Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Sunday, October 21, 2018
Conversations with the Abyss
Promethean, we dared
A weighty energy
Pandora so radiant
Прометею-подобные, мы осмелились
Как Пандора лучистая
Use only as directed.
Known by the State of California
to Cause Harm
The Great, Dead Expanse
I am made of ash
The slightest gust of wind
Will shatter me
Into a million atoms
Unique in my deconstruction
Fated for a sudden undoing
A return to nothingness
To pure abstraction
dissolves into angles of anxiety and lines of grief
when the cold walls of this void world close
and the gray sky weeps the loss of every fragile moment
that you once held dear?
The answer comes echodown at a distance
that the hour will come
when the complexity of life gives way
to the brutal simplicity of death
fears quieted and worries stilled
in pale abandonment and shrill remorse
the abrupt finite nature of all things
stands still before us
over and over and over and over and over…
But I don't have any peace
She said that in a storm
The water deep in the ocean is quiet and still
And that the emotions of the righteous can be like that ocean
But they found that I'm not like an ocean
That I have no deep peace
Or knowing where you are but not knowing where you mean to go.
Other times, standing in the middle of a vast, featureless desert, the terrible void.
When that well of reasons dries white as a bone, lost means not knowing why.
Conversations with the Abyss: Text from the Naassene Fragment, translation from Mead, G.R.S (1906). "The Myth of Man in the Mysteries". Thrice Greatest Hermes: Studies in Hellenistic Theosophy and Gnosis. I. London and Benares: The Theosophical Publishing Society (Public Domain)
That Shadow: Quotation from Epistula Apostolorum 11, translation by Hennecke and Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 197 (Fair use as per Westminster John Knox Press guidelines)
Medium Machinebuilding: photo by Lauren Raffensperger. Russian translation by Anastasia Shchepetkina.
Empty: Quotation from Jung, Two Essays; page 277. (Fair use as per Princeton Press guidelines)
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
This thought experiment could have many different outcomes. When you started the project, you guessed at the right direction, but the benefit of hindsight may suggest a better way. Parts of the project may be kept around only because of the sunk cost fallacy. Maybe you’ve learned more about what the requirements really are. Maybe it’s time to kill this project and start a new one. Maybe the project is too long or too complicated and should be broken down into several smaller projects. Maybe your plans for the rest of the project need to change. Or maybe you can have more complete confidence in your current approach. Most likely you will find at least a few small things to tweak.
Let me give you a hypothetical example. Suppose that you have a software system with two threads: one that produces data objects and one that consumes them. You do extensive performance profiling and find that both threads run too slowly, so you spend some time speeding up both threads. Eventually, you speed up the consumer thread until it only takes 12 CPU instructions per incoming data object. If you were under time pressure to deliver a critical patch, then you’d be happy with your optimizations and you would ship what you had. But if you thought through what you would do if you were to start over, then you would probably decide that using a consumer-producer multithreading architecture is the wrong strategy entirely because a single thread is good enough.
Around the start of 2013, when I was working on my PhD, I was wandering in circles around a particular problem: I wanted to discover the conditions required for a pair of Q-learning agents to learn to take turns in a simulated context. I parameterized the agents’ reward functions and tried to discover a pattern that would compactly describe how to incentivize turn taking. I went down a few blind alleys: genetic algorithms, linear decompositions and staring blankly at a simple visualization of the problem. Eventually, I realized that game theory is the correct approach for analyzing this kind of multi-agent scenario. At that point, I revised the entire plan for my PhD so that the next part was focused almost entirely on game theory.
Most of your time must go to detail work, so when is it time to step back and look at the big picture? Unfortunately, you probably won’t reach an epiphany moment where you know its time to rethink the project, like I did with my PhD. No tree will scream “this is the wrong part of the forest.” At the start of this essay, I suggested that you imagine starting over "every once in a while,” but a definite schedule may be helpful. How about 1 January each year? Or the first day of each month? What projects are you working on now? Do you have one where you’ve focused exclusively on details for a long time? Maybe now is the time to imagine starting that project over
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
|Painting of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale|
The Jefferson Bible is a redaction of the King James Bible, taking verses exclusively from the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These books are in the public domain and you can download them from Wikisource:
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John comprise 3778 verses in the King James Bible. For each verse that Jefferson copied in whole, I will consider that he has added a full 12 bits of information: enough to choose a verse in the canonical gospels. The Jefferson Bible includes some verses only in part; I will encode those verses as straight ASCII, at 7 bits per character. The Jefferson Bible has 1028 verses: 450 from Matthew, 94 from Mark, 338 from Luke and 146 from John. Actually, some verses in the Bible are exact copies of other verses, so alternative counts are possible.1 Thirty-eight verses are partial matches. With this encoding the Jefferson Bible requires 29520 bits or 3.6 kilobytes. If we encode all 116037 characters with ASCII, then we require 812259 bits or 99 kilobytes. My scheme achieves a 3.6% compression ratio. All this is to say: Thomas Jefferson did not add much information to the corpus of human knowledge in his humanistic redaction!
The figure below graphs the relationship between verses in the Jefferson Bible and where those verses are found in the canonical Gospels. Observe that much of the graph gently slopes upward: most verses in the Jefferson Bible are followed by their successor in the canonical Gospel. I could have compressed the Jefferson Bible even further if I choose a more clever encoding scheme that made use of this knowledge!
- the 60 words that have the greatest increase in frequency in Jefferson Bible (relative to the canonical Gospels),
- 20 words that occur with almost equal frequency
- and the 60 words that have the greatest decrease in frequency in the Jefferson Bible (relative to the canonical Gospels).
|More likely in Jeffferson Bible||Almost equal||More likely in canonical gospels|
We see that ‘believed,’ ‘fulfilled,’ and ‘healed’ are more likely in the canonical Gospels, while all the words that are more likely in the Jefferson Bible are plain and devoid of spirituality-related meaning, like ‘one,’ ’thy,’ and ‘give.’ Interestingly, ‘prophet’ is more likely in the canonical gospels, but ‘prophesy’ occurs with roughly equal frequency in both.
We have a window to Jefferson's heart in what he left out. Presumably, he could have written a short essay describing how the gospels are useful for learning morals but that the miracles can’t be trusted. Instead we have the Jefferson Bible, which, in some sense, is a polemic against the supernatural in Christianity that pretends to replace the gospels. Regardless of whether or not Jefferson is right to reject the supernatural on a factual level, his approach is ridiculous. To satirize the Jefferson Bible, I produced the “Anti-Jefferson Bible”, which includes all the verses in the canonical gospels that are not present in the Jefferson Bible. Where the Jefferson Bible included part of a verse, then the Anti-Jefferson Bible includes the remainder, even when that remainder is not a complete sentence.
From a technical literary perspective, the Jefferson Bible is a gospel harmony. An early gospel harmony was Tatian’s Diatessaron; modern attempts include various Bibles that are reordered ‘chronologically.’ Jefferson’s work is most akin in form to the heretic Marcion, who introduced his own canon list which included a version of Luke’s gospel that was edited to fit his gnostic theology. There are no new heresies! The Anti-Jefferson Bible is not a thoughtful gospel harmony, and given copies of the Jefferson Bible and the King James Bible, the entropy of the Anti-Jefferson Bible is tiny indeed. I make no claim that the Anti-Jefferson Bible has novel information. My work’s highest possible hope is to highlight the absurdity of Jefferson’s redaction.