18 July, 2021

My Thoughts on Race

Here's a pic of Jasper
so that this discussion on race
doesn't bring you down too much.
(I was going to put a pic of
Race Bannon, who my
adopted grandfather voiced,
but that seemed too flippant.
)

I'd like to say a few things about race here. But, before I do, I want to make clear where I'm coming from. This means that the first several paragraphs of this blog entry will consist of my personal experiences. These probably won't be relevant to most readers, so if you want to skip ahead, feel free to scroll down to the Black Lives Matter fist logo.


I live in the United States, where the dialogue around race has been ramping up for a while now. Every time a black person in very publicly killed by cops, most of my coworkers become too upset to focus on work, so we effectively take the day off. The seemingly weekly occurrences under Trump of abuses in various forms paralyzed my colleagues and eventually drove them to a state where we are all agreed and dedicated toward ensuring that we create a better world for all. I am vaguely in favor of this, although I have strong concerns about the toleration of alternative political views. I'm not in the Republican Party, but I'd like to keep open dialogue with people who are, and I'd like to work together with them to help create a better world, even if they vote for Trump. But things have progressed so far at this point that I don't reasonably believe that this kind of relationship would be easy to maintain with friends, with colleagues, or even with family. This scares me.


See full results.

The dominant expression of minority experience around me is the black experience. I care for and wish to help magnify that expression, but it is not one that I personally share. I am racially mixed, with the preponderence of my ancestry coming from indigenous americans, specifically the Quechuan Andean natives in South America. (Unfortunately, this family history is lost. I know no one from this community at all, similar to how many American black families are unable to trace their connections back to the African continent.) The second largest ancestral group is Italian; my maternal grandfather is ~100% Italian. The third largest is hispanic, with Basque Country Spanish roots that traveled to the area now known as Bolivia in South America; these ancestors first came via successive conquistador waves in the 1500s where the name Herboso is listed on the manifest. The fourth largest is English; I can trace my maternal grandmother's side all the way back to a knight under the 1st Earl of Leicester in the mid 1500s. On census forms, I indicate that I am of mixed heritage, of both native and white race, with hispanic origin. Although 1% of my DNA does come from the African continent, I don't self-identify as black nor do I live the black experience, even though my skin color is decidedly not pure white. If anything, I am mostly taken to be vaguely middle eastern when people glance at me in an airport.


I have experienced personal racism myself, but a combination of luck and rhetorical skill has kept that racism from negatively affecting my life. The closest is probably when my mother callously called the cops on me in the Deep South of Alabama; they subsequently suspected me of having a weapon that I might shoot them with, so they pulled a weapon on me and instructed me to slowly move away from an obstructed view. Thankfully, the officer was cautious enough that a shot was not fired.


On several other occasions, I've had households call the cops on me for walking through the neighborhood at 3 a.m.; this was a habit of mine in many of the neighborhoods I live in. But on each of those times I was found with a book in my hand and I was friendly enough with the officers that they grew to know me and expect these very late night calls. I remember one officer pulling up to me one night and immediately calling out my name. He had a smile on his face, and our conversations were always short and civil, so it was never anything more than a slight inconvenience. (I've never had someone call the cops on me in my neighborhood here in Germantown, Maryland, even though I do almost all of my neighborhood walking between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.; I'd like to think this is because I live in a more progressive area now than I ever used to.)


I've been called a "vicinity friend" before. I'm not sure how to take the allegation. The idea is that some people maintain relationships across space and time, valuing the friendship beyond mere acquaintance. But others are friends only so long as they are forced together through other means: neighbors who are close while they live next to each other, but who never contact each other again once one of them moves. Coworkers who are friendly but who never keep contact once someone moves to a new job. Well, for me, I have no problem whatsoever with not contacting people that previously were close to me. After that incident with my mother, I basically didn't speak to her ever again. This is not because I don't appreciate what she did for me in my early life; she was key to helping me grow into the person that I am today. Certainly, the books she read with me when I was young did much to help me learn and influenced my personality. But, at the same time, it doesn't grate on me nor bother in any way to not contact her, nor to have not contacted the other people on that side of my family for decades on end. Does this make me bad at relationships? Does it make me a bad friend? Does this have something to do with my aphantasia?


I ask these questions because they are relevant: I don't personally empathize with strangers well. On a naive, personal basis, the death of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor feels the same as any other tragedy to me. It is horrible; an utter travesty. But the same as when someone dies of a car accident when we could so easily spend the requisite money to have self-driving cars that would dramatically reduce the extreme fatality rate of car accidents. I have a difficult time understanding the way that others are able to get so personally distraught over these killings. Maybe this has to do with my work in effective animal advocacy. To my eyes, a literal holocaust occurs every day in the form of factory farming. But I can't let that affect my life to the degree that I can't effectively live, or else I would constantly be in a state of trauma. So instead I am able to enjoy video games in my offtime even while knowing that animals are constantly being tortured and prematurely killed for the smallest of profits and that some of my fellow citizens are callously killed by police when the police had no real reason to kill them. (Some might call this white privilege (and human privilege); but I think it may have more to do with the fact that I just don't empathize well with any group. If people named Eric who looked vaguely middle eastern but were actually mixed native, white, and hispanic were being killed and showcased on news reports constantly, I think I'd feel exactly the same way that I do now. It seems to me to be less white privilege and more of a privilege that I get from being a 'vicinity friend'; it's almost as though my general lack of automatic empathy with others is the culprit here, as it means that I don't self-identify as being in the same group with others of any kind, regardless of their species or race.)


If you've read this far, then you must certainly empathize with others better than I. So far, I've merely talked about who I am and where I'm coming from when it comes to race issues. I have no idea why anyone other than myself would ever be interested in the above; I wrote it mostly for myself; writing helps me to organize my thoughts on hazy issues and more clearly examine the reasons behind what I think. I expect that the person reading this paragraph is probably just myself, later on in life.


Above are my thoughts on where I'm personally coming from. What follows are my thoughts on a few selected race issues. This section is more important because it shows what ideas and ideologies I'm committed to in the organizations that I have a leadership position in. Note that just because I believe X does not mean that an organization I run or that I serve on the board of also believes X. Organizations, by necessity, follow different rules and have different agendas than those who are in a leadership capacity, partly because there are multiple perspectives among the leadership teams of every organization I work with, and partly because the stance of an organization should not just be the stance of the individual at the top of it.


First, the obvious: minorities tend to be discriminated against in society. I can't believe I have to write this out, but after seeing one too many people argue that meritocratic success implies that some races just are naturally more inferior than others, I can't not be explicit about this. I recognize that racial differences exist; the best marathon runners tend to come from a particular Kenyan tribe, the people who live in the Arctic are able to hold their body heat much more efficiently, &c. In principle, I am open to the scientific possibility that one such difference might be that one racial population might be demonstratably less fit for specific outcomes than another racial population. But I am disgusted by the allegation from (for example) a subset of the Astral Codex Ten crowd that blacks are less intelligent than whites. (I should mention that I am an ACX reader here, mostly because I value reading highly competent takes even from people I disagree with ideologically.) The data might be consistent with this theory, but it by no means shows it to be true; there are too many other factors that need to be corrected for. And, even if some future scientific meta study did show such a link, that would not change anything about how we should act toward any groups. Differences in education clearly account for much more of a range than race ever would, and so it would still be inappropriate to prejudge a member of a disadvantaged group because they could easily be an outlier for their group. But this is all moot anyway, as the science isn't even capable of discerning such possibilities in the near future; there are too many confounding factors. And, in the absence of a reason to believe otherwise, we should assume equality on the types of things that society values most.


Second, on a just world: oppression of any kind is not okay. Just as the concept of divine right should feel dated and wrong to all readers here, so, too, should the idea that there is justification to artificially hold back some subgroup. We all should be allowed to participate equally in all aspects of our shared culture. This means that I am staunchly against racial oppression, but also any other form of oppression.


The difference between the rich and the poor stand out to me as being especially important here; this should not be happening. While I recognize that capitalism has lifted a significant proportion of the world community out of devastating utter poverty, the point to which they have been lifted is still dramatically lower than the point at which the ordinary American lives. I don't feel confident about a solution here; I'm sympathetic to the idea that capitalism and competition within a developing country is helpful, though maybe alongside high tariffs, but to the extent that it exacerbates the divide between the haves and the have-nots, I am very unhappy. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of a system that has successfully shown itself capable of using a planned economy to lift its poorest citizens out of poverty, so despite being very unhappy with capitalism, I feel it might be useful in developing countries.


Despite mostly being on the far left politically, there are some leftish takes on oppression that I strongly disagree with, such as cultural appropriation. There are easy examples where cultural appropriation is clearly wrong, like when a culture believes something is sacred and another culture callously desecrates it. This is why it would be rude and uncalled for for me to draw a picture of Muhammad, even though only a minority of Muslims believe it would be inappropriate. There's just no need for me to do this. At the same time, I do not think it should be made illegal; plenty of rude things are not illegal, and this should be one of them. Another example is the choice to scuplt Mount Rushmore on the sacred black hills of the Lakota people. Just...why? It's unnecessarily aggressive to desecrate a specific mountain of another culture like this.


Mariachi Mario, by Lorenzo Mendoza

But, for most cases of cultural appropriation, I disagree with the predominant leftist take. I do not think that just because the appropriated culture is a minority culture means that appropriation is automatically wrong. For example, a white person wearing traditional Mexican dress doesn't qualify as being bad to me just because it involves a majority culture in America using a minority culture's attire. But I do believe that a white person wearing a native american headdress does count as bad, because the culture they took the headdress from considered that headdress as a badge of honor that it would be wrong to wear if it were not earned. This is bad in the same way that it would be bad to wear a military ribbon that you did not earn.


I think the key insight for me is that I think in terms of Earth culture, rather than some individual country's culture. I was not born in Mexico, but I am nevertheless from Earth, and so it is my culture, too. While it would be inappropriate for me to desecrate something that others feel is holy, or to wear a badge of honor that I did not earn, I don't think that ordinary parts of other cultures on this planet should be restricted for me, as I wish to celebrate them as well. (With that said, I should mention that this is mostly an intellectual opinion. I don't celebrate any cultures in my personal life — no xmas trees, no fireworks, no porch pumpkins — so I understandably also never actually dress up in other cultures' attire or celebrate anything in particular. It's just that the reason I don't do cultural appropriation is because I have no reason to bother doing so, not because I think that it is wrong.)


Slide from The Equity Collaborative.

Third, on critical race theory: I believe in incremental progress. There's a lot about critical race theory that I like. I agree that race is a social construct (though I also believe that socially constructed categories are meaningful and can be predictive). I agree that racism doesn't just occur in isolated acts of racist people today, but that systemic institutional racism also exists in the forms of rules and regulations of the state, habits of the population, and background ideas that most people don't consciously think about. (Denying this seems crazy to me, and this in particular is one of the biggest problems that I see with the effective altruism community today: that a significant vocal minority of them treat the idea of institutional racism as less credible than human-caused climate change.)


However, when it comes to critical race theory's stance on incremental change, I take issue. I agree that actions taken expressly to help black people have, at times, ended up helping white people, too (or even: instead). But I do not feel that this means that incremental progress is, in principle, an inappropriate way to solve the problem.


There is a similar debate in animal advocacy. The abolitionists believe that everyone must be vegan now. We have to stop any and all animal abuse immediately because it is wrong, and half-measures are worthless. Meanwhile, the welfarists argue that incremental change helps. If we can help to reduce the amount of suffering undergone by animals in the near term, then it is unethical not to attempt to do so. In the field of effective animal advocacy, almost all EAAs are welfarist. We believe that helping to promote the institution of a new law that increases the amount of space that farmed animals are allocated to live their lives in will at least reduce the suffering of each individual somewhat, and the scale of the problem is so massive that the additive reduction in suffering across all farmed animals as a result is so massive that such a campaign might be worthwhile.


You might then be able to predict how I feel about incremental change when it comes to race relations as well. Of course, I do not believe that small changes are necessarily better than large changes. I want to advocate for equal treatment of races, and I'm willing to advocate for huge changes if and when advocating for them seems likely to make a big difference. But I do not feel that the entire system must be upended in order to help put blacks on the same level as whites. Instead, I am reminded of the situation Machiavelli was in.


Niccolò Machiavelli lived in the early 1500s in what is now Italy. Back then, kings were commonplace. Your neighboring city likely had a different king, and war seemed to be eternally occurring. New princes took over each time a monarch was deposed, at least until the next war had a new prince installed a few years later. The people suffered for this. Constant war meant death, injury, starvation. It was better, Machiavelli thought, for one monarch to stay in power without a future uprising, even if that monarch wasn't an ideal ruler. And so The Prince was written. Modern society calls evil plots machiavellian, but I don't think Machiavelli deserves this. He was trying to reduce suffering (and also trying to save himself, but people can have multiple simultaneous goals when writing a text).


I am especially proud of the American experiment. We have a system where our government's leaders undergo a regular peaceful transfer of power. While this is not unprecedented, it is surely an exemplar of what can be done with a strong constitution. There are drawbacks, of course: rich people have too much power and that power rarely is transferred; disagreements on slavery nearly ended the experiment in a civil war; Trump. But these are also successes: Trump came and Trump went, and we did not fall apart in the meantime. Lincoln gave a speech that started "fourscore and seven years ago" referencing 1776 as a the birthdate of the union, even though prior to Gettysburg the birthdate of the union was widely considered to be 1789. This was to reinforce the Declaration of Independence's remarks on equality over the Constitution's 3/5ths clause. (Leo Strauss points out that Lincoln was following Machiavelli here: when you build a castle wall, the bricks at the edge should be crenellated, not leveled off. This is so that if you decide to increase the size of your castle in the future, the bricks will continue to alternate. It will not be obvious that there is a seam where your castle wall used to be. Future generations can then think of your increased castle size as being natural and right and the way it always has been, rather than unnatural and a mere addition to your holdings. If you want to reinforce your rule, doublethink is required. Even though 1776 was never considered America's birthday before the civil war, Lincoln made it so in a famous address that was reprinted across the nation. Today, schoolchildren learn 1776, not 1789, and so the crenellated brick illusion Lincoln used has worked, and the recombined union of the North and South both have kids that primarily learn about the Declaration of Independence.)


An uncrenellated extension.

We, too, should solve problems using methods like this. I and most of the people I know are progressives; we look to the future. But many of our countrymen are conservatives; they look to the past. If we want to meaningfully reach them on issues of race, we cannot just talk about upending the entire system. We have to use rhetorical techniques that place racial change in a positive light for people who look primarily to tradition as something important. We must use the creneallated wall that previous generations left for us. We must embrace incremental change —not small change, but incremental nonetheless. Otherwise we risk revolution, a thing so scary that Machiavelli taught evil to prevent. Revolution is not pretty. When I hear fellow leftists calling for revolution, I am reminded of the anti-vaxxers who say that polio is not that big a deal. The reason we don't have those horrible diseases anymore is because we vaccinate. The reason we don't have violent revolution anymore is because we use incremental change. Please, I implore to you: consider the effects that come from riots, from chaos in the streets, from real revolution. The worst president in the history of the United States (excepting maybe Andrew Jackson) was just voted out last year. Yes, there was an insurrection on January 6. But we survived. The system works. Use the system. Change the system not by overthrowing it, but by using the crenellated edges. We can stamp out racial oppression within the system, if we but work together on this.


Having said my piece arguing against the notion that incremental progress is worthless (part of the critical race theory tenet on interest convergence and the liberal critique), let me also briefly mention CRT's insistence that counter-storytelling is necessary to portray truth. This idea comes from critical theory, the general precursor to CRT. Critical theory teaches that structures in reality are in place to help one group over another, so any time we want to look for truth, we first have to disregard what the existing structures tell us and instead be critical by specifically looking for the underprivileged point of view to get at truth. Now, I want to make clear that I'm not against the idea of counter story telling in general. I adore Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. My favorite historical stories of London come from the papers that survived the 1666 fire, since that caused historians to pay attention to the scraps left by the common people. Part of the reason why I write a public journal is because I want there to be a record of someone in my position for future historians to be able to look back on.


(I imagine a far future where the galaxy is fully populated, and a child is assigned to look back at something written at the dawn of the space age, back when all of humanity still lived on Earth. This child is now writing a book report in elementary school after having insufficiently browsed through these very words. (This sounds crazy until you realize that even if .00001% of children get this assignment in the far future, that means that billions and billions of children will be assigned to read blogs of people that live in this time period, and there are only so many blogs around, so odds are that someone will write a book report on this someday.))


But when it comes to determining truth, I just don't agree with the basic assumptions that critical theory makes. Not all structures are in place to advantage certain groups. Even when it is the case that a structure does advantage one group, that doesn't mean that it was placed there with the intention of doing so. So while counter storytelling can be useful, it should not be used as the primary way of getting at truth. Traditional methods of evidence, liberal enlightenment methods of open discussion of free ideas, and philosophical methods like the principle of charity are all still valid and good ways at getting at the truth. I am not okay with the idea that only a black person can talk meaningfully about black things for the same reason that I am comfortable with listening to researchers when they tell me that aquarium fish prefer dark wallpaper on the back of the aquarium, or that chickens are not happy unless they can peck at the ground. Just because someone is human does not mean that they cannot come to true conclusions about nonhuman animals, and just because someone is white does not mean that they cannot come to true conclusions about issues that affect black people. The idea in the anti-racism community that we must defer to black voices on anything that affects blacks is well-meaning, but can be terribly counterproductive. Minorities already have to bear the burden of explaining and thinking about these things in their everyday life; it is appropriate to allow non-minorities to take up these responsibilities when they can, and that requires allowing non-minorities to reason about issues that affect minorities. This aspect of critical race theory just seems plain wrong to me. Counter storytelling is not the final arbiter of truth, but just a useful additional tool that should have a place alongside other tools for getting at truth.


Reading of Voltaire..., by Lemonnier

I am especially concerned here about the extent to which critical race theory stands committed against the free open discussion of ideas. This is a liberal idea from the Enlightenment that says that when you allow a forum for people to discuss ideas openly, then the result is that the better ideas rise to the top. If the goal is to find truth, then open discussion does a good job of getting us closer to truth, but at the cost of allowing ideas that we disagree with to be in the open forum.


Not all CRT adherents are against free open discussion, but some of the main originators of CRT are. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, authors of Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, write: "Unlike traditional approaches to civil rights, which favor incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory calls into question the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and the neutral principles of constitutional law." I'm aware that some crazy Fox news-style people have taken this quote out of context. If you see crazy right wing people quoting this, please don't take the things they say about it seriously. But there is a very real critique here that is serious: that CRT specifically goes against the Enlightenment tradition of using free open discussion to get at truth. Instead, some anti-racists advocate for counter-storytelling alone, some going so far as to say that racist voices (meaning voices which aren't specifically antiracist) should be silenced or otherwise deplatformed.


Not all antiracists believe this, of course. But enough believe it to the point that it does concern me. I believe strongly in Hall's expression of Voltaire's sentiment: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." When Westboro Baptists hold up those despicable homophobic signs at their demonstrations, I may be sad to know that they feel that way, but I'm also proud to live in a civilization that nevertheless allows them to congregate and express themselves in this manner. I am deeply concerned that the ACLU has had uprisings that have resulted in some of its members advocating for specific outcomes rather than the free speech that it has always traditionally fought for. In 2017, far-right groups applied for a permit to rally in front of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The government forced them to rally instead outside of the core of the city. The ACLU of Virginia stepped in and successfully defended the rights of the far-right group. When word of this got to ACLU headquarters, "[r]evulsion swelled within the A.C.L.U..... The A.C.L.U. unfurled new guidelines that suggested lawyers should balance taking a free speech case representing right-wing groups whose 'values are contrary to our values' against the potential such a case might give 'offense to marginalized groups.'" I don't like the direction that this is heading in.


C'mon, Puerto Rico designers. /c:

I believe strongly that prejudice is bad, and that prejudice is pervasive. I think we need to do a lot to correct the problem, as it is embedded everywhere in our lives. I see it in the disproportionate funding of schools that comes from our system of locally funding schools. I see it in the fiction that I watch and read when clueless authors think that a 'normal' background character should be white, cis, and of average size. I see it also when the supposed 'woke' author unnecessarily makes all of the characters 'diverse', breaking my suspension of disbelief when 95% of the people who randomly survive a plane crash are LGBTQ and 40% are trans. I see it in myself as a polyamorous person, when I look back to what types of people I've dated over the years. I see it in the board games I play, when Istanbul has no depictions of women, or when Puerto Rico literally uses brown cubes to represent slaves that you can purchase to succeed in the game. We clearly need to fix our culture. This is why I'm in favor of spending a lot of time and effort on figuring out what we can do in the organizations that I lead to help support the disadvantaged. But, at the same time, I want to ensure that we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. I don't agree with all of the tenets of critical race theory. I don't agree with all of the things that the antiracist movement seems to be pushing for. To the extent that we can create good, I agree that we should. But let's be careful about how we do so.

01 July, 2021

Snippets of Birthdays Past

July 1st, 1981. I am delivered slightly after midnight, at nearly the exact middle of the year, 183 days into a year of 365. The doctor delivers me via Caesarean section. Unbeknownst to my mother, the doctor has chosen this date specifically so that my mother and I might share a birthday. She does not realize until days later that I am born on the same day of the year that she was.


1984. I am three. My parents and I visited Miami, Florida, to see family on my father's side. My abuelo spoke no English, but we bonded anyway by watching Looney Tunes together. Later, I will tell my grandmother about the trip, which ends up being my first narrated diary entry.


1988. I am seven. The front yard of my grandparents' house has a huge pile of dirt (as tall as I am!) from the work done in their back yard. My best friend at the time, Greg Cochran, helps me to dig tunnels and edifices in the dirt pile that we then use to play with figurines from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers. The big gift that year feels like the Nintendo Entertainment System, but in reality it is the new house that my father built just down the street from my grandparents' place. Before finalizing the design of the building, my father asks me: is there anything special you'd like in the house? I tell him I want a secret passage, and the first thing he shows me in my new room is that there is a tunnel from my bedroom closet to the guest bedroom closet.


1990?. I don't know my age. My elementary teacher asks the class what their favorite color is, intending to say that each color means something about each person's personality. I'm not yet familiar with skepticism as a field, but it feels wrong to me. I don't have a favorite color, so I decide to answer flippantly, specifying the glow-in-the-dark halloween orange that you most often see on the uniforms of workmen on the side of a road. I am told that I am being obsequious for my malicious compliance, so I go home that night and resolve that, from then on, orange will be my favorite color. To this day, it continues to be a color in almost every outfit I wear each day.


1993. I am twelve. Summers are a welcome break from school. I use a pair of three-tonged cultivators as my implements of choice as I climb the quarter-mile long cliffside. It is only ten feet tall, but its sheer vertical dirtface continues for well over 1500 feet. There is real danger to falling: it is situated on a roadside, so tumbling down the cliff may result in rolling into the street, which occasionally has traffic. But although I sometimes lose my grip with one hand, the other stands strong, and my feet find purchase on roots and other minor outcroppings that keep me from falling.


1994. I am thirteen. I am in love with Final Fantasy VI. Over the next decade, I will play this game so many times that I am able to memorize the script. I challenged myself to win with only three characters; to win with as low levels as possible; to collect every item and level up every party member. I would later name my daughter after a character in this game. The main reason I consider myself a gamer today is because the epic that is FFVI affected me so deeply.


1996. I am fifteen. I am sulking. Earlier this year, I was expelled from the Alabama School of Math and Science for repeatedly being with a girl, Laura. It was a boarding school I'd been attending since July 1993 that had fairly explicit rules that were supposed to discourage sexual activity. We broke them, became suspended, and then ignored suspension to break them again. Later, I will invite Robin to the high school prom, only to ignore her calls the day of. I am extremely not proud of the person I was back then.


1997. I am sixteen. I've been with Amber for over six months. I couldn't get enough of her. She is an explorer, and I follow her everywhere. The city of Mobile, which once was just the big town I lived closest to, became a labyrinth we would move through each week, seeing this and that, walking through any doors that were left open, so that we could see what was inside and do what teenagers do. Those first eighteen months are ones I'm proud of. I am a good boyfriend; I am a good friend. But I make poor choices, and by my next birthday, things will turn sour.


1998. I am seventeen. Amber is pregnant. My mind was very confused at the time. I think I thought that actions never really had consequences, so the world must somehow work itself out so as to not too terribly effect me. I guess I assumed that the pregnancy would end without a child, or that Amber would move away to give birth and give away the child, or some other such nonsense. Instead, I will end up marrying her out of misguided obligation and becoming a father to an infant that I will never really end up knowing. Starting in June 1998, I become less and less of a good boyfriend. Less and less of a friend at all.


1999. I am eighteen. I live alone in a two-bedroom house. Amber is gone, along with Adrianah, the five-month old child that I will never see again. She has done a great favor to the child, to herself, and even to me. I was not ready to be a father. In fact, even now, twenty-two years later, I am still not father material. I know that I would be a terrible father, and so I am glad to have ensured that I'd never make that same mistake again. (Today, I am happy, at least, to know that Adrianah Celes has been able to grow up in a good, stable family these past 22 years, though I've never spoken to nor seen her since.) By this point, I had dropped out after less than a semester of college. Every day is spent sulking in my home. My friend Greg brings me groceries, because I am too depressed to leave the house. For some reason, I think that if I leave, I might miss Amber coming back, which I don't really want, but which keeps me from leaving the house anyway. It will be another couple of months before I get the strength to leave the house. When I do, I go to Barbara's house and watch Star Trek: Voyager on VHS lying on her couch for hours on end while she's at work.


2000. I am nineteen. I live alone in a McMansion. My parents are separated. My father has left the area. My mother would have stayed in the house they used to inhabit, but she is afraid of my father breaking into the home while she is sleeping, so she instead stays with her mother. This leaves the house empty, so I live there on my own. You might think this would mean I would throw huge parties, but instead it just means that I watch endless episodes of Saturday Night Live on Comedy Central while I eat doritos on the couch.


2001. I am twenty. I live with Allison in Colorado. She is submissive, which is apparently what I wanted in a partner back then. I spend my birthday playing Chrono Cross while receiving fellatio. Later, I will spend a week eating nothing but Hot Pockets for the duration while she is gone. I have still not yet learned to cook my own food, and it will be years yet before I'm forced to start. However, she has instilled within me a love for journaling, which I've kept to this day.


2002. I am twenty-one. I live briefly with my grandmother for a few months. During the period surrounding my birthday, I am fired (then rehired) nearly a dozen times in a span of three months. I work at a call center cold-calling people to get them to sign up for a credit card. Most of my colleagues only manage a sale each day; I'm able to get four each day reliably. My strategy involves ending calls as quickly as possible if I can tell they won't switch, and focusing only on calls where I have a chance of making a sale. In practice, this means that I sit reading my book while call after call comes in, with my voice automatically droning as boringly as possible the opening lines of my pitch. Only when they show interest do I set the book down, and this only happens once per hour so. The rest of the time I read, ignoring my job for the most part. The manager hates me. But I make way more sales than anyone else, so the manager loves me, too. By Wednesday of each week, I tire of working, so I tell the manager that I won't be coming in on Thursday or Friday. He tells me that this is against company policy, and he has to fire me -- but that I'm welcome to reapply on Monday and he'll rehire me. We do this for three months straight. And then, on one particular Monday, I don't feel like going to work. So I instead stop by Spring Hill College and ask to join the classes that just started that same day. They say yes, and my first day of classes occurs on the same day I applied. Soon after, I decide to make my journal entries public online.


2003. I am twenty-two. I was supposed to spend my birthday in South Dakota, digging dinosaur bones. Instead, I ended my trip early and came home after digging up only a scapula of a triceratops. My sister, Anh, greets me in the car with several balloons. I feel loved.


2005. I am twenty-four. My summer is spent reading Aristotle's Ethics with a group of fellow students at the local Barnes & Noble. Each night is spent at my mother's house. It is the last extended length of time I will spend with my mother. In a couple of months, I will move in with Stephanie.


2006. I am twenty-five. I live with Stephanie. I am so very much not a good boyfriend. Shawn Allin, my first college friend and chemistry teacher, committed suicide a month earlier. It is the second suicide I've had happen to someone close to me. The first was only a few years previous, while I was teaching Tae Kwon Do. She was presented with her newly earned belt. She looked proud. But that night she hung herself with the same belt. I'm not a fan of suicide.


2007. I am twenty-six. I live in Maryland for the first time. I'll leave for elsewhere later, but Maryland will eventually end up my permanent home. I finish my first published book. It's on email marketing techniques. I'll later publish other texts on social media, and will go on to speak at conferences on how to properly use social media at food banks. My lifelong career in communications has begun.


2008. I am twenty-seven. I live with Rosemary. It is my first romantic relationship that was net good overall. I am now the webmaster of a national nonprofit with over $150 million in revenue. Life has become routine, but I am happy. I feel successful.


2010. I am twenty-nine. I live with Robin. She helps me to learn how to be a better friend and partner. Much of my growth in terms of what I can offer in a friendship matures during this time, partly due to her influence, and partly due to My Little Pony. Looking back, I certainly was not yet what I'd consider to be a good friend (nor even a good person, really!), but I was definitely changing, and I greatly appreciate this time in my life.


2011. I am thirty. I don't live with Amanda, but we spend enough time together that it may as well be so. I treat her more as an accessory than a friend. I think at the time I just wanted companionship romantically, without any other attachments.


2012. I am thirty-one. Six months earlier, I learned about Effective Altruism, which has since dominated my life choices. I was listening to a podcast with Toby Ord and Luke Muelhauser while trekking through a flat portion of the Appalachian Trail, fascinated by the discussion. That night I slept outside in the rain, sitting in a camping chair that I brought on my back, with a 'tent' draped above me, held aloft only by my head. My iphone was the only light as far as I could see, and I used it to listen to podcasts on all kinds of philosophical positions on charity and what we should be doing with our lives. It has been nearly ten years since that day and I still am fascinated and moved by the tenets of effective altruism.


2013. I am thirty-two. I live with Katherine. Jack has just died. I am sad, but life has become much, much better for me. Katherine is, by far, the best thing to have ever happened to me.


2015. I am thirty-four. I attend my first effective altruism conference and am extraordinarily excited by it. These are my people. Meanwhile, at home I remain happy with Katherine, and at work I greatly enjoy the company of Day.


2018. I am thirty-seven. Check out this awesome puzzle portrait I received as a gift this year.


2019. I am thirty-eight. My grandmother is dead. I haven't seen the maternal side of my family in years. I stop for a moment to wonder if this is a mistake. What is it about me that makes it so that I don't think much of going for long periods of time without talking to people that I used to care deeply about? Is this just another facet of my aphantasia, or is there something deeper going on?


2020. I am thirty-nine. I am weak. I survived sepsis only a few months earlier, followed by several life-saving operations. Although I had gone this far in life without ever taking medication more than a dose of tylenol once or twice a year, from now on I must take pills every single day. For the first time, I start to feel like I am finally older.


2021. I am forty. I feel strong. COVID-19 has dominated my life for the past sixteen months. I haven't seen family, outside of two occasions for my father's side of the family, and two occasions for Katherine's mother, for the past sixteen months. But later today I will go to a physical restaurant for the first time since the end of 2019. I will see my family in person. I will celebrate the dismissal of all that lost time. I will tell my family about the charity that I'm starting. I will give gifts to my siblings and parents for the missed birthdays, the missed Christmas, the missed everything. I am looking forward to being able to give on my birthday, rather than to receive. I am happy.


202X. I will be older. Hopefully wiser. It is my wish that my success continues. That my partner and I continue to support each other in all that we do. That my family is happy and forward-looking. That no more deaths haunt these future years. I wish that our long term future is secured; that the alignment problem is solved or finally looks solvable; that lab-grown meat supplants killed meat as the cheapest meat source; that poverty declines ever further worldwide. And, maybe, if I can get past the akrasia, I'll finally pull the trigger on cryonics.

27 June, 2021

My Fortieth Birthday

I turn 40 in a few days.


I'm proud of all that I've accomplished so far in life. I believe that I've done exceptionally well in terms of my career. I've achieved success in my hobbies. I've made a few good close friends. My love life is excellent. I am confident in my personal application of ethics.


But, also I have experienced failure. I exercise occasionally, but not nearly as often as I should. I have family that loves me, but I don't see them as often as I'd prefer. I sleep way more than is ideal, due to my addiction to lucid dreaming. Perhaps my most difficult project is reliably performing everyday tasks, whether they're household or medical tasks.


Overall, I am happy. Turning 40 years old doesn't feel all that significant a marker, but it does make me think of a few specific things:


My best friend growing up, whose father died in his thirties. My friend told me confidently that he felt sure that he'd also die before 40, and so wanted to explore life well before then.


My late-twenties sister, who, a few years back, expressed amazement at my age. Not seeing her for a decade meant that changes we saw in each other occurred all at once.


One of the players on my esports team, who is not yet sixteen years old. Working so closely every week with someone so young is quite worthwhile, but the way they talk and the topics that come up do continually remind me of the age differential.


I guess that's why I'm writing up a blog post for my upcoming fortieth birthday. I want to remind myself of the good, and warn myself of the bad.


First, the good:


I'm extraordinarily proud of my career. The work I've done for effective altruism has been, I believe, quite invaluable. Helping to influence the creation of Animal Charity Evaluators and then heading communications there for its first two formative years was powerfully influential to the field of effective animal advocacy overall. Serving on the ACE Board today gives me immense pride. And, just this very week, I've applied to EA Funds for a grant to start a new organization, where I hope to create even more good -- potentially a huge amount.


I relish my hobbies. The recently created genre of rational fiction so far has so few entrants that I can reliably say that I've read every good text in the genre. When it comes to good television, I make it a point to experience as much of it as I can. My house is filled with the board games that I enjoy the most. I love that I live in the burgeoning era of video games, where I get to experience such creative and exciting stories created by the industry. I even get to feel that sense of camaraderie and success with the esports team that I captain.


My friends are few, but they are strong connections. The nonprofit I am starting is cofounded by one of my strongest friends. The esports team I play on has another of my best friends on it. I have several other friends in the various gaming communities I'm a part of, as well as many other friends who I have met in the polyamorous community.


Romance, for me, was a hard road, but I'm finally in a place that I am confident and comfortable with. I am polyamorous, asexual, heteroromantic, and sapioromantic, which makes for a strange combination. Thankfully, my lifelong partner supports me and does quite a bit to help me thrive.


When it comes to metaethics, I am a moral antirealist. Yet I want strongly for the world to be best that it can be, and I have a good understanding of what I would prefer that to consist of. I've dedicated my life to the field of effective altruism, and I feel that I've achieved a significant amount of good so far.


And the bad:


I live a mostly sedentary life. Exercise, for me, consists of walking around Little Seneca Creek, which I haven't done as much of during covid. I have intentions of being more active, but so far akrasia has made me unable to follow through on that.


Family, for me, has always been a failure point. Ever since the day my mother had police point a gun at me, I have been unwilling to ever see her again. I have hispanic and indigenous ancestry; the cop was white in the Deep South of Alabama. I am just not okay with the level of risk that my mother so callously put me through. My father's side of the family is much better, but for some reason I just am not that good at keeping as close contact with them as I should. I love my siblings; I want desperately to change my habits so I can spend more time with them. But, again: akrasia prevents me.


Sleep is the constant consonant note in my life. I have aphantasia in my waking life, but I dream lucidly with mental imagery. Before I knew what these terms even meant, I had no idea that others have mental imagery in their waking life, so, to me, it always struck me as strange that my dreams could be so very much more vivid than my waking life. I wasted so very much time prioritizing lucid dreaming over my real life. Today, I know better, but I'm still addicted to dreaming. I spend way more than I'd like to admit on sleep, far more than the 8 hours/day that most people spend.


Then there is the thing that I am worst at: everyday tasks. Doing dishes. Taking out the trash. Cleaning up rooms. Worst of all, because I've gone for my entire life without using or taking medication (minimizing even over-the-counter pain relief), the medical issues that started up in 2020 which have me now taking pills every day is causing a great deal of consternation. Remembering to take them seems like it should be an easy task, but instead it is a daily struggle.


Listing these out like this feels therapeutic. I have much to be happy about in the present -- and much for me to work on in the present. Overall, it is a good life that I lead.


But... I can't help but notice that I've focused only on the things in the present. There is no mention of my past, mostly because I have very little pride in my past. I started out life terribly. But, perhaps in part due to my aphantasia, I feel unconnected to those early decisions. I focus instead on the successes and low points of my life in the present. This is not a bad way to think about things, I think.


And so I feel good. Life is good. The flaws are things I can deal with. Once covid stops being such a concern, I can deal better with everyday tasks by hiring a cleaning service. Holding myself to a schedule should help with my sleep addiction. And the family thing will solve itself because, once my vaccination takes hold, I will be invited far more often to family events.


Later this week, I will turn 40 years old. And I am both happy and satisfied with where I am today and the trajectory I have for tomorrow.

23 April, 2021

Puzzle Portraiture

Made by Katherine Hess.

In May of 2018, Katherine sent me a photo of a piece she was working on. "It's a puzzle portrait," she explained. "Do you think you can solve it?"

I was fascinated by the small photo she sent me. It was a portrait of me, all in orange (my favorite color), using Futhark and Greek characters. I don't speak any languages other than English very well, but I did spend two years in college learning koine Greek, and I know enough to be able to muddle through a Loeb Classical Library-style text, so long as it has the English translation on the opposite page. And in middle school I transliterated Futhark characters whenever writing in my personal journal; to this day, I am still more comfortable writing freehand in Futhark transliteration than in actual English, because whenever I write for others, it is on a keyboard; when I write in freehand, it is always in my journal, which uses no English characters whatsoever.

If you're interested in attempting to solve this puzzle yourself, it may help you to at least know a few more things about me, since the puzzle was created specifically with me in mind. I'm an amateur mathematician and I adore mathematical games, such as the ones that Martin Gardner used to post in his old Scientific American column. Katherine is a lover of art, and the combination of art and mathematics is a common theme that comes up in gifts that she gives to me. Books like Gödel, Escher, Bach are prominent due to that combination of themes.

You now have enough information to solve the puzzle. I encourage you to give it a try before reading on, as the solution will be spoiled below. Don't look at nor use anything below this line of text when solving the puzzle. Open the above image in a new tab if it helps.

At the time I received the above photo, Katherine was still working on the actual drawing. You can see that only some of the boxes are shaded. She was working on it in her studio, which means I couldn't see her work on it. Instead, I had only the above photo to go on. She said she would finish soon and bring it home to me, so I set to work on solving the puzzle immediately. I wanted to see if I could find the solution before she made her finishing touches and brought home the piece.

It took a while to notice the pattern. At first, it seemed like a jumble of Futhark and Greek characters. Writing them out provided a few clues, but nothing too substantial. I found myself writing things like "ITJPEKS", "SOFZ", "ZDTHATL", and "KSJUZDTT". Most of these didn't make much sense to me. But a few stood out: "NLURKS" looked a bit like "lurks". "TORDERS" looked kind of like "orders". It didn't fit with all of the words, but I decided to separate out the first character from the remainder, to see if anything might happen. That's when I realized that all the initial letters were Greek.

Once I hit on this pattern, I realized that also all of the ending letters are Greek. It wasn't obvious at first because there are some characters which look extremely similar in both Futhark and Greek. It wasn't clear whether "I" was a Futhark "I" or a Greek "I". But I made a hypothesis: what if all internal letters are supposed to be interpreted as Futhark? This would change a number of my initial transliterations. Suddenly, I started seeing several words in the banners.

The words came quickly: "tjpe", "of", "that", "turnz", "can", "just", "of", "a", "lurk", "bejond", "an" "kaoz", "out", "order", "it", "fakade". Some of these weren't quite correct, but it was easy to replace "z" with "s" and "j" with "y", especially after remembering that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where it is remarked that "j" is just "i", which also is just "y". Suddenly, I recognized the quote. It's from Douglas Hoftstadter's Metamagical Themas: "It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just beyond a facade of order."

But the word "eerie" is nowhere to be found in the puzzle. Nevertheless, this is clearly what was intended. I love Hofstadter's work, and I'm certain that Katherine chose this quote specifically because it would mean something to me. (The full quote is slightly different: "It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order -- and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.") 

Looking back at the initial Greek letters, I realize that they are now in alphabetical order. Gamma corresponds to "it"; delta corresponds to "turns". And the ending Greek characters are in reverse order. Interestingly, the missing word "eerie" ("ΘᛖᛖᚱᛁᛖΝ") would correspond to theta and nu, and theta is missing in the initial Greek characters, while nu is missing in the ending Greek characters.

This is it, I think. I'm onto the solution. Hurriedly, I texted Katherine: "ΘΝ".

While I waited for her reply, I tried to figure out what these letters mean. It can't just be two random characters as the solution to the puzzle. So I thought deeper.

Immediately, I am struck: written in Greek like this, I am reminded of Θέων ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς (Theon of Alexandria), a mathematician who edited and arranged Euclid's Elements. This fits! (ν is a lowercase Ν, so "ΘΝ" corresponds to "Θν", which consists solely of the consonants of "Θέων".) Theon was a great lover of order (which is why he edited the Elements), yet his additions to the text introduced new errors that persisted for thousands of years, before someone finally found a copy of Euclid's Elements from before Theon messed with them. This fits perfectly with the quote. It's natural to think of Theon, given that he was Greek, like the characters from the puzzle; he was a mathematician, which matched Douglas Hofstadter, the originator of the quote; and he was responsible for both the order and chaos inherent in Euclid's Elements, just like the quote suggests.

The answer, then, is Θέων, or perhaps Euclid's Elements. Or, perhaps, as my mind raced, the answer is Hypatia. She was Theon's daughter, a talented mathematician and philosopher in her own right. She lived an orderly life, working with astrolabes and hydrometers, and yet is most well known for her martyrdom, when chaos took hold and a mob of Christians murdered her. The 2009 film Agora portrays Hypatia as "the only woman who stands between civilization and chaos".

Here, I felt, we have finally found the true answer to the puzzle. I was certain that Hypatia was clearly the correct answer.

And then I received a response from Katherine. She was confused by me texting her "ΘΝ" a while earlier. I stopped in my tracks, realizing that something in my line of reasoning must have gone astray. She calls, and I speak with her.

It turns out that the omission of the "ΘᛖᛖᚱᛁᛖΝ" clue was an error. I had already solved the entire intended puzzle just by getting the Hofstadter quote. She said she would draw the missing clue before giving me the finished piece.

The final version.

I was flabbergasted. I had felt so sure, which, obviously, I should not have felt. But I had thought that everything made sense, and I asked her if she might not want to add in the final clue, so that its absence could be a clue in itself, as I had originally thought it to be. But she declined, and she finished the drawing.

I re-learned several valuable lessons that day:

  • It's irresponsible to just assume that things have intended meanings beyond the first link in a chain. Each successive link in a chain of reasoning depends on all previous links, and so each has to be discounted proportionately.
  • Even when someone makes something specifically for you, it is inappropriate to assume that it will have more than a half dozen properties that are intended to speak to you. Continuing to find more in each detail is nothing more than pareidolia.
  • It's insufficient to just make a claim; one must also consider one's credence in that claim. And you should be properly calibrated to ensure that you're not putting more confidence in a low probability situation than it warrants.

Nevertheless, I adored the piece. It touched on many aspects of me, including my favorite color; the transliterated Futhark I've used all my life in journals; the Greek that I learned so long ago so that I could better appreciate Plato in the original; a quote by Hofstadter, who wrote so much that I enjoyed over the years, and which was about a topic I cared about deeply in mathematics; and a likeness of me that shows what I look like when I am uncombed, working my way through a puzzle just like this.

The framed drawing currently sits in our gathering room. It's one of my favorite pieces that she's done for me.

Post 5: nominate 10-day! I was nominated by the incredible found object sculptor and art education master Linda Popp and...

Posted by Katherine Hess on Thursday, April 22, 2021

03 April, 2021

The Reality of My Dreamscape

We should not fall prey to the typical mind fallacy. Our minds are not so similar as we at first think.


Robin Raven trying to protect the innocent.

My friend Robin became vegan very early on because she saw fellow consciousness everywhere. As a young child, she cried when a Halloween-carved pumpkin would be thrown away because she deeply felt that having a face was sufficient for a being to have feelings. This experience was not typical, and it took her until high school before she internally understood that other people didn't feel the same way.


Katherine is a supertaster. She didn't understand that this was a different way to be when she was younger. She was called a picky eater because she'd turn down certain foods that she didn't like the taste of. Those foods, if tasted, would linger for days, tainting all other meals. I've gone with her to fast food places and watched mesmerized as she could identify all the foods made previously on the same grill as the item she was eating. As a child, she wanted most of all to make others feel okay, so she would often sacrifice her own desires when others were arguing -- whether this was choosing who got to sit in the front seat, deciding who had to take "the high road" when friends or family got nasty, or even just "sucking it up" and eating what was given to her even though it tasted vile. Adults around her would say: "We all have to sometimes eat stuff we don't like", but they did not understand. For her, the taste lingered. It was significant and primary. Katherine was a supertaster, and this was a big deal. She describes with relish the day she first found out:


You can test if you're also a supertaster.

I was in Europe on vacation and every meal had fish. I abhor fish. I ate it anyway, because I didn't want to rock the boat. Days later, over a breakfast that I ordinarily would have loved, I mentioned to others how the fish was still so pungent to me that it was ruining what would have been an excellent breakfast. To me, this was commonplace; it happened all the time in my life whenever I'd give in and eat something disgusting. But the surprise on others faces clued me in on the reality: other people do not have this same internal experience of taste.

 

Bebeflapula explains different levels of phantasia.

For me, it is my dream world which differs from so many others. I have aphantasia, and so cannot visually imagine anything at all in my waking life. But when I dream, I have full access to visual imagination. I'm also a lucid dreamer: unlike most people I get to choose what happens in my dreams. Unexpected things do happen there, but I have at least the illusion that I get to choose how I react to things that happen in my dreams. The combination of aphantasta with vivid lucid dreams is that I grew up valuing my dream worlds much more than other people do.


To me, the worlds that I visit when I sleep are alive. They feel like real spaces that truly matter. They aren't fuzzy or indistinct, like I see them portrayed so often in movies or when others describe their dreams. Rather, they are much more solid and distinct than anything at all that I can imagine in my waking life, and since I wear glasses they also appear much less fuzzily and as though they have a strength of reality to them that the actual real world lacks. Combine this with the fact that I get to explore that world just as lucidly as I get to explore the waking world, and you get a hyperrealistic upside-down conception of existence where the waking world just feels inferior to the dreaming world. At a gut basis, naively, I just feel as though the two worlds are equally valid and valued. The waking world is more fuzzy and less distinct, but it has continuity between every day, which I value. And the dreaming world is more solid and feels more real, even though I only get to revisit places intermittently as I return to well-known old dreamscapes.


From the now defunct study-hack site.

Of course, I understand that that the dream world is not real. But it took many years for me to get to a point where I was actually acting that way. Getting glasses for the first time as a child was a surreal event: all of a sudden the waking world started looking like the dream world did when at a distance. Glasses made me start to value the waking world much more in a way that I don't think happens with many other people. Later in life, I would tolerate living situations that many people would not be able to stand, because in dream life things could be fixed so much more easily than in waking life. Yes, I'd have to tidy up in both worlds, but, in one, I could but make the intention to do so, and it would happen, just as a nose-twitching witch might; but, in the other, tidying up meant actually taking the time to do so. When both worlds felt (naively) equally valuable to me, you can imagine that this resulted in me prioritizing the effects that occurred in my dream life over those that I built in my waking life. Many times in my life I would accept squalid conditions in one if I had good conditions in the other, merely because, to me, both were real.


It wasn't until I understood that aphantasia was a thing in mid-2020 that I finally realized what was going on here, I had had the typical mind fallacy for so long that it just hadn't occurred to me that the reason I valued dream life so strongly was because there I could visualize, even though I couldn't anywhere else.


Today, I finally value the waking world more. But it is a thoughtful decision that I do so; it still feels naively as though they should be equally valid. I just realize that this is a wrong thing to think now.


Yesterday, I had a nightmare, Jasper's dead body had come home. We were mourning when suddenly his body moved, and I heard the smallest of sneezes. I rushed to him, horrified to realize that maybe the euthanasia had not worked, and when I got next to him, his head raised, looking at me with the most expressive face. It was a face of unbridled pain. He was suffering physically, but more than that, it was a look that showed he felt betrayed. Why had I not fought harder to help him to live? Didn't I love him? Why had I caused him to die, and to suffer these many days in pain away from his family?


I screamed, waking up both myself and my partner. I was sweating. I looked over to the box where Jasper's remains actually lay in the waking world. I cried. Katherine reminded me that Jasper lived a happy life, right up until the end. I had not betrayed him. Jasper loved me. Slowly, I calmed down.


Nightmares for me are thankfully rare. But when they happen, they are horrendous. I don't think I can successfully explain just how real they are to me other than to point out that my dream world naively feels more real than my waking world. It is only with intellect that I understand the waking world to be more real than my dream world. Nightmares, to me, are true horrors second only to the waking world horrors one learns of in rationality or effective altruism circles.


From Corey Mohler's Existential Comics.

When I speak to people in my life, I'm not likely to mention any nightmares I have. It doesn't come across well. Others have nightmares, too, but their nightmares don't seem to have that same feeling of reality that mine have. My nightmares linger. For others, a dream passes quickly from the mind. Mine do, too, in the specifics. But, unlike others, when I sleep again I go back to the same place, and the specifics come back to me. An area previously explored has some changes, but the layout is the same. The rules are the same. I get to talk to the different people that are there, and visit the areas I care about most as often as I want, even years later when I return to that same dreamscape. Over time, the memories of these repeated dreams linger in my waking world memories. Even now, I can tell you about a certain dream place that I have gone to dozens of times, even though I haven't visited in the past year or so, where certain people live, where the decor is a certain way, where a path leads from the back door through the woods, where the path diverges to different locales depending on where I want to visit.... I know this dream place well because I've gone there so often. It's real to me. And so even though I have only had this Jasper dream once, I feel fear. Because it has been 24 hours now and I still remember every detail. I remember Jasper's tortured face. I remember feeling that it was my fault. I remember not fighting for his life.


There are even more reasons to stay up for me now. I don't want to go to sleep.