Computation Outside The Nervous System

This presentation is quite mind-blowing. The full title is What Bodies Think About: Bioelectric Computation Outside the Nervous System and it shows almost incredible results of what happens when you influence the communication between cells, notably not neurons. Limb regeneration, double-headed worms, memory remaining after the brain was cut off!

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Call me old-fashioned. but I prefer RSS-feeds to any other way of reading the web. An open, de-centralized and automatic way of gathering the latest things from various sources, and presenting them in a consistent, ad-free and readable formatting of my own choice, without generating a shit-load of metadata for some platform - what more is there to want?

In recent years, I've been running Tiny Tiny RSS on a small rented v-server and it does the job. There is an App as well.

The one area where RSS has not fallen out of fashion yet, are podcasts. I sure hope that the diverse landscape of content and players (I use DoggCatcher) does not fall prey to the lures of platformization any time soon.

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Autumn leaves falling, close to Umeå, September 2007.



A few things I just read, watched or listened to, and found well worth the time.

Arsenic and Old Lace, a 1944 dark comedy with Cary Grant.

A Blogging Style Guide, entertaining.

I still recommend you go read Simler & Hanson's Elephant in the Brain. Another review.

Scott Alexander reviews a book about the mind and points toward Global Workspace Theory, which makes quite a bit of intuitive sense to me.

The latest Sam Harris podcast with Deeyah Khan is definitely one of his best conversations to date. On how neo-nazis and jihadists are similar, and how we need to do better in treating them, among other things.

Does money make you mean? Yes, it does.

Gollum Brexit. Brilliant!

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The Latest Homebrews

It's been over a year since I last wrote about homebrewing. Well, I guess I was rather doing than talking about it. The number of batches has been steadily increasing, the latest #35 is a red Pale Ale with lots of Ekuanot hops. Overall I've been following the seasonal styles tradition, meaning that I brewed a few lagers last winter (Helles, Dunkles and a very good strong Schwarzbier), some wheat beers in summer (both Bavarian and Belgian Wit), and Pale Ales and Stouts in between. My clones of the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (SNPA) and of the Chimay Red Belgian Dubbel came out very nicely. Next up are lagers again, starting with a Bohemian Pilsner.

With two years into the hobby, it makes sense to add up some numbers. I've now brewed 988 liters of beer with an average strength of 5.5% alc/vol and average batch size of 28 liters, where the size has been increasing over time once I figured out that you can dilute wort after boiling to make more of a weaker beer. This suits me well since I prefer highly drinkable beers to the show-off super-strong ones.

Summing up my order history on the relevant webshops for ingredients and equipment, I arrive at 1200 EUR. Adding another 200 for things unaccounted for, I get 71¢ per half-liter-bottle, which I usually use. This is about 75% of the price for the very cheapest beer that you can find in Swedish alcohol monopoly shops, and about a fifth of what a SNPA sets you back there.

Contrary to many other hobbies, I can therefore safely claim to actually having saved money with it. Although this was not the initial intention and still is far subordinate to the joy of making drinking my own beers, I like that homebrewing is not a money-sink for me. I'm sure it can be that, and is for some, but I've been following my usual rule of buying less and only very modestly upgraded the equipment. For example, I still use the same 30L-kettle for mash and boil as for the very first batch.

I also built a magnetic stir plate from scrap material that I had lying around. This is useful when harvesting yeast from bottles and to increse the cell count to get an adequate pitch rate for a batch.


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A few months ago I started baking bread, because good German-style bread is often difficult to get abroad. This one is a sour-dough bread from today, no yeast, just dark rye and some wheat flour, salt and water.

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On Consciousness

The other day I listened to Sean Carroll talking to David Chalmers about consciousness, among other related things. I won't summarize it here, go listen for yourself or read the transcript.

What I will do is shortly write down where I stand on some of these questions. Not because I think I have anything new to say, but to clarify it for myself and have a reference to see if I change my mind in the future.

Is there a "hard problem" of consciousness? I am not totally convinced. Maybe subjective experience is just what it feels like to have a brain that continuously hallucinates and updates a model of its body and the world around it. (Which reminds me that I should read more by Anil Seth.) I don't think this justifies calling consciousness an "illusion" though.

Dualism? No. Even if "property dualism" might not directly contradict the physical world, I find it much more of a stretch to assume some new fundamental property of matter than to just admit that we don't yet understand how matter makes minds.

Emergence. I am ambiguous about that term. Yes, it can be abused as a handwavy "magical" process that explains nothing. But it makes sense to have models of the world that work att different levels of description, as longs as the higher-level ones can, in principle, be reduced to and understood in terms of the more fundametal models.

Are philosophical zombies conceivable? I don't think so. An entity cannot behave the same way as a conscious being without a sophisticated mental model of itself and the world, and if subjective experience comes along with these, then there are no zombies.

Do we live in a simulation? Probably, but this makes surprisingly litte difference. Randomness in quantum mechanics and a finite observable universe? Very convenient ways to save calculation effort. Still, we want to understand as much as possible of how it all works and since the rules seem to be consistent throughout, without the gods intervening, it does not matter at all for every-day life, how the universe came about. Which is not to deny that the answer to this is ultimately interesting.

Addendum, 2018-12-14: By coincindence it turned out that, when I after a few months pause took up listening to Eliezer Yudkowsky's From AI to Zombies again, I had left it right at the beginning of the zombies chapter. Now that I am through it and its follow-ups, I cannot do much more than agree with Eliezer, since I found the reasoning convincing and couldn't have said it anywhere close to equally well.

In summary: While one might find the philosophical zombies conceivable, they are not in fact logically possible.

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Buying Less

It is possible to convince oneself that not buying stuff is better than to do it. I mean this not in a superficial sense like thinking of a good argument why it would be better to refrain from a purchase, but in the deeper sense of mentally exercising to get off the hedonic treadmill. Letting the brain's reward respose trigger not by clicking "Buy" on that webshop, but just before, and then closing that browser tab, happily avoiding another thing that might have been nice to have, but ultimately neither necessary nor fulfilling.

Related to that, I find that renovating and repairing things can be very rewading as well. The shoe rack or the table start to look shabby? Give them a new layer of paint! It probably takes less time than finding a replacement anyway. Get a sewing machine! They are a truly ingenious invention. Those dog toys or clothes for exercising need not be pretty, just functional.

Most important I find the insight that, sure, there are newer better nicer versions of anything that you have, but it is liberating not having to think about the next new thing, as long as the old one does the job and is good enough. My six year old laptop is quite beat-up by now and will not make it that much longer, but it is still fully functional and I am happily pushing the environmental and mental burdens of replacing it further into the future.

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Rouge Cloitre in Fall


Snapped a few weeks ago during a run around the Red Cloister.


Marginal Revolution

As probably the last person on the internet, I started reading economist Tyler Cowen's blog Marginal Revolution a little while ago. It is as worthwhile as everybody says. Also, his Conversations make a good addition to your podcast player, with quite an illustrious list of guests.

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