The following is a conversation with Yocha Bok, VP of research at the AEI Foundation, with a history of research positions at MIT and Harvard. Yocha is one of the most unique and brilliant people in the artificial intelligence community exploring the workings of the human mind, intelligence, consciousness, life on Earth and the possibly simulated fabric of our universe.
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Apple also donate ten dollars. The first, an organization that is helping advance robotics and stem education for young people around the world. And now here's my conversation with Yocha Buck. As you've said, you grew up in a forest in East Germany, just as we were talking about OFF-MIKE to parents who are artists. And now I think, at least to me, you've become one of the most unique thinkers in the world. So can we try to reverse engineer your mind a little bit?
What were the key philosophers, scientists, ideas, maybe even movies or just realizations that impact on you when you were growing up that kind of led to the trajectory or were the key sort of crossroads in the trajectory of your intellectual development? My father came from a long tradition of architects, distant branch of the family, and so basically he was technically inert and not need to interface in society with non-standard ways. Sometimes I define a nerd as somebody who thinks that the purpose of communication is to submit your ideas to peer review.
And, um, no more people understand that the primary purpose of communication is to negotiate alignment. And these purposes tend to conflict, which means that nerds have to learn how to interact with society at large. Who is the reviewer? In the nerds view of communication, everybody who you consider to be a peer, so whatever hapless individual is around, well, you would try to make him or her the gift of information.
OK, so you're not by the way, my research for male informed me. So you're. Architect, architecture, artist, study architecture, but, um, basically my grandfather made the wrong decision, he married an aristocrat and was drawn into into the war and he came back after 15 years. So basically, my father was not, um, parented by inert by, but by somebody who tried to tell him what to do and expected him to do what he was told and he was unable to or is unable to do things if he's not intrinsically motivated.
So in some sense, my grandmother broke her son and her son responded. By then he became an architect to become an artist. So he built Hundertwasser architecture. He built houses without right angles. Be lots of things that didn't work in the more bootless traditions of eastern Germany. And so he bought an old watermill and moved out of the countryside and did only what he wanted to do, which was art. Eastern Germany was perfect for him because you had complete material safety.
You put was heavily subsidized. Health care was free. You didn't have to worry about rent or pensions or anything.
So as a socialist communist side of this and the other things, it was almost impossible not to be in political disagreement with your government, which is very productive for artists. So everything that you do is intrinsically meaningful because it will always touch on the deeper currents of society of culture and be in conflict with that and tension visit. And you will always have to define yourself with respect to this.
So what impact did your father this outside the outside of the box thinker against the government, against the world artists? Have you was not a thinker.
You were somebody who only got half of it to the degree that he needed to make himself functional. So in some senses, it was also in the late 1960s and he was in some sense a hippie. So he became a one person cult. He lived out there in his kingdom. You build big sculpture gardens and started many avenues of art and so on and convinced a woman to live with them. She was also an architect and she adored him and decided to share her life with him.
And I basically grew up in a big cave full of books. I'm almost feral and I was bored out there. It was very, very beautiful, very quiet and quite lonely. So I started to read and by the time I came to school, I read everything until the fourth grade and then some. And there was not a real way for me to relate to the outside world. And I couldn't quite put my finger on why. And today I know it was because I was nerd, obviously, and it was the only nerd around.
So there was no other kids like me and there was nobody interested in physics or computing or mathematics and so on. And this village school that I went to was a nice school. Kids were nice to me. I was not beaten up. But I also didn't make many friends or built deep relationships. They only happened and starting from ninth grade when I went to a school for mathematics and physics.
Do you remember any key books from myself? I think I read everything. So I went to the library and I worked my way through the children's and young adult sections and then I read a lot of science fiction. For instance, Stanislav Leme, basically the great author of cybernetics, has influenced me back then. I didn't see him as a big influence because everything that he wrote seemed to be so natural to me. It's only later that I contrasted it with what other people wrote.
Another thing that was very influential on me, the classical philosophers and also the teacher of romanticism. So German poetry and art and trustor, Hulshof and Haina and up to Hesser and so on as a love has her.
So at which point is the classical philosophers? And at this point or in the 21st century, what's what's the latest classical philosopher? Does this stretch through even as far as Nietzsche or is this are we talking about Plato and Aristotle?
And I think that nature is the classical equivalent of a set poster. So there is classical Trotsky to read and yeah, but he's not so much taller.
Others, he's trotting himself because he was at odds with the world. Largely his romantic relationships didn't work out. He got angry and he basically became a nihilist.
And that is that a beautiful way to be as an intellectual is to constantly be trying yourself to be in that conflict, in that no attention, lack of self-awareness.
At some point, you have to understand the comedy of your own situation. If you take yourself seriously and you are not functional, it ends in tragedy, as it did for nature.
I think you think he took himself too seriously and that in that tension and it's the same thing in Hesser and so on, this Steppenwolf's syndrome is classic adolescence where you basically feel misunderstood by the world and you don't understand that all the misunderstandings are the result of your own lack of self awareness, because you think that you are a prototypical human and the others around you should behave the same way as you expect them based on. Innate instincts, and it doesn't work out and you become a transcendentalist to deal with that.
So it's very, very understandable and have great sympathy for this to the degree that I can have sympathy for my own intellectual history.
But what if it was an intellectual, a life well lived, a journey while child is one where you don't take yourself seriously from?
I think that you are neither serious or not serious yourself because you need to become unimportant as a subject. That is, if you are a philosopher, belief is not a verb. Now, you don't do this for the audience and you don't do it for yourself.
You have to submit to the things that are possibly true and you have to follow wherever you are rereleased. But it's not about you. It has nothing to do with you.
Do you think then people like Ayn Rand believed sort of an idea of objective truth? So what's your sense in the philosophical? If you remove yourself as objective from the picture, you think it's possible to actually discover ideas that are true? Or are we just in a matter of relative concepts that are either true or false? It's just a giant mess.
You cannot define objective truth without understanding the nature of truths in the first place. Or what does the brain mean by saying that? Discover something as truth.
So, for instance, a model can be predictive or not predictive, then that can be a sense in which a mathematical statement can be true because it's defined as true under certain conditions. So it's basically a particular state that a variable can have an assembled game and then you can have a correspondence between systems and talk about truths, which is again a type of model correspondence, and that also seems to be a particular kind of ground. So, for instance, you're confronted with the enormity of something existing at all.
Right, that's stunning when you realize something exists rather than nothing. And this seems to be all right. There is an absolute truth in the fact that something seems to be happening.
Yeah, that's that to me is a showstopper. I can just think about that idea and be amazed by that idea for the rest of my life and not go any farther because I don't even know the answer to that. Why does anything exist at all?
Well, the easiest answer is existence is the default rate. So this is the lowest number of bits that you would need to encode. This was the answer to the simplest answer is that existence is the default.
What about non-existence?
I mean, there seems non-existence might not be a meaningful notion in the sense or in some sense, if everything that can exist exists for something to exist, it probably needs to be implementable. The only thing that can be implemented is finite automata. So maybe the whole of existence is the superposition of all finite automata. And we are in some region of the fractal that has the properties that it can contain us.
What does it mean to be a superposition of another swinish superposition of all, like all possible rules?
Imagine that every automaton is basically an operator that acts on some substrate and as a result you get emergent patterns, most of substrate, um, no idea to know. So some substrate, it's some sort of something that can store information, something they can store information.
There's something that can hold state still. Does it make sense to me the why that exists at all? I could just sit there with a with a beer or or a vodka and just enjoy the fact pondering the why may not have a why this might be the wrong direction to ask into this.
So there could be no relation in the right direction without asking for a purpose or cause. It doesn't mean that everything has to have a purpose or cause. Right.
So we mentioned some philosophers in that early, just taking a brief step back into into that.
So we asked ourselves, when did classical philosophy end? I think what Germany largely ended was the first revolution that's basically even which was that this was when the end of the monarchy and started a democracy. And at this point, B basically came up with a new form of government that didn't have a good sense of the new organism. That society wanted to be an innovator, decapitator, the universities. So the universities went on to modernism like a headless chicken.
At the same time, democracy failed in Germany and we got fascism as a result. Yeah, and it burned down things in a similar way as Stalinism burnt down intellectual traditions in Russia and Germany. Both Germanys have not recovered from this. Eastern Germany had this vulgar dialectic materialism and western Germany didn't get much more edgy than Habermas. So in some sense, both countries lost their intellectual traditions and killing off and driving out the Jews didn't help.
Yes, that was the end. That was the end of really rigorous thought. What you say is classical classical philosophy.
There's also this thing that in some sense, the low hanging fruit and philosophy were mostly wrapped. And the last big things that we discovered was the constructivist turn in mathematics. So to. And that the parts of mathematics that work are a computation. There was a very significant discovery in the first half of the 20th century and it hasn't fully permeated philosophy and even physics yet. Physicists checked out the, quote, libraries for mathematics before constructivism became universal.
What constructivism what are you referring to? Girls and completeness theorem, that kind of those kinds of ideas.
The girl himself, I think, didn't get it yet. Hilbert could get it. Foubert saw that, for instance, countries said 080 experiments in mathematics led into contradictions. And he noticed that the current semantics you cannot build a computer in mathematics that runs mathematics without crashing and good proof could prove this. And so what Google could show is using classical mathematical semantics, you run into contradictions. And because Google strongly believed in these semantics and then in what you could observe and so on, he was shocked.
It basically shook his world to the core because in some sense, he felt that the world has to be implemented in classical mathematics. Yes. And for Turing, it wasn't quite so bad. I think that you could see that the solution is to understand that mathematics was computation all along, which means you, for instance, PI in classical mathematics is a value. It's also a function, but it's the same thing in computation, a function is only a value when you can compute it, and if you cannot compute the last digit of PI, you only have a function.
You can plug this function into your local sun, let it run until the sun burns out. This is it. This is the last digit of pi, you will know. But it also means there can be no process in the physical universe or in any physically realized computer. That depends on having known the last mission of PI.
Yes, which means there are parts of physics that are defined in such a way that cannot strictly be taught because assuming that this could be true into contradictions.
So I think putting computation at the center of the world view is actually the right way to think about it. Yes.
And Wittgenstein could see it and Wittgenstein basically preempted the logic largest program of that. Minsky started later. Like 30 years later, Turing was actually a pupil of Wittgenstein.
And I didn't know there's any connection between it and don't even canceled some classes.
Venturing was not present because he thought it was not worth spending the time.
That's interesting. If you read the Tractatus, it's a very beautiful book by capacity one thought on 75 pages, very non-tropical for philosophy because it doesn't have arguments in it and it doesn't have references. And it's just one thought that there's not intending to convince anybody who says it's mostly for people that had the same insight as me. Just spell it out. And this insight is there is a way in which mathematics and philosophy ought to meet. Mathematics tries to understand the domain of all languages by starting with those that are so formal that you can prove all the properties of the statements that you make.
But the price that you pay is that your language is very, very simple. So it's very hard to say something meaningful in mathematics. Yes, and it looks complicated to people, but it's far less complicated than what our brain is casually doing all the time. Makes sense of reality. That's right. And philosophy is coming from the top. So it's mostly starting from natural languages with a vaguely defined concepts. And the hope is that mathematics and philosophy can meet at some point.
And Wittgenstein was trying to make that meet and he already understood that, for instance, you could express everything was the calculus that you could produce the entire logic to NAND gates, as we do in our modern computers. So in some sense, you already understood Turing Universality before Turing spelled it out? I think when he wrote the Tractatus, he didn't understand yet that the idea was so important and significant. And I suspect then when Turing wrote it out, nobody cared that much you're doing was not that famous when you lived.
It was mostly his work and decrypting the German codes that made him famous or gave him some notoriety. But this same status that he has to computer science right now. Yeah, something that I think he could acquire later.
That's kind of interesting. Do you think of computation and computer science and you kind of represent that to me? Maybe that's the modern day. You, in a sense, are the new philosopher by sort of the computer scientist who dares to ask the bigger questions. That philosophy originally started is the new philosophy.
Is the new philosopher certainly not me. I think I mostly build this child that grows up in a very beautiful valley and looks at the world from the outside and tries to understand what's going on. And my teachers tell me things and they largely don't make sense. Right? So I have to make my own models. I have to discover the foundations of what the others are saying. I have to try to fix them to be charitable. I try to understand what they must have thought originally or what their teachers or their teachers teachers must have thought until everything got lost in translation and how to make sense of the reality that we are in.
And whenever I have an original idea, I'm usually late to the party by, say, 400 years. And the only thing that's good is that the parties get smaller and smaller. The older I get in, the more I explore the party. The parties get smaller and more exclusive and more exclusive.
So it seems like one of the key qualities of your upbringing was that you were not tethered. Whether it's because your parents or in general, maybe you're something within your within your mind, some genetic material.
They were not tethered to the ideas of the general populace, which is actually a unique property. We're kind of, you know, the education system and whatever from the education system just existing in this world forces a certain set of ideas that you can you disentangle that?
Why were you why are you not so tethered even in your work today?
You seem to not care about perhaps a best paper in Europe's right.
Being tethered to particular things that current today. In this year, people seem to value as a thing. You put on your CV and resume. You're a little bit more outside of that world, outside of the world of ideas that people especially focus on the benchmarks of today, the things what can you disentangle that? Because I think that's inspiring. And if there were more people like that, we might be able to solve some of the bigger problems that sort of I.
Dreams to solve, and that's a big danger in this, because in a way, you are expected to marry into an intellectual tradition and within this tradition into a particular school. If everybody comes up with their own paradigms, the whole thing is not cumulative as an enterprise. Right. So in some sense, you need a healthy balance. You need paradigmatic thinkers and you need people that work within given paradigms. Basically sciences today to find themselves largely by methods.
And it's almost a disease that we think as a scientist, somebody who was convinced by their guidance counselor that they should join a particular discipline and then they find a good mentor to learn the right methods and then they are lucky enough and privileged enough to join the right team. And then their name will show up on influential papers. But we also see that there are diminishing returns with this approach. And when our field computer science they started, most of the people that joined this field had interesting opinions.
And today's thinkers and I either don't have interesting opinions at all or these opinions are inconsequential for what they're actually doing, because what they're doing is they apply the state of the art methods with a small epsilon. And this is often a good idea if if you think that this is the best way to make progress. And for me, it's, first of all, very boring. If somebody else can do it, why should I do it right? If if the current methods of measuring learning lead to strong A.I., why should I be doing it right?
I guess just wait until they're done and wait until they do this on the beach or read interesting books or write them and have fun. But if you don't think that you're currently doing the right thing, if you are missing some perspectives, then it's required to think outside of the box. It's also required to understand the boxes. But it's it's necessary to understand what worked and what didn't work and for what reasons. So you have to be willing to ask new questions and design new methods whenever you want to answer them.
And you have to be willing to dismiss the existing methods if you think that they're not going to yield the right answers. It's very bad career advice to do that. So maybe to briefly stay for one more time in the early days, when would you say if you was the dream before we dive into the discussions that we just almost started?
When was the dream to understand or maybe to create human level intelligence born for you? I think that you can see I largely today is, um, advanced information processing, if you will, change the acronym of A.I. into that. Most people in the field would be happy. It would not change anything. What they're doing by automating statistics and many of the statistical models are more advanced than what statisticians had in the past. And it's pretty good work. It's very productive.
And the the other aspect of A is philosophical project. And this philosophical project is very risky. And very few people work on it and it's not clear if it succeeds.
So first of all, you keep throwing sort of a lot of really interesting ideas. And I have to pick which ones we go with.
But sort of first of all, you use the term information processing.
Just information processing, as if it's it's the mere it's the muck of existence, as if it's the epitome of that, that the entirety of the universe may be information processes, that consciousness and intelligence be information so that maybe you can comment on if that's if the advanced information processing is is a limiting kind of realm of ideas. And then the other one is, what do you mean by the philosophical project?
So I suspect that general intelligence is the result of trying to solve general problems. So intelligence, I think, is the ability to model. It's not necessarily goal directed rationality or something. Many intelligent people are bad at this, but it's the ability to be presented with a number of patterns and see a structure in those patterns and be able to predict the next set of patterns to make sense of things. And some problems are a very general, usually intelligence service control.
So you make these models for a particular purpose of interacting as an agent with the world and getting certain results. But it's the intelligence itself is, in the sense instrumental to something. But by itself, it's just the ability to make models. And some of the problems are so general that the system that makes them needs to understand what itself is and how it relates to the environment. So as a child, for instance, you notice you do certain things despite you perceiving yourself as wanting different things.
So you become aware of your own psychology. You become aware of the fact that you have a complex structure in yourself and you need to model yourself to reverse engineer yourself, to be able to predict how you will react to certain situations and how you deal with yourself in relationship to your environment and this process. If this project if you reverse engineer yourself and your relationship to reality and the nature of a universe that can continue if you go all the way.
This is basically the project of A.I. or you could say the project of AI is a very important component in it. That you Turing test in a way, is you ask a system what is intelligence? If that system is able to explain what it is, how it works, then you should sign it. The property of being intelligent in this general sense or the test that you're doing was administering in a way I don't think that he couldn't see it, but he didn't express it yet.
And the original 1950 paper, it's that he was trying to find out whether he was generally intelligent, because in order to take this test, the rap is, of course, you need to be able to understand what that system is saying. And we don't yet know if we can build on it. We don't yet know if we are generally intelligent. Basically, you win the Turing test by building an AI.
Yes. So so in a sense, hidden within the Turing test is a kind of recursive test.
Yes, it's a test on us. The Turing test is basically a test of the conjecture whether people are intelligent enough to understand themselves. OK, but you also mentioned a little bit of a self-awareness and then the project. Why do you think this kind of emergent self-awareness is one of the fundamental aspects of intelligence?
So as opposed to goal oriented, is this a kind of puzzle solving as coming to grips with the idea that you're an agent in the world and the find that many highly intelligent people are not very self-aware?
Right. So self-awareness and intelligence are not the same thing. And you can also be self aware if you have, what, priors, especially without being especially intelligent. So you don't need to be very good at solving puzzles if the system that you are already implements the solution. But I do find intelligence.
So you kind of mentioned children, right?
It is that the fundamental project of A.I. is to create the learning system that's able to exist in the world. So you kind of draw a difference in self-awareness and intelligence.
And yet you said that the self-awareness seems to be important for children.
So I call this ability to make sense of the world and your own place in it all to make you able to understand what you are doing in this world, sentience and what distinguishes Danton's from intelligence, because sentience is possessing certain classes of models and intelligence is the way to get to these models if you don't already have them.
So can you can you maybe pause a bit and try to. Answered the question that we just said we may not be able to answer and it might be a recursive meta question of what is intelligence?
And I think that intelligence is the ability to make models for models.
I think it's useful as examples, very popular. Now, neural networks form representations. Of. Large scale data set, they they form models, although the results when you say models and look at today's neural networks, what are the difference of how you're thinking about what is intelligent in saying that intelligence is the process of making models to aspects to to this question?
One is the representation, is the representation adequate for the domain that we want to represent. And the other one is, is the type of the model that you arrive at adequate. So basically, are you modeling the correct domain? And I think in both of these cases, what is lacking still? And I think that I'm not saying anything new. We are not criticizing the field. Most of the people that design our paradigms are aware of that. And so one aspect that we are missing is unified learning.
When we learn, we at some point discover that everything that we sense is part of the same object, which means we learn it all into one model and we call this model the universe. So our experience of the world that we are embedded on is not a secret. Direct Vyatta, physical reality. Physical reality is if you are quantum graph that we can never experience or get access to, but it has the properties that it can create certain patterns that our systemic interface to the world.
And we make sense of these patterns and the relationship between the patterns that we discover is what we call the physical universe. So at some point in our development as a nervous system, we discover that everything that we relate to and in the world can be mapped to a region in the same three dimensional space. By and large, we now know in physics that this is not quite true. Well, there's not actually Three-Dimensional. But the world that we are entangled with at a level which we are entangled with is largely a flat, three dimensional space.
And so this is the model that our brain is intuitively making. And this is, I think, what gave rise to this intuition of extensor, of this material about this material domain. It's one of the mental domains, but it's just the class of all models that relate to the environment is three dimensional physics engine in which we are embedded physics engine which were embedded.
I love that it just slowly pours.
So the quantum graph, I think you call that, which is the real world which you can never get access to.
There's a bunch of questions I want to sort of disentangle that, but maybe one useful one, one of your recent talks I looked at. Can you just describe the basics?
Can you talk about what is dualism or does idealism or is materialism? What is functionalism and what connects with you most in terms of because you just mentioned there's a reality we don't have access to. OK, what does that even mean? And why don't we get access to it and be part of that reality?
Why don't we why can we access it? So the particular trajectory that mostly exists in the West is the result of our indoctrination by a card for 2000 years, which is also the Catholic class mostly. Yes. And for better or worse, it has created or defined many of the modes of interaction that we have that have created this society. But it has also, in some sense. Scart our irrationality and the intuition that exists, if you would translate the mythology of the Catholic Church into the modern world, is that the world in which you and me interact is something like a multiplayer role playing adventure.
Yes. And the money and the objects that we have in this world, this is all not real.
Or as esteemed philosophers would say, it's my it's just stuff that is supposed to be meaningful. And this embedding in this meaning, if you believe in it, it's samsara. It's basically the identification with the needs of the mundane, secular, everyday existence. And the Catholics also introduced the notion of higher meaning, the sacred. And this existed before. But eventually the natural shape of God is the platonic form of the civilization that you're a part of. It's basically the super organism that is formed by the individuals as an international agent.
And basically the Catholics used a relatively crude mythology to implement software on the minds of people and get the software synchronized to make them walk lockstep.
You get to get this got online and to make it efficient and effective. And I think God technically is just a self that spends multiple brains as opposed to your own myself, which mostly exists just on one brain. Right. And so in some sense, you can construct a self functionally as a function as implemented by brains that exists across brains. And this is a God with a small G.
That's one of the few Yuval Harari kind of talking about is this is one of the nice features of our brains, it seems to that we can all download the same piece of software we got in this case and kind of share it.
You give everybody a speck and the mathematical constraints that are intrinsic to information processing make sure that given the same spec, you come up with a compatible structure.
OK, so that's there's a space of ideas that we all share and we think that's kind of the mind. But that's separate from the idea is from from Christianity, for from religion is that there's a separate thing between the mind as a real world.
And the real world is the world in which God exists. God is the quarter of the multiplayer adventure, so to speak. And we are all players in this game.
And that's dualism, you say. But the fact is, because the mental realm is exists and the different implementation than the physical and the mental realm is real. And a lot of people have this intuition that there's this real room in which you and me talk and speak right now. Then comes a layer of physics and abstract rules and so on. And then comes another real room where our souls are. And our tool form isn't a thing that gives us phenomenal experience.
And there's, of course, a very confused notion that you would get and it's basically it's the result of connecting materialism and idealism in the wrong way.
So, OK, I apologize, but I think it's really helpful if we just try to define tried to define terms like what is dualism, what does idealism, what is materialism for people, Donna?
So the idea of dualism in our cultural tradition is that there are two substances, a mental substance and a physical substance, and they interact by different rules. And the physical world is basically causally closed and is built on a low level causal structure. So the bottom level that is causally closed, that's entirely mechanical and mechanical in the widest sense. So it's computational. It's basically a physical world in which information flows around and physics describes the laws of how information flows around.
And which would you compare it to? Like a computer or you have a hardware and software.
The computer is a generalization of information flowing around, basically, but you won't discover that is the universal principle. You can define this universal machine that is able to perform all the computations so all these machines have the same power. This means that you can always define a translation between them as long as they have unlimited memory, um, to be able to perform each other's computations.
So would you then say that materialism is this whole world is just the hardware and idealism is this whole world is just a software?
Uh, not quite. I think that most idealists don't have a notion of software yet because software also comes down to information processing. Right. So what you notice is the only thing that is real to you and me is this experiential world in which things matter, in which things have taste and which things of color, phenomenal content and so on.
And we are bringing up consciousness, OK? And this is distinct from the physical world in which things have values in only in an abstract sense, and you only look at court patterns moving around.
So how does anything feel like something in this connection between the two things is very puzzling to a lot of people and of course, too many philosophers. So idealism starts out with the notion that minder's primary materialism. Things that matter as primary and so for the idealist, the material patterns that we see playing playing out are part of the dream that the mind is dreaming and exist in the mind on a higher plane of existence if you want. And for the materialist, there is only this material thing and that generates some models.
And we are the result of these models. And in some sense, I don't think that we should understand. If you understand it properly, materialism and idealism is a dichotomy. But as to different aspects of the same thing. So the weird thing is we don't exist in the physical world. We do exist inside of a story that the brain tells itself.
OK, let me get my information processing I take to take that in. We don't exist in the physical world. We exist in the narrative.
Basically, a brain cannot feel anything. New York cannot feel anything. They're physical things. Physical systems are unable to experience anything. But it would be very useful for the brain or for the organism to know what it would be like to be a person and to feel something. Yeah. So the brain creates a simulacrum of such a person that it uses to model the interactions of the person. It's the best model of what that brain, this organism thinks it is in relationship to its environment.
So it creates that model. It's a story, a multimedia novel that the brain is continuously writing and updating.
But you also kind of said that you said that we kind of exist in that and say, yes, that story what is real in any of this.
So, like, there's, again, these terms are you kind of said there's a quantum graph. I mean, what is what is this whole thing running on then is the story?
And is it completely, fundamentally impossible to get access to it? Because isn't the story supposed to is in the brain in a in in something in existing in some kind of context?
So what we can identify as computer scientists, we can engineer systems and test our theories this way that may have the necessary and sufficient properties to produce the phenomena that we're observing, which is there is the self in a virtual world that is generated in somebody's neocortex, that is contained in the skull of this primate here. And by that point at this indexical, it is, of course, wrong. But I do create something that is likely to give rise to patterns on your retina that allow you to interpret what I'm saying.
Right. But we both know that the world that you and me are seeing is not the real physical world, but we are seeing is a virtual reality generated in your brain to explain the patterns on your retina are closest to the real world.
That's kind of the question. Is that. When you have when you have like people like Donna Hoffman, as say that, like that, you're really far away. The thing we're seeing, you and I now, that interface we have is very far away from anything. Like we don't even have anything close, like to the sense of what the real world is or is it a very surface piece of architecture.
Imagine you look at the Mandelbrot fractal, right? This famous thing that one man would discover if you're a you see an overall shape in there. Right. But, you know, if you truly understand it, you know, it's two lines of code. It's basically in a serious that is being tested for complex numbers in a complex number, plain for every point. And for those where the series is diverging, you paint this black and it's converging. You don't and you get the intermediate colors by taking how fast it diverges.
Yes, this gives you this shape of this fractal. But imagine you live inside of this fractal and you don't have access to where you are in the fractal or you have not discovered the generator function even. Right. So what you see is all I can see right now is the spiral and the spiral moves a little bit to the right. Is this an accurate model of reality? Yes, it is. Right. It is an adequate description is, you know, that there is actually no spiral in the middle.
But frankly, it only appears like this to an observer that is interpreting things as a two dimensional space and then to find certain regularities in there at a certain scale that are currently observed, because if you zoom in, the spiral might disappear, turn out to be something different at a different resolution, right? Yes. So at this level, you have the spiral and then you discover the spiral moves to the right and some point it disappears. So you have a singularity.
At this point, your model is no longer valid. You cannot predict what happens beyond the singularity, but you can observe again and you will see it in another spiral. And at this point it disappears. So we know of a second order law. And if you make thirty layers of these laws, then you have a description of the world that is similar to the one that we come up with. When we describe the reality around us, it's reasonably predictive.
It does not cut to the core of it. So you explain how it's being generated, how it actually works. But it's relatively good to explain the universe of your entanglement.
But you don't think the tools of computer size, of the tools of physics could get could step outside, see the whole drawing and get at the basic mechanism of how the pattern, the spirals are generated?
Um, imagine you would find yourself embedded into a Mandelbrot fractal and you try to figure out what works. And you you know, some however, Turing machine, there's enough memory to think. And as a result, you come to this idea, it must be some kind of automaton and maybe you just enumerate all the possible automata until you get to the one that produces your reality so you can identify necessary and sufficient condition. For instance, if you discover that mathematics itself is the domain of all languages.
And then we see that most of the domains of mathematics that we have discovered are in some sense describing the same fractals as what category theory is obsessed about, that you can map these different domains to each other so they're not that many fractals. And some of these have interesting structure and symmetry breaks. And so you can discover what region of this global fractal you might be embedded in from first principles. Yes, but the only way you can get there is from first principles.
So basically your understanding of the universe has to start with automata and the number theory and then spaces and so on.
Yeah, I think like Stephen Wolfram still dreams that he's that he'll be able to arrive at the fundamental rules of the cellular automata or the generalization of which is behind our universe.
Yeah, it's. You've said on this topic, you said in a recent conversation that, quote, Some people think that a simulation can't be conscious and only a physical system can. But it got a completely backward a physical system cannot be conscious. Only a simulation can be conscious. Consciousness is a simulated property that simulated itself. Just like you said, the mind is kind of the call it story narrative. There's a simulation or so our mind is essentially a simulation.
And you live and I try to use the terminology so that the mind is basically the principles that produced the simulation. It's the software that is implemented by your brain and the mind is creating both the universe that we are in and the self, the idea of a person that is on the other side of attention and is embedded in this world.
Why is that important? That idea of a self was an important feature in the simulation.
It's basically a result of the purpose that the mind has. It's a tool for modeling, right? We are not actually monkeys. We are side effects of the regulation needs of monkeys. And what the monkey has to regulate is the relationship of an organism to an outside world that is large part also consisting of other organisms. And as a result, it basically has regulation targets that it tries to get to these regulation targets. It was Pryors. They are basically like unconditional reflexes that we are more or less born with, and then we can reverse engineer them to make them more consistent.
And then we get more detailed models about how the world works and how to interact with it. And so these prayers that you commit to a largely targeted values that our needs, what approach set points and this deviation to the set point creates some urch, some tension. And we find ourselves living inside of feedback loops. Right. Consciousness emerges over dimensions of disagreements with the universe, things that you care. Things are not the way they should be, but you need to regulate.
And so in some sense, the sense of self is the result of all the IDs that you are having. An ID is a regulation Trogir that you're committing to. It's a dimension that you care about. Do you think is important? And this is also what locks you in. If you let go of these commitments of these IDs, you get free. There's nothing that you have to do anymore. And if you let go of all of them, you're completely free and you can enter Nirvana because you're done.
And actually, this is a good time to pause and say thank you to a friend of mine, Gustaaf Soderstrom, who introduced me to your work. I wanted to give him a shout out. He's a brilliant guy. And I think the AA community is actually quite amazing and is a good representative that you are as well. Some I'm glad. First of all, I'm glad the Internet exists to exist where I can watch your talks and then get to your book and study your writing and think about, you know, that's amazing.
OK, but the you've kind of of this emergent phenomena of consciousness from the simulation. So what about the hard problem of consciousness? Can you just linger on it like why does it still feel like I understand you're kind of the self is an important part of the simulation? But why does the simulation feel like something? So if you look at a book by, say, George R.R. Martin, where the characters have plausible psychology and they stand on a hill because they want to conquer the city below the hill and they're done in it, and they look at the color of the sky and they are apprehensive and feel empowered and all these things.
Why do they have these emotions? It's because it's written into the story. Right. And it's written to the story because it's an adequate model of the person that predicts what they're going to do next. And the same thing has happened to all of us.
So it's basically a story that our brain is writing. It's not written in words. It's written in a perceptual content, basically multimedia content. And it's a model of what the person would feel if it existed. So it's a virtual person and you and me happen to be this virtual persons of this virtual person gets access to the language center and talks about the sky being blue and this is us. But hold on a second.
Do I exist in your simulation?
You do exist almost similar way as me. So their internal states that I that are less accessible for me that you have and so on, and my model might not be completely adequate. There are also things that I might perceive about you that you don't perceive. But in some sense, both you and me are some puppets to puppets that play in my mind and identify with one of them because I couldn't control one of the puppet directly and was the other one.
I can create things in between. So, for instance, we can go in and interact and that even leads to a coupling to a feedback loop so we can think things together in a certain way or feel things together. But this coupling is itself not a physical phenomenon, is entirely a software phenomenon. It's the result of two different implementations interacting with each other.
So that's interesting. So are you suggesting I like the way you think about it? Is the entirety of existence a simulation? And we're kind of each mind is a little sub simulation. That like, why don't you why doesn't your mind have access? To my mind's full state, like for the same reason that my mind doesn't have access to its own fault state, so what?
I mean, there is no trick involved. So basically, when I know something about myself, it's because I made a model out of your brain is tasked with modeling what other parts of your brain are doing.
Yes, but there seems to be an incredible consistency about this world in the physical sense that is repeatable experiments and so on. Yeah. How does that fit in to see the center of a simulation of the world? So why is it so why is everything so repeatable and not everything? There's a lot of fundamental physics experiments that are repeatable.
For a long time, all over the place and so on, laws of physics, how does that fit in? It seems that parts of the world that are not deterministic are not long lived. So if you build a system, any kind of automaton, so if you build simulations of something, you'll notice that the phenomena that endure are those that give rise to stable dynamics. So basically, if you see anything that is complex in the world, it's the result usually of some control of some feedback that keeps it stable around certain attractors and the things that are not stable, that don't give rise to certain harmonic patterns and so on.
They tend to get weeded out over time. So if we are in a region of the universe that sustains complexity, which is required to implement minds like ours, this is going to be a region of the universe that is very tightly controlled and controllable. So it's going to have lots of interesting symmetries and also symmetry breaks that allow the creation of structure. But they exist where so there's such an interesting idea that mind is stimulation that's constructing the narrative. My question is just to try to understand how that fits with this with the entirety of the universe.
You're saying that there's a region of this universe that allows enough complexity to create creatures like us.
But what's the connection between the the brain, the mind and the broader universe which comes first, which is more fundamental?
Is the is the mind a starting point? The universe is emergent. Is the universe the starting point? The minds are emergent.
Um, I think quite clearly the latter is at least a much easier explanation because it allows us to make causal models and I don't see any way to construct an inverse causality.
So what happens when you die to your mind simulation? Um, my implementation ceases. So basically the thing that implements myself will no longer be present, which means if I am not implemented on the minds of other people, the thing that I identify with this weird thing is I don't actually have an identity beyond the identity that I construct. If I was the Dalai Lama. He identifies as a form of government. So basically the Dalai Lama gets reborn not because he is confused, but because he is not identifying as a human being.
He runs on a human being. He's basically a governmental software. Right. That is instantiated in every new generation. And you saw his advisors will pick someone who does this in the next generation. So if you identify with this, you are no longer human and you don't die in the sense the what dies is only the body of the human that you run on to kill the Dalai Lama, you would have to kill his tradition. And if we look at ourselves, we realize that we are to a small part like this, most of us, for if you have children, you realize something lives on in them, or if you spark an idea in the world, something lives on or if you identify with the society around you because you are a part that you're not just a human being.
So in a sense, you are kind of like a Dalai Lama in the sense that you, Josh Harbach, is just a collection of ideas like you have this operating system on, which is a bunch of ideas live and interact. And then once you die, there kind of some of them jump off the should it put it the other way.
Identity is a software state. It's a construction. It's not physically real. Your identity is not a physical concept. It's basically a representation of different objects on the same line. But identity.
Lives and dies, are you attached? This is what's the fundamental thing is that the ideas that come together to form identity or each individual identity actually are fundamental thing.
It's a representation that you can get agency over if you care. So basically you can choose what you identify if you want to, but it just seems.
If if the mind is not real, it's not that the the birth and death is not a crucial part of it.
Well, maybe I'm silly. Maybe I'm attached to this whole biological organism.
But it seems that the physical being, a physical object in this world is is an important aspect of birth and death. Like it feels like it has to be physical to die. It feels like simulations don't have to die.
The physics that we experience is not the real physics. There is no color and sound in the real world. Color and sound are types of representations that you get if you want to. Model reality was oscillators. It's all colors and sound in some sense. Have octaves. Yes. And it's because they are represented properly with oscillators. Right. So that's why colors form a circle of use and colors have harmonic sounds, have harmonics as a result of synchronizing oscillators in the brain.
Right. So the world that we subjectively interact with is fundamentally the result of the representation mechanisms in our brain there mathematically to some degree, universal. There are certain regularities that you can discover in the patterns and not others, but the patterns that we get. This is not the real world. The world that we interact with is always made of too many parts to count. Right? So when you look at this table and so on, it's consisting of so many molecules and atoms that you cannot count them.
So you only look at the aggregate dynamics that limit dynamics. If you had almost infinitely many patterns of particles, what would be the dynamics of the table? And this is roughly what you get for geometry that you're interacting with is the result of discovering those operators that work in the limit that you get by building an infinite serious that converges for those parts where it converges its geometry, for those parts where it doesn't convergence. Chaos.
Right. And then so all of that is filtered through the sort of the consciousness that's emergent in our narrative, that the consciousness gives it color, gives a feeling, gives a flavor. So I think the feeling flavor and so on is given by the relationship that a future has to all the other features. It's basically a giant relational graph that is our subjective universe. The color is given by those aspects of the representation or the experiential color where you care about where you have identification's.
There's something mean, something where you are the inside of a feedback loop. When the dimensions of of caring are basically dimensions of this motivational system that we emerge over the the meaning of the relations, the graph.
Can you elaborate on that a little bit? Like where does the maybe even step back and ask the question of what is consciousness to be sort of more systematic? Like what what what do you how do you think about consciousness?
And consciousness is largely a model of the contents of your attention. It's a mechanism that has evolved for a certain type of learning. At the moment, our machine learning systems largely work by building chains of weighted sums of real numbers for some non-linearity. And you learn by typing and error signals all these different chain layers and adjusting the weights and these weighted terms. And you can approximate the most polynomial with this if you have enough training data. But the prices you need to change a lot of these weights.
Basically, the arrow is piped backwards into the system until it accumulates at certain junctures in the network and everything else evens out statistically. And only at this juncture, this is where you had the actual error in the network. You make the change there. This is a very slow process and our brains don't have enough time for that because we don't get old enough to play go the way that our machines learn to play golf. So instead, what we do is an attention based learning.
We pinpoint the probable region in the network where we can make an improvement, and then we store the this binding state together with the expected outcome in a protocol and this ability to make indexed memories for the purpose of learning to revisit these commitments later. This requires a memory of the contents of our attention. Another aspect is when I construct my reality, I make mistakes. So I see things that turn out to be reflections or shadows and so on, which means I have to be able to point out which features of my perception gave rise to a present construction of reality.
So the system needs to pay attention to the features that are currently in its focus. And it also needs to pay attention to whether it pays attention itself, in part because the attentional system gets trained with the same mechanism. So it's reflexive, but also in part because your attention lapses if you don't pay attention to the attention itself. Right. So it's the thing that I'm currently seeing, just a dream that my brain has spun off into some kind of daydream, or am I still paying attention to my percept?
So you have to periodically go back. Whether you're still paying attention and if you have this loop and you make it tight enough between the system becoming aware of the contents of its attention and the fact that it's paying attention to itself and makes attention the object of its attention, I think this is the look of it. You wake up.
So there's this so there's this attachment mechanism that's somehow self-referential that's fundamental to our consciousness is. So I'll just ask you a question. I don't know how much you're familiar with the recent breakthroughs in natural language processing. They use attentional mechanisms, something called Transformer's to learn patterns and sentences by allowing the network to focus its attention to particular parts of the sentence and each individual. So like parametrized and make it learn about the dynamics of a sentence by having like a little window into the into the sentence.
Do you think that's like a little step towards that adventure, which will take us to the intentional mechanisms from which consciousness can emerge?
Not quite. I think it models only one aspect of attention. In the early days of automated language translation, there was an example that I find particularly funny when somebody tried to translate a text from English into German and it was a bit broke the window and the translation in German was a little mouse. It's about as Fensterman and in baseball Schlager. So to translate back into a bet it is flying mammal broke the window with a baseball bat. Yes. And it seemed to be the most similar to this program because it somehow maximized the possibility of translating the concept into German in the same sentence.
And this is a mistake that the transformer model is not doing because it's tracking identity. And the attentional mechanism in the transformer model is basically putting its finger on individual concepts and make sure that these concepts pop up later in the text. Yeah, and basically the individuals through the text. And it's why the system can learn things that other systems couldn't before it, which makes the, for instance, possible to write a text where it talks about the scientist and the scientist as a name and has a pronoun and it gets a consistent story about that thing.
What it does not do, it doesn't fully integrate this or this meaning falls apart at some point. It loses track of this context. It does not yet understand that everything that it says has to refer to the same universe. And this is where this thing falls apart. But the attention in the transformer model does not go beyond tracking identity. And faking identity is an important part of attention. But it's a different, very specific attentional mechanism. Um, and it's not the one that gives rise to the type of consciousness that we have just to linger on.
What do you mean by identity in the context of language?
So when you talk about language, you have different words that can refer to the same concept. Got it. And in the sense, basic concepts. So yes.
And it can also be in a nominal sense or in indexical sense that you say this word does not only refer to this class of objects, but it refers to a definite object to some kind of agent that waves their way through the story and is only referred by different ways in the language. So the language is basically a projection from a conceptual representation, from a scene that is evolving into discrete string of symbols and what the transformer is able to do. It learns aspects of this projection mechanism that other models couldn't learn.
So have you ever seen artificial intelligence or any kind of construction idea that allows for unlike neural networks or perhaps within neural networks, that's able to form something where the space of concepts continues to be integrated? So what you're describing building a knowledge base, building this consistent, larger and larger set of ideas that would then allow for deeper understanding, Wittgenstein's thought that we can build everything from language, from basically a logical grammatical construct.
And I think to some degree, this was also what Minsky believed. So that's why you focus so much on common sense reasoning and so on. And a project that was inspired by him was like like, um, there was special going on. Yes, of course. Ideas don't die. People die. And that's true, but and Otsego is a productive project. It's just probably not one that is going to converge to general intelligence. The thing that Wittgenstein couldn't solve and he looked at this in his book at the end of his life, philosophical investigations was the notion of images.
So images play an important role in Tractatus, the Tractatus, an attempt to basically turn philosophy into logical, probing language, to design a logical language in which you can do actual philosophy that rich enough for doing this. And the difficulty was to deal with perceptual content. And eventually I think he decided that he was not able to solve it. And I think this preempted the failure of the largest program in A.I. And the solution as we see it today is we need more general functional approximation.
There are functions, geometric functions that we learn to approximate that cannot be efficiently expressed and computed in a governmental language. We can, of course, build automata that go via number theory and so on to learn in algebra and then compute an approximation of this geometry. But to equate language and demitry is not an efficient way to think about it.
So functional where you kind of just said that neural networks are sort of the approach anyone always takes is actually more general than than what can be expressed through language. Yes.
So what can be efficiently expressed through language at the data rates at which we process grammatical language.
OK, so you don't think so? You don't think languages. So you disagree with Wittgenstein. That language is not fundamental to agree with Wittgenstein.
I just agree with the late Wittgenstein and I also agree with the beauty of the early Wittgenstein. I think that the Tractatus itself is probably the most beautiful philosophical text that was written in the 20th century.
But but language is not fundamental to cognition, intelligence and consciousness.
So I think that language is a particular way or the natural language that we are using at a particular level of abstraction that we use to communicate with each other. But the languages in which we express geometry are not grammatical languages in the same sense. So they work slightly different in more general expressions or functions. And I think the general nature of a model is you have a bunch of parameters. Um, these I have arranged the variances of the world and you have relationships between them, which are constraints which say if certain parameters have these values, then other parameters have to have the following values.
And this is a very early insight in computer science. And I think the some of the earliest formulations is the Boltzmann machine. And the problem is the Boltzmann machine is that it has a measure of whether it's good is basically the energy on the system, the amount of tension that you have left and the constraints where the constraints don't quite match up.
It's very difficult to despite having this global measure to train it, because as soon as you add more than trivially a few elements, parameters in the system, it's very difficult to get it settled in the right architecture. And so the solution that Hinton and Sinofsky found was to use a restricted Bozman machine, which uses the hidden links, the internal links in the Bozman machine, and only has the input and output layer. But there's limits to express the severity of the Boltzmann machines.
So now he built a network of some of these primitive Bozman machines. And in some sense you can see almost continuous development from this to the deep learning models that we are using today, even though we don't use Bylsma machines at this point. But the idea of the machine is you take this model, you klemp some of the values to perception, and this forces the entire machine to go into a state that is compatible with the states that you currently perceive in this state as your model of the world.
I think it's a very general way of thinking about models, but we have to use a different approach to make it work. And this is we have to find different networks that train the Boltzmann machine. So the mechanism that trains the Boltzmann machine and the mechanism that makes the bottom machine settle into its state are distinct from the constrained architecture of the Bozman machine itself.
That's the kind of mechanism that we want to develop. You're saying yes. So that's the direction in which I think our research is going to go. It's going to for instance, what you notice in perception is our perception models of the world are not probabilistic, but possible ballistic, which means you should be able to perceive things that are improbable but possible. Right, perceptual state is valid, not if it's probable, but if it's possible, if it's coherent.
Yeah, so if you see a tail coming after, you should be able to see this, even if it's unlikely.
And the probability is necessary for convergence of the models or given the state of possibilities that it's very, very large and a set of perceptual features, how should you change the state of states of the model to get it to converge with your perception?
Uh, but the the space of the space of ideas that are coherent with the context that you're sensing is perhaps not as large.
I mean, that that's perhaps a pretty small degree of coherence that you need to achieve. Depends, of course, how deep your model school is. Uh, for instance, politics is very simple when you know very little about game theory and human nature. So the younger you are, the more obvious this is how politics would work, right? Yes. And because you get a aesthetics for relatively few inputs and the more layers you model, the more layers you model reality, the harder it gets to satisfy all the constraints.
So, you know, the current neural networks are fundamentally supervised. Learning system with a feed for your network is back propagation to learn. What's your intuition about? What kind of mechanisms might we move towards to improve the learning procedure?
Uh, I think one big aspect is going to be meta learning and architecture. Research starts in this direction. In some sense, the first wave of A.I. classical, either by identifying a problem and a possible solution and implementing the solution program that plays chess. And right now, we're in the second wave of A.I. So instead of writing the algorithm that implements this solution, we write an algorithm that automatically searches for an algorithm that implements the solution. So the learning system in some sense is an algorithm that itself discovers the algorithm that solves the problem.
Let go, of course, to heart to implement the solution by hand. But we can implement an algorithm that finds the solution. So now let's move to the third stage, right. The third stage would be meta learning. Find an algorithm that discovers a learning algorithm for the given domain or brain is probably not learning the system, but the metro learning system. This is one way of looking at what we are doing. There is another way. If you look at the way our brain is, for instance, implemented, there is no central control that tells all the neurons how to wire up.
Yes. Instead, every neuron is an individual reinforcement learning agent. Every neuron is a single celled organism that is quite complicated and in some sense quite motivated to get fit. And it gets fed if it fails on average at the right time. Yes. And the the right time depends on the context that the neuron exists in, which is the electrical and chemical environment that it has. So it has to learn a function over its environment that tells us when to fire, to get fit, or if you see it as a reinforcement, learning each and every neuron is in some sense making a hypothesis when it sends a signal and tries to paper signal through the universe and tries to get positive feedback for it.
And the entire thing is set up in such a way that it's robustly self organizing into a brain, which means you start out with different U.N. types that have different priors and on which hypothesis to test and how to get its reward. And you put them into different concentrations in a certain spatial alignment and then you can train it in a particular order and as a result, you get the organized brain.
Yeah. So, OK, so the brain is a better learning system. There was a bunch of reinforcement learning agents and what I think you said.
But just to clarify, where do the there's no centralized government that tells you here's a lost function, here's a lost function, here's a lost function. Like what? Who is who says what's the default?
Or governments which imports lost functions on different parts of the brain? So we have differential attention. Some areas in your brain get especially rewarded when you look at faces. If you don't have that, you will get prosopagnosia, which basically means the inability to tell people apart by their faces.
So and the reason that happens is because it was it had an evolutionary advantage, like evolution comes into play here about it.
It's basically an extraordinary attention that we have for faces. I don't think that people have, as opposed agnosia, have a perceived defective brain. The brain just has an average attention for faces. So people as positive agnosia don't look at faces more than they look at Cupps. So the level at which they resolve the geometry of faces is not higher than the one that then four cups. And people that don't have prosopagnosia look, uh, obsessively at faces. Right?
For me, it's impossible to move through a crowd without scanning the faces.
And as a result, we make insanely detailed models of faces that allow us to discern mental states of people, so obviously we don't know 99 percent of the details of this matter learning system that our mind OK, but still, we took a leap from something much dumber to that from through the evolutionary process. Can you, first of all, maybe say how hard how big of a leap is that from our brain, from our ancestors to multicellular organisms? And is there something we can think about, about as we start to think about how to engineer intelligence?
Is there something we can learn from evolution? In some sense, life exists because of the market opportunity of controlled chemical reactions. You compete with some chemical reactions and we win in some areas against the dumb combustion because we can harness those entropy gradients. But you need to add a little bit of energy in a specific way to harvest more energy.
So we outcompeted combustion in many regions. We do what we try very hard because when we are in direct competition, we lose, right? Yeah. So because the competition is going to close the entropy gradients much faster than we can, right? Yes, you got it. That's quite so. Apollinaire. Yeah. Yeah. So basically we do this because every cell has a Turing machine built into it.
It's like literally every right on the tape.
And so everything that's more complicated than a molecule that just is a vortex around attractors, that means the Turing machine it for its regulation. And then you binds us together and you get next level organizational organism where the cells together implement some kind of software. And for me, a very interesting discovery in the last year was the word spirit, because I realized that what spirit actually means, it's an operating system for an autonomous robot. And when the word was invented, people needed this word, but they didn't have robots that they built themselves.
Yet the only autonomous robots that were known were people, animals, plants, ecosystems, cities and so on. And they all had spirits. And it makes sense to say that the plant has an operating system, right? If you pinch the plant in one area, then there's going to have repercussions throughout the plant. Everything in the plant in some sense connected into some global aesthetics, like in other organisms. An organism is not a collection of cells, is a function that tells cells how to behave.
And this function is not implemented as some kind of supernatural thing, like some of genetic field. It is an emergent result of the interactions of each salvors each other cell. All right.
So what you're saying is the organism is a function that tells what's what what the cells, cells, what to do. And the function is an image emerges from the interaction of the cells.
Yes. So it's basically a description of what the plant is doing in terms of microstates. Yeah. And the microstates, the physical implementation are too many of them to describe them. So the software that we use to describe what the plant is doing, the spirit of the plant is the software, the operating system of the plant. Right. This is a way in which we, the observers, make sense of the plant. Yes. And it's all for people.
So people have spirits, which is their operating system, in a way, wideness aspects of that operating system that relate to how your body functions and others, how you socially interact, how you interact with yourself and so on. And you make models of that spirit. And we think it's a loaded term because it's from a presenter figure that we took the scientific age a long time to rediscover a term that is pretty much the same thing. And I suspect that the difference is that we still see between the old world and the new world.
Translation errors that over the centuries actually longer and that they were. Why do you say that, Spirit? Just to clarify, because I'm a little bit confused. So the that the word spirit is a powerful thing. But what did you see in the last year or so that you discovered this? Do you mean the same old traditional idea of a spirit or.
Jamie, I try to find out what people mean by spirit. When people say spirituality in the U.S., it usually refers to the phantom limb that they develop in the absence of culture. And a culture is in some sense, you could say, the spirit of a society that is long game. The thing that is becomes self-aware at a level above the individuals where you say if you don't do the following things, then the great, great, great grandchildren of our children will now have nothing to eat.
Yes. So if you take this long scope, you try to maximize the length of the game that you are playing as a species. You realize that you are part of a larger thing that you cannot fully control. You probably need to submit to the ecosphere instead of trying to completely control it. Right. There needs to be a certain level at which you can exist as a species if you want to endure. And our culture is not sustaining this anymore.
We basically made this bet with the Industrial Revolution that you can control everything. And the modern societies with basically unfettered growth led to a situation in which we depend on the ability to control the entire planet. And since we are not able to do that, as it seems, this cultural day, we realize that it doesn't have a future might be called our children generations, that it's a very optimistic thing, too. Yeah.
So you can have this kind of intuition that our civilization you said culture, but you really mean this.
The spirit of the civilization is the entirety of this civilization may not exist for long. Yeah. So what you can you can untangle that. What's your intuition behind that. So you kind of offline mentioned to me that the Industrial Revolution was kind of the moment we agreed to accept the offer sign on the paper, on the dotted line with the Industrial Revolution. We doomed ourselves. Can you elaborate on that?
There's a suspicion. I, of course, don't know how it plays out. But of course, it seems to me that, um, in a society in which you leverage yourself very far over an entropic abyss for Stoutland, on the other side, it's relatively clear that you're cantilevers at some point going to break down into this entropic abyss and you have to pay the bill, OK?
Russia is my first language and I'm also an idiot.
But this is just two apes that are playing with a banana, trying to have fun by talking. OK, anthropic what and what's entropic, entropic and tropica. And so entropic in the sense of entropy and all entropic. Yes. So this and entropic was the other word, Abis, was that it's a big Porche. Our best Ebbetts. Yes. And Tropica based. So many of the things you say are poetic. It's kind of amazing. Right.
Which which makes it even more poetic.
Wittgenstein would be proud.
So entropic. Abis. OK, let's let's rewind then. The Industrial Revolution. So well, how does that get us into the entropic abyss?
So in some sense, we burned 100 million years worth of trees to get everybody plumping. Yes. And the society that we had before that had a very limited number of people. So basically, since the were busy, we hovered between 300 and 400 million people. Yes. And this only changed with the Enlightenment and the subsequent industrial revolution and in some sense, the Enlightenment, a feat of rationality and also freed our norms from the preexisting order gradually. It was a process that basically happened in feedback loops that it was not that just one caused the other.
It was a dynamic that started and the dynamic worked by basically increasing productivity to such a degree that we could feed all our children. And I think the definition of poverty is that you have as many children as you can feed before they die, which is in some sense the state that all animals on Earth are in. The definition of poverty is having enough so you can have only so many children as you can feed and if you have more, they die.
Yes. And in our societies, you can basically have as many children as you want. They don't die. Right. So the reason why we don't have as many children as we want is because we also have to pay a price in terms of we have to insert ourselves in the law. We're supposed to treat them as if we have too many. So basically, everybody in the under middle and lower upper class has only a limited number of children because having more of them would mean a big economic hit to the individual families.
Yes, because children, especially in the U.S., are super expensive to have. And you only are taken out of this if you are basically super rich or if you are super poor. If you're a superpower, it doesn't matter how many kids you have because your status is not going to change. And these children are largely not going to die of hunger.
So how does this lead us to self-destruction? So there's a lot of unpleasant properties about this process.
So basically what we try to do is we try to let our children survive even if they have diseases like I would have died before my mid 20s without modern medicine and most of my friends would have, as well as what many of us wouldn't live without the advantages of modern medicine and modern civilized society. We get our protein largely by subduing the entirety of nature. Now, imagine there would be some very clever microbe that would live in our organisms and would completely harvest them and change them into a thing that is necessary to sustain itself.
And it would discover that, for instance, brain cells are kind of edible, but they're not quite nice. So you need to have more fat in them and you turn them into more fat cells. And basically this big organism would become a vegetable that is barely alive and it's going to be very brittle and not resilient when the environment changes.
Yeah, but the some part of that organism and the one that's actually doing all the using of that, there are still be somebody thriving.
So it relates back to this original question. I suspect that we are not the smartest thing on this planet. I suspect that basically every complex system has to have some complex regulation if if it depends on feedback loops. And so, for instance, it's likely to that we should ascribe a certain degree of intelligence to plants. The problem is that plants don't have a nervous system, so they don't have a way to telegraph messages over large distances almost instantly in the plant.
And instead they will rely on chemicals between adjacent cells, which means the signal processing speed depends on the signal processing with the rate of a few millimeters per second. Yes. And as a result, the if the plant is intelligent, it's not going to be intelligent at similar timescales as they believe.
Put the timescales different. So you suspect we might not be the most intelligent, but we're we're the most intelligent and this scale in our timescale.
So basically, if you would zoom out very far, you might discover that there have been intelligent ecosystems on the planet that existed for thousands of years and are almost undisturbed state. And it could be that these ecosystems activity related environments will basically change the course of the evolution within this ecosystem to make it more efficient and as brutal as possible.
Something like plants is actually a set of living organisms, an ecosystem of living organisms that are just operating a different timescale and are far superior and intelligent as human beings. And then human beings will die out and still be there and they'll be there.
Yeah, they also there's an evolutionary adaptation playing a role that all of these levels, for instance, if mice don't get enough food and get stressed, the next generation of mice will be more sparse and more scrawny. And the reason for this is because the natural environment in mice have probably hit a drought or something else. And if they're overgraze, then all the things that sustain them might go extinct and there will be no mice a few generations from now.
So to make sure that there will be mice in five generations from now, basically the mice scale back and a similar thing happens with the predators of mice. They should make sure that the mice don't completely go extinct. So in some sense, if the predators are smart enough, they will be tasked with shepherding their food supply.
And maybe the reason why lions have much larger brains than antelopes is not so much because it's so hard to catch antelope as opposed to run away from the lion. But the lions need to make complex models of that environment more complex than the antelopes.
So this is the first of all, just describing that there's a bunch of complex systems and human beings may not even be the most special or intelligent of those complex systems, even on Earth makes me feel a little better about the extinction of human species that we're talking about.
Yes, you are just gorgeous ploy to put the carbon back into the atmosphere.
This is just a nice you know, the big stain on evolution is not as it was trees.
Earth evolved trees before they could be digested again. Right. There were no insects that could break all of them apart. Cellulose is so robust that you cannot get all of it with microorganisms. So many of these trees. And two swamps and all this carbon became inert and could no longer be recycled into organisms, and we are the species that is destined to take care of that.
So this is kind of dig it out of the ground, put it back into the atmosphere and the earth is already greening. So within a million years or so when the ecosystems have recovered from the rapid changes that they're not compatible with right now, there's going to be awesome again. And there won't be even a memory of us, of us little apes. I think there will be memories of us. I suspect we are the first generally intelligent species in the sense you are the first species, this industrial society, because we believe more phones than bones in the stratosphere or see some bones.
I like it. But then let me push back. I see you've kind of suggested that we have a very narrow definition of of I mean, why aren't trees more general on a higher level of general intelligence?
That tree is more intelligent than they would be at different time scales, which means within a hundred years, the tree is probably not going to make models that are as complex as the ones that we make in ten years.
But maybe the trees are the ones that made the phones right. Like like you say, the entirety of life did it.
You know, the first cell never died. The first cell only split. Right. And every divide it and every cell in our body is still an instance of the first cell that split off from that very first cell. There was only one cell on this planet, as far as we know. Yeah. And so the cell is not just a building block of life, it's a hyper organism. Yeah, right. And we are part of this hyper organism.
So nevertheless, this hyper organism. No, the this little particular branch of it, which is us humans, because the industrial revolution and maybe the exponential growth of technology might somehow destroy our cells. So what what do you think is the most likely way we might destroy our cells? So some people worry about genetic manipulation. Some people, as we've talked about, worry about either dumb artificial intelligence or super intelligent artificial intelligence destroying us. Some people worry. Both nuclear weapons and weapons of war in general.
What do you think, if you had to if you were a betting man, what would you bet on in terms of self-destruction?
And there would be higher than 50? Would it be higher than 50 percent?
So it's very likely that nothing that be bet on matters after we win our bet. So I don't think that bets are literally the right way to go about. I mean, once you're dead, it doesn't mean you won't be there to collect. So it's also not clear if we as a species go extinct. But I think that our present civilization is not sustainable. So the thing that will change is there will be probably fewer people on the planet than are today.
And even if not, then still, most of people that are alive today will not have offspring 100 years from now because of the geographic changes and so on and the changes in the food supply. It's quite likely that many areas of the planet are the only be livable was a close calling chain 100 years from now. So many of the areas around the equator and in a subtropical climate that are now quite pleasant to live in, but stop to be inhabitable without evolution.
So you answer while cooling chain, close knit, cooling chain communities. So you think you have a strong worry about the the effects of global warming itself?
It's not a big issue. If you live in Arizona right now, you have basically three months in the summer in which you cannot be outside. Yes. And so you have a close cooling chain. You have air conditioning in your car and in your home, and you're fine. And if the air conditioning would stop for a few days, then in many areas you would not be able to survive.
Can we just pause for a second? Like you say, so many brilliant poetic things like what is it? Is that do people use that term closed cooling chain?
I imagine that people use it when they describe how they get meat into a supermarket. Right. It could break the cooling chain and starts to thaw you in trouble and you have to throw it away.
The thing is, there's such a beautiful way to put it. So calling a city a closed social chain or something like that, I mean. That's right. I mean, the locality of is really what it basically means.
You wake up in the climatized room, you go to work and the climatized car, you work in the shop and acclimatize supermarket.
And in between you have very short distance, which you run from your car to the supermarket. But you have to make sure that your temperature does not approach the temperature of the environment. So the crucial thing is the temperature. The what temperature is what you get when you take a wet clothes and you put it around your thermometer and then you move it very quickly through the air. So you get the evaporation heat. Yes. And as soon as you can no longer cool your body temperature by a pop operation to a temperature below something like, I think 35 degrees, you die.
Right. And which means if the outside world is dry, you can still cool yourself down by sweating. But if it has a certain degree of humidity or if it goes over a certain temperature, then sweating will not save you. And this means even if you're healthy, fit individual within a few hours, even if you try to be in the shade and so on your day, unless you have some climate deicing equipment and this itself, if you as long as you maintain civilization and you have energy supply and you have food trucks coming to your home that acclimatized, everything is fine.
But what if you lose large scale, open every culture at the same time? So basically you run into food insecurity because climate becomes very irregular or weather becomes very irregular and you have a lot of extreme weather events.
So you need to roll most of your food, maybe indoor, or you need to import your food from certain regions and maybe you're not able to maintain the civilization without the planet to get the infrastructure to get the food to your home. All right.
But there could be so there could be significant impacts in the sense that people begin to suffer. There could be wars over resources and so on. But ultimately, do you do you not have a lot of faith? But what do you make of the capacity of technol technological innovation to help us prevent some of the worst damages that this condition can create? So that as an example, as an almost out there example, is the work of the space in the mosque is doing of trying to also consider our propagation throughout the universe in deep space to colonize other planets.
That's one technological step.
But of course, what Elon Musk is trying on Mars is not to save us on global warming because Mars looks much worse than planet Earth will look like after the worst outcomes of global warming imaginable. Right. Yet it is not habitable. It's exceptionally harsh environment.
Yes. But what he is doing, what a lot of people throughout history, since the Industrial Revolution are doing are just doing a lot of different technological innovation with some kind of target. And what ends up happening is totally unexpected. New things come up. So trying to trying to terraform or trying to colonize Mars and extremely harsh environment might give us totally new ideas of how to expand that or increase the power of this closed cooling circuit that that empowers the community.
So, like, it seems like there's a little bit of a race between our open ended technological innovation of this, uh, communal operating system that we have and our general tendency to want to overuse resources and thereby destroy ourselves. You don't think technology can win that race?
I think the probability is relatively low, given that our technology is poor in the US is stagnating since the 1970s, roughly in terms of technology. Most of the things that we do are the result of incremental processes.
What about Intel? What about Moore's Law? It's basically it's very incremental. The things that we are doing is so after the invention of the microprocessor was a major thing, right? The militarisation of transistors was really major, but the things that we did afterwards largely were not that innovative.
So structural changes of, uh, scaling things into use into, uh, from CPUs into depots and things like that. But I don't think that there are. Basically, there are not many things if you take a person that died in the 70s and was at the top of their game, they would not need to read that many books to be current again.
But it's all about books. Who cares about books? The there might be things that are beyond books, might be papers or other papers. Forget papers. There might be things that are so papers and books and knowledge that that's a concept of a time when you were sitting there by candlelight and individual consumers of knowledge. What about the impact that we're not in the middle of? We're not might not be understanding of Twitter, of YouTube. The reason you and I are sitting here today is because of Twitter and YouTube.
So the the ripple effect and there's there's two minds, sort of two dumb apes are coming up with a new perhaps a new clean insights. And there's two hundred other apes we're seeing right now, 200000 other apes listening right now.
And that effect, it's very difficult to understand what that effect will have that might be bigger than any of the advancements of the microprocessor or the industrial revolution, the ability of spread knowledge. And that that that knowledge, the it allows good ideas to reach millions much faster. And the effect of that, that might be the new that might be the 21st century is the multiply the multiplying of ideas of good ideas. Because if you say one good thing today that will multiply across, you know, huge amounts of people and then they will say something and then they will have another podcast and they'll say something and then they'll write a paper that that could be a huge.
Yeah, we should have billions fun for humans right now, for fundaments right now and Turing's. And if you don't for some reason, I suspect the reason is that you destroy our attention span.
Also the incentives, of course, different incarnations.
Yeah. So the reason why we're sitting here and doing this as a YouTube video is because you and me don't have the attention span to write a book together right now and you guys probably don't have the attention span to read it. So let me guarantee you the listening bursts of your attention.
It's very short, but we're you know, we're an hour and 40 minutes in and I guarantee you that 80 percent of the people are still listening. So there is an attention span. It's just the form. You know, who said that the book is the optimal way to transfer information? That's still an open question.
And that's what we're something that social media could be doing that other forms could not be doing. I think the end game of social media as a global brain and Twitter is in some sense a global brain that is completely hooked on dopamine, doesn't have any kind of inhibition. And as a result, it's caught in a permanent seizure. Yes, it's also, in some sense, a multiplayer role playing game. And people use it to play an avatar that is not like them as they were in Seinfeld.
And they look through the world, through the lens of their phones and think it's the real world, but it's the Twitter about the distorted by the popularity incentives of Twitter. Yet the the incentives and just there are natural biological. The dopamine rush of the like, no matter how like I consider I tried to be very kind of Zen like and minimalist and not be influenced by likes and so on.
But it's probably very difficult to avoid that to some degree.
Speaking at a small tangent of Twitter, what how can be how can Twitter be done better? I think it's an incredible mechanism that has a huge impact on society by doing exactly what you're doing or doing exactly what you described, which is having this. At the like, is this some kind of game and we're kind of individual early in this game and it's uncontrollable because there's not really a centralized control, neither Jack Dorsey nor the engineers at Twitter seem to be able to control this game or can they?
That's sort of a question. Is there any advice you would give?
And how to control this device, because I am certainly not an expert, but I can give my thoughts on this and I think our brain is has solved this problem to some degree, but our brain has lots of individual agents that manage to play together in a way. And you have also many context in which other organisms have found ways to solve the problems of cooperation that we don't solve on Twitter. And maybe the solution is to go for an evolutionary approach.
So imagine that you have something like Reddit or something like Facebook and something like Twitter, and you think about what they have in common, what they have in common, their companies that in some sense own a protocol. And this protocol is imposed on a community. And the protocol has different components for monetization, for user management, for user display, for rating, for anonymity, for import of other content and so on. And now imagine that you take these components of the protocol apart.
And your tweets in some sense, like communities within this social network and these communities are allowed to mix and match their protocols and design new ones. So, for instance, the UI and the UCS can be defined by the community. The rules for sharing content across communities can be defined. The monetization can be redefined. The way you reward individual users for what can be redefined, the way users can represent themselves and to each other can be redefined and could be redefined.
So can individual human beings build enough intuition to redefine itself can become part of the protocol.
So, for instance, it could be in some communities it will be a single person that comes up with these things and others. It's a group of friends. Some might implement a voting scheme that has some interesting weighted voting. Who knows? Who knows what will be the best self organizing principle for this?
But the process can be automated. I mean, it seems like the brain can be automated so people can write software for this. And eventually the idea is let's not make an assumption about this thing. If you don't know what the right solution is and those areas that you have no idea whether the right solution will be people designing this ad hoc or machines doing this, whether you want to enforce compliance by social norms like Wikipedia or Orvis Software Solutions or the A.I. that goes through the posts of people or is a legal principle and so on, this is something maybe you need to find out.
And so the idea would be if you let the communities evolve and you just control it in such a way that you are incentivizing the more sentient and communities, the ones that produce the most interesting behaviors and that allow you to interact in the most helpful ways to the individuals. Right. Do you have a network that gives you information that is relevant to you? It helps you to maintain relationships to others in healthy ways. It allows you to build teams.
It allows you to basically to bring the best of you into this thing and goes into a coupling, into a relationship with others in which you produce things that you would be unable to produce alone. Yes, beautifully put.
So but the key process of that with incentives and evolution is things that don't adapt themselves to effectively get the incentives have to die. And the thing about social media is communities that are unhealthy or whatever you want to define as the incentives really don't like dying. One of the things that people really get aggressive protests aggressively is when they're censored, especially in America. I don't know I don't know much about the rest of the world, but the idea of freedom of speech, the idea of censorship is really painful in America.
And so. What yeah, what do you think about that, having grown up in East Germany? What do you think? Censorship is an important tool in our brain, in the intelligence and in the social networks. So basically, if you're not a good member of the entirety of the system, you should be blocked away, locked away, blocked.
An important thing is who decides that you are a good member who is a distributed or what is the outcome of the process that decides it both for the individual and for society at large. For instance, if you have a high trust society, you don't need a lot of surveillance. And the surveillance is even in some sense undermining trust. Yes, because it's basically punishing people that look suspicious when surveyed but do the right thing anyway. And the opposite. If you have a low trust society and then surveillance can be a better trade off.
And the US is currently making the transition from a relatively high trust or mistrust society to a low trust society. So surveillance will increase. Another thing is that beliefs are not just innate representations. There are implementations that run code on your brain and change reality and change the way you interact with each other at some level. And some of the beliefs are just public opinions that we used to display our alignment. So, for instance, people might say all cultures have are the same and equally good.
But still they prefer to live in some cultures of others very, very strongly so. And it turns out that their cultures are defined by certain rules of interaction, and these rules of interaction lead to different results when you implement them. Right. So if you adhere to certain rules, you get different outcomes in different societies. And this all leads to very tricky situations when people do not have a commitment to a shared purpose. And our societies probably need to rediscover what it means to have a shared purpose and how to make this compatible with a non totalitarian view.
So in some sense, this is caught in a conundrum between totalitarianism and diversity and doesn't need to how to resolve this and the solutions that the U.S. has found so far, very crude because it's a very young society that is also under a lot of tension.
That seems to me that the US will have to reinvent itself. What do you think?
Just the philosophising. What kind of mechanisms of government do you think we as a species should be evolving with us? Or broadly, what do you think will work well? As a system, of course, we don't know, it all seems to work pretty crappy, some things worse than others. Some people argue that communism is the best. Others say, yeah, look at the Soviet Union. Some people argue that anarchy is the best and then completely discarding the positive effects of government.
You know, there's a lot of arguments. US seems to be doing pretty damn well in the span of history. There's respect for human rights, which seems to be a nice feature, not a bug. And economically, a lot of growth, a lot of technological development. People seem to be relatively kind on the grand scheme of things. Well, what lessons do you draw from that? What kind of government system do you think is good? Ideally, governments should not be perceivable, right?
It should be frictionless. The more you notice the influence of the government, the more friction you experience, the less effective and efficient the government probably is. Right. So a government game, theoretically, is an agent that imposes an offset on your payout metrics to make your equilibrium compatible with the common good.
So you have these situations where the high incentives and these local incentives, everybody does the thing that's locally the best for them. But the global outcome is not good. And there's even the case when people care about the global outcome because a regulation mechanism exists that creates a causal relationship between what I want to have for the global good and what I do.
So, for instance, if I think that we should fly less and I stay at home, there's not a single plane that is going to not start because of me. Right? It's not going to have an influence, but I don't get from A to B. So the way to implement this would be to have a government that is sharing this idea that we should fly less and is then imposing a regulation that, for instance, makes flying more expensive and gives incentives for inventing other forms of transportation that are less, um, putting that strain on the environment, for instance.
So there's so much optimism and so many things you describe. And yet there's the pessimism of you think our civilization is going to come to an end. So that's not a 100 percent probability. Nothing in this world is. So what's the trajectory out of self-destruction, do you think?
I suspect that in some sense we are both too smart and not smart enough, which means we are very good at solving near-term problems. And at the same time, we are unwilling to submit to the, uh, to the imperatives of that we would have to follow. And if you want to stick around. Right. So that makes it difficult. If you were unable to solve everything technologically, you can probably understand how wide the child mortality needs to be to absorb the mutation rate and why the mutation mutation rate needs to be to adapt to a slowly changing systemic environment.
Right. So you could in principle, compute all these things, came theoretically and adapt to it.
But if you cannot do this because you are like me and you have children, you don't want them to die, you will use any kind of medical information to keep child mortality low, even if it means that our within a few generations we have enormous genetic drift and most of us have allergies as a result of not being adapted. But the changes that we made to our food supply, that's for now.
I say technologically speaking, which is a very, very, very young, you know, 300 years industrial revolution, were very new to this idea. So you're attached to your kids being alive and not being murdered for the greater good of society. But that might be a very temporary moment of time. Yes. That we might we might evolve.
And I think it's so like you said, when we're both smart and not smart enough, are probably not the first human civilization that has, uh, discovered technology to allow us to efficiently overgraze our resources and this overgrazing thing. At some point, we think we can compensate this, because if we have eaten all the grass, we will find a way to grow mushrooms. Right. But it could also be that the ecosystems tip. And so what really concerns me is not so much the end of the civilization because we will invent a new one.
But what concerns me is, um, the fact that, for instance, the oceans might tip. So, for instance, maybe the plankton dies because of ocean acidification and cyanobacteria take over and as a result, we can no longer breathe the atmosphere. This would be really concerning. So basically, Major, we would of most complex organisms on Earth. And I think this is a possibility. I don't know if what the percentage for this possibility is, but it doesn't seem to be outlandish to me.
If you look at the scale of the changes that we've already triggered on this planet and so many others, such that, for instance, we may be able to put Targ into the stratosphere to, uh, limit solar radiation, maybe it works. Maybe this is sufficient to counter the effects of what we've done.
Maybe it won't be maybe we won't be able to implement it by the time it's prevalent. I have no idea how the future is going to play out in this regard. It's just, uh, I think it's quite likely that we cannot continue like this. All our cousins species, the other hominids are gone.
So so the right step would be to what? To rewind to working towards the industrial revolution and slow the search to try to contain the technological process that leads to overconsumption of resources?
Um, I imagine you get to choose. You have one lifetime. Yes. You get born into a sustainable agricultural civilization, 300, maybe 400 million people on the planet, tops, or before this, some kind of nomadic species like a million or two million. And so you don't meet new people unless you give birth to them. You cannot travel to other. Places in the world, there is no Internet, there is no interesting intellectual tradition that reaches considerably deep, so you would not discover your incompleteness probably, and so on, we wouldn't exist.
And the alternative is you get born into an insane world. One that is doomed to die because it has just burned 100 million years worth of trees in a single century, which I do like, I think I like this one. It's a very weird thing that when you find yourself on a Titanic and you see this iceberg and it looks like we are not going to miss it and a lot of people are in denial. And most of the counterarguments sound like denial to me.
They don't seem to be rational arguments. And the other thing is we are born on this Titanic. Without this Titanic, we wouldn't have been born. We wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be talking. We wouldn't be on the Internet. We wouldn't do all the things that we enjoy. And we are not responsible for this happening. It's basically, if he had the choice, we would probably try to prevent it. But when we were born, we were never asked when we want to be born, which society we want to be born, what incentive structures we want to be exposed to.
If you have relatively little agency in the entire thing, humanity has relatively little agency in the whole thing. It's basically a giant machine. It's tumbling down a hill and everybody is frantically trying to push them buttons. Nobody knows what these buttons are, meaning what they connect to. And most of them are not stopping this tumbling down the hill.
Is it possible that artificial intelligence will give us.
An escape latch somehow, so the you know, there's a lot of worry about existential threats of of artificial intelligence, but what I also allows in general forms of automation allows the potential of extreme productivity growth that will also perhaps in a positive way, transform society that may allow us to inadvertently to return to the more to the same kind of ideals of closer to nature that's represented in Hunter-Gatherer societies.
You know, that's not destroying the planet, that's not doing overconsumption and so on. I mean, generally speaking, do you have hope that I can help some?
I think it's not fun to be very close to nature until you completely subdue nature. So our idea of being close to nature means being close to agriculture. Basically, the forests that don't have anything in them that eats us.
See, I mean, I want to disagree with that. I, I think the niceness of being close to nature is to being fully present in like one's survival becomes your primary, not just your goal, but your whole existence.
It. I mean, that is a I'm not just romanticizing. I can just speak for myself. I am self-aware enough that that is that is a fulfilling existence and one that's very good to be in nature and not fight for my survival.
I think fighting in yourself for your survival while being in the cold and in the rain and being hunted by animals and having open wounds is very unpleasant.
Well, there's a contradiction in there. Yes, I and you, just, as you said, would not choose it. But if I was forced into it, it would be a fulfilling existence adapted to it.
Basically, if your brain is wired up in such a way that you will get rewards optimally in such an environment. And is some evidence for this that for a certain degree of complexity, basically people are more happy in such an environment because it's what you largely have evolved for in between.
We had a few thousand years in which I think we have evolved a slightly more comfortable environment.
So there is probably something like an intermediate stage in which people would be more happy than there would be if they would have to fend for themselves in small groups in the forest and often die versus something like this, where we now have basically a big machine, a big Mordor in which we run through concrete boxes and press buttons and machines and largely don't feel well cared for as the monkeys that we are so returning briefly to.
Not briefly, but returning to a what? Let me ask a romanticised question. What is the most beautiful to you, silly ape, the most beautiful, surprising idea in the development of artificial intelligence, whether in your own life or in the history of artificial intelligence that you've come across.
If you built an A.I., it probably can make models at an arbitrary degree of detail. Right. Of the world. And then it would try to understand its own nature. It's tempting to think that at some point when we have general intelligence, we have competitions for people, that the apes wake up in different kinds of physical universes and we measure how many movements of the Rubik's Cube it takes until it's figured out what's going on in its universe and what it is in its own nature and its own physics and so on.
Right. So what if we exist in the memory of an AI that is trying to understand its own nature and remembers its own genesis and remembers Lex and Joshua sitting in the hotel, sparking some of the ideas of that led to the development of general intelligence, where a kind of simulation that's running in our system is trying to understand itself.
It's not that I believe that, but I think it's a beautiful I mean, um.
Yeah, you kind of return to this idea with the Turing test of intelligence being of intelligence being the process of asking and answering. What is intelligence?
I mean, what? Why do you think there's there is an answer, why is there such a search for an answer? So does there have to be and they can I can answer you just said an assistant that's trying to understand the why of what you don't understand itself. Is that a fundamental. Process of greater and greater complexity, greater greater intelligence is the continuous trying of understanding itself.
No, I think you will find that most people don't care about that because they're well adjusted enough to not care. And the reason why people like you and me who care about it probably has to do with the need to understand ourselves. It's because beyond fundamental disagreement with the universe, that we wake up and look down at me and I see, oh, my God, I'm quite in a monkey.
What's that feeling? Right.
The government and I'm unhappy with the entire universe that I find myself in.
So you don't think that's a fundamental aspect of human nature, that some people are just suppressing, that they wake up shocked they're in the body of a monkey?
No, there is a clear adaptive value to not be confused by that and by. Well, no, that's not what is.
So so you have to clear adaptive value then. There's clear adaptive value to while fundamental, your brain is confused by that by creating an illusion, another layer of the narrative that says, you know, that tries to suppress that and instead say that, you know, what's going on with the government right now is the most important thing. What's going on with my football team is the most important thing.
But it seems to me the like for me was a really interesting moment reading Ernest, because denial of death that, you know, this kind of idea that we're all, you know, the fundamental thing from which most of our human mind springs is this fear of immortality, of being cognizant of your mortality and the fear of that mortality. And then you construct illusions and top of that. I guess I'm you being just to push on it, you really don't think it's possible that this worry of the big existential questions is actually fundamental as far as the existentialist thought to our existence?
I think that the view of this only plays a role as long as you don't see the big picture. The thing is that mines are software states, right? Software doesn't have identity software in some sense as a physical law.
But I can write software, but it feels like there's an identity. I thought that was there for this particular piece of software and the narrative it tells there's a fundamental property of it.
Signing and maintenance of the identity is not terminal. It's instrumental to something else. You maintain your identity so you can serve your meaning, so you can do the things that you're supposed to do before you die. And I suspect that for most people, the fear of death is the fear of dying before they are done with the things that they feel they have to do, even though they cannot quite put their finger on it.
But it is what that is, right? But in the software world, the return to the question then, what happens after we die?
So because what you care, you will not be longer there to the point of dying is that you are gone. Well, maybe I'm not. This is what you know.
It seems like there's so much in the idea that this is just the mind is just a simulation that's constructing a narrative around some particular aspects of the quantum mechanical wavefunction world that we can't quite get direct access to. Then, like the idea of mortality seems to be fuzzy as well.
It doesn't maybe there's not a clear and fuzzy idea is the one of continuous existence. We don't have continuous existence. How do you know that? Like that? It's not computable because you're saying it's good. It's not a continuous process. The only thing that binds you together with the next Friedemann from yesterday is the illusion that you have memories about him. So if you want to upload, it's very easy. You make a machine that thinks it's you because it's the same thing that you are.
You are a machine that thinks it's you.
But that's that's more that's immortality.
Yeah, but it's just a belief you can create this body very easily once you realize that the question whether you are immortal or not depends entirely on your beliefs and your own continuity.
But then then then then you can be immortal by the continuity of the belief you cannot be immortal, but you can stop being afraid of your mortality because you realize you will never, never continuously exist in the first place.
What I don't know if I'd be more terrified or less terrified by that. It seems like the fact that I existed.
So you don't know the state in which you don't have a self. You can turn off your self, you know. I can't turn you can't turn it off, you can turn it off. I can. Yes, you can basically meditate yourself in a state where you are still conscious. There's still things are happening. But, you know, everything that you knew before, but you're no longer identified with changing anything. And this means that yourself and it dissolves.
There is no longer this person, you know, that this person construct exists and other states and it runs on this brain of Lex Friedman. But it's it's not a real thing. It's a construct. It's an idea. And you can change that idea. And if you let go of this idea, if you don't think that you are special, you realize it's just one of many people and it's not your favorite person even. Right. It's just one of many.
And it's the one that you are doomed to control for the most part. And that is basically informing the actions of this organism. Yeah, as a control model, this is all there is. And you are somehow afraid that this control model gets interrupted or loses the identity of continuity. Yes, I'm attached.
I mean, yeah, there is a very popular it's somehow a compelling notion that being being attached, like there's no need to be attached to this idea of an identity.
But that in itself could be a an illusion that you can structure the process of meditation, while popular, is thought of as getting under the concept of identity.
It could be just putting a cloak over it, just telling it to be quiet for the moment, you know?
I think that meditation is eventually just a bunch of techniques that let you control attention and when you can control the attention, you can get access to your own source code. Hopefully not before you understand what you were doing. And then you can change the way it works, temporarily or permanently.
So, yeah, meditation's get a glimpse at the source code, get under basically control or the entire thing is that you learn to control attention.
So everything else is downstream from controlling attention and control the attention that's looking at the attention, not only get attention in the parts of our mind that create heat where you have a mismatch between model and the results that are happening.
And so most people are not self aware because their control is too good if everything works out roughly the way you want. And the only things that don't work out is whether your football team wins, then you will mostly have models about these comments. And it's only when, for instance, your fundamental relationships to the world around you don't work because the ideology of your country is insane and the other kids are not nerds and don't understand why you understand physics and you don't know why you want to understand physics and you don't understand why somebody would not want to understand physics.
So we've kind of brought up neurons in the brain as reinforcement learning agents. And there's been some successes, as you brought up with a go figure of zero with ideas of self play, which I think are incredibly interesting ideas of systems playing each other and in an automated way to improve by playing other systems of in a particular construct of a game that are a little bit better than itself and thereby improving continuously. All the competitors in the game are improving gradually.
So being just challenging enough and learning from the process of the competition, do you have hope for that reinforcement learning process to achieve greater and greater level of intelligence? So we talked about different ideas and I think we need to be solved. Is RL a part of that process of trying to create an ajai system?
So do think the forms of unsupervised learning, but there are many algorithms that can achieve that. And I suspect that ultimately the algorithms that work there will be a class of them were many of them, and they might have small differences of like magnitude and efficiency. But eventually what matters is the type of model that you form and the types of models that we form right now are not fast enough. There. What does it mean to be sparse? It means that ideally every potential model state should correspond to a potential world state.
So obviously, if you're very states and your model, you always end up as well. Valid world states, in your mind is not quite there. So an indication is we see what we see in dreams. The older we get, the more boring our dreams become because we incorporate more and more constraints that we learned about how the world works. So many of the things that we imagine to be possible as children turn out to be constrained by physical and social dynamics.
And as a result, fewer and fewer things remain possible and not because our imagination scales back, but the constraints under which it operates become tighter and tighter. And so the constraints under which our neural networks operate are almost limitless, which means it's very difficult to get a neural network to imagine things that look real.
Right. So I suspect part of what we need to do is we probably need to build dreaming systems. I suspect that part of the purpose of dreams is to similar to a generative adversarial network, learn certain constraints, and then it produces alternative perspectives on the same set of constraints so you can recognize it under different circumstances. Maybe we have flying dreams as children because we recreate the objects that we know and the maps that we know from different perspectives, which also means from the bird's eye perspective.
So I mean, aren't we doing that anyway? I mean, not without with our eyes and with our eyes closed when we're sleeping and we just constantly running dreams and simulations in our mind as we try to interpret the environment. I mean, it's sort of considering all the different possibilities for the way we interact with the environment, seems like. Essentially, like you said, sort of creating a bunch of simulations that are consistent with our expectations, with previous experiences, with the things we just saw recently and through that hallucination process, we are able to then somehow stitch together what actually we see in the world with the simulations that match it well and thereby interpret it.
I suspect that your and my brain are slightly unusual in this regard, which is probably what got you into MIT. So this obsession of constantly pondering possibilities and solutions to problems.
I'm not talking about intellectual stuff.
I'm talking about just doing the kind of stuff it takes to walk and not fall. I guess this is largely automatic.
Yes, but the process is I mean, it's not complicated, it's relatively easy to build a neural network that in some sense learns the dynamics, the fact that we haven't done it right so far.
It doesn't mean it's hard because you can see that a biological organism does it, because relatively few neurons, you build a bunch of neural oscillators that can train themselves the dynamics of your body in such a way that the regulator becomes isomorphic and it's model to the dynamics that it regulates and then is automatic. And it's only interesting in the sense that it captures attention when the system is off.
But thinking of the kind of mechanism that's required to do walking as a controller is like a as a as a neural network.
I think I think it's a compelling notion, but it discards quietly or at least makes implicit the fact that you need to have something like common sense reasoning to walk. That's not is an open question whether you do or not. But my intuition is to be to act in this world. There's a huge knowledge base that's underlying it. Somehow. There's so much information of the kind we have never been able to construct in our in neural networks and artificial intelligence systems, period, which is like it's humbling, at least in my imagination.
The amount of information required to act in this world humbles me.
And I think seeing that in all that we can accomplish is missing. Is missing the fact that we don't. Yeah, we don't have yet a mechanism for constructing something like common sense reasoning. I mean, what's your sense? About. To linger on how much, you know, to linger on the idea of what kind of mechanism would be effective at walking, you said just a neural network, not maybe the kind we have, but something a little bit better would be able to walk easily, don't you think?
It also needs to know. Huge amount of knowledge that's represented under the flag of common sense reasoning, how much common sense knowledge to be actually have imagined that you are really hard working through all your life and your form to new concepts every half hour. So you end up with something like a million concepts because you don't get that old. So a concept. That's not a lot. So it's not just the million concepts, I think it would be a lot, I personally think it might be much more than a million.
If you think just about the numbers, you don't live that long. If you think about how many cycles to your neurons have in your life, it's quite limited.
You don't get that old yet.
But the powerful thing is the number of concepts in there, probably deeply hierarchical in nature. The relations, as you described between them, is the key thing. So it's like even if it's a million concepts, the graph of relations that's formed and some kind of perhaps some kind of probabilistic relationships, that's the that's what's common sense reasoning is the relationship between things that are so bad in some sense.
I think of the concepts as the address space for our behavior programs and the behavior poems allow us to recognize objects and interact with them. Also mental objects. And large part of that is the physical world that we interact with, which is this extend I thing, which is basically unification of information and space. And basically it's similar to a game engine. It's a physics engine that you can use to describe and predict how things that look in a particular way, that feel when you touch them a particular way, the appropriate sceptical of auditory perception and so on, how they work out.
So basically the geometry of all these things, and this is probably 80 percent of what our brain is doing is dealing with that. There's this real time simulation and by itself, a game engine is fascinating, but it's not that hard to understand what it's doing. Right. And our game engines are already, in some sense, approximating the fidelity of what we can perceive. So if we put on an Oculus quest, if you get something that is still relatively crude with respect to what we can perceive, but it's also in the same ballpark already, right.
It's just a couple order of magnitude away to home saturating our perception in terms of the complexity that it can produce. So in some sense, it's reasonable to say that our computer that you can buy it put into your home is able to give a perceptual reality that has the detail that is already in the same ballpark as what your brain can process. And everything else are ideas about the world. And I suspect that they are relatively sparse and also the intuitive models that we form about social interaction, social interaction is is not so hard.
It's just hard for us nerds because we all have our wires crossed. So we need to use them. But the players are present in most social animals. So it's interesting thing to note is that many domestic social animals, like cats and dogs, have better social recognition than children.
Right? I hope so. I hope it's not that many concepts fundamentally had to do to exist in this world.
So for me, it's more like I'm afraid so, because this thing that we only appear to be so complex to each other because we're so stupid, it's a little bit depressing now.
One that to me that's inspiring if we're indeed as stupid as it seems, thinks our brains don't scale and the information processing that we built tend to scale very well.
Yeah, but I mean, one of the things that worries me is that, you know, the fact that the brain doesn't scale means that that's actually a fundamental feature of the brain.
You know, the all the flaws of the brain, everything we see that we see as limitations, perhaps as a fundamental, the constraints on the system could be the a requirement of its power, which is like different than our current understanding of intelligent systems where scale, especially with deep learning, especially with reinforcement learning. The the hope behind open and mind, all the major results really have to do with huge computer. And yet also be that our brains are so small, not just because they take up so much glucose in our body, 20 percent of the glucose, so they don't arbitrarily scale.
But there are some animals like elephants, which have larger brains than us, and it don't seem to be smarter. All right. Elephants seem to be autistic. They have very, very good motor control and they're very good with details, but they really struggle to see the big picture so you can make them recreate drawing's stroke by stroke. They can do that, but they cannot reproduce a still life. So they cannot make a drawing of a scene that they see.
There will always be only able to reproduce the line drawing, at least as far from what I could see in the experiments. So why is that? Maybe smarter elephants would meditate themselves out of existence because their brains are actually basically the elephants that were not autistic. Uh, they didn't reproduce.
Yeah. So we have to remember that the brain is fundamentally interlinked with the body and our human and the biological system. Do you think that ajai systems that we try to create or greater intelligence systems would need to have a body?
So I think they should be able to make use of a body if you give it to them. But I don't think that a fundamental interbody, so I suspect if you can interact with the world by moving your eyes and your head, you can make controlled experiments. And this allows you to have many magnitudes fewer observations in order to reduce the uncertainty in your models so you can pinpoint the errors in your models, but you're not quite sure. And you just move your head and see what's what's going on over there.
And you get additional information. If you just have to use YouTube as an input and you cannot do anything beyond this, you probably need just much more data. But if you have much more data, so if you can build a system that has enough time and attention to browse all of YouTube and extract all the information that there is to be found, I don't think there's an obvious limit to what it can do.
But it seems that the interactivity is a fundamental thing that the physical body allows you to do. But let me ask on that topic sort of that that sort of body is is allowing the brain to, like, touch things and move things and interact with the way whether the physical world exists or not, whatever, but interact with some interface to the physical world.
What about a virtual world? Do you think. Do you think we can do the same kind of reasoning, consciousness, intelligence, if we put on a VR headset and move over to that world?
Do you think there's a fundamental difference between the interface, the physical world, that it's here in this hotel and if we were sitting in the same hotel in a virtual world?
The question is, does this physical, this non-physical world or this other environment entice you to solve problems that require general intelligence? If it doesn't, then you probably will not develop general intelligence. And arguably, most people are not generally intelligent because they don't have to solve problems that make them generally intelligent. And even for us, it's not yet clear if we are smart enough to understand our own nature to this degree. Right. So it could be a matter of capacity.
And for most people, it's in the first place, a matter of interest. I don't see the point because the benefit of attempting this project are marginal because you're probably not going to succeed in it. And the cost of trying to do it requires complete dedication of your entire life. Right.
But it seems like the possibilities of what you can do in the virtual world. So imagine that is much greater than you can in the real world. So imagine a situation and be interesting option for me.
If somebody came to me and offered, what I'll do is so from now on, you can only exist in the virtual world. And so you put on a headset and when you eat will make sure to connect your body up in a way that when you eat in the virtual world, your body will be nourished in the same way in the virtual world. So the aligning incentives between the common sort of real world in the virtual world, but then the possibilities become much bigger, like I could be other kinds of creatures I could do.
I can break the laws of physics as we know them. I could do a lot of I mean, the possibilities are endless, right? That's as far as we think. It's an interesting thought whether like what existence would be like what kind of intelligence would emerge there, what kind of consciousness, what kind of maybe greater intelligence even mean me, Allex, even at this stage in my life, if I spend the next 20 years in the world to see how that intelligence emerges.
And if I was if that happened at the very beginning before I was even cognizant of my existence in this physical world, it's interesting to think how that child would develop and the way virtual reality and digitization of everything is moving. It's not completely out of the realm of possibility that we're all that some part of our lives will be, if not entirety of it, will live in a virtual world to a greater degree than we currently have living on Twitter and social media and so on.
Do you have I mean, does something draw you intellectually or naturally in terms of thinking about AI to this virtual world where more possibilities?
I think that currently it's a waste of time to deal with the physical world before we have mechanisms that can automatically learn how to deal with it. The body gives you a second order agency. What you consider what constitutes the body is the things that you can indirectly control. Third order tools, right? And the second order is the things that are basically always present. But you operate on them first order things which are mental operators. Yes. And the zero order is in some sense the direct sense of what you're deciding.
Right. So you do observe yourself initiating an action. There are features that you interpret as the initiation of an action. Then you perform the operations that you perform to make that happen. And then you see the movement of your limbs and you learn to associate those and thereby model your own agency or the feedback. Right. But the first feedback that you get is from this first order thing already. Basically, you decide to think a thought and the thought is being thought.
You decide to change. Thought and you observe how the thought is being changed, and in some sense this is, you could say, the embodiment already, right? And I suspect it's sufficient as an embodiment of intelligence.
And so it's not that important, at least at this time, to consider variations in the second order.
Yes, but the thing that you also put mentioned just now is physics, that you could change in any way you want. So you need an environment that puts up resistance against you. If you if there's nothing to control, you cannot make models. Right. There needs to be a particular way that resists you. And by the way, your motivation is usually outside of your mind. It resists your motivation is what gets you up in the morning, even though it would be much less work to stay in bed.
And so it's basically forcing you to resist the environment and it forces your mind to serve it, to serve this resistance to the environment. So in some sense, it is also putting up resistance against the natural tendency of the mind to not do anything.
Yeah, so some of the resistance, just like you describe as motivation, is like in the first order, it's in the mind some resistance is in the second order, like actual physical objects pushing against you. So.
It seems that the second order stuff in virtual reality could be recreated, of course, but it might be sufficient that you just do mathematics. And mathematics is already putting up enough resistance against you. So basically, just as an aesthetic motive, this could maybe sufficient to form a type of intelligence. It would probably not be a very human intelligence, but it might be one that is already general. So to to mess with this zero order, maybe first order, what do you think about ideas of brain computer interfaces?
So, again, returning to our friend Elon Musk and Neural Link, a company that's trying to of course, there's a lot of trying to cure diseases and so on with the near term. But the long term vision is to add an extra layer to so basically expand the capacity of the brain connected to the computational world.
Do you think one that's possible, too. How does that change the fundamentals of the zeroth order in the first order?
It's technically possible, but I don't see that the FDA would ever allow me to drill holes in my skull, to interface my neocortex, to unmask envisions so that the moment I can do horrible things to myself, but I'm not able to do useful things to people, except maybe at some point down the line in medical applications. So this thing that we are envisioning, which means recreational and creation of brain computer interfaces, are probably not going to happen in the present legal system.
I love it how I'm asking you out there, philosophical and sort of engineering questions. And for the first time ever, you jumped to the legal FDA.
There would be enough people that would be crazy enough to have holes in their skull to try a new type of brain computer interface.
Also, if it works. FDA will approve it. I mean, yes, you're it's like because, you know, I work a lot with autonomous vehicles. Yes. You can say there's going to be very difficult regulatory process of approving it, but it doesn't mean autonomous vehicles are never going to happen.
So, no, they will totally happen as soon as we create jobs for at least two lawyers and one regulator per car. Yes, lawyers that's actually like lawyers is the fundamental substrate of reality.
It's a very weird system. It's not universal in the world. It's a law. It's a very interesting software. Once you realize it right. These circuits are in some sense streams of software. And this is largely Boksburg exception handling. So you make decisions on the ground and they get synchronized with the next level structure as soon as an exception is being thrown.
It's a yeah, so. So that's the exception, handling the process. It's very expensive, especially since it's incentivizes the lawyers for producing a lot of work for lawyers.
Yes. So the exceptions are actually incentivized for for for firing often.
But but to return outside of lawyers, is there anything fundamentally like is there anything interesting, insightful about the possibility of this extra layer of intelligence added to the brain?
I do think so, but I don't think that you need, uh, technically invasive procedures to do so. We can already interface with other people by observing them very, very closely and getting in some kind of empathetic resonance. And I'm nervous. I'm not very good at this, but I notice that people are able to do this to some degree. And it basically means that we model an interface layer of the other person in real time, and it works despite our new ones being slow, because most of the things that we do are built on periodic processes.
We just need to train yourself with the oscillation that happens. And if the oscillation itself changes slowly enough, you can basically follow along.
All right. But the bandwidth of the interaction, the you know, it seems like you can do a lot more computation when there's, of course, the but the other thing is that the bandwidth that our brain, our own mind is running on is actually quite slow.
So the number of thoughts that I can productively think in any given day is quite limited. But it's much if they had the discipline to write it down and the speed to write it down, maybe it would be a book every day or so. But if you think about the computers that we can build the magnitudes at which they operate. Right, this would be nothing. It's something that they can put out in a second.
Well, I don't know. So as possible, sort of the number of thoughts you have in your brain is it could be several orders of magnitude higher than what you're possibly able to express through your fingers or through your voice.
Like most of them are going to be repetitive because. Well, how do you know that they have to control the same problems every day when they walk, they are going to be processed. This my brain, that model, my walking pattern and regulate them and so on. But it's going to be pretty much the same every day. But that is every step.
But I'm talking about an intellectual reason. I'm thinking so the question, what is the best system of government? So you sit down and start thinking about that. One of the constraints is that you don't have access to a lot of like you have access to a lot of facts, a lot of studies you have to do. You always have to interface with something else to learn more to to aid in your reasoning process. If you can directly access all of Wikipedia in trying to understand what is the best form of government, then every thought won't be stuck in a like every thought that requires some extra piece of information will be able to grab it really quickly.
That that's the possibility of if the bottleneck is literally the information that, you know, the bottleneck of breakthrough ideas is just being able to quickly access huge amounts of information, then the possibility of connecting your brain to the computer could lead to totally new, like, you know, totally new breakthroughs. You can think of mathematicians being able to, you know, just up the orders of magnitude of power in their reasoning about mathematics and humanity has already discovered the optimal form of government or evolutionary process.
There is an evolutionary well. And so what we discover is that maybe the problem of government doesn't have stable solutions for us as a species because we are not designed in such a way that we can make everybody conform to them. So but there could be solutions that work under different circumstances or that are the best for certain environment and depends on, for instance, the primary forms of ownership and the means of production, or if the main means of production is land and then there are forms of government will be regulated by the landowners and you get a monarchy.
If you also want to have a form of government in which a substantial you depend on some form of slavery, for instance, where the peasants have to work very long hours for very little gain. So very few people can have plumbing, then maybe you need to promise them that you get paid in the afterlife that over time. Right. So you need a theocracy. And so for much of human history in the West, you had a combination of monarchy and theocracy.
That was our form of governance. Right. At the same time, the Catholic Church implemented game theoretic principles. I recently reread Thomas Aquinas. It's very interesting to see this because he was not duelist. He was translating Aristotle in a particular way for designing an operating system for the Catholic society. And he says that basically people are animals and very much the same way as Aristotle envisions, which basically organism for cybernetic control. And then he says that there are individual rational principles that humans can discover and everybody can discover them.
So there are universal if you are saying you should understand, you said to submit to them because you can deduce them. And these principles are roughly you should be willing to self regulate correctly. You should be willing to do correct social regulation into organismic.
You should be willing to act on your models. We have skin in the game. And you should have called rationality, you should be choosing the right course to work on. And so basically these three rational principles call rationality, fiscal prudence or wisdom, social regulation is justice, the correct social one, and the internal regulation is temperance. And there's a willingness to act on your models is correct. Mm hmm. And then he says that there are additionally to these four cardinal virtues, three divine virtues, and these divine virtues cannot be deduced.
But they reveal themselves by the harmony, which means if you assume them and you extrapolate what's going to happen, you will see that that makes sense. And it's often been misunderstood, as God has to tell you that these are the things. So they're basically there's something nefarious going on. The Christian conspiracy forces you to believe some guy with a long beard that they discovered this. But, uh, so these principles are relatively simple. Again, you need it for high level organization, for the resulting civilization that you form a commitment to unity.
So basically, you serve this higher, larger thing, this structural principle on the next level. And he calls that faith. Then there needs to be a commitment to a shared purpose, basically this global reward that you try to figure out what that would be and how you can facilitate this. And this is love. The commitment to a shared purpose is the core of love. Right. You see the sacred thing that is more important than your own organismic interests in the other.
And you serve this together and this is how you see the sacred and the other. And the last one is hope, which means you need to be willing to act on that principle without getting rewards in the here and now because it doesn't exist yet. Then you start out building the civilization. Right. So you need to be able to do this in the absence of its actual existence yet so it can come into being. So, yeah.
So the way comes into being is by you accepting those notions and then you see these three divine concepts and you see them realized that the divine is a loaded concept in our world because we are outside of this card and we are still scarred from breaking free of it.
But the idea is basically we need to have a civilization that acts as an international agent, like an insect state. And we are not actually a tribal species. We are state building species. And was what enabled state building is basically the formation of religious states and other forms of rule-based administration in which the individual doesn't matter as much as the rule or the higher goal. Right.
We got there via the question, what's the optimal form of governance? So I don't think that Casassa Catholicism is the optimal form of governance because it's obviously on the way out. Right. So it is for the present type of society that we are in. Religious institutions don't seem to be optimal to organize it. So what we discovered right now that we live in in the West is democracy. And democracy is the rule of oligarchs that are the people that currently own the means of production that is administered not by the oligarchs themselves, because they there's too much disruption.
Right. There's so much innovation that we have in every generation means of production that we invent. And corporations die usually after 30 years or so. And something other takes a leading role in our societies. So it's administered by institutions and these institutions themselves are not elected, but they provide continuity and they are led by electable politicians. And this makes it possible that you can adapt to change without having to kill people. Right. So you can tell, for instance, of a change in government.
If people think that the current government is too corrupt or is not up to date, you can just elect new people. Or if a journalist finds out something inconvenient about the institution and the institution is has no plan B like in Russia, the journalist has to die. This is what when you run a society by the deep state. So ideally you have an administration layer that you can change if something bad happens. Right. So you will have a continuity and the whole thing.
And this is the system that we came up in in the West. And the way it's set up in the US is largely a result of low level models. It's mostly just second third order consequences that people are modeling and the design of these institutions. It's a relatively young society that doesn't really take care of the downstream effects of many of the decisions that are being made. And I suspect that I can help with this in a way, if you can fix the incentives to the society of the US as a society of cheaters, it's basically cheating, so indistinguishable from innovation.
And we want to encourage innovation and elaborate on what you mean by cheating.
It's basically people to things that they know are wrong. It's acceptable to do things that you know are wrong in this society to a certain degree. You can, for instance, suggests an unsustainable business models and implement them. Right.
But you're always pushing the boundaries. I mean, yes, you're yes. Does is seen as a good thing, largely.
Yes, and this is different from other societies, so, for instance, social mobility is an aspect of this, social mobility is the result of individual innovation that would not be sustainable at scale for everybody else. Right. Normally, you should not go up. You should go deep. Right. We need bakers need to be very, very good bakers. But in a society that innovates, maybe you can replace all the bakers with a really good machine.
Right. And that's not a bad thing. And it's a thing that made us so successful. Right. But it also means that the US is not optimizing for sustainability, but for innovation.
And so it's not obvious as the evolutionary process is unrolling, it's not obvious that that long term would be better, but it has side effects.
So basically, if you cheat, you will have a certain layer of toxic sludge that covers everything that is a result of cheating.
And we have to unroll this evolutionary process to figure out if these side effects are so damaging that the system is horrible or the benefits actually outweigh the the the negative effects. How do we get to the system of government as best that was from.
I'm trying to trace back the last five minutes, I suspect that we can find a way back to I thinking about the way in which our brain has to organize itself. In some sense, our brain is a society of neurons and our mind is a society of behaviors. And they need to be organizing themselves into a structure that implements regulation. And government is social regulation. We often see government as the manifestation of power or local interests, but it's actually a platform for negotiating the conditions of human survival.
And this platform emerges or the current needs and possibilities and the trajectory that we have. So given the present state, there are only so many options on how we can move into the next stage without completely disrupting everything. And we mostly agree that it's a bad idea to disrupt everything because it will endanger our food supply for a while and the entire infrastructure and fabric of society. So we do try to find natural transitions and they are not that many natural transitions available at any given point.
What are you, a natural transition?
So we try to not to have revolutions if we can it. Right. So speaking of revolutions and the connection between government systems in the mind, he also said that you said that in some sense, becoming an adult means you take charge of your emotions. Maybe never said that. Maybe I just made that up. But in the context of the mind, what's the role of emotion and what is it? First of all, what is emotion? What's its role?
It's several things. So psychologists often distinguish between emotion and feeling. And in common parlance, we don't think that emotion is a configuration of the cognitive system. And that's especially true for the lowest level for the affective state. So when you have an affect, it's the configuration of certain modulation parameters like arousal, valence, your attentional focus, whether it's right or narrow into reception or extra reception and so on. And all these parameters together put you in a certain way.
You relate with the environment and to yourself. And this is in some sense an emotional configuration. And the more narrow sense and emotion is an effective state. It has an object and the relevance of that object is given by motivation. And motivation is a bunch of needs that are associated with rewards, things that give you pleasure and pain. And you don't actually act on your needs. You act on models of your needs, because when the pleasure and pain manifest, it's too late.
You've done everything but so you act on expectations. What? We'll give you a pleasure and pain. And these are your purposes. The needs don't form a hierarchy. They just coexist and compete. And your organism has the human brain has to find a dynamic homeostasis between them. But the purpose is need to be consistent. So you basically can create a story for your life and make plans. And so we organize them all into hierarchies. And there is not a unique solution for this.
Some people need to make art and other people make art to eat. They might be end up doing the same things, but they cooperate in very different ways because the ultimate goals are different and we cooperate based on shared purpose. Everything else it is not cooperation on shared purpose is transactional.
I don't think I understood that last piece of the achieving the homeostasis.
Are you distinguishing between the experience of emotion and the expression of emotion?
Of course. So the experience of emotion is a feeling and in the sense what you feel is an appraisal that your perceptual system has made of the situation at hand. And it makes this based on your motivation. Yes. And on your estimates, not your part of the subconscious geometric parts of your mind that assess the situation in the world with something like a neural network. And this neural network is making itself known to the symbolic parts of your mind, to your conscious attention by mapping the most features into a space.
So what you will feel about your emotion is a projection usually into your body map. So you might feel anxiety in your solar plexus and you might feel it as a contraction, which is all geometry. Right. Your body remembers the space that is always instantiated, always available. So it's a very obvious target. If you're not in the symbolic parts of your brain, try to talk to you, symbolic parts of your brain to map the feelings into the body map.
And then you perceive them as pleasant or unpleasant, depending on whether the appraisal has a negative or positive valence. And then you have different features of them that give you more knowledge about the nature of what your feelings are. For instance, when you feel connected to other people, you typically feel this in your chest region around your heart, and you feel this is an expansive feeling in which you're reaching out. Right. And it's very intuitive to encode it like this.
That's why it's called it. It's encoded. It's a code in which the nonsupport are parts of your mind talked with the symbolic one. And then the expression of emotion is then the final step that could be sort of gestural or visual and so on.
That's just part of this case, probably evolved as part of an adversarial communication. So as soon as you started to observe the facial expression and posture of others to understand what emotional state they are in, others started to use this as signaling and also to subvert your model of their emotional state. So we now look at the inflections that the difference between the standard face that they're going to make in this situation. When you were at a funeral, everybody expects you to make a solemn face, but the solemn face doesn't express whether your said or not.
It just expresses that you understand what face you have to make at a funeral. Nobody should know that you are triumphant. So when you try to read the emotion of another person, you try to look at the delta between a sad, truly sad expression and the things that are animated meeting this face behind the curtain.
So the interesting thing as so having done this, having done this podcast and the video component, one of the things I've learned is that now I'm Russian and I, I just don't know how to express emotion on my face when I see that as weakness.
But whatever the people look to me after you say something, they look to my face to to help them see how they should feel about what he said, which is fascinating, because then they'll often comment on why did you look bored or why did you particularly enjoy that part or why did you whatever. It's a kind of interesting it makes me cognizant of I'm part like you're basically saying a bunch of brilliant things, but I'm part of the play that you're the key actor.
And by making my facial expressions and then and therefore telling the narrative of what the big like the big point is, which is fascinating. And I'm supposed to be making facial expressions, even this conversation is hard because my preference would be to wear a mask with sunglasses to where I could just listen.
Which is I understand this because it's intrusive to interact with others this way. And basically Eastern European society have a taboo against that, and especially Russia. And the further you go to the east and in the south, it's the opposite. You're expected to be hyper animated in your face and you also expect it to show positive effect. Yes. And if you saw positive effect without a good reason in Russia, people will think you are stupid, unsophisticated person.
Exactly. And here, positive effect without reason goes either appreciate or goes unnoticed. No, it's the default. It's being expected. Everything is amazing. Have you seen this Lego Movie?
No. There was a diagram where somebody gave the appraisals that exist in the US and Russia. So you have your birth curve and the lower 10 percent in us. Yeah. Ah, it's a good start.
Everything about the lowest 10 percent is. It's amazing. It's amazing. And for Russians, everything below the top 10 percent, it's terrible.
And everything except the top percent is I don't like it in the top percent.
It's even so, you know, it's funny, but it's kind of true. No. Yeah, but there's a deeper aspect to this.
It's also how you construct meaning in the US. Usually you focus on the positive aspects and you just suppress the negative aspects. And in our Eastern European traditions, we emphasize the fact that if you hold something above the waterline, you also need to put something below the waterline because existence by itself is best neutral. Right?
That's the basic intuition at best. Neutral. Yes. Or just suffering the default.
There are moments of beauty, but these moments of beauty are inextricably linked to the reality of suffering. And to not acknowledge the reality of suffering means that you are really stupid and unaware of the fact that basically every conscious being spent most of the time suffering.
Yeah, you just summarized the ethos of the Eastern Europe. Yeah, most of life is suffering with occasional moments of beauty. And if your facial expressions don't acknowledge the abundance of suffering in the world and the existence itself, then you must be an idiot.
It's an interesting thing when you raise children in the U.S. and you in some sense preserve the identity of the intellectual and cultural traditions that are embedded in your own families. And your daughter asks you about Ariel the mermaid. Yeah. And I asked you, why are you not allowed to play with the humans? And you tell her the truth. Siren sirens In people, you don't play with your food. It does not end well. And then you tell her the original story, which is not the one by Andreassen, which is the romantic one.
And there's a much darker. One, which has been a story, what happened so when Dean is a mermaid or a what a woman, she lives on the ground of a river and she meets this prince and they fall in love. And the prince really, really wants to be with her. And she says, OK, but the deal is you cannot have any other woman if you marry somebody else, even though you cannot be with me, because obviously you cannot breathe.
And the water and I have other things to do than managing your kingdom as you have here. You will die. And eventually, after a few years, he falls in love with some princess and marries her and she shows up and quietly goes into his chamber. And nobody is able to stop her or willing to do so because is fierce. And she comes quietly and said out of his chamber and they ask her what has happened, what did you do?
And she said, I kissed him to death.
And you know, the Anderson story, right in the innocent story, the mermaid is playing with this prince that she saves and she falls up with him and she cannot live out there. So she is giving up her voice and her tail for a human like appearance so she can walk among the humans. But this guy does not recognize that she is the one that you marry. Instead, he marries somebody who has a kingdom and economical and political relationships to his own kingdom and so on, as he should.
Quite tragic. And she dies. Yeah.
So yeah. Instead, Disney, The Little Mermaid story has a little bit of a happy ending. That's the Western. That's the American way.
And my own problem is this. This, of course, that I read Oscar Wilde before I read the other thing. So I am indoctrinated, inoculated with this romanticism. And I think that the mermaid is right. You sacrifice your life for romantic love. That's what you do. Because if you are confronted with either serving the machine and doing the obviously right thing and the economic and social and or other human incentives, that's wrong. You should follow your heart.
So do you think suffering is fundamental to happiness along these lines, suffering as the result of caring about things that you cannot change? And if you are able to change what you care about to those things that you can change, you will not suffer.
But would then would you then be able to experience happiness?
Yes, but happiness itself is not important. Happiness is like a cookie when you are a child. Using cookies are very important and you want to have all the cookies in the world. You look forward to being an adult because then you have as many cookies as you want, right? Yes. But as an adult, you realize the cookie is a tool. It's a tool to make you eat vegetables. And once you eat your vegetables anyway, you stop eating cookies for the most part, because otherwise you will get diabetes and will not be around for your kids.
Yes, but then the cookie, the scarcity of a cookie, if scarcity is enforced. Nevertheless, the pleasure comes from the scarcity. Yes, but the happiness is a cookie that your brain bakes for itself. It's not made by the Environment Department cannot make you happy. It's your appraisal of the environment that makes you happy. And if you can change the appraisal of the environment, which you can learn to, then you can create arbitrary dates for happiness.
And some meditators fall into this trap so they discover the room, the basement room in their brain where the cookies are made and they indulge and stuff themselves. And after a few months, it gets really old.
And the big crisis of meaning comes because they thought before that their unhappiness was the result of not being happy enough so that they can release the neurotransmitters at well, if they train. And then the crisis of meaning pops up at a deeper layer. And the question is, why do I love how can I make a sustainable civilization that is meaningful to me? OK, and insert myself into this. And this was the problem that you couldn't solve in the first place.
But at the end of all this, let me then ask that same question, what is the answer to that? What could possibly answer be the meaning of life? What what could an answer be? What is it to you?
I think that if you look at the meaning of life, you look at what the cell is. The life is the cell. Cell. Yes. Or this principle, the cell. It's this self organizing thing that can participate in evolution in order to make it work. It's a molecular machine. It needs a set of replicator and entropy extractor and a Turing machine. If any of these parts is missing, you don't have a cell and it is not living right.
And life is basically the emergent complexity or that principle. Once you have this intelligent super molecule, the cell is very little that you cannot make it to. It's probably the optimal computer in your mind, especially in terms of resilience. It's very hard to sterilize the planet once it's infected with life.
So its active function of these three components or the super cell or cell is is present in the cell is present in us.
And it's just the are just an expression of the cell, the third layer of complexity and the organization of cells that. So in a way, it's tempting to think of the cell as a volume on prop. If you want to build intelligence on other planets, the best way to do this is to infect them for cells and wait for long enough. And there's a reasonable chance the stuff is going to evolve into an information processing principle that is general enough to become sentient with.
That idea is very akin to sort of the the same dream and beautiful ideas that are expressed, the cellular automata in their most simple mathematical form. If you just inject the system with some basic mechanisms of replication.
So on basic rules, amazing things would emerge at the cell is able to do something that James Hardie calls existential design. He points out that in technical design, because from the outside in, we work in highly controlled environment in which everything is deterministic like our computers, our laps or our engineering workshops.
And then we use this determinism to implement a particular kind of function that we dream up and that seamlessly interfaces with all the other deterministic functions that we already have in our world. So it's basically from the outside in and the logical systems design from the inside out as seat will come a seedling by taking some of the relatively unorganized matter around it and turn it into its own structure and thereby subdue the environment. And cells can cooperate if they can rely on other cells having a similar organization that is already compatible.
But unless that's that's there, there needs to divide to create a structure by itself. Right. So it's the self organizing principle that works on a somewhat chaotic environment. And the purpose of life in the sense is to produce complexity. And the complexity allows you to harvest entropy gradients that you couldn't harvest without the complexity. And in the sense intelligent and life are very strongly connected because the purpose of intelligence is to allow control and the conditions of complexity. So basically, you shift the boundary between the altered systems into the realm of the of chaos.
You build bridgeheads into chaos with complexity. And this is what we are doing. This is not necessarily a deeper meaning. I think the meaning that we have prioress for that we have lost for outside of the Prius, there is no meaning. Meaning only exists if a mind protects it, right? Yeah, that is probably civilization.
I think that what feels most meaningful to me is to try to build and maintain a sustainable civilization and taken a step outside of that.
We talked about a man with a beard and God. But something. Some mechanism perhaps must have planted the seed, the initial seed of the cell. Do you think there is a God? What is a God?
And what would that look like, though, if there was no spontaneous abiogenesis in the sense that the first cell formed by some happy random accidents where the molecules just happen to be in the right consolation to each other.
But there could also be the mechanism of that allows for the random I mean, is like turtles all the way down. There seems to be there has to be a head turtle at the bottom or something really wild.
Imagine. Is it possible that a gas giant could become intelligent, but would that involve. So imagine that you have vortices that spontaneously emerge on the gas giants like big storm systems that endure for thousands of years. And some of these swarm systems produce electromagnetic fields because some of the clouds are ferromagnetic or something. And as a result, they can change how certain clouds react rather than other clouds and thereby produce some self stabilising patterns that eventually lead to regulation, feedback loops, nested feedback loops and control.
So imagine you have such this thing that basically has emergent, self-sustaining self organizing complexity. And at some point this wakes up and realizes and basically lems Solaris. I am a thinking planet. Yes, but it will not replicate because I cannot recreate the conditions of my own existence somewhere else. I'm just basically an intelligence that has spontaneously formed because it could and now it builds upon and probe. And the best for Noaman purpose I think might be the self.
So maybe it will because it's very, very clever and very enduring, create cells and sends them out and one of them has infected our planet. I'm not suggesting that is the case, but it would be compatible with the Birmingham hypothesis. And it was my intuition that abiogenesis is very unlikely. It's possible, but you probably need to draw the cosmic dice very often, maybe more often than the other planetary surfaces. I don't know.
So God is just a large enough a system that's large enough that allows randomness?
No, I don't think that God has anything to do with creation. I think it's a mistranslation of the time into the Catholic mythology. I think that Genesis is actually the childhood memories of a God. So when then say that Genesis is the childhood memories of a God, it's basically a mind that is remembering how it came into being. And we typically interpret Genesis as the creation of a physical universe by a supernatural being. Yes.
And I think when you read it, there is light and darkness that has been created and then you discover sky and ground create them. You construct the plants and the animals and you give everything that their names and so on. That's basic cognitive development. It's a sequence of steps that every mind has to go through. Then it makes sense of the world. And then you have children. You can see how initially they distinguish light and darkness and then they make out directions in it and they discover sky and ground and they discover the plants and the animals and they give everything their name.
And it's a creative process that happens in every mind because it's not given right. Your mind has to invent these structures to make sense of the patterns on your retina. Also, if there was some big nerd to set up a server and runs this world on it, this would not create a special relationship between us and the nerd. This nerd would not have the magical power to give meaning to our existence. Right. So this equation of a creator, God with the God of meaning is laid off and you shouldn't do it.
The other one that is done in Catholicism is the equation of the first mover, the prime mover of Aristotle, which is basically the automaton that runs the universe. Title says if things are moving and things seem to be moving here, something must move them, right? If something moves them, something must move the thing that is moving. So there must be a prime mover in this idea. To say that this prime mover is a supernatural being is complete nonsense, right?
It's an automaton in the simplest case. So we have to explain the enormity that this automaton exists at all. But again, we don't have any possibility for anything about its properties except that it's able to produce change and information. So there needs to be some kind of computational principle. This is all there is. But to say this automaton is identical again with the creator of first class or with the thing that gives meaning to our life is confusion. Now, I think that what we perceive is the higher being that we are part of and the higher being that we are part of is the civilisation.
It's the thing in which we have a similar relationship as the cell has to our body. And we have this prior because we have evolved to organize in these structures. So basically the Christian God in its natural form, without the mythology, if you address it, is basically the platonic form of the civilisation. Is the is the ideal? Yes, it's this idea that you try to approximate when you interact with others, not based on your incentives, but on what you think is right.
While we covered a lot of ground and we left with one of my favorite lines and there's many, which is happiness is a cookie that brain bakes itself. It's been a huge honor. And a pleasure to talk to you.
I'm sure our past across many times again. Josh, thank you so much for talking today.
Thank you so much fun. I enjoyed it.
Awesome. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Josh Abuk and thank you to our sponsors Express and Kashyap. Please consider supporting this podcast by getting Express VPN and Express VPN, dotcom pod and downloading Kastrup and Using Collects podcast. If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube, review five stars and up a podcast supporting one patron or simply connect with me on Twitter Elex Friedemann. And yes, try to figure out how to spell it without the. And now let me leave you with some words of wisdom from your Shuba.
If you take this as a computer game metaphor, this is the best level for humanity to play in, this best level happens to be the last level as it happens against the backdrop of a dying world. But it's still the best level. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.