What’s with all this indecision?

Yes, another article about the EU referendum. No, I’m not going to try and convince you, with my numbers and slides, what I think you should vote for. I would have hoped it’d be clear by this point, incidentally- but I’ll get to that.

People are saying there are lies on both sides. It’s being framed as a colossal struggle against vast amounts of hyperbole and spin. Fair enough. Both camps are making stuff up to back their point; as is constantly being pointed out. But here’s a newsflash: both sides in a political battle always do this. There are people for Leave and Remain that are both in the wrong in claims they’re making and the numbers they cite. But that really isn’t the point. Just because some people make a flawed or erroneous argument, doesn’t mean the point they’re defending is itself wrong. There is actually a staggeringly comprehensive amount of good data on the subject, readily available. We’re really more informed than we’ve perhaps ever been. Continue reading

Misinformation Age

When I was a kid, we had a School Computer.

Yes, that’s right, singular. This was the early 90s; it was wheeled between classrooms on a trolley and played a selection of blocky educational games about as engaging as a marketing pamphlet about sensible shoes. Later, there were computer rooms, but we certainly didn’t have mobile phones to consult on any given enquiry. FBI agents on TV had mobile phones; kids at school did not. Teenagers didn’t have an important reason to warrant getting one. That last part hasn’t really changed.

Anyway. The point I’m underlining is how widely available information is. With the powerful array of devices often only a tap from the internet, we’re more plugged-in than ever. Access to incredible resources like Wikipedia have revolutionised autodidactism and even regular taught education. Thanks to the concept of crowd-content, you can find videos about any kind of esoteric thing you are trying to do; from upgrading Nerf guns to learning when to omit the phrase “watashi wa” in Japanese.

But there is a concerning side-effect to the information revolution. Continue reading

Carl Sagan on Books

” A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called ‘leaves’) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person – perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic. “

– Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980)

Came across this yesterday; seems all the more poignant now that Sagan himself is speaking to us beyond his time.

Diluting creative output: can it work?

A lot of the famous and successful writers you come across describe themselves as being obsessive or living to write. It makes sense, of course. If you spend each waking hour with the written word, you ought to be pretty good with them.

If I’m honest, though, that’s not really me. I hugely enjoy writing, but it isn’t my raison d’etre. Mostly, I just get too distracted by all the other awesome-cool vocations out there that I can’t decide what I like more. Sometimes this makes me wonder: can you be successful with a divided attention?

If you focus on your vocation, you will obviously further your skills in it. So it stands to reason, taking only this into account, that the best writers will be those that work hardest and longest at their craft. And to a degree, this is true. Does this mean those of us that are undecided or took a while to find the right thing are destined to be hopeless “masters of none”?

Nope! As much as this fear sometimes nags me, it’s worth remembering that there’s more to writing than a proficiency with language- just as there is more to art than shading techniques or volumetric form. When we create, we draw upon all areas of who we are and what we know. A breadth of knowledge is as important as the depth of it.

My many hours of flying give me a pilot’s knowledge on my works. As an artist I have a vivid visual sense of the world I’m writing (and will sometimes use drawing to work through ideas). My understanding of games and emergent systems affects how I build plots and implement causality.

You do need to put in a lot of hard work to excel at any craft worth doing, but don’t be afraid to diversify a little, too. It’s what makes your work yours.

Why is Evidence Important?

When discussing spiritualism, philosophy or religion it doesn’t take long to encounter the apparent impasse of “but concept X might be right”, where the concept is not falsifiable. Most of us with an empirical bent are content to ditch these ideas, because the lacking or counter evidence is often compelling enough. But I want to look at what happens when we don’t, and why a belief contrary to evidence is a no-win risk. To take a belief in something contrary to (or without) evidence is the colloquial (and less misleading) definition of the word ‘faith’. The “risk” we’re talking about can also be hugely variable; it could be as little as some of our time or as much as the welfare of a nation. Either way, I’m going to assume there is something lost by believing in a falsehood, as in reality there nearly always is.

So. We have our belief that is neither provable nor disprovable, as all persistent faiths necessarily are. We have no substantial supporting evidence for this faith, perhaps even evidence against it, but ultimately it is not disprovable. It might be true, the adherents stubbornly insist, and What (as a Liberty University student once fatefully asked Richard Dawkins) if you’re wrong?

Continue reading

Where Games are Really Going

So I’m going to do the blogger thing and write a reply to people who receive vastly more media attention than I do, if only so I can amuse myself in years to come when I can point at it and say I was right.

In a recent panel at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to voice their opinions on the supposed future of computer gaming. Now while I might consider Lucas to be a fairly clueless fluke of cinema history, I do have pretty good regard for Spielberg. However, it was evident by their comments that they don’t really get it. All wrapped up in Hollyworld, they haven’t quite seen what is keeping games from being as emotionally engaging as they could be.

Continue reading

A Culture of Paranoia

The Western ‘Developed’ world likes to think its got everything right. It is, ultimately, ‘ahead’ of everyone else in the world. In some ways this assumption is understandable; although it is still arrogant. Western Europe, North America and so on have comparitively colossal amounts of wealth and resources at their disposal. They are able to offer support to even their poorest, to a luxurious standard by comparison with the most impoverished nations on Earth. Yet the titans of the financial industry, the companies on which this wealth and power is largely built on, deal in the business of offering peace of mind for these already cushioned citizens. They might call it the business of pragmatism, although you could just as easily call it the business of paranoia. What am I talking about? Insurance.

It is literally everywhere. You only have to look at the names on the skyscrapers around you to be reminded that insurance is business; BIG business. How many people know someone that works in insurance? It’s an entire wing of human endeavour with the sole aim of catering for the (individually) unfair nature of probability. At first thought this can seem a noble task, and undoubtably in some cases it is. However, this should not make it big business; not the massive, global juggernauts that we see second only to perhaps banks (with which they are sordidly interconnected). No, I think the reason they are so significant is that we have been conditioned to worry, disproportionately, about What Ifs.

What if you crashed your car? What if you lost your job? What if you ordered a pizza and it didn’t turn up? There’s being prepared, then there’s just pointless worry. It seems there’s hardly an eventuality in life you can’t get insurance for. You’ve got your building insurance, contents insurance, car insurance, pet insurance, income insurance, life insurance, investment insurance; heck, there’s usually an insurance insurance on top if you really want it (no claims protection premium, anyone?). And after you’ve paid the monthly cost of all of those, you might even have a bit left to enjoy this lifestyle you’re fighting so hard to preserve. Continue reading

Genetic Engineering is not Immoral; it’s Inevitable

Despite being generally in favour of all things progressive and scientific, even I have been uncomfortable at times with the idea of genetically engineering humankind. But not only is this apprehension unfounded; it’s also putting off the unavoidable.

The argument against genetic engineering of humans seems obvious at first. Our genetics hugely affects who we are; being able to pick traits as we please could completely and irrevocably change human civilisation. Would ‘designer babies’ not lead to a money-driven society, where the social standing and wealth of one’s parents determines the starting chances and quality of life (to an even greater degree than is already the case)? Nevertheless, this wouldn’t be the first time a massive technological leap changed the face of humanity. Cars revolutionised how we move around; computers how we work and play. Change is life. But that alone isn’t enough to warrant such a dangerous concept. There is a much more important reason: natural selection. Continue reading

Interesting Times

Lately that elusive substance that is Free Time has seemingly evaporated, as a multitude of pursuits collide. In particular, my quest for a Private Pilots Licence and my preparations for half a year in Australia have me rushed off my feet. But I made a resolution that my entries won’t turn into lamenting for lack of free time, so enough about that.

I recently compiled an actual paper checklist for something that has existed for a long time only in my head: the Checklist for the Future. On it are a number of key innovations and milestones, such as Antigravity and Civilian (Orbital) Spaceflight. The idea being that once all the boxes are ticked, we will be in the future. Obviously. Exciting stuff!

Yesterday I came across a fascinating documentary about chaos, spontaneous pattern formation and the Mandelbrot Set. I recommend checking it out, particularly if the ideas of order emerging from nothing and predictable systems having unpredictable outcomes interests you at all. I find it encouraging that it still doesn’t invalidate the physics behind my Chonoportology writings, too (that does, in essence, try to answer the question of what actually determines the A or B path of any given event).

In other news, THIS:

Teleportation and the Human Soul

When Teleportation was first developed in early 3.2.C, there was vehement opposition to its adoption for human transportation. Disassembling the atoms of a person at location A, transferring their quantum-precise state as information and using it to reassemble them from different atoms at location B; was heatedly argued to be quite different from moving a person from A to B. One of the spheres of human thought to feel most threatened was spiritualism, or more precisely, Religion.

Finally trial runs were carried out with a pioneering group of human volunteers, garnering intense public attention despite best attempts at privacy. When the participating individuals proved to be fine and without side affects (as many artificial rodents had been previously), the debate only heightened. “We do not transmit souls across, yet these people are no different than they were before. How can you claim there to be a soul when it affects nothing?” argued project observer, Dr Zan Taku Blinar. Spiritual counter-arguments held that, as the soul’s mechanism was unknown, it couldn’t be ruled out as somehow following the intended person to their new form.

There was also much agitation about the subjective experience. If you step into a booth that destroys all your atoms, you are actually killed; despite the fact it doesn’t feel like it. To the traveller, you merely become unconscious and wake up in a new location. It is compared by most to the sensation of falling asleep. It seemed incontrovertible now, that human consciousness was anything more than immense patterns fired by the brain’s neurons.

As ever, it was the economy of convenience that won out and humankind soon embraced the benefits of travelling as information; with the vast new avenues it opened for interplanetary flight (an endeavour that had stagnated for hundreds of years as humans sought to break the light barrier) to name just one. Those adverse to teleportation became a common but private assortment; like those with apprehensions about flying.

In the years that followed, many religions attempted to reconcile with the implications of teleportation. Some even claimed that teleporting successfully proved the strength of the ‘tether’ to one’s soul, with some cults even going so far as using teleportation in rituals to prove faith. Nevertheless, religion by 3.2.C was more of a personal pursuit than the political force it had once been.