Friday, January 31, 2014

Ontology of Information -- Deriving Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness

In my book Diaphysics, I propose an ontology of information, that the universe is, fundamentally information.

Two articles support this. The first argues that you can derive quantum mechanics from information theory. The other argues that by using information theory, one can come to understand consciousness as another state of matter.

In less rigorously mathematical terms, I essentially make these arguments in Diaphysics.

Consciousness needs to be further understood as an emergent process. Further, consciousness is really consciousness of something. I am conscious of the cup to my left because I have vision. What they mean in the paper on consciousness is of course mind-consciousness, the kind of consciousness that allows for a fully integrated world to be created through neural interactions and social interactions. Michael Gazzaniga in Who's In Charge? essentially argues that the mind is necessarily social, that it emerges in the interactions among human beings. Perhaps that is where all the missing bits the authors are worried about lie.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Taking Personal Responsibility for Our Fated Lives

At the end of Oedipus the King, Oedipus takes full responsibility for everything he has done, even though by modern standards he is in no way responsible for any of his actions, not knowing he was doing anything wrong. The play is a play of discovery, and when he discovers all that he has done, he takes full responsibility for those actions, and punishes himself for those actions. All, despite the fact that he was fated to do what he did.

Today, we argue that you are not responsible for the things with which you're born, that you're not responsible for the environment within which you're born. But these are fates in the same way Oedipus was fated. You cannot get away from them -- but does that mean you should not be responsible for your actions? If I have behaved a certain way in the past, because I have Asperger's, say, and I later learn I have Asperger's and that that was why I behaved the way I behaved, should I own that behavior and take responsibility for it and apologize for that behavior, or just chalk it up to fate and declare I was not responsible for my actions?

The tragic choice, the choice Oedipus made, is to take responsibility for those things you did, that you were fated to do. That is the soul of tragic morals.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Theory of Mind and the Austim Spectrum

One of the theories of autism -- including Asperger's -- is that those on the spectrum do not have a Theory of Mind. However, as I have read more and more examples of the evidence that supposedly supports that view, I have to come to the conclusion that it is the neurotypicals who believe this who don't have a proper Theory of Mind.

Those who have Theory of Mind (ToM) believe that others have a mind like theirs. Please note that those who have ToM believe others have a mind like THEIRS. Neurotypicals believe others have a mind like their mind, and  those with ASD believe others have a mind like their mind. However, both are wrong. Both are overgeneralizing.

One can view the human ToM as an evolving history of ToM. Those in our tribe have minds, but others do not. Those in our extended culture have minds, but others do not -- or theirs is not as developed. Read some of the work by European scholars prior to the 20th century, and you will see a great deal of ink spilled on the "fact" that primitive peoples do not have minds like the more advanced Europeans. This, of course, is false. But it took a long time for humans to come to realize this -- and there are those who still do not believe it.

More recently, we have come to understand that animals have minds as well, even if they are not as complex -- or at least the same -- as human minds. We moved from treating animals as automata to being vaguely aware to having varying kinds of consciousness.

It seems that with the theory that ASD in a problem in ToM we have another version of the above. The problem is that it's working both ways. Since those with ASD are treating everyone else as though everyone else has the same kinds of minds as them, and neurotypicals don't recognize themselves in the way they are being treated by those with ASD, the theory (developed by neurotypicals studying ASD) that ASD is a ToM deficit emerges. The problem is that each side is looking at the other and thinking, "What's wrong with them?" The problem is that both are wrong to think that way.

What I am suggesting, then, is that we have two different groups -- neurotypicals and autistics (including AS) -- with two different kinds of minds, each theorizing everyone has the same kind of mind they have, and coming into conflict. Many of the comments made by autistics that are interpreted by neurotypicals as rude or arrogant are perfectly well understood for exactly what they are by fellow autistics. In the same way, things that seem bizarre or a waste of time to autistics (like small talk) are perfectly well understood by neurotypicals for what they are by other neurotypcials.

Given that neurotypicals far outnumber autistics, it is the latter who have had to do most of the adjusting. However, as the number of people with autism seems to be rising, the adjustments might soon have to be more mutual. And if neurotypcials don't want to miss out on all of the benefits that come with hiring autistics, the adjustments will have to become more mutual. Those neuroptypicals who figure this out will be the ones profiting most.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Learning to Act Human, Part 2

When I learned my son had autism, I went out and learned as much about autism as possible. I did this to try to help my son as much as possible. Little did I know I would be discovering a great deal about myself as well.

I have been writing about this for almost a month now, both about my son and about myself. But since I learned that I probably have Asperger's Syndrome (according to someone who has AS who read my post about learning to act human, in contradiction to my first -- chronologically - posting on myself), I have actually taken it upon myself to read some things that might help me.

One book I have come across is the Asperger's Syndrome Workplaces Survival Guide. The first page and a half pretty much described my work history: problems keeping a job over the long term, problems with the fact that I actually want to get my work done and don't want to be bothered with all this nonsense that seems to fill the work day and prevent me from getting anything done, problems with the fact that I'm not all that social, problems with the fact that (until I became aware of it) I would sometimes say inappropriate things. The author asks the question all with AS or outright autism ask: "What is more important: chatting in the lunch room or getting your work done?" People with AS and autism (apparently mistakenly) think it is the latter. Worse, those with AS can appear to be rude, hard to get along with, or bullheaded, when in fact none of these are true. Those with AS don't have the same internal censors -- we have to learn those. We are easy to get along with; we may just not understand social cues we haven't consciously learned yet. We aren't bullheaded; we are open-minded and adjust what we believe based on facts and information -- we just insist you provide facts and information.

The book is all about helping those with AS understand what is expected of them, to learn how to navigate the workplace. One could ask, "Why is it I have to do all the adjusting?" Well, because the neurotypicals offer most of the jobs available. More, even if you are entrepreneurial, you will still have to interact with neurotypical people. At the same time, a very high percentage of people with AS have college degrees, including graduate degrees. Businesses are missing out on a huge pool of talent because they are excluding a lot of people just because they "don't get along" with others -- when in fact it's not that they don't get along, but rather that they just want to get their work done. Businesses are too often getting second best people because the first best don't have great social skills. And -- as I can certainly attest -- those with AS are as a result misallocated human resources.

Another book I ran across is The Partner's Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. I read the Foreword, and (though I subscribe to the Intense World Theory of AS and autism -- at least for my son and I -- rather than the less-competent Theory of Mind model presented in the book) I recognized a great deal about me as a husband and father there. In short, everything I read about AS behavior and the social consequences of those behaviors has been a mirror. There is practically no doubt in my mind now that I have AS. It explains many of my actions, my thinking, my social interactions, my attitudes, etc. The good thing is that in knowing this about me, I can actually know what to do to fit in better. I have done so over time as it is, without knowing I have AS. When people are bold enough (or asshole enough, depending on their attitudes) to point out my eyes won't focus on them or that I primarily look at their mouths when I talk to them (leading me to working on looking people in the eyes -- a real cognitive effort, I assure you) or that I cannot engage in small talk or that I sometimes say inappropriate things (which I have gotten much better about, being made conscious of it), I can change those things.

So now you know why I've acted weird around you, if you've ever gotten to interact with me personally. Just remember: if I'm working, for the love of God, don't interrupt me! :-)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Learning to Act Human

In my research into my son's autism, I have recently come to realize a great many things about myself. If autism requires one to have (or have had) a speech delay, then I'm not autistic; if language precociousness is allowed, then perhaps I am.

In any case, the thing I have come to realize about myself is that I have in many ways spent a great deal of my time "learning to become human" -- or learning to "fit in" with normal human beings.

Most of the time, when I talk to a person, I am either looking all over the place or looking at the person's mouth. I have had enough people complain about these things that I have trained myself to look at a person in the eye. However, to do so takes quite a bit of concentration to maintain. If I think it is important to keep eye contact with you, I can, but it requires mental work to do so. Maintaining eye contact is, of course, natural for most people.

In one of his stand-up routines, Chris Rock observes that when you first start dating someone, you are not actually dating that person, you are dating their representative. This is not true of just dating, but of any initial social interactions. Again, this comes natural to people. Everyone understands you are supposed to present an edited version of yourself to others. This is innate. But not for me. I literally had to read somewhere that you should not put forward all aspects of who you are when you first meet someone, because it's off-putting. This was something that was seriously news to me. I saw the validity of what the person was saying, and put it into practice. My dating life improved considerably -- as evidenced by the fact I am married. That this took a while is evidenced by the fact that I am 42 and I only got married less than 8 years ago. My first actual girlfriend? When I was 26. Who knew that you shouldn't present yourself exactly as you are when you first meet someone? Well, most people, apparently.

I am sure there are many more, but these are the ones that stand out to me. I still haven't figured out how to engage in small talk, though economist Peter Boetkke's observation that in order to get tenure you have to subtract what he calls the "lunch tax" -- which is any off-putting (typically, political) discussion -- has benefited me greatly of late (keep all political views on the down-low, at least until you feel out the person to whom you are talking; keep any controversial beliefs to oneself; etc.). This is really a variation of the previous observation, just applied to work. But, again, I had to have it explicitly pointed out to me.

What this suggests to me is that there are a set of behaviors that are more natural for others that simply have to be learned by me (and, I would guess, others like me). I have often not even realized there is something atypical in my behaviors until they are pointed out to me -- either directly, by friends (or people who don't like me), or indirectly, by reading. Or perhaps, these behaviors are all learned by others, only my tendency to separate myself from other people resulted in my missing those lessons from life. This would be consistent with the intense world theory of autism.

Indeed, one of the reasons I separate myself from others is precisely because I feel them so intensely. Imagine having extremely strong feelings of empathy for others, then going to a party full of people. Worse, you cannot focus it on one or two people immediately in front of you, but feel it for everyone there equally. If you shut down socially, that intense feeling subsides. Imagine that every sad story makes you want to cry, that even slightly sad commercials or songs make you cry -- if you let down your guard. So you don't let down your guard so you don't spend the whole day weeping. Imagine that you had these feelings of empathy for every emotion. Wouldn't you want to avoid such situations? Or hope you had a mechanism to generally shut it all out? As a result, you are either on or off most of the time. Mostly off, so you can get through your day.

Given such sensitive empathy, one can perhaps understand my political views. They are a consequence of my great empathy for the poor such that I am motivated to learn what will in fact help them rather than just settle for feel-good proposals that end up harming the poor instead. Thus my support for free markets, as my research demonstrates free markets to be maximally beneficial to the poor compared to every other system.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Consequence of Absence in Stories

When Stanley Fish developed Reader Response theory, I bet he never thought of this. For my money, discovering patterns of how people read things into a story is a reader response theory worth having. We need to explore these sorts of patterns more often, in no small part to discover how we think and why we think that way. From a storytelling perspective, we may discover why there are patterns of details -- both those present and absent. Indeed, postmodern approaches to texts were interested in what was left out. With this approach, we may discover why some details are left out, and why some are put in. Why say how tall a risk-taker is if the author sees the risk-taker as tall and if the listeners are likely to imagine him as tall? The only reason you might want to mention height is if you wanted to go against expectations and describe the risk-taker as short. More research needs to happen along these lines, so we can learn more both about our patterns of thinking and about the patterns we create within our stories.

Monday, January 06, 2014

How to Destroy Education

If I wanted to destroy education, here is what I'd do.

1. I would try to get as many people going to college as possible.

College was originally designed for those who wished to pursue academic and professional positions -- to become scientists, scholars, theologians, lawyers, doctors -- not to teach people how to be an employee for a business. While it is true that businesses are increasingly dependent on scientific knowledge and those who understand the law (the last is a problem having nothing to do with change in the economy per se), many of these people could be trained in a few years, often on the job, for many of these positions. Even a technician in a science lab needs to know very little beyond a few techniques that could easily be taught in a year or two at most.

Those who argue college is the only worthwhile pursuit are elitists of the worst kind, who hold those who would do "manual labor" in contempt. But the world needs plumbers, mechanics, electricians, etc. As much as it costs to hire one, we could stand to have more of them. By shaming more and more people out of jobs they could do well and into college, we are creating a situation where universities are having to adapt to a population of people with average intelligence. This means making classes easier and easier, making the students who were historically university students (high intelligence) increasingly bored. I have even been told that "the best and brightest will just have to be bored" by a department chair (no one I have worked with in the past several years).

Recent pushes to increase graduation rates at colleges is only going to make things worse, because universities will have to make classes even easier to ensure the influx of average I.Q. students will be able to pass. This means few will learn much of anything. And it will continue to take pressure off of our high schools to teach anything at all.

Indeed, the reduction of standards at the college level trickles down to the high schools, which do not have to teach students as much for them to get into college, since colleges are less and less competitive and have lower and lower requirements. Lower high school standards then result in lower middle school standards, and lower middle school standards result in lower grade schools standards. Thus, by merely pushing for more and more people to go to college, I could destroy standards down the entire chain.

2. I would emphasize process over content.

If you want to destroy education, you have to make sure nobody actually learns anything. That means destroying content. A great way of doing this is saying that students need to learn the process of learning rather than content. Rather than teaching facts and logic, teach "critical thinking." Rather than teaching grammar, spelling, and vocabulary, teach the writing process. Rather than providing a foundation, teach "higher order" thinking. By switching from content-based education to process-based education, you can guarantee that nobody knows anything. They will know how to look things up, but they won't know what is even out there to look up in the first place. There is no knowledge without content, so a contentless education would destroy all true education.

3. I would make it illegal for parents to bring anything they cooked themselves and require them to only bring bought goods.

Now, this seems like a strange one, but you may rest assured that this is a brilliant way to destroy education. In addition to being able to profit from the obvious cronyism involved in such a law -- thanks for the political donations, Hostess! -- you could destroy any community involvement in local schools. By requiring parents to buy, say, cakes for the cake walk rather than letting them make cakes to bring, you will get far less parent participation in school functions. Parents are less likely to buy a cake than to make one -- especially your poorer parents. Of course, poorer parents are exactly who you want to target if you want to destroy your education system. It is easier to discourage your poorer parents, and anything that will make their lives worse, especially in regards to their children's educations, will result in less participation from those parents. Your middle class and wealthier parents have more money than time, so will participate with purchases and paying for their children to be in clubs and programs. Your poorer parents have more time than money, and are willing to put in that time by baking cakes and cookies, etc. By banning home-baked goods, you eliminate these parents' participation in the schools. Thus, you cause them to demonstrate to their children that school is unimportant. And a sense of community is destroyed because people participate less in school functions, meaning they don't meet and interact with as many people in their communities. People who know each other are closer and are more likely to help each other. Thus, by destroying participation in school functions, you make parents less involved, meaning government has to take up the slack, and you weaken the bonds of the community, meaning government has to take up the slack. With this approach, you can not only weaken education in particular, you can specifically target the poor and ensure they remain poor, but you can weaken the communities around those schools. All of this has the side effect of ever-increasing dependence on government. So not only have you gotten money from your cronies for passing laws making home-baked goods illegal to bring to school functions, but you have created the conditions to argue for more political power to be concentrated in your own hands. Brilliant!

4. I would argue that any sort of criticism of a student is offensive to that student's culture/race/gender/sex/etc., and constitutes a microaggression.

Argue that students have a "right to their own language," and you will be well on your way to not only destroying education, but to ensuring minorities across the board will remain poor and dependent on government. First, you have to create the completely false impression that cultures never change, and therefore any change is evidence of an insidious incursion by racists. Further, you have to argue that you should never criticize anyone for anything ever because to criticize someone harms their self-esteem. This will keep people in their place, socially, and ensure that the cultural elites are protected from incursion from among the ranks of the poor. It will also keep all those of other races in their place -- except for a few tokens to demonstrate you are anything but a racist, since after all, you have a representative from each race in your group. But by ensuring that you cannot criticize African-Americans or Hispanics on issue of grammar and pronunciation, you can ensure that they will remain in their place in society, and destroy education to boot! Because if you cannot criticize minorities for their grammar and pronunciation, it makes little sense to correct anybody of any race. This means there is little use for teaching grammar, or even having students read or write much. Of course, you can still keep your job as a writing teacher by teaching the writing process -- ensuring you will keep your job while teaching nothing whatsoever.

5. I would create as many scapegoats as possible, to keep people blaming others rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.

If racial minorities can blame others for their situation, they won't take it upon themselves to do anything about their own situations. More, they will see any criticism as a confirmation of racism. Criticism will therefore have the opposite effect, making sure racial minorities engage in behaviors detrimental to their educations and economic well-being. Doing poorly in school? It's because of others' racism. Poor? It's because of others' racism. Abusing your spouse and children? It's because of the social conditions created by racism. And guess what? The guilt of the majority helps ensure these things continue. If it is racist to criticize, we'll have to stop criticizing anyone. Thus, nobody learns anything. Apply this to the school system, and what you have is a situation where nobody can learn, because correcting anyone when they are wrong is racism. If you stick to your message that any criticism is racist, you can even create what ought to be recognized as the absurd situation of members of one's own race being called racist when they criticize the actions of members of their own race. When you have accomplished this, you will have done your job of creating the cultural conditions where education is completely devalued by significant portions of your society.

If I wanted to destroy education in a country, I would do all of the above. Sadly, you don't have to be an evil genius to accomplish this. An egalitarian culture is sufficient to accomplish it all.