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Monthly Archives: September 2006

The Costs of Pleasure and the Benefits of Pain

The Opponent-Process Theory of Acquired Motivation is that, if i’ve got it right, any innate releaser will be habituated to. The removal of the stimulus involves an opposite reaction (for pleasurable stimuli, pain; for painful stimuli, pleasure at their removal). Habituation results in the exaggeration of this opponent-process evoked reaction, and so stimuli which might previously have been avoided have the capacity to become innately rewarding, thus widening the space of stimuli that can reinforce behaviour.

Another feature of the opponent-process theory warrents comment. It is obviously a puritan’s theory. It argues for the existence of psychological mechanisms for the automatic or autonomic control of affect, such that repeated pleasures lose a lot of their pleasentness and make one potentially capable of new sources of suffering; in the same vein, repeated aversive events lose a lot of their unpleasentness and make one potentially capable of new sources of pleasure. The philosophical implications of such a theory should be obvious.

Solomon, Richard L.

Working for Moloch

the cleaners are scrubbing the Institute lavatories
because women are supposed to do that.

the girls are typing in the Institute offices
because women are dedicated and careful

the women are assembling printed circuits
because woman are good at delicate work
and women’s eyes are expendable

the young men are doing their PhDs
because young men are obedient and ambitious
and someone wants warheads
laser rangefinders
hunt and destroy capabilities
multichannel night seeking radar
and science is neutral

back home the wives of the PhD students are having babies
because women are maternal and loving
and who else can have children but women?

at the top of the tower the old men and the middle aged men
and sometimes one woman professor
meet to form plans, cadge funds and run the place
because obedient young men turn into obedient old men
and it’s all for the good of the country
and defence funds are good for science
and science is neutral
and no one notices Moloch.

the woman bring them
clean toilets
cups of coffee
typescripts
micro circuits oh so neatly assembled
and children

and it’s hard to see Moloch because he is both far away
and everywhere
and no one asks to whom they are all obedient

and they say, “Who’s Moloch? Never heard of him”
as out in the dark Moloch belches
and grows redder and redder
and fatter and fatter
as he eats the children

Mary McCann (1992). First published by Pomegranate Women’s Writing Group
found in Alastair McIntosh’s Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power

make it go away


The famous mathematical sociologist Paul Lazarfeld once said, “You never understand a phenomenon unless you can make it go away.” We might add, “or unless you can reverse its direction.”
Psychologist William McGuire (1983, 1989) suggested as one of many ways to develop new hypotheses that you can take some seemingly obvious relationship and imagine conditions where its opposite would hold.

Robert P. Abelson (1995). Statistics as Principled Argument

Quote #165

There has been a myriad of sporadic cease-fires in the MidEast over the last sixty years. Indeed, over the last three millenia and each has proved but a tiny foyer opening onto yet another grand dark ballroom, whose weary dancers waltz endlessly to the dismal music of war. Still, I think this one’s going to last. Call it a hunch.

— Rob Corddry

Links for 13th of September

Heuristics for decentralised thinking

Heursitics for decentralised thinking

(Michael Resnick, ‘Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds’ MIT Press, 1994, p134ff)

1. Positive feedback can be good

  • Take-off effects

  • 2. Randomness can help create order

  • comined with positive feedback -> self-causation
  • shakes off local minima (annealing)
  • prevents worst excesses of exploitation in exploitation-exploration dilemma

  • 3. & 4. Emergence

  • Need to distinguish between levels
  • Not all properties of a system have to be explicitly built in
  • Emergent objects may have different properties than their subunits

  • 5. The Environment is Active

  • Intelligent behaviour doesn’t just rely on agents.
  • The environment is dynamic and a source of complexity

  • Shalizi review of TT&TJ

    The noble Vacilando

    In Spanish there is a word for which I can’t find a counterword in English. It is the verb vacilar, present participle vacilando. It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. Everything in the world must have a design or the human mind rejects it. But in addition, it must have purpose or the human conscience shies away from it.

    John Steinbeck (in Travels With Charley: In Search of America, 1962)

    But only nearly as strong

    It comes as the Revealer. Showing that no society can protect, never could—they are as foolish as shields of paper. They have lied to us. They can’t keep us from dying, so They lie to us about death. A cooperative structure of lies. What have They ever given us in return for the trust, the love—They actually say ‘love’—we’re supposed to owe Them. Can They even keep us from catching cold? from lice, from being alone? from anything? Before the Rocket can penetrate, from the sky, at any given point. Nowhere is safe. We can’t believe Them any more. Not if we are still sane, and love the truth.

    Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow