Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Programmer, debug thyself

Back when I was in graduate school thinking about AI and Minsky's Society of Mind, I had vague notions that this stuff would be useful for practical psychology -- it could actually help people to make them aware that they are a collection of disparate agents with divergent goals. I thought about making software that would let you visualize and model your own agents, but never really took the idea anywhere.

Well, here's a programmer named Phillip Eby who has morphed himself into a self-help guru, with ideas that if not derived from SoM are pretty much completely in tune with it.

Now, when I say you're just a subroutine and that your animal nature is the kernel, this doesn't mean that we are robots or machines or that we don't control our actions. Far from it. I mean, however, that we are deluded when we think we directly control our actions, and therefore ascribe intention to our actions that doesn't exist.

Why does anyone do anything?

In fact, we frequently do things for reasons that are entirely opaque to us, and then make up reasons later to explain them, because nobody wants to admit that they don't know why they did something. Nonetheless, none of us know, because it's not in our process space to know why the kernel switches in this process at this time, and that process at another time. We can reverse engineer things, and we can use our "supervisor calls" to inject new programs into kernel space, sure, but we don't run in kernel space and we never will.

And yet, we all mostly go around pretending as if we did run things in our mind and body, which then leads to all sorts of screwed-up thinking - "delusion and ignorance" as the Zen Buddhists call it. We mistake kernel notifications for our own thoughts. We think our actions somehow reflect on us, when in fact they may reflect nothing more than a poorly-written script that the kernel is running. This is like trying to eat pictures of food: it might fill you up, but it's ultimately unsatisfying.

Well, this is all good stuff. But does it work? My resistance to self-help is extremely high, and when he starts talking about Self 2.0 like this:

About a month and a half ago, I pulled off the most successful hack of my own mind, ever. You could call it a personality transplant, or maybe an identity theft. It was so successful that it almost seems wrong to say that I was the one who did it, because the "I" who actually performed the hack isn't there any more, and this "I" is someone different
that's when I balk, and this quote from Dostoevsky comes to mind:
Now I am living out my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and only an idiot can make anything of himself.
That's me, an Eastern European underground man condemned to live in California with sunny self-improvers.

Oh yeah, and the other thing that makes me less than fully enthusiastic is his offer to vacuum up to $2500/year out of your pocket for his advice and insight.

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