Welcome to the Convivial Society, a newsletter about technology, culture, and the moral life. In this installment you’ll find the audio version of the previous essay, “The Face Stares Back.” And along with the audio version you’ll also find an assortment of links and resources. Some of you will remember that such links used to be a regular feature of the newsletter. I’ve prioritized the essays, in part because of the information I have on click rates, but I know the links and resources are useful to more than a few of you. Moving forward, I think it makes sense to put out an occasional installment that contains just links and resources (with varying amounts of commentary from me). As always, thanks for reading and/or listening.
Links and Resources
Let’s start with a classic paper from 1965 by philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, “Alchemy and Artificial Intelligence.” The paper, prepared for the RAND Corporation, opens with a long epigraph from the 17th-century polymath Blaise Pascal on the difference between the mathematical mind and the perceptive mind.
On “The Tyranny of Time”: “The more we synchronize ourselves with the time in clocks, the more we fall out of sync with our own bodies and the world around us.” More: “The Western separation of clock time from the rhythms of nature helped imperialists establish superiority over other cultures.”
Relatedly, a well-documented case against Daylight Saving Time: “Farmers, Physiologists, and Daylight Saving Time”: “Fundamentally, their perspective is that we tend to do well when our body clock and social clock—the official time in our time zone—are in synch. That is, when noon on the social clock coincides with solar noon, the moment when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky where we are. If the two clocks diverge, trouble ensues. Startling evidence for this has come from recent findings in geographical epidemiology—specifically, from mapping health outcomes within time zones.”
Interesting forthcoming book by Kevin Driscoll: The Modem World: A Prehistory of Social Media.
Great piece on Jacques Ellul by Samuel Matlack at The New Atlantis, “How Tech Despair Can Set You Free”: “But Ellul rejects it. He refuses to offer a prescription for social reform. He meticulously and often tediously presents a problem — but not a solution of the kind we expect. This is because he believed that the usual approach offers a false picture of human agency. It exaggerates our ability to plan and execute change to our fundamental social structures. It is utopian. To arrive at an honest view of human freedom, responsibility, and action, he believed, we must confront the fact that we are constrained in more ways than we like to think. Technique, says Ellul, is society’s tightest constraint on us, and we must feel the totality of its grip in order to find the freedom to act.”
Evan Selinger on “The Gospel of the Metaverse.”
Ryan Calo on “Modeling Through”: “The prospect that economic, physical, and even social forces could be modeled by machines confronts policymakers with a paradox. Society may expect policymakers to avail themselves of techniques already usefully deployed in other sectors, especially where statutes or executive orders require the agency to anticipate the impact of new rules on particular values. At the same time, “modeling through” holds novel perils that policymakers may be ill equipped to address. Concerns include privacy, brittleness, and automation bias, all of which law and technology scholars are keenly aware. They also include the extension and deepening of the quantifying turn in governance, a process that obscures normative judgments and recognizes only that which the machines can see. The water may be warm, but there are sharks in it.”
“Why Christopher Alexander Still Matters”: “The places we love, the places that are most successful and most alive, have a wholeness about them that is lacking in too many contemporary environments, Alexander observed. This problem stems, he thought, from a deep misconception of what design really is, and what planning is. It is not “creating from nothing”—or from our own mental abstractions—but rather, transforming existing wholes into new ones, and using our mental processes and our abstractions to guide this natural life-supporting process.”
An interview with philosopher Shannon Vallor: “Re-envisioning Ethics in the Information Age”: “Instead of using the machines to liberate and enlarge our own lives, we are increasingly being asked to twist, to transform, and to constrain ourselves in order to strengthen the reach and power of the machines that we increasingly use to deliver our public services, to make the large-scale decisions that are needed in the financial realm, in health care, or in transportation. We are building a society where the control surfaces are increasingly automated systems and then we are asking humans to restrict their thinking patterns and to reshape their thinking patterns in ways that are amenable to this system. So what I wanted to do was to really reclaim some of the literature that described that process in the 20th century—from folks like Jacques Ellul, for example, or Herbert Marcuse—and then really talk about how this is happening to us today in the era of artificial intelligence and what we can do about it.”
From Lance Strate in 2008: “Studying Media AS Media: McLuhan and the Media Ecology Approach.”
Japan’s museum of rocks that look like faces.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Katherine Dee for her podcast, which you can listen to here.
I’ll leave you with an arresting line from Simone Weil’s notebooks: “You could not have wished to be born at a better time than this, when everything is lost.”