Sunday, February 14, 2010

computers and objectivism

what frustrates me is that computers foil my completionist spirit. With my 1974 Vespa Ciao moped, for example, I can literally teach you everything you can know about it in maybe a few days. If you're ambitious and have a dry workshop we can cover all topics in one day. I mean, everything. From single cylinder combustion theory to mechanical drum brakes to electric circuits. I mean, I had never seen one before I bought mine and there are only a few specialists in the country who deal with them anymore and I was living in a van at the time but I was still able to sort out pretty serious issues with the moped engine and electrical systems. I understand them well enough to explain them now. The light switch is a little baffling since all the electrical systems have been removed except the high tension coil.

Anyway, you don't really need a handbook unless you want to study it on your own. Even the process of refining aluminum and pouring engine castings could probably be covered in a week or two. Copper current theory. All that is fundamental engineering trades that haven't changed (as far as the Vespa Ciao is concerned) in 200 years. I'm talking about a complete understanding of how this thing was made and how it works. You can actually explain it all with a chalkboard, a crescent wrench and a calculator.

Now, computers are completely and totally different. I just was looking at the help section for mozilla. That's all. Just looking for a bit of information on links...and I'm telling you that it would take you years to understand JUST HOW THE BROWSER WORKS. The help section would take up volumes. It's gigantic. To use the browser for basic things is pretty easy. You can use all the default settings. But if you wanted to change every default setting and also to understand the process for changing them and what will happen...then you would quickly find a never ending mobius strip. Every setting has another setting behind it. It becomes a fractal puzzle.

look at this madness...
/* Variable definitions


You just go deeper and deeper into a fine tuned universe. For me, this is difficult because troubleshooting any computer problem turns into a trip down the rabbit hole. And that is just the browser settings. Forget about the microchip processor that has microscopic threads of copper somehow programmed to turn binary into images. That's just overwhelming to approach. You take a Piaggio 49cc engine apart because it leaks and you will have time to check out the low tension coils. Go ahead. It's copper wound in a circle. opposite Magnets go around it real fast and create a current. That current can directly light a bulb, or it can go into a high tension coil where the current builds up and is released when the points separate. Boom. 6 volts is turned into like 200, which is enough to make a spark...which detonates the fuel....etc.
At some point the fractals stop. That's not true with computers. it just gets more and more...mysterious. Settings upon settings.
This is a complaint totally separate from the environmental consequences. This is more about self-determinism. When your life is dependent on technology that is constructed of several components that are each complex technical fields of study then are we determining our lives? It feels like we're flying with invisible wings. It works but no one person can grasp the complexity. Not even Steve Jobs has read every word in the Safari browser help manual. It would take forever.

Ignatius talked about a King who favored taste and decency. He rebelled against things like fashion and trends. He lived in a time before computers but I suspect he would've preferred his big chief note pads to an iPad. In another book, Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute a wealthy Arab oil baron is asked why he doesn't build roads or hospitals or schools for the people in his town. He says something about self determinism, that only an industry developed by the people should be used by the people. And while he had the money to pay to build the hospitals and roads, the people who would use them were "not ready" for them. They were not ready for them because they themselves had not built them on their own. See? It's a philosophic book. Furthermore, the practice of Islam was the priority. Plain and simple. He could build a mosque, but not a school. It was very interesting, even if it wasn't based on actual fact, it rang true. The muslim world is actually richer than the united states because of the oil. So why aren't they shopping at macys and Apple and Nike? Because their priorities are different. they will forgo luxuries to concentrate on religion. Has it gone haywire in some respects? Yes. And that could be used as an example of why they "aren't ready" for roads and subways. Saudi Arabia could put a man on the moon. Why don't they?
Think of it this way, your teenage kid wants a sports car. "Buy it for me." What's your instinctual reaction? No way. Buy it your self. Everyone together, "You won't appreciate it if I buy it for you."
So what Steve Jobs is doing is basically jumping light years ahead in complexity. We have to buy the iPad but are there 50 people in the world would could make an iPad from scratch, who could earn it?
See, this is the Ayn Rand philosophy: That the man of intellect leads the world one way or another. He can't be stopped. He's a intellectual trendsetter. I agree with this. And the Objectivist conclusion is that while havoc may be the current environmental trend, men of intellect will figure it out. I also agree with this too. But I feel that it skips over some ugly consequences, namely wolves perishing as their habitat melts. And Rand loved to highlight the futility of providing for the mentally deficient. Oh, she had so much fun describing the mealy mouthed social service activists who posed for pictures with state dependent retards. Oh, she loved it! But what if those kids chief crime was living in San Jose, where Jobs and crew were pumping mercury laced wastewater into the aquifer? It's natural progress, she would say. More people benefit from microchips than are harmed. Furthermore, the market demanded (allowed/funded) the progress. It happened so therefore it should have happened.
Is she really a philosopher with this perspective? Or is she the first of a rogue think tank that understood propaganda? It worked and it is irreversible, but what would her response be to my suggestion that Jobs is just the father who is buying his kid a car it won't appreciate? That's what being an intellectual leader means. I don't want to argue about Steve Jobs. I want to talk about philosophy. That's what is important to me. This is a philosophical debate and I still don't see their side of the argument. What we have now is uncontrolled growth because the theory is that if we don't grow then we die. Is that a valid theory? Or if we don't grow then you'll die? Because we're going to die no matter what. People are living longer, and we are going further into debt to provide for those people...and the lives they lead are more like machinery devoted to Steve Jobs. I just don't see this as progress.

But I think the model the oil baron was defending is one of slow sustainable growth, rather than the Steve Jobs model of fast growth and damn the consequences.
I've said it before that the technology is evolving but not man. I go to an Apple store and I don't see high tech people. I see frumpy, lazy, shuffling caffeine addicts poking gadgets and drooling in front of dancing lights. That's just me. Call me an asshole. So I guess, it's an issue of philosophy. Is the development of devices more important than the development of the man. Because I WOULD LOVE for someone to explain how America is actively developing better people right now. PLEASE SHOW ME SOME EVIDENCE OF THIS!
You can point to Obama being elected and I'd ask what made that possible? I've got my suspicions but why do YOU think Obama is president.

There are two camps: Do it because it can be done.
Ponder what can be done and Allah will decide.

I just want to point out that I'm not alone in questioning unchecked research and development. Most cultures and most animals have some instinctual hesitation to develop. Is it a flaw? Or is it priorities. Are computers a priority of life? Right now America is definitely worshiping a silicon deity. They might be the words of Jesus, but they are on an LCD screen. Are the screens spreading the word of God, or are the words of God spreading the LCD screens?
I think these are the questions Muslim Imams don't want to ask.
This is impossible to answer, just like it's impossible to totally understand computers.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.