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What does sleep do?

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Sleep may be the most important everyday phenomenon that we understand the least well. It’s like the oceans; it’s everywhere, but we’ve only explored the surfaces. But scientists are still working to establish better knowledge of what sleep does, how it works, and why every animal does it (and needs to do it). National Geographic has a very pretty and pretty thorough summary of the latest theories of sleep scientists on what we do when we fall asleep.

The waking brain is optimized for collecting external stimuli, the sleeping brain for consolidating the information that’s been collected. At night, that is, we switch from recording to editing, a change that can be measured on the molecular scale. We’re not just rotely filing our thoughts—the sleeping brain actively curates which memories to keep and which to toss.

It doesn’t necessarily choose wisely. Sleep reinforces our memory so powerfully—not just in stage 2, where we spend about half our sleeping time, but throughout the looping voyage of the night—that it might be best, for example, if exhausted soldiers returning from harrowing missions did not go directly to bed. To forestall post-traumatic stress disorder, the soldiers should remain awake for six to eight hours, according to neuroscientist Gina Poe at the University of California, Los Angeles. Research by her and others suggests that sleeping soon after a major event, before some of the ordeal is mentally resolved, is more likely to turn the experience into long-term memories.

It’s basically a maintenance cycle. At deeper levels of sleep, we’re literally cleaning away waste products of waking life in the brain.

Good sleep likely also reduces one’s risk of developing dementia. A study done in mice by Maiken Nedergaard at the University of Rochester, in New York, suggests that while we’re awake, our neurons are packed tightly together, but when we’re asleep, some brain cells deflate by 60 percent, widening the spaces between them. These intercellular spaces are dumping grounds for the cells’ metabolic waste—notably a substance called beta-amyloid, which disrupts communication between neurons and is closely linked to Alzheimer’s. Only during sleep can spinal fluid slosh like detergent through these broader hallways of our brain, washing beta-amyloid away.

Dreams, too, reflect this heightened activity of the brain, but it’s unclear whether dreams themselves are a kind of harmless aftereffect or whether they perform a key function at reinforcing memory.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by my own dreams, not least because reality has so often been disappointing. One recurring theme has been universities: libraries, offices, classrooms, campuses, over and over again. This isn’t terribly surprising: I spent a shade less than half my life, and most of my adult life, either going to school or working at one. But it’s difficult to make sense of. Do I miss the security/adventure of those times? Am I consolidating those memories to make room for new ones? Is an oracular entity trying to convince me to go back to school? I’m not sure. But understanding that SOMEthing is going on is a kind of balm that’s useful to me in ways I can’t totally articulate.

Tags: dreams   Sleep
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cjheinz
12 hours ago
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#dreaming
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IS TRUMP A TRAITOR?Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in...

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IS TRUMP A TRAITOR?

Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was a betrayal of the nation he has a sworn duty to protect.

Under Article III Section 3 of the Constitution, the crime of treason is defined as “giving aid and comfort” to enemies of the United States. Trump has betrayed the American people in 5 ways we already know of:

1. He ignores attacks on our democracy. According to American intelligence, there’s no doubt about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. And no doubt they’re continuing to attack, and planning further attacks, on our democratic institutions and even our energy infrastructure. 

Yet Trump casts doubt about the conclusions of the intelligence community, blames past presidents, and turns a blind eye to safeguarding America from current and future attacks. 

2. He publicly undermines U.S. intelligence officials – taking the side of Putin, a former KGB officer, when Putin claims Russia didn’t interfere in the election. And Trump accuses his own government officials of being part of a so-called “deep-state” conspiracy out to get him. 

3. He attacks our closest allies, weakening America’s standing in the world and playing into Putin’s hands. During his trip to Europe, Trump insulted German Chancellor Angela Merkel, mocked British Prime Minister Theresa May, and was rebuked by the French President. His unreasonable demands on NATO – that members increase their military expenditures to 4 percent of their GDPs – have frayed our most important security alliance.  

4. His campaign knowingly sought help from a Russian agent. In June, 2016, senior members of Trump’s campaign, including Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, met with a Russian lawyer who, before they met, had promised them damaging information on Clinton. 

5. Then in July 2016 Trump publicly encouraged Russia to meddle in our election, asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email server and release the emails to the public. That same day Russian operatives initiated their cyberattack, and weeks later released the emails. 

Never before has a President of the United States so brazenly sided with a ruthless dictator intent on destroying American democracy.

 If this is not treason, what is it? 

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cjheinz
1 day ago
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Treason.
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The “utopian anarchy” that unites most science fictional wish-fantasies

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We're heading out the door to San Diego's extravaganza -- even bigger than our famous Zoo -- Comicon International, with overseas guests in tow. And so, in keeping with the elevated theme of adventure and unlimited possibilities, let's set aside the political shenanigans America's civil war and briefly assume that our Great Experiment in a better kind of society continues -- a civilization that grows better as it grows more diverse and interesting and fair.

Ah, but how to get there? Does science fiction show a way?

== A future of freedom ==

Some of you have been following the debate between Elon Musk and Cory Doctorow et. al., over the meaning and ethos that underly the “Culture” series of novels by Iain M. Banks. Musk has called himself a “utopian anarchist” in a way best described by those novels.  (Elon named several of his SpaceX vessels after ships in Iain’s science fictional cosmos.) Doctorow counters with an assertion that Banks was a vigorous proponent of labor unions.


Having known all three of these brilliant gentlemen, let me avow that each has been beneficial to humanity, helping open our eyes to - variously - dangerous problems, daring opportunities and/or visionary goals. I hope all of them continue to influence us to rise into a thoughtful and bold and broadminded civilization. (And I will draw in other SF'nal utopians below, like Ursula LeGuin.)

This essay in the Guardian takes sides and is, I believe, myopically petty, especially about Elon Musk’s utopian anarchism. In fact, Elon is right that science fiction offers us the unique perspective of deep time, helping us squint far ahead to see a strangely common theme.

Three paths to very similar utopias

Libertarians often speak of a future when there will be very few limits on individual autonomy, when sovereign adults are free to form coalitions and make deals to advance both shared and personal goals, without being unduly hampered either by cloying restrictions or by cheaters.

Most folks aren’t aware that this is also — exactly, in every particular — the long range goal of Marxism! Karl Marx did not dwell on it, or supply much detail; he assumed a final withering-away of the socialist, transition state — into coercion-free individualism — would proceed out of elevated proletarian self-interest. 

Flipping that order of events, libertarians assume that individual liberation in market-driven paradise will require first dismantling the nation state.  Equality and freedom will follow.

A fascinating hybrid is the culture of Planet Annares, in The Dispossessed, by my former teacher, the late Ursula K. LeGuin. Although she was definitely a person of the left, she rejected the domineering 'socialist-transition' states she saw behaving so badly, in Leninist and Maoist realms. Her prescription seems akin -- in many ways -- more to the libertarian path: dismantle authority first. Standing on her shoulders (so to speak) is Kim Stanley Robinson, whose novels dissect many of the tradeoffs along the way to utopian freedom.

But let's get back to that simple comparison of libertarian and marxist end goals.

In sharing a perfectly overlapping, ultimate utopia of empowered individualism, these two movements differ from almost every other belief system of our long past, nearly all of which assumed that hierarchy will prevail. A perfect pyramid of Confucian noblesse oblige, for example. Or the post-apocalypse reign of Jesus. Priests for 6000 years were well paid to spread such mythologies, and Joseph Campbell extolled the pattern as fundamental to human psyches. Even today, Hollywood obsesses on wizards, kings, Jedi and demigod superheroes. (Ah, Comicon, here we go.)

Set against that most-common context, aren’t the utopian marxists and libertarians more rambunctiously similar than they are different? Elsewhere I go into detail about this strange overlap of ultimate goals… 

…and how the two movements differ profoundly over the path to get there! How to achieve that apotheosis of individual liberty from all want or coercion.  Indeed, I show that neither methodology can possibly work!  

But there is a third approach that demonstrably can take us close to that aim of utopian anarchy. 

== The Great Attractor Trap ==

For starters, it is vital to consider the human past. Across all of those long, dark eras, which failure modes generally thwarted progress?

Let’s all blame Charles Darwin. In every society that developed metals and agriculture, human males were relentlessly rewarded - reproductively - for cheating. We’re all descended from the harems of strong, ruthless guys who used metal implements to coerce others into serving them. And we carry seeds of similar behavior; a fraction of us will seek dark corners of any type of society, using any rationalization and exploit any opportunity to gain advantage and repress competitors. 

Oh, the surface incantations vary. The old USSR was run by a cabal of coercive harem-keepers no less brutal than the czars, only with different surface theology. The current occupants of the Kremlin simply tossed aside their hammer-sickle pins and returned to czarist  catechisms. (See Vladimir Sorokin’s terrifying novel “The Day of the Oprichnik.”)

No, this is less about left-vs-right than finding a sweet-spot optimization that eluded most of our ancestors. We who finally listened to John Locke and Pericles and Adam Smith have benefited from one trick -- never allowing power and authority to concentrate into toxic pools, but spreading it widely enough dispersed to keep cheating below a dull roar.

It’s nuts to shout “cheating” when fellows like Elon form clever alliances that deliver better goods and services. Only one society ever found the trick to truly unleash human inventiveness through competitive enterprise, and it’s the same one that got rich enough to finally tackle old injustices of poverty, prejudice and environmental neglect. Those who disparage the word “competition” would kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

But we also need context on the other side. Again, look back at 6000 years of dubious “civilization” in which those with power used it to crush any competitor who might rise from below. In 99% of human cultures, vast reservoirs of talent were repressed — vigorously and actively — under fabulated excuses based on race, gender, or what caste you were born into. Markets and institutions were warped to benefit the mighty, and priests taught that it was good for the lords’ sons to inherit your sons and daughters.

Any society that doesn’t confront this age-old attractor condition — the great human failure mode — will not take us to that glimmering goal of genuine utopian anarchy.  Even Ayn Rand declared cheating to be a basic problem! She maintained that some state structure would remain needed, to counter it. (Alas, her prescription then plunges into incantatory silliness that I dissect here.)

In the long debate between Hobbes and Rousseau, it remains Locke — followed by Hume and Smith — who comes out as wise. Human societies must find a balance between curbing our cheater-devils and liberating our better angels. Unleashing the greatest creative force in the universe - competition - but regulated (as in sports) to prevent the cheating that would ruin it all. This is ruining it all.

And what works best is to keep erring, progressively, toward freedom.

== Utopian Anarchism ==

Which brings us full circle back to the Musk-Doctorow argument over the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks.

In Iain’s projected future, organic and enhanced bio-humans experience lives of near total freedom, including the ability (projected earlier, in John Varley’s cosmos) to change sexes at-whim. Personal choice and the right to “pursue happiness” are maximized and just about the only thing that’s forbidden is to interfere with others’ right to do the same.  It sure looks like “utopian anarchy”…

…till you realize that there remains a regulatory framework, a guiding hand that is lighter in daily practice, but ultimately far more powerful than Ayn Rand’s “few courthouses.” That hand is wielded by the all-powerful AI entities who actually rule the Culture. Mostly-benevolently, but sometimes with plot-propelling weirdness or agendas of their own.

Ironies abound, here, and I am not leading you to a particular conclusion. 

Sure, Banks wove tales of a future that has inspired brilliant innovators — like Elon — to help propel us starward. Whatever the terminology, I share a dream of humanity achieving levels where state authority (or any kind) can safely “wither away”… to use a phrase coined by Karl Marx. And yes, I have spoken of this at many libertarian events and conferences.

But we are not yet the kind of beings who can reliably put reason ahead of tribal emotions, or act always in enlightened self-interest. Even among our brilliant, fact-centered professions, I’d say we do that at-best on a 30% level.  And half of Americans have been talked into waging open war upon all fact-centered professions! 

Under such conditions, you can see why those who want to re-impose hierarchy — like the Chinese Communist Party — rationalize that it’s the only solution.

They are wrong. Their approach -- under all the high-tech gloss -- is exactly the one that froze and lobotomized most human societies. If it prevails, we will never have the stars.

== A difficult, achievable path ==

Oh, if we look around today it's clear that Hobbes still has a several point advantage over Rousseau. And those of us who still believe in the passionately-moderate, militantly reasonable revolution of Locke — and Adam Smith and the American Founders — have an upward path to slog. A Great Experiment to save. 

And — alas for those eagerly propounding quick-fixes — this will entail using many of the tools we already have. 

Despite setbacks, like phase 8 of the American Civil War, we are on that upward path!  Ironically, Elon and Iain and Corey and Ursula and KS Robinson were all lights along the way.

But to go much farther, we truly will need to include externalities in our market prices. And elevate all children to a level of opportunity where talent stops being wasted and all competition is joyfully flat-open-fair. And ensure that disparities of power no longer entice many to prefer cheating over innovation.

Until we’ve done all that, and taught wiser generations how to apply their sovereign individuality with truly enlightened self-interest, then we’ll still need some Lockean structure. We’ll still need to fight for a civilization that — despite a myriad flows — has been more generously helpful of our long range goals than any other.

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cjheinz
2 days ago
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#preachit
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Remembering the girls of the Leesburg Stockade

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In Georgia in 1963, 15 African-American girls aged 12 to 15 were arrested for trying to buy movie tickets at the whites-only theater entrance. They were arrested and held without charge for up to 45 days, their parents unaware of their whereabouts.

Instead of forming a line to enter from the back alley as was customary, the marchers attempted to purchase tickets at the front entrance. Law enforcement soon arrived and viciously attacked and arrested the girls. Never formally charged, they were jailed in squalid conditions for forty-five days in the Leesburg Stockade, a Civil War era structure situated in the back woods of Leesburg, Georgia. Only twenty miles away, parents had no knowledge of where authorities were holding their children. Nor were parents aware of their inhumane treatment.

Leesburg Stockade

Sickening. And to top it off, their parents each had to pay a $2 boarding fee when the girls were finally released. The Leesburg Stockade incident is a timely reminder that tyrants in America on the wrong side of justice have often separated children from their parents for political leverage. It wasn’t right then, and it’s not right now.

Tags: legal   politics   racism   video
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cjheinz
2 days ago
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Podcast: Zuck’s Empire of Oily Rags

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Here’s my reading (MP3) of Zuck’s Empire of Oily Rags, a Locus Magazine column about the corruption implicit in surveillance capitalism, which creates giant risks to users by collecting sensitive information about them in order to eke out tiny gains in the efficacy of targeted advertising. The commercial surveillance industry may not be very good at selling us fridges, but they’re very good at locating racists and thugs and getting them to support violent political movements.

MP3

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cjheinz
4 days ago
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True dis.
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The economics of Walkaway

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Edgeryders’ Alberto Cottica has published a detailed analysis of the economics of Walkaway, at the micro-, mezzo-, and macroscale. It’s a good, crisp analysis that really captures what I was going for.


Writers are notoriously bad at knowing what they’re doing and why, and good criticism is just as interesting for writers to read as it is for readers.

The economics in Walkaway are my attempt to nail down a bunch of half-formed ideas that have been knocking around in my own thoughts for decades. Cottica’s analysis actually improves on some of what I was able to do, and was a great read.


These statements are important in Walkaway, because they dispose of methodological individualism. The reasoning works like this:

1. Most people like building things together. As long as the two elements of building and sociality are present, you do not need to obsess too much about incentives. In practice, you can blackbox individual behavior: observe what they do, then build a model in which they do it. No need to derive this behavior as the equilibrium strategy of a problem. This is a position close to behavioral economics.

2. What matters, instead, are technologies for cooperation. Groups of humans that are better at cooperating will prosper at the expense of other groups that are not as good. Groups of humans get better at cooperating by adopting systems of rules that make cooperation easier. Therefore, humans are subject to evolutionary pressure both at the individual level and at the group level, and the in the group level the pressure is cultural. This is the interpretation proposed by cultural evolution biologists like E.O. Wilson and Joseph Henrich.

3. It follows that an effective economic theory should not focus on individual behavior as an equilibrium of a set of individual incentives, but on system-level behavior as an equilibrium of interaction protocols.

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cjheinz
5 days ago
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#tweeted
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