, but excrement, feces, and shit. The etymological co-incidence is certainly not coincidence, but here we will remain vulgar. We’re told by Screech that Pantagruel was read aloud to François I for himself to judge as orthodox. Perhaps in Renaissance literature the signifier had not yet detached itself from nature. To talk about shit was the same as talking about a tree, a matter-of-fact.

But all this vulgar discussion is not without reason. Today, shitting remains as part of our backstage (along with private thoughts, periods, and pornography). We do it behind close doors and eliminate all traces of the activity, as fully as possible. Indeed, mammals have evolved separate tracts for reproduction and digestion. Rabelais has no such prudishness.

It is from the cloaca that life emerges, indistinguishable from waste. Digestive, reproductive, and urinary tracts are combined. Gombrowicz remarks that Rabelais writes the way a child pees against a tree, in order to relieve himself”. In his novel, we’re told that it is during the prosperous Year of Fat Medlars, when legs, shoulders, backs, bullocks, and cocks swell, that giants (Pantagruel) and jesters (Panurge) are born.

In some it was their bellies that swelled up, and those bellies grew as convex as fat barrels. Of them it is written, Almighty and Everlasting Guts. [They were all fine folk and good jesters.] From that stock were born Saint Paunch and Mardi Gras.

Rather than an explicit moment of anti-structure, Rabelais sees life as always about digestion, reproduction, and death. The soil of the earth is fertilized by excrement. From ripeness grows clownish humor, countering the foolosophers” seriousness. Today, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Karl Ove begins his autobiographical struggle with such a reflection—

There are few things that arouse in us greater distaste than to a see a human being caught up in [death], at least if we are to judge by the efforts we make to keep corpses out of sight. […] We know this is how it is, but we do not want to face it. Hence the collective act of repression symbolized by the concealment of our dead. What exactly it is that is being repressed, however, is not so easy to say.

What exactly is being repressed? You can shine light on these dim, moist interstices between the cheeks in the most banal way—ask your friends.

How do you shit?
Only at home, or in public restrooms?
In the morning, or when the urge swells?
Feet flat, or on their tips?
Elbows resting on the knees? Arms wrapped in an embrace?
Is your phone in hand?
Do you crumple or fold the toilet paper?
Fold in half or in thirds?
Do you wipe from back-to-front, or front-to-back?
Squatting, or one leg lifted?
Left or right leg?
After wiping, do you look?
Until it’s white… Or red?
Into the trash or down the toilet?
Or perhaps, a bidet?
Will a shower do instead?
Does it feel dirty?

The variety and inconsistency of responses with regards to shitting, a most banal of tasks, should point you towards a latent instability under the veil of order and modernity. What seems normal to one, is revolting to the other. Unable to be folded into into our common narratives, barred by moralizing demands, reality intrudes where it can. Bataille, The Accursed Share

For if we do not have the force to destroy the surplus energy ourselves, it cannot be used, and, like an unbroken animal that cannot be trained, it is this energy that destroys us; it is we who pay the price of the inevitable explosion.

carnival rabelais anti-structure shit

April 13, 2024

Creatine doesn’t grow from the meadow and heather, but cows sure do


“Are God and Nature then at strife,

That Nature lends such evil dreams?

So careful of the type she seems,

So careless of the single life;”

This brings us neatly back to those genes that act as if they have more creatine than their partnered, within-organism genes, seem to be able to produce. Something is creating a high-creatine environment for humans and only humans. While humans have a varied diet and many animals which huddle both literally and in the Goffmanian sense close by our sides, for immediate argument that something is, more or less, cows. And cows to some extent appear to chemically leash the growth, health, emotional well being, and grip strength of humans!

Cows, or at least cows as a host for a collection of creatine-producing genes that can be imagined acting at cross purposes to cows as organisms, appear to be creating an unnaturally high-creatine environment through meat and dairy calories. To me, this looks like a very palpable example of an ecological huddling’ or sensory proximity’ of different agents with neither entirely friendly nor entirely rivalrous goals.

(An important aside: We aren’t our genes, and cows aren’t cows’ genes either. Just as humans do not want to become weaker in the upper arm or less certain in our contemplation as we eat fewer animals, cows do not want to be eaten. It is not an apology for human diet or predation patterns to sketch up a metabolic ledger’ which suggests a group of human cellular genes expect the products’ (carnivorous predation of the tissues containing) of cow genes. This aside itself is not meant to condemn nor approve of human predation, the LCT gene, animal suffering, or biology itself.)

The surprising intensity of creatine (in the human environment) does not, of course, need to manifest itself through a supernaturally high molecular concentration of creatine in human-domesticated animals, designated here through the metonym of cows, for there to be a dialogue between genes in two different species of organisms. Creatine, after all, is needed by humans in such an abundance that the human gut cannot absorb all of their daily needs in a single meal. This rules out genetic coalitions where one organism produces ten times the typical tissue concentration of a vital chemical to control the metabolic allowance of another organism.

This leaves relatively few options for a group of genes to be preyed-upon by a partner organism with a frequency and intensity sufficient to remain huddled’ with those genes which anticipate and consume a metabolite. Smelling so good that your predator cannot help but burrow into your body and form a nest is a strong strategy here, and allows permanent rivalrous capture of your proximate organism. But bones struggle to grow as wide as tree trunks, Plantae has boviforms beat in both environmental energy capture and making enticing weird smells, and humans (for now) doggedly resist selective pressure to shrink down to the centimeter scale while still clearing entire continents of predators and sowing entire latitudes with the preferred diet of the cow.

worldwide cow ranges

The tentative and partial answer is milk and milk’s meat. The specifics of where milk comes from do not need to be fully described here, but the canny reader will suspect that for there to be a surplus of a mother’s milk, there must be a deficit in children surviving to weaning age. Thus a faster pace of predation and a closer ecological huddling.

male dairy cows are less valuable to farmers

Regardless. Until and without the total conquest of man by cow, it is not possible to isolate the loss of creatine transcription factors to a specific ecological interaction with a specific organism. The genes in predator and prey are ecologically huddled’ the tightest after the death of the host of one gene complex, and the metabolite the gene complex supplies reaches the senses’ of the predator’s cells after the metabolite-synthesizing nuclei have long stopped transcribing. Strong ecological coupling can then be expected to only furnish hazy proof of interaction, unless the chemical leashing’ are so irreversible that one, or perhaps both, species are forced into a Goffmanian rivalry so extreme that extinction, speciation, or total symbiotic-parasitic capture destroys the previous ecological relationship.

This does not in my view create a nonfalsifiable hypothesis or phantasmal scenario. We really do observe dietary creatine deficiency in the human, and a surprisingly regular cadence of digested meat and dairy. We do see the annihilation of the peers and non-human predators of organisms who carry the genes that catalyze our powerful and precise movements with fist and with pen. We do see humans acting in coordinated groups, preserving and raising some cows as if they were the human group’s own children. And we do see the winnowing, extinguishing, and devouring of the others. Mild proof for a mild rivalry of mostly-‘cooperating’ agents.

genetics evolution biology creatine symbiosis adaptation ecology autopoeisis

April 12, 2024

Driving in Dakar

by Collin Lysford

Dakar, the capital of Senegal, has the most heterogeneous roads I’ve ever seen. A few shiny, modern cars weave between a fleet of beat up taxis. People hang off the back of the local buses, while the long-distance ones to Touba Mosque are lit up garishly. Motorcycles sneak between larger vehicles, children run up offering snacks at any delay in traffic, and carts are pulled by blinkered horses. Lanes are mostly suggestions, subservient to cars muscling their way through and the rich language of horns. (This is a second-hand anecdote, but I’ve heard of a taxi that connected the horn to the windshield wipers to make it easier to blast them repeatedly.)

If you’ve never seen a road like this, it might not make sense how this sort of thing works without crashing. It became a lot clearer to me when I saw a crash. A gnarl of traffic in a busy intersection suddenly stops; two drivers get out and look at each other’s cars. One car clipped another rear bumper. Nothing major. They look at each other for a few charged seconds, look at their cars, then both shrug and get back to driving. Another dent to the list. Time elapsed: half a minute at most.

A heterogeneous road is a slow road. The speed is set by the horses, not the average desired speed of everyone there. The variability and information density of a given road state may be orders of magnitude higher than the average road in the US, but the consequences of getting it wrong are usually lower. According to the locals, the only issues are when brash out-of-towners come to visit; speeding along sparse desert roads, they fail to adjust their speed for the tangled knot of civilization and go considerably faster than horse speed.

When a systems-oriented nerd looks at an artifact of modern operational design, they often come away totally starstruck. Look at this triumph of logistics! The dance of grocery store supply chains! The power of just-in-time warehousing! It seems to be so profoundly complex that it requires highly skilled stewards constantly keeping the flame lit. And crucially, this leaves you assuming that anything less will cause modern civilization to crumble into the sand. I was guilty of this as well at one point: I correctly predicated COVID being a major threat months in advance, but I incorrectly predicted months in advance that the COVID-induced supply chain crush would dramatically alter our modern way of life. Instead, we had shortages of a handful of specific items for a whole, followed by corresponding gluts.

Thinking that modernity will crumble if the dance of cargo ships gets out of whack is exactly the same error as assuming that the roads in Dakar must be horrific open-air murder festivals. You need the constraints and guarantees of modernity — Follow the lights! No horses! — if you want to go as fast in the city as you do in the desert and keep your shiny 70k car in pristine condition. If that’s your conception of road, then streets like Dakar’s seem impossible and unworkable. But when faced with a much broader and uncontrolled range of inputs, people will naturally slow down, communicate more, accept a few dings with grace, and muddle through. When modern systems break down, that muddle is capable of doing half of just about anything.


April 11, 2024

Notes from a Rabelais reading group

by Suspended Reason

Cristóbal hosted a Rabelais reading group recently and put together a supplementary lit packet of Charles Taylor & Mikhail Bakhtin. Those excerpts were one of my highlights of the reading group, so I thought I’d excerpt and add commentary.

We do these things in jest and not in earnest, as the ancient custom is, so that once a year the foolishness innate in us can come out and evaporate. Don’t wine skins and barrels burst open very often if the air-hole is not opened from time to time? We too are old barrels…

— from Taylor’s A Secular Age, quoting an old French cleric

If social structure is the patterned arrangements of role-sets, status-sets, and status-sequences” (Merton, via Turner), anti-structure is world upside down”—a temporary period of normative inversion, both comic and ecstatic, which dissipates the tensions of conforming to social structure day in and day out. We find versions of it in Roman Saturnalia, Mesopotamian festivals, medieval Feasts of Misrule, Greenwich comedy clubs, Dionysian rites, Brazilian carnival, Berghain dance floors, Aztec renewal ceremonies…

Order”—that is, structure—“binds a primitive chaos, which is both [order’s] enemy but also the source of all energy,” Taylor writes in A Secular Age. This implies a an almost bureaucratic deadening, if structure remains in place too long, or too oppressively, which must be revitalized (e.g. charismatically). It’s striking in part because it’s nearly the opposite of the wine skin metaphor, where the pressure of the suppressed builds until bursting. Today, we use broken windows metaphors and slippery slope metaphors to understand the relationship between order and chaos; not all cultures seem to agree on the steam-valve virtue of transgression. Give an inch, cede a mile. This is the POV of Pentheus, teen ruler of Thebes in Euripides’ Bacchae, who ends up torn limb-from-limb by the play’s end. But it is ambiguous whether his demise is the result of gripping too tightly,” or loosening his grip. It seems that, if we reason about complex inexactitude through metaphors like these, we can justify any prescription we’d like by the analogue we choose…

Taylor continues, describing a seasonality of punctuated equilibrium.

The binding [of order] has to capture that energy, and in the supreme moments of founding it does this. But the years of routine crush this force and drain it; so that order itself can only survive through periodic renewal, in which the forces of chaos are first unleashed anew, and then brought into a new founding of order.

Order akin to the lifecycle of an organism. The question for a ruling class is: Is the structure substantially transformed on the other side of chaos? On the other side of dissolution and resolution? Might charismatic leaders mobilize the unbound energy, rebind it to new structure? What does it mean for order to survive” across these little deaths?


As structure breaks down, so too do the roles and hierarchies which separate people, which promote difference over unity. What Turner calls communitas” emerges in its place, a fellowship full of spontaneous creativity. This is, IMO, where theories of anti-structure become a little too romantic for my tastes—but there is a truth in the notion that the artist must drop out” of structure. Must free himself from its cognitive-structuring constraints and work in private; must cycle between periods of solitary incubation and periods of exposure and feedback.

Cycles: A time for society, a time for solitude. A time for order and a time for dissolution. The ecological approach, here, would be to advocate for a heterogeneity of strategies and solutions—for an almost seasonal rhythm, a polytheism of practice. Structure vs anti-structure is a dualist description of this ecology of practice, the idea that there are many diverse ways or styles” of being, that should be dynamically moved between.” (The same merits of frequency-dependent diversity espoused in The ecological perspective.) We are much less seasonal now than we once were, when agriculture dominated the economy, before indoor heating and air conditioning, before cars and office work. But we still see some anemic version of this seasonal ecology of practice in contemporary notions of holiday—the vacation as cyclical retreat, a way of getting away from it all” and recharging batteries,” to use more modern (but still energy-based) metaphors.

No totalizing code, no single best-fitted-all-the-time-way-of-being—either from the perspective of governance, or the perspective of personal wellbeing. A code which brooks no limit” is tyrannical, the spirit of totalitarianism” (Taylor).

All structures need to be limited… Yet we can’t do without structure altogether. We need to tack back and forth between codes and their limitation, seeking the better society…


Perhaps, as RIPDCB has argued, no serious modern intellectual would profess belief in the possibility of a single, totalizing system. And yet I am persuaded by Taylor’s claim that modernity is deeply… invested in the myth of the single omnicompetent code,” and that liberalism itself makes such a claim. Perhaps there is a break between lip service and practice; perhaps the situation has changed since when Taylor wrote A Secular Age 15 years ago. (Liberalism seems less secure than in the oughts; we hear much today of alternative ways of knowing,” though it’s unclear how much this itself is lip service.)

Certainly one consequence of the eclipse of anti-structure was this propensity to believe that the perfect code wouldn’t need to be limited, that one could and should enforce it without restriction.

The above Taylor writes during a discussion of the French Revolution, positioning revolutionary spirit as a complete overthrow, a normative inversion, one tyrannical totalizing code replacing another. This is the utopian” strain of revolution, the notion that the simple negation of existing code can bring about a City of God. Even the festivals designed by French revolutionaries served to uphold and propagandize for the moral code of the new society”—rather than being a release from normal normativity:

The aim of the exercise was not to open a hiatus in the now reigning code, but to give expression to its spirit, and inspire identification with it. The anti-structural elements of Carnival were sometimes borrowed, as in the dechristianization of Year II, but this destructive mockery was directed against the old religion and the ancien régime in general. It aimed to complete the destruction of the reigning code’s enemies, not to suspend the code itself…

We see similar impulses today with the purification” and rectificaiton of comedy, comedy being a form of carnival in miniature—the subversion of manners typically expected in polite society. (“Laughter as the solvent of all boundaries,” is how Taylor describes Bakhtin’s stance.) Revolution is the anti-structure to end all anti-structure.”

A final thought on anti-structure in 21st century America: If Carnival is Catholic anti-structure, then what are the Protestants left with? Visiting the Ringling Estate recently, learning about the history of the circus, I was struck by the way that the circus is perhaps the closest America got to carnival. And yet, rather than become a freak (one who violates normativity), the visitor to the circus pays money to watch the freaks, to eat popcorn in the bleachers and maybe throw some kernels at the performers. A spectator sport, an E Unibus Pluram voyeurism, like television.

François Rabelais anti-structure carnival heterogeneity ecology of practice Charles Taylor normative inversion structure order chaos Euripides communitas cycles dualism frequency dependent selection revolution circus Mikhail Bakhtin

April 10, 2024

The (post)rat king: the rigorizing analytic vs the sensitive sharp


When analytics broke into professional sports, it brought with it a major ontological shift: the rigorizing pipeline. This is not to say that decision makers were operating purely on vibes, but the introduction of a data-centered approach to roster construction and game planning allowed GMs and head coaches to find value in underexplored areas. It gave them the ability to conceptualize and then formalize different ways of looking at production against the noisy, outcome-driven received wisdom of their respective fields.

The 2002 Oakland Athletics might be the most classic example of a team who let data take the reigns. Their analytics department made strides in approaching value from different angles, with their reassessment of the walk’s offensive potential. Baseball is all about scoring runs and preventing runs. Runs are, for the most part, scored through hits, and the more men you have on base when you get a hit means that you’ll drive in more runs on those hits. In the pre-Moneyball era, a hit (when a player puts the ball in play and makes it on base safely) was seen as definitively more valuable than walks (when a pitcher gives a batter a base on balls), but the data showed that whether you took a base on a single or a walk actually made no difference—what mattered was getting on base. Batters who were good at walking were significantly cheaper to acquire than were players who were good at hitting. The 2002 Oakland Athletics took this insight (among others) to build a team with the league’s lowest payroll that would go on to win an, at the time, record 22 straight games.

Given the roaring success of a data-centric approach in shaping professional sports, it was only natural that some would want to apply analytics to sports gambling. The stock market can be inefficient, so why wouldn’t the betting markets be? The explosion of mobile sports books and legalized gambling across the US only created more opportunities for people to make money, with different companies competing with each other to offer gamblers the best prices and promotions to rope them in.

The nerds had to slay the aging dragon of managerial conservatism in order to break into front offices, but they’ve had much stiffer competition in gambling spaces: the Sharp. Sharps are professional gamblers. They are winners, which few are, at least with any consistency. As such, they move markets. Their opinions are so valued that the biggest sportsbooks will often offer their sharpest and most privileged clients early access to lines (although with low limits), let them take a side, and then adjust the line accordingly before releasing it to the public. They are incredibly secretive in an era of gambling influencers flooding every corner of social media, shoving winning slips constantly down your throat. They also are incredibly exclusive at a time when there is no shortage of services offering access to picks and data (their exclusivity is also leant a certain gravity, at least for the older sharps, because of their past associations with mafiosi when the wise guys ran all the books and the casinos).

But sharps can also be traditional. They value truisms, sometimes at the expense of finer grained analyses; they trust their intuitions even if they’re not grounded in data; they’ve been known to bet historical trends that don’t have causal grounds. They are also painfully superstitious. But they keep winning, and gambling is nothing if not a results based business.

There’s a little bit of a rat vs. post-rat dynamic that exists between analytics heads and sharps. The former believe that the game can be effectively represented through numbers and models. Quantification is a matter of when, not if. They embrace the burden of proof and challenge others to match the thoroughness of their calculations, and if you can’t then you’re wrong. The intensity of their desire to conceptualize and quantify all aspects of the game is admirable, but it comes at the costs of certain intuitions that gamblers and sports viewers alike have, intuitions that while not quantifiable nonetheless feel true (momentum with respect to game flow is a good example of an intuition that can’t be formalized but can be felt, and felt tangibly enough that it shouldn’t be equated with superstition).

While an analytics approach to gambling has had some success—mostly with player prop bets—they haven’t been able to beat the sharps when it comes to the most public markets: point spreads, mainlines (i.e. the odds on an outright winner), and totals. For the sports betting marketplace, exposure and efficiency share a one-to-one correlation. The more exposure a given market gets, the more efficient it’ll be, and the most efficient markets are the ones that are not just bet the most but are also bet by the most people. American football side betting, for example, is notoriously the toughest market to beat, and somehow sharps still manage to find ways to be profitable.

How though? They’ll never tell, and that’s because sharps operate anti-inductively. They have no incentive to give their secrets away. While some sharps become public personalities and give rare interviews or write glamorous books in their older ages, the only significant way to tell what side a sharp is on is to read the market—watch the way it moves, the splits between tickets and money (a side with few tickets but lots of money tends to be the sharp side, since sharps make fewer bets for bigger totals while public bettors tend to make more bets for less money), look out for confusing lines (such as the perceived-to-be better team being an underdog), etc. Trace these tells across the season of a given sport, or even across different sports, and you’ll usually find the biggest discrepancies between sharp sides and public sides tend to come up as defense vs. offense, traditional vs. unconventional, boring team vs. the shiny new toy. While they might subscribe to certain truisms (e.g. ‘defense wins championships’), they’ll act as more of a guide than an instruction, a historical fact that should be thought through, neither accepted at fave value or dismissed entirely. They’re also often concerned with the phenomenology of playing the game itself, all the unquantifiable and unverifiable aspects of being a person that bleed into the on-field product (i.e. a team’s morale at particularly low or high point of the season). They’re sensitive to the market’s ability to correct: they know to buy low and sell high, fade the hot hand at the right moment and back the team that’s better than their record implies. Ultimately, sharps operate post-rattishly in that they’re intuitive and flexible, at least up until a point.

So a rough dialectic can be constructed between the rigorizing analytic and the sensitive sharp. At the end of the day the two sides present a nice complement to each other. In my experience, the analytic approach finds some neat edges in underexposed markets, but analytic discourse unnecessarily positions conventional gambling wisdom as its enemy, and in doing so shortens its potential to incorporate the sharp’s feel for both the game and the market. The sharp does ultimately hold an upper hand, given that he operates anti-inductively, hiding his moves while the analytic must hold himself to the highest standards of transparency. He must show that the world can be mapped by numbers more precisely than the betting markets. The sharp doesn’t have to prove anything, though. He can just keep counting his cash.

rationalism anti-inductive post-rationalism gambling epistemology analytics rigorizing pipeline sharps games

April 9, 2024

Maps in hunting knowledge transfer

by Feast of Assumption

Knowledge transfer in hunting is a useful case to study for noticing how knowledge of different forms can be most easily shared with others. This series of posts carves unmarked knowledge’ from tacit knowledge1, and from what I’ll call context-bound knowledge. Context-bound knowledge is best transmitted through physical experience, but when physical experience is costly or time-bound, groups use techniques (maps, storytelling) to help pregame the physical experience and to drive concepts home afterward.

One of the most useful techniques for sharing context-bound knowledge is the map.

Maps, Topographic Quadrangles

The US Geological Survey produces and provides topographical maps organized into strict grids, called quadrangles or quads. These quads2 are (in the modern era) fairly faithful representations of the elevation of a landscape, displayed as contour lines. Most hunting shacks will have their quad tacked on the wall.

Little River Gorge Quad from USGS

Unfortunately, these 1:24,000-scale maps are not detailed enough to scheme out one’s hunt, Dungeons and Dragons style. They won’t let someone unfamiliar with your land see where they should stand.” They’re good enough for reference.

At Steve’s cabin, they put an X on the map each place they get a deer over the years. On the one hand, that lets you develop a little more rigor, where are we getting deer year after year?’ On the other hand, if you keep going to the collection of X’s, you’re going to keep seeing deer at the X’s, and you won’t find out you’ve got deer somewhere else.

-my dad, independently describing a kind of sampling bias3

Quads are useful for tracking locations from year to year, and for refreshing the memories of people familiar but not intimate with the land.

Maps, 3D Printed

Ideal hunting sites take advantage of local landforms—like overlooking a funnel point where several deer paths converge to skirt a lake. A helpful visualization for funnel points is a 3d-printed map. This is substantively the same information that’s displayed in the quad, but in a format you can run your fingers over. You can print your own by fetching a National Elevation Dataset 10 Meter from the USDA Geospatial Data Gateway and following a tutorial. The 10-meter dataset is still too low resolution to draw individual hunters’ paths, but shining a lamp from the southern edge can show younger hunters clearly where’s a sunny hillside where a deer might like to bed? Where can she get a nice view while the sun warms her hide?”

A trek superimposed on terrain, https://all3dp.com/2/3d-printing-topographic-maps-tutorial/

Maps, Hand Drawn

Most useful for highlighting detail that isn’t visible at the scale of produced maps, and for naming important landmarks that may or may not be part of the landscape, is the hand-drawn map. Where the bees used to be” is a great verbal instruction for people who hunted when a beekeeper used to let his hives forage on your wildflowers after strawberry blossom… but that was 15 years ago, and your younger cousin needs a cheat-sheet to know right here, in this pine alley is what Patriarch means when he says where the bees used to be”.

These maps usually won’t make sense to an outsider. Roads, treelines, and hills are drawn in the same linetype. Some roads get a line on each shoulder, other roads get a single line. What is a useful landmark” is personally variable—if you asked each hunting party member to draw a map of the same drive, everybody’s map would include dummy knob,” concrete,” and where the bees used to be” because in-hunt directions are given in reference to these shared landmarks. But barbed wire,” popple line” are personal landmarks, helping the map-drawer find her place in the territory. There is no guarantee these landmarks appear in other hunters’ sketches, or even in the same hunter’s sketch from year to year.

The setting for “the ellipse drive,” drawn just now to show you—crumpled up and thrown away once you’ve finished looking at it. Just like mom used to make.

Despite inconsistencies and warped scales, hand-drawn maps give the most directly useful information for communicating where we’re gonna start” and where we’re gonna finish”.

The context-bound knowledge is highlighted here. Almost half of the pen strokes will be locative for instructions. (“Fritz posts on the dummy knob. Alice goes in at the concrete, and drives to where the bees used to be.”) More than with publicly generated maps, plans can be made and shared on hand-drawn maps. You can draw in your route, and mark where your sister will stand.

Future Tech

I look forward to a future of high resolution quads, which will enable the simple act of drawing your own landmarks on an accurate contour map.’ 3D printing a tabletop map will allow hunters to rehearse routes when it’s cold, rainy, or not gun season yet.

Until that tech makes it into hunters’ hands, maps in the described formats have gotten the job of sharing context-bound knowledge done. We’ve been showing up in more or less the right place at more or less the right time, and filling up the freezers for generations.

  1. Tacit knowledge is knowledge that can’t properly be transmitted via verbal or written instruction, like the ability to create great art or assess a startup. This tacit knowledge is a form of intellectual dark matter. Examples include woodworking, metalworking, housekeeping, cooking, dancing, amateur public speaking, assembly line oversight, rapid problem-solving, and heart surgery. Before video became available at scale, tacit knowledge had to be transmitted in person, so that the learner could closely observe the knowledge in action and learn in real time — skilled metalworking, for example, is impossible to teach from a textbook. Because of this intensely local nature, it presents a uniquely strong succession problem: if a master woodworker fails to transmit his tacit knowledge to the few apprentices in his shop, the knowledge is lost forever, even if he’s written books about it.↩︎

  2. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-do-i-find-download-or-order-topographic-maps↩︎

  3. Ok, incredible, but the rats don’t seem to have a label for this one yet? Or maybe that it’s three mixed. Responses: Not sure it has a name, but the problem is that the map of Xs throws away information about where you tried to get a deer and didn’t. Maybe keep two maps?” exploration vs. exploitation tradeoff, related to the many-armed bandit problem” Might be another name but I’d call it getting stuck on a local optimum”: I think simulated annealing algorithms solve this by having several random starting points that they hillclimb/local optimize from. Which would be like if Steve, Alice, Joe, Fritz, and Jill all had their own X’d-up quads, and then compared their hauls after a few years. - Suspended Reason↩︎

hunting cartography epistemology

April 8, 2024


by Cristóbal

Eu queria
Que essa fantasia fosse eterna
Quem sabe um dia a paz vence a guerra
E viver será só festejar

I yearn
For this vesture to abide
If sooner peace overcomes the tides
Life will be only celebration

 — Baianidade Nagô


Pieter Bruegel, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

Forty-seven days before Easter, anticipating Lent, carnaval begins. Throughout Brazil, samba schools congregate to parade allegorical floats to the sound of densely referential narratives backed by a syncopated swing. These samba-enredo” are syncretic myths originating in African traditions, brought by the slaves from Moçambique, Congo, and Angola who worked in sugar cane plantations, combined with the histories of oppression and liberation on this side of the Atlantic. It is a moment of celebration for the communities that are symbiotically entwined with the schools of samba. After a year of preparation in their own communities, the harmony of the group is put up for display.

Beyond the state-sponsored sambódromo, the streets have their own manifestation—trucks, acting as impromptu mobile stages, meander through the neighborhoods of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, or Olinda. Live percussionists resonate over clipped sound systems, blaring samba, MPB, reggae, or metal. The costumes are saturated and brilliant. Sequins and glitter abound. The body is elevated and exposed—pecs are flexed, asses shake, and tongues are thrust. Sweat, beer, and piss flow along the street gutters, washed away by the afternoon rain in a cycle of cleansing. (Or, less poetically, the working classes who cannot afford to forgo a day of labor and pay.) These are the blocos de rua”, ambulant spaces of euphoria.

If these costumes were worn year round, if this space of exception, of ecstatic sociability, were not cutoff by the moral demands of lent, or those of labor and productivity, would life be pure celebration? What is the role of carnaval, or of the carnival we trace back to the Renaissance, or further back to Roman Saturnalia? A primal chaos undergirds order, giving it the energy which it feeds off of? Is it an escape valve for those pressure of a socially-ordained life, ultimately sustaining it? Or is the inversion of power a message sent to the rulers, reminding them of the contingency of their reign? Is carnival an ecological technique (explore/exploit), a brief suspension of rules that enables rethinking social codes, a form of simulated annealing that allows for adaptation? Or is its exuberant beauty the central tenet of our political economy.

What is certain is that, counter to a monotonic view of order and progress, an anti-structure oscillates into view. Seriousness precludes a possibility of change, and even the most authoritarian codes need space for adaption. Every system has a gap (the Real) that is unaccounted for and eventually rears its head when repressed for too long. Carnival offers us characters who stabilize this process: the rogue’s subversion of rules, the clown’s playful mocking of language, and the fool’s stupidity which estranges us. In aggregate, a societal whole emerges, a trans-individual dance between order and chaos.

carnival exuberance anti-structure oscillation

April 7, 2024

Knowledge is not a lattice

by Redxaxder

When some fact is common knowledge, it’s implicitly common knowledge for a particular group. Everyone knows” refers to different everyones” when spoken by different people or in different situations.

These groups can overlap, but their overlap doesn’t make them fuse. Say I tell you a secret, and I also tell that secret to Alice, but I don’t tell both of you together. Now we” (you and me) know it, and we” (me and Alice) know it, but you” (you and Alice) don’t, and we” (the three of us together) don’t know it either. If you tell my secret to Alice, the state of knowledge changes. Now you two also know it together. But you still shouldn’t bring it up among the three of us!

That’s wild! It seems like introducing a fact to larger groups usually requires having a larger gathering to announce it.

But sometimes it doesn’t? Maybe? I think that when the state of knowledge gets large and complex enough that we lose track of it and collapse into treating a fact as if it is common knowledge in a bigger group even if it technically isn’t.

I think there are more ways this transition happens, too.

mutual knowledge common knowledge epistemology indexicality

April 6, 2024

On aliveness, pt 1

by Suspended Reason

Many S2 TIS posts have looked at questions of practical epistemology: When can we trust the information we’re handed? When can we depend upon correlations holding up over time? How much of the Universe do we understand? How should we orient ourselves towards institutional prescriptions intended for the average person”? How do we persist knowledge through time?

Each of these implies a detective—you, or I—embedded in an environment or ecosystem, trying to survive in and profit off this environment, which is rich with messages and signs. We (you and I, detectives) try to understand this environment—to internalize its rhythms and moods and weathers; to not be suckered by its deceptions, or fall into the hubris of thinking we know more than we know.

It can be useful to classify these information ecologies, and one of the basic ways an ecosystem differs is in its aliveness.” Yes, a barren desert can be its own sort of enemy, but it’s an enemy indifferent to our presence; if it kills, it kills indifferently; there is nothing you or I can say or signal to provoke a sandstorm, or end a flood.

But in a jungle, every footfall risks alerting a predator to our presence. How we hold ourselves, the voices and noises we make with our chest and lungs, suddenly matter. (We can imagine ritual practices for summoning rain as the anthropomorphization of complex systems: A sacrifice is a communication, a smoke signal sent up to the sky.) We are in a living environment, an arboreal tapestry knitted with keen-eyed and sharp-eared beings, and they are reading the writing of our steps.

(These areas of dense inhabitation are always resource-rich: this is why they support so much life; and the life forms which feed on local resources become resources in their own right, for higher trophic layers.)

We could call these poles the agentic and the inert, but we should be careful not to rush into rigorizing this scientifically”—for instance, defining agents by their ability to maintain homeostasis—because for the purposes of a strategic agent, a detective such as you or I, a comatose person may as well be a rock. We cannot get answers out of them, and we need not guard our words when speaking in their vicinity. The question is: How much can your environment be communicated with? How closely is it watching you? Will it change its behavior in response to your queries? I’ve chosen aliveness” partly in discourse with the concept of live” and dead” players, in geopolitical arenas (where live” players are unpredictable, and dead” players rotely play out habit). Perhaps there are better terms, better distinctions, better ways to think about the problem at hand, but this is a start.

The inferential maneuvers necessary to understand and navigate a highly alive landscape are fundamentally different than those necessary in a dead landscape.

Let’s consider Collin’s The biggest little guy.” Yes, biologically speaking, the _T. Magnifica _bacteria is living. But because it operates at such a different scale, and is optimized for life in red mangroves largely outside human contact, it has not evolved behaviors for avoiding or deceiving human observers. We weren’t ignorant, as a society, of T. Magnifica for so long because the bacteria didn’t want to be found. Our behavior, and the behavior of T. Magnifica, are functionally independent. This makes studying T. Magnifica simpler than studying a corporation involved in illegal waste dumping, The biggest little guy” is a testament to how wrong we can be, even when the epistemological landscape is simple.”

Now contrast this to the problem of a literal detective, trying to get to the bottom” of a case. None of the culprits want to be found out. They will not only strive to evade detection, they’ll also fabricate evidence. Any message or clue the detective finds could be misdirection, purposefully planted. Appearances cannot be trusted; perhaps they should even be systematically distrusted. We are in the realm of an anti-inductive game.

ecology epistemology adversarial epistemology aliveness detection anti-inductivity strategic interaction lithification

April 5, 2024

Organisms might like reproducing, but genes sure yearn to die


Have humans been chemically leashed by cows? I don’t think so. But there are some beguiling suggestions that there is a greater rivalry between cow and man than ordinary intuition would supply. Specifically, I believe we can find evidence of a dialogue between organisms (in cows and the humans who eat them) where genes yearn to die, eliminating themselves as fast as they possibly can, instead of reproducing.

We might think of an ideal organism as being made of nothing but bodily features which effect the organism’s will. (the reader may substitute execution of adaptation’ for will if it is more comfortable). And we might think of those bodily features as being made of nothing but expressions of that organism’s genes. And we might even think of that organism’s genes as expressions of nothing but interactions between organismic identities like ancestors’, molecular engines like ribosomes’, and narrative forces like evolution’ or fitness’.

These readings of biology are quite successful at describing broad stretches of the world. I certainly would not argue that they paint a misleading picture of the world at large. However, there are some mysteries about creatine which demand exploration.

The first is that creatine is quite important. Our muscles are suffused with the stuff, and so are the muscles of most of our spinal peers (organisms that are also enjoying the experience of having a spine 😤). In fact, there is such a preponderance of the specific material inside of our muscles in particular, and bodies in general, that the origin of creatine’s name as used here is literally meat-ine’.

Creatine etymology

Everywhere we find this molecule, we find it being actively used and consumed. Our muscles use it as they twitch and quiver. Our nerve tissues draw from it as they make tiny, wet sparks. Our infants draw down tiny reserves of the molecule as they form their brains, and suffer tragic maladies if those reserves are inadequate. Movements need it, thoughts need it, entire organisms need it to come into being. Creatine is not some kind of optional metabolite.

So it should come as a substantial surprise that humans never have enough of it! The human organism never synthesizes as much creatine as their organs will suction out of their body’s supply. Creatine has genetic pathways which afford the scavenging of the molecule from its metabolic derivatives, but these genetic pathways turn themselves on only in situations of extreme duress and metabolic starvation. Not whenever we would like to think especially hard or run especially fast.

Creatine enzyme

This should not match our expectations. Creatine is a not some enormous and fiddly structure which is built by a towering pile of cells who all act together as an organ or organism. Creatine is consumed within cells by mechanisms which provide energy for those particular cells. And creatine is built by individual genes, who request the creation of certain enzymes, which then make the stuff in question.

If we had even the slightest tendency towards satisfying our creatinic needs, proliferating our creatine-proximate RNA, or maximizing the longevity of the supporting genetic complex, we would not see this behavior. We would expect the duplication of genes which trigger creatine-creating enzymes, or the inhibition transcription factors slowing the creatine-synthesizing genes. We might even see the invention of new transcription factors that more eagerly trigger our creatine-synthesizing genes.

Instead, the picture we’ve drawn of the human creatine system is that of a gene complex which has just about packed up and left the body entirely. Genes go unused, creatine-synthesizing enzymes are but distant dreams in the fond memories of the genome, and the molecule itself appears to arrive in the cell by coincidence alone.

The human organism can be neatly (and correctly!) abstracted to a leaky pump that sucks up an assumed surplus of creatine from their environment. This leaky pump is perpetually dripping and weeping a dynamic volume of creatine byproducts (urea, creatinine) that increases with cognitive and physical labor. The feed supplying this pump only synthesizes a constant flow of the molecule, no matter the rate of clearance or availability of amino acids convertible to creatine.

Put another way, creatine in humans is not a self-regenerating or autopoietic system, at least when we consider the human body all by itself. The human organism, in fact, depends on, expects for, or predicts a level of creatine which is no longer generated by the human’s body. Humans live, grow, and prosper despite this deficit of creatines and deficit of genes-causing creatine, as if living an ecology, where, from the perspective of the human’s genes, creatine is ready-at-hand. As if creatine grows on trees, flows freely through the air, and fills the grass on the ground around us.

Which leads us to part II, which gets to the chemical leashes and the cows…

genetics evolution biology creatine symbiosis adaptation ecology autopoeisis

April 4, 2024

Re: Bravo

by Neil

Yesterday, RIP DCB gives us a case study: a reality TV star breaks the fourth wall, and the network leaves it in as a limited hangout.” This is an amazing example if you’re a reasonably generous reader. Today, I’m going to be a stingy reader.

The case of reality TV strikes me as different from other cases of information asymmetry. If you’re the CIA orchestrating a coup, there are pretty clear advantages to disrupting the information state. Depending on what they believe on the ground,” the military may resist you less effectively, or not at all. But how does the truth about reality TV cash out”? It’s not immediately obvious. I’m unlikely to ever interact with anyone featured on Real Housewives, so nothing directly informs any of my future decisions. So why does the network care what I know?

It seems to me that the Bravo” moment trades off one kind of truthfulness for another. The fourth wall break draws attention to the artificial nature of the production — but wow, she must really be heated about this affair, if she was willing to go so far to try to get it off camera! I may feel vaguely less confident in the format of the show, as a whole, but I feel more confident in what I know, specifically, about this person.

And actually, do I even feel less confident in the show? Hasn’t the show has fulfilled its contract with me in the purest possible form — shown me an irruption of reality, something too real for TV”? The meta” layer is perfectly germane to reality TV. Any time I watch a competition show like Survivor or The Bachelor, my friends always speculate on what narrative the producers are trying to set up — based on the idea that, for instance, that they usually want you to like the winner by the end, and that they’ll work backwards to set that up. Nobody believes that what we’re seeing is a representative, fair, and balanced account. Who would admit to being so naïve? Well, yeah, obviously it’s all set up and stuff. Everyone knows that.”

Which is all to say, this looks like a pretty good deal for Bravo. They’re getting a moment of fireworks, a moment that really connects the audience with a character, and what they have to pay for it isn’t even clearly an expense. Going even further, if the ambiguity between the reality” or unreality” of the content is itself content, then this would be a win-win scenario, wouldn’t it?

conspiracy adversarial epistemology narrative Real Housewives reality television limited hangout

April 3, 2024

“Bravo, Bravo, (fucking) Bravo!”: The art of the limited hangout (Conspiracy and narrative, pt 3)



So shouted Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Denise Richards during a particularly heated Season 10 dinner. Under fire from her fellow cast mates about an alleged affair she was having with costar Brandy Glanville, Richards’s exclamation shocked and confused viewers. Why, in the middle of an interrogation, had she invoked the hallowed name of her show’s network? Housewives and fans alike know the unspoken, golden rule of all Bravo productions: never break the fourth wall during filming. Here Denise Richards was doing just that, staking the network’s credibility as merely a silent voyeur to the lives of its subjects. Her plan was clear: she wanted to stop production from filming the scene to save her from having to face the allegations on camera, and, sadly for Denise, her ploy failed. The dinner was aired in its entirety in the Season 10 finale, for all the world to see.

While Bravo’s motives for airing the dinner in some capacity are clear (good drama, duh), electing to keep in Richards’ Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” is less obvious. The network has an abundant budget and top-notch editors, they could have found a way to cut it out if they had wanted to. But they kept it in, and in doing so, played a classic strategy from the handbook of American politics and intelligence: the limited hangout. First introduced into the public domain during the Watergate scandal, a limited hangout is when one offers just enough of the truth to (hopefully) quiet questions about what’s really happened. It’s the presentation of some truth, edited to disclude the truly damning information. Some reputational dishonor will be incurred, but not so much so as to be fatal. And that’s just what Bravo—a masterminding network whose tentacles stretch so far and so covertly into the production of their shows that fans are left to ponder, sometimes conspiratorially, about the extent to which the reality’ being depicted is real at all—did in airing the Season 10 dinner in full. They confirmed their before-unspoken rule (to never break the fourth wall) with a wink, drawing us into the drama even deeper while simultaneously letting us into a new meta-drama. Of Richards, and the Housewives at large, vs. Bravo, of the cast members against production over control of what does and does not make it into the final cut.

See, reality TV has to walk a fine line between producing entertaining content and having people play themselves on camera. Production is tasked with keeping stakes high without letting the show become practically scripted. We do expect, on some level, for these shows to be fake—we consume despite knowing that whatever slice of reality that’s there in the frame is amplified in order for the drama to be as legible as possible. And we let ourselves believe—or better yet, suspend disbelief—enough to treat it like it’s real. And Bravo does its part by giving us just enough drama and just enough insight into how the sausage gets made so we don’t fall into believing nothing is real.

I think no concept is more important for our contemporary media ecology than that of plausible deniability, one of the intended by-products of a limited hangout. Any event, statement, or impression can become plastic as far as reception is concerned if you can create sufficient uncertainty in the surrounding circumstances. One way to do so is, as I’ve explained above, give just enough of the truth that you can plausibly claim you’ve said all there is to say. Plausible deniability is, I think, the main force behind impression management. It attempts to inject a given information state with enough uncertainty to allow for top-down molding. Some will buy the official narrative because of trust in conventional forms of authority; others will reluctantly accept what’s offered to them—sometimes even knowing it isn’t the full picture—because it becomes just a little too difficult to piece together a clear, convincing, and coherent counter-narrative. Get people to doubt their epistemologies and you can affect how information is received.

Bravo’s great heist of our faculty to distinguish between fact and fiction is its ability to create what I want to call plausible believability’. Rather than shirking the burden of proof by keeping a heavy cloud of questions and ambiguities looming over situations, Bravo conveys just enough truth to satiate most fans’ desire to poke holes in the projector screen. They’re able to maintain an ambient believability, which is in part a function of reality television’s unscriptedness. So much of any given episode of reality television is made up slice-of-life snapshots of cast members in their house or at work, or meal after meal of characters recapping the previous episodes’ dramas to each other other. Not a lot happens a lot of the time! So when drama does interject itself into a season, it’s a welcome reprieve from all the stasis. In fact, I might even make the argument that all the stasis creates an appetite for the drama, to reward us for so patiently waiting.

But reality TV employs another strategy for impression management purposes: reunions. Reunions are multi-hour throw downs between cast mates about that season’s happenings, usually split into two-to-three episode segments that run after the regular season (they’re also usually filmed a couple months after filming wraps). As we’ve already established, it’s a no-no to mention the Invisible Hand of Production during filming, or any other kind of behind-the-scenes strategic set-ups intended to make the show more watchable. But reunions offer stars an opportunity to give us insight into not just how they really feel about what’s transpired, but also how what’s happened has come to be. They operate by giving us a peak behind the curtain, which, in the process of giving us this peak, tacitly admits to the existence of the Bravo’s off-screen influence. It’s during reunions when cast members will admit to refusing to film with another cast member in one-on-one situations (explaining why their scenes together were few and far between), or some will admit that production put them in the position to build relationships that they otherwise may not have. Reunions, then, are another example of Bravo’s affection for the limited hangout; this time, however, it’s not circumstantial, but a major part of each show’s architecture. Suspicion is at once sanctioned and then circumscribed, placated by a controlled admission that, for many, suffices to make reality TV believable enough. Believable enough to maintain our attention and, most importantly, our emotional engagement and parasocial relationships.

conspiracy adversarial epistemology narrative Real Housewives reality television limited hangout