Remember all those cold war movies where nuclear missile crews are frantically dialing in the secret codes sent by the White House to launch nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles? Well, for two decades, all the Minuteman nuclear missiles in the US used the same eight-digit numeric passcode to enable their warheads: 00000000.
That fact, originally revealed in a column in 2004 by then-president of the Center for Defense Information Dr. Bruce G. Blair, a former US Air Force officer who manned Minuteman silos, was alsomentioned in a paper by Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University who teaches security architecture.
The Department of Defense needs to get on 1Password.
In the game Taboo (by Hasbro), the objective is for a player to have their partner guess a word written on a card, without using that word or five additional words listed on the card. For example, you might have to get your partner to say “baseball” without using the words “sport”, “bat”, “hit”, “pitch”, “base” or of course “baseball”.
As soon as I see a problem like that, I at once think, “An artificial group conflict in which you use a long wooden cylinder to whack a thrown spheroid, and then run between four safe positions.” It might not be the most efficient strategy to convey the word ‘baseball’ under the stated rules - that might be, “It’s what the Yankees play” - but the general skill of blanking a word out of my mind was one I’d practiced for years, albeit with a different purpose.
Yesterday we saw how replacing terms with definitions could reveal the empirical unproductivity of the classical Aristotelian syllogism. All humans are mortal (and also, apparently, featherless bipeds); Socrates is human; therefore Socrates is mortal. When we replace the word ‘human’ by its apparent definition, the following underlying reasoning is revealed:
All [mortal, ~feathers, biped] are mortal;
Socrates is a [mortal, ~feathers, biped];
Therefore Socrates is mortal.
But the principle of replacing words by definitions applies much more broadly:
Albert: “A tree falling in a deserted forest makes a sound.”
Barry: “A tree falling in a deserted forest does not make a sound.”
Clearly, since one says “sound” and one says “not sound”, we must have a contradiction, right? But suppose that they both dereference their pointers before speaking:
Albert: “A tree falling in a deserted forest matches [membership test: this event generates acoustic vibrations].”
Barry: “A tree falling in a deserted forest does not match [membership test: this event generates auditory experiences].”
Now there is no longer an apparent collision—all they had to do was prohibit themselves from using the word sound. If “acoustic vibrations” came into dispute, we would just play Taboo again and say “pressure waves in a material medium”; if necessary we would play Taboo again on the word “wave” and replace it with the wave equation. (Play Taboo on “auditory experience” and you get “That form of sensory processing, within the human brain, which takes as input a linear time series of frequency mixes…”)
But suppose, on the other hand, that Albert and Barry were to have the argument:
Albert: “Socrates matches the concept [membership test: this person will die after drinking hemlock].”
Barry: “Socrates matches the concept [membership test: this person will not die after drinking hemlock].”
Now Albert and Barry have a substantive clash of expectations; a difference in what they anticipate seeing after Socrates drinks hemlock. But they might not notice this, if they happened to use the same word “human” for their different concepts.
You get a very different picture of what people agree or disagree about, depending on whether you take a label’s-eye-view (Albert says “sound” and Barry says “not sound”, so they must disagree) or taking the test’s-eye-view (Albert’s membership test is acoustic vibrations, Barry’s is auditory experience).
Get together a pack of soi-disant futurists and ask them if they believe we’ll have Artificial Intelligence in thirty years, and I would guess that at least half of them will say yes. If you leave it at that, they’ll shake hands and congratulate themselves on their consensus. But make the term “Artificial Intelligence” taboo, and ask them to describe what they expect to see, without ever using words like “computers” or “think”, and you might find quite a conflict of expectations hiding under that featureless standard word. Likewise that other term. And see also Shane Legg’s compilation of 71 definitions of “intelligence”.
The illusion of unity across religions can be dispelled by making the term “God” taboo, and asking them to say what it is they believe in; or making the word “faith” taboo, and asking them why they believe it. Though mostly they won’t be able to answer at all, because it is mostly profession in the first place, and you cannot cognitively zoom in on an audio recording.
When you find yourself in philosophical difficulties, the first line of defense is not to define your problematic terms, but to see whether you can think without using those terms at all. Or any of their short synonyms. And be careful not to let yourself invent a new word to use instead. Describe outward observables and interior mechanisms; don’t use a single handle, whatever that handle may be.
Albert says that people have “free will”. Barry says that people don’t have “free will”. Well, that will certainly generate an apparent conflict. Most philosophers would advise Albert and Barry to try to define exactly what they mean by “free will”, on which topic they will certainly be able to discourse at great length. I would advise Albert and Barry to describe what it is that they think people do, or do not have, without using the phrase “free will” at all. (If you want to try this at home, you should also avoid the words “choose”, “act”, “decide”, “determined”, “responsible”, or any of their synonyms.)
This is one of the nonstandard tools in my toolbox, and in my humble opinion, it works way way better than the standard one. It also requires more effort to use; you get what you pay for.
Newly anointed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said this week that it would be OK for Internet service providers to charge Netflix and other companies for a faster lane to consumers.
Wheeler’s stance is surprising given that it appears to contradict the FCC’s Open Internet Order, passed under his predecessor in 2010. That order, which sets out the country’s network neutrality rules, says that fixed broadband providers may not “unreasonably discriminate” against any type of traffic. The order specifically calls out pay-for-play arrangements as being potential violations.
Wheeler (a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries) spoke positively about the order but said he wouldn’t mind if Netflix has to pay for a faster lane to consumers while answering questions Monday after a policy speech at Ohio State University.
"I am a firm believer in the market," he said. “I think we’re also going to see a two-sided market where Netflix might say, ‘well, I’ll pay in order to make sure that you might receive, my subscriber receives, the best possible transmission of this movie.’"
This is horseshit. The level playing field of the internet is what makes it such a powerful place for new, disruptive ideas. I shared Humans vs. Zombies and Cards Against Humanity online when I was flat broke, and I was able to do that because I didn’t have to ask for permission or pay anything extra to make those things available. The same is true of Tumblr, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Kickstarter, and just about every other internet company that you love and use.
Edit: Spytap adds,
Without any element of hyperbole, if “former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry” Tom Wheeler gets his wish, it’s the end of the internet as a medium for societal and commercial transformation. There is no more efficient way to kill every single iota of progress and momentum that’s built up over the past 25 years than by creating preferential lanes on the internet.
It. Will. Die.
And anyone willing to be so mindbogglingly shortsighted over what can be counted amongst the greatest inventions of mankind has no business wielding any sort of authority over its subsequent evolution.
Edit II: pugilispretentia writes,
I cannot imagine Netflix being faster than it is.
This isn’t about Netflix paying ISPs for a faster connection than they already have. It’s about the ISPs being able to charge Netflix to stream at the same speed they do now, i.e. “pay us or we’ll slow your website down.” Do you see how much harder that would make it to ever start a site like Netflix? That’s what’s at stake when we talk about net neutrality.
Gabe Newell, asked in 2003 about the most important thing in the future of gaming
Your mind is a home, with an upstairs and a downstairs.
Upstairs, in your consciousness, things are well-lit and regularly swept. Friends visit. Scrabble is played, hot cocoa is brewing. It is a pleasant, familiar place.
Downstairs, it is older, darker and much, much freakier. We call this basement the unconscious mind.
The unconscious is exactly what it sounds like: It’s the stuff you don’t, won’t and/or can’t think about. According to Freud, there are dirty pictures of your mother down there. According to Jung, there are pipes, wires, even tunnels down there that connect your home to others. And even though it contains life-sustaining energies (like the fuse box and water heater), it’s a primitive, stinky, scary place and it’s no wonder that, given the choice, we don’t hang out down there.
However, your pleasure, your sanity and even your life depend on occasional round trips. You’ve got to change the fuses, grab the Christmas ornaments, clean the litter box. To the extent that we keep the basement door sealed, the entire home becomes unstable. The creatures downstairs get louder and the guy upstairs (your ego) tries to cover the noise with neurotic behavior. For some, eventually, the basement door can come right off its hinges and the slimy, primal denizens of the deep can become Scrabble partners. You might call this a nervous breakdown or psychotic break, it doesn’t matter. The point is: Occasional ventures by the ego into the unconscious, through therapy, meditation, confession, sex, violence, or a good story, keep the consciousness in working order.
From Dan Harmon’s Chanel 101 post on story structure. A great read.
The FBI had been keeping an eye on Sartre from as early as 1945. Soon after, they began to investigate his contemporary, Albert Camus. On 7th February, 1946, John Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, wrote a letter to “Special Agent in Charge” at the New York field office, drawing his attention to one ALBERT CANUS, “reportedly the New York correspondent of Combat [who] has been filing inaccurate reports which are unfavorable to the public interest of this country.” Hoover gave orders “to conduct a preliminary investigation to ascertain his background, activities and affiliations in this country.” One of Hoover’s underlings had the guts to inform the director that “the subject’s true name is ALBERT CAMUS, not ALBERT CANUS” (diplomatically hypothesizing that “Canus” was probably an alias he had cunningly adopted).
The irony that emerges from the FBI files on Camus and Sartre, spanning several decades (and which, still partly redacted, I accessed thanks to the open-sesame of the Freedom of Information Act) is that the G-men, initially so anti-philosophical, find themselves reluctantly philosophizing. They become (in GK Chesterton’s phrase) philosophical policemen.
Hoover needed to know if Existentialism and Absurdism were some kind of front for Communism. To him, everything was potentially a coded re-write of the Communist Manifesto. That was the thing about the Manifesto—it was not manifest: more often it was, as Freud would say, latent. Thus FBI agents were forced to become psychoanalysts and hermeneuts—drawn into what the historian Carlo Ginzburg neatly called the “cynegetic paradigm” (a brotherhood of clue-hunting detectives in which he includes Freud and Sherlock Holmes). Thus we find intelligence agents studying scholarly works and attending lectures.
But the FBI were “philosophical policemen” in a second sense: in tracking Camus and Sartre (surveillance, eavesdropping, wiretapping, theft) they give expression to their own brand of philosophical investigations.
Hoover’s FBI was deeply suspicious of philosophers, especially foreign ones, virtually philosophobic; but this does not stop the organisation from developing its own brand of philosophical thinking in response to Sartre and Camus—the FBI files on being and nothingness.
The FBI did not read Sartre or Camus in the original French. One of the agents, having stolen some notebooks and diaries (“obtained from the personal effects”) in early 1945, complains that this “material [is] all in French” and translators were drafted in. Then the investigation proper could begin.
The FBI emerge from these files as neo-existentialists in the classic early Sartrian mould. They, like the early Archibald Macleish, take the view that people, not just poetry, “should not mean, but be.” They don’t like meaning—they are on the look-out for it, especially secret coded meanings, but they don’t like it. They certainly subscribe to the “hell is other people” school of thought. And Hoover, in particular, would be greatly relieved if only everyone across the whole of the USA was an angst-ridden, anomic, introverted loner. In short, an Outsider. What they fear and object to is meaning, and finally, the plot—or narrative. They are anti-narrativists.
The FBI echo Sartre’s classic modernist critique of narrative, in his novel Nausea. Hoover’s FBI are quintessential existentialists in refuting teleological narrative—they would rather have contingency and chaos than telos. The FBI found Camus fundamentally their kind of guy: the Camus of the Absurd and the Outsider, according to which the individual will never really make sense of the world, nor hook up, in any kind of long term way, with others.
J. Edgar Hoover, always suspicious of Communist propaganda, kept files on Sartre and Camus.