“[Algorithms and heuristics] are very important in cybernetics, for in dealing with unthinkable systems it is normally impossible to give a full specification of a goal, and therefore impossible to prescribe an algorithm. But it is not usually too difficult to prescribe a class of goals, so that moving in some general description will leave you better off (by some definite criterion) than you were before. To think in terms of heuristics rather than algorithms is at once a way of coping with proliferating variety. Instead of trying to organize it in full detail, you organize it only somewhat; you then ride on the dynamics of the system in the direction you want to go.
These two techniques for organizing control in a system of proliferating variety are really rather dissimilar. The strange thing is that we tend to live our lives by heuristics, and to try and control them by algorithms. Our general endeavor is to survive, yet we specify in detail (‘catch the 8:45 train’, ‘ask for a raise’) how to get to this unspecified and unspecifiable goal. We certainly need these algorithms, in order to live coherently; but we also need heuristics — and we are rarely conscious of them. This is because our education is planned around detailed analysis: we do not (we learn) really understand things unless we can specify their infrastructure. The point came up before in the discussion of transfer functions, and now it comes up again in connection with goals. […] Birds evolved from reptiles, it seems. Did a representative body of lizards pass a resolution to learn to fly? If so, by what means could the lizards have organized their genetic variety to grow wings? One has only to say such things to recognize them as ridiculous — but the birds are flying this evening outside my window. This is because heuristics work while we are still sucking the pencil which would like to prescribe an algorithm.”—
Stafford Beer, “Brain of the Firm,” 1972.
1972, folks. “This is because heuristics work while we are still sucking the pencil which would like to prescribe an algorithm.”
Fuck I’m walking downtown and I pass a group of guys staring at me and I think “great catcall time” but then one guy goes “you look like you could kill a man a million different ways with just your bare hands”. This. This is an acceptable comment to give a girl on the street.
“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”
In my family, among my breed of people, wanting to rid the world of yourself is not unusual. It’s like having blue eyes, as all of us do. We are built to live with and in spite of it. I remember as a teenager having conversations with my mother at the kitchen table where we would promise each other one more year. No crying, no dramatics, just a measured conversation like you have when you strike any other kind of deal. I will stay for you if you will stay for me. Then promise again, the next year, and the next. We don’t have those conversations anymore, because it goes without saying, now.
A friend said this to me tonight, someone I really care about, and it made me think about all of this directly for the first time in a while. Someone would like to know me when I am old. I could take that for granted, but I don’t.
I thought about this again tonight after the Robin Williams news broke. My life as a depressed person almost feels like it happened to someone else. I wish to god everyone were so lucky.
“This spring, I experienced a fact-checking session with three linguists that was so remarkable, it showed me I should always be paying more attention to every session. Because this particular session was about language at all levels, I experienced an off-the-chart dopamine response. Oh, this is why I do what I do. It was also like a moonshot, logistics-wise, compared to most read-back situations I’ve done. And this session turned an ordinary conversation inside out so you could see all its ribs, but things were also so deliberately complicated that it no longer worked like an ordinary conversation.”—In general, fact-checking isn’t the most glamorous part of a journalist’s career, which is why Michael Erard was surprised to find that a recent fact-checking session for an Al Jazeera article turned out to be among the most interesting conversations of his life. Why? His sources were linguists, and their job was to explain to him the workings of brand-new sign languages. (via millionsmillions)
“Why is it that people do not know this deep truth? Because as soon as they are born they are led to believe that the world around them is ‘real.’ They forget their oneness with Divinity and fall into a pattern of likes and dislikes that gives rise to all sorts of desires, attachments, and aversions.”—Krishna (Bhagavad Gita)
“As it is, we are merely bolting our lives—gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in—because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to us more boring than simple being. If I ask you what you did, saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted yesterday, I am likely to get nothing more than the thin, sketchy outline of the few things that you noticed, and of those only what you thought worth remembering. Is it surprising that an existence so experienced seems so empty and bare that its hunger for an infinite future is insatiable? But suppose you could answer, “It would take me forever to tell you, and I am much too interested in what’s happening now.” How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such a fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself as anything less than a god? And, when you consider that this incalculably subtle organism is inseparable from the still more marvelous patterns of its environment—from the minutest electrical designs to the whole company of the galaxies—how is it conceivable that this incarnation of all eternity can be bored with being?”—Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (via zadi)