30 Oct 2021 02:15 - 19 Jul 2022 01:12
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    • David Chapman (aka @meaningness) has been a major influence on my own thinking. His work at the MIT AI lab with Phil Agre made a deep impression on me when I was trying to figure out my own academic path. This included a critical take on the standard cognitive science view of the mind, which is pretty much Rationalism minus the more cultish and cartoonish aspects.
    • In AI, this manifested as the planning problem. This is a standard AI problem, in which an agent has a desired state and some available actions, as well as access to a representation of the current state of the world. The planning problem is defined as coming up with.a sequence of actions that when executed will achieve the goal. Chapman proved that this problem was computationally intractable, which was pretty significant, but for me the more interesting part of his work was how it led to a critique of the very basic foundations of the cognitive model, including representationalism and the default modularization of mind into perception, cognition, and motor activity.
    • He's taking on Rationalism more directly in his in-progress book on meta-rationality, In the Cells of the Eggplant. This is a systematic critique of the assumptions underlying Rationalism, together with a set of techniques to replace it. If I'm taking potshots at the Temple of Reason, he's mounting a full-scale artillery assault.
    • One aspect of Meaningness that took me awhile to appreciate was that it has a very complex and well-worked out formal structure, and the ideas form a sort of multi-dimensional lattice. There's an extremely simple idea at the core (which is straight out of Buddhism): people tend to fall into two separate, opposed and equally false modes of thought or being: eternalism (in which meaning is well-defined, fixed, and objective) and nihilism (in which there is no meaning whatsoever); and that it's possible to transcend this sterile polarity with better, richer ways of being (completeness). But this ultra-simple idea is elaborated into a precise and structured algebra of being.
    • This complex conceptual structure is striking to me because even though both he and I have a lot of shared background, and are covering some of the same topics, in our own evolving hypertexts (and both building our own toolchains to do so) – the two texts are very different. His seems to have a grand plan; mine really has no plan at all. So while he may write about the virtues of nebulosity; I'm living it. Or it's more like he's done the hard work of opening up this intellectual terrain which give me the freedom to play in it.
    • In other words (a) I owe him a lot, and (b) for many of the topics addressed here, you are likely to be better off reading the more serious and thorough treatment in Meaningness.