The idea of control is absurd, guns or not.   The world is far too complicated to predict events, system behaviors, or whether even your email will send when you hit the send button.  Prediction is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of control.  And when we say “gun control” we believe we can predict who would be a responsible user of a gun and who wouldn’t.   We believe with the proper equipment features we can control what happens when a user pulls the trigger or that it’s actually the user who owns the gun… and so on.  It’s literally all based on an absurd premise.

Guns in the Game of Life

Guns in the Game of Life

And yet, control is exactly the fallacy of our political and social systems.  Guns and other tools of destruction provide the operator the illusion of control.  Lightweight, homage regulating laws provide the population the illusion of control.  These illusions really just mask the chaos of a contingent world.  Any distressed person operates under highly conflicting contingencies or has lost the ability to recognize contingencies (of behavior and consequence).   In fact, this happens to all of us all of the time.  We live under near constant confirmation and related behavioral (cognitive biases) as a result of our limited perceptive systems and neural componentry (and often sick and broken bodies).   Our system constantly pattern recognizes incorrectly (we think God helps us score touchdowns….).  These incomplete interpretations of the contingencies of the world become especially problematic in a stressed and distressed situation.   (I’ll skip a deep discussion of behavioral, physical and chemical science and just lump all of it in an idea that we are all systems ecologically looking for homeostasis/equilibrium.)

When contingencies conflict or get very confused and the environment is primed properly disaster is more likely to occur.  Priming includes a cultural dimension, accessibility of destructive tools, lack of obstacles to act, etc.   Combined with stress, illness, and chemicals (drugs/booze/etc) in a person and a more combustible situation emerges – this is the nature of probability and complexity.

Proponents of guns and various “let’s all pack heat” strategies suffer from the same delusions of control as perpetrators of mass killings and gun murders.  The world is not fundamentally controllable – in situations with guns and situations without guns.  Every person and system is a collection of contingencies – the collective probabilities of circumstance and events.   For instance, at Christmas time if you have hot colored lights plugged in, faulty electric outlets and dead, dry pine trees in your living room you have increased the chance of burning your house down.   I assure you there are lower probability of raging fire decorations you can display in your home.

The key to dealing with our uncontrollable world isn’t pretending control exists.   We either increase or reduce probabilities of events by changing ourselves and/or the environment.   Changing the contingencies is non-trivial and multifaceted.   One key is to not put too many degrees of freedom between an act and the experience of the consequences of that act.  This is a subtle but very important point.   Many studies show humans are not good at anticipating delayed consequences – delay in time and in-directness (associations) of consequences.  This truth is at the heart of addition formation, financial debt, wars, education and literacy, and so on.  You can do your own study on this truth by reminding yourself of your last Vegas trip, checking your alerts for all those idiot Candy Crush notifications from your “friends,” looking at your credit car bills or reviewing your local church (and bible!) for policies on tithing and confession and promises of heaven and hell.

Guns are so easy (very few contingencies) to obtain and use (poorly) that there is almost NO PERCEIVABLE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCE to gun ownership relative to THE DELAYED ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCE of gun usage.  Pulling a trigger is such a simple act…. even gun makers and the NRA know this.  It’s why they attempt to stratify guns into level of effort to use: manual, semi-automatic, automatic and so on.   The delay in round expulsion is built on the idea that if you add more work for the user the less they can kill and the more time it takes to load and fire rounds the more the prey and other contingent circumstances can adjust in response.  This is all highly consistent logic and observable phenomena.

Most systems, including individual people, operate on a strategy of efficiency AKA the path of least resistance.   We resolve our stresses efficiently (according to our own weird histories/abilities).   When guns are easy to get then that’s an outlet we go with (replace guns with drugs, TV, gambling, sex, food, yoga, etc).   We know this truth.   We’ve used it forever… Grocery stores get ya every time with this.   And so does the government.  Some things it makes hard to do or get (more contingent): health care, food stamps, driver’s licenses, info on NSA programs.   Somethings it makes easy (less contingent): paying your taxes (do it online!  send cash!), getting parking tickets, buying lottery tickets, campaign donating!

Never underestimate the power of laziness! (capitalism and governments/kings and religion don’t!)

If people generally didn’t operate this way voter turn out would be 100%, education rates would be off the charts and no one would ever buy a lottery ticket or use a slot machine again (well at least they might pull the handle instead of auto spinning).

I firmly believe in the complete disarmament and aggressive buy back and destruction of all arms – civilian and otherwise. For this country and all of them.   I believe in trying to get the probability of widespread carnage and unintended consequences as low as possible.   While compromise is inevitable my position is not one of compromise.

If you’re for guns or even a gun apologist you really just don’t trust the world and believe in control and want to maintain what you perceive as a competitive advantage to the unarmed or the less well armed.   Perhaps it is a competitive advantage, local to you.   System wide you’re increasing the chance of unintended disasters and you’re partially complicit more or less in the continuing violence against kids and students.   You are also probably ok with it or don’t believe it because the consequences of your slight increase in probability of someone else’s disaster don’t register in your pattern recognizer.


As I said earlier… lowering the probability of gun violence takes more than gun laws.  It takes education, first and foremost.  And it takes economic opportunity, better health care, jobs, love, and everything in between.  I chose to be complicit in increasing those things at the expense of my right to bear arms.   We’re all just a small piece of a contingent and uncontrollable world and I’d rather stand in perspective and connection with people rather than behind armor, triple locked doors and concealed weaponry.

David Deutsch wrote an interesting essay back in 2012 (http://aeon.co/magazine/technology/david-deutsch-artificial-intelligence/).   His books follow similar themes and this article is a useful condensation of his ideas – most notable of which is the idea that intelligence/creativity/knowledge/universal computation is fundamentally about EXPLANATION – not instruction, not arithmetic, not reinforcement learning, etc.

He decries the lack of progress in artificial intelligence as due to flawed premises of the entire enterprise.  He makes the case that “he human brain has capabilities that are, in some respects, far superior to those of all other known objects in the cosmos.”   He declares self-awareness a thing and that universal computation can do it.   And he concludes that all the ingredients for artificial intelligence are encoded in DNA we just need the right idea to unlock that and use whatever idea in other substrates to create other general intelligent entities.

I’m grossly simplifying the article which is a gross simplification of his books already but that’s because most of the details are irrelevant.   Deutsch rightly ridicules the current prevailing approaches to AI and their inevitable failure to ultimately deliver intelligence.  I agree with a lot of his reasoning around why AI with current behaviorist / inductive instructions approaches is doomed.    But I disagree with him on pretty much everything else because he himself has built his arguments on flimsy premises.   He assumes, as almost all scientists and philosophers and people, that knowledge is something.  Something that is embodied, something that exists.    I agree in a very simply way that anything that is learned must be learned through trial and error by the entity learning it and that learning doesn’t happen through transcription.  But it’s not because knowledge results.

Knowledge is a reductive term that explains nothing and doesn’t really even clearly represent anything.  It’s not a concept that can even be explained categorically or through endless descriptions.  It simply is a general concept that sort of can be used to refer to lots of things.

Intelligence is the same kind of concept.  It refers to nothing in particular.   Self awareness, same.  Good and Evil, same.   Consciousness.  Free Will.  All the same.

AI won’t be coming because Real Intelligence isn’t a thing.

Learning is a slightly less reified concept than the others because it sort of gets at the point.  The point of all computation and any perceived awareness is merely connectivity in a networking/graph theory sense.   Advanced behaviors and “creativity” etc are merely effects of a hyper connected network.   Learning is CONNECTIONS.   “Knowledge” is CONNECTIONS.

Deutsch is correct that no one will be programming an AI.   If something we might call AI comes to exist it won’t be because we specifically designed it.   I would argue that it already exists, always has.   It’s highly flawed to think that humans are the only things capable of awareness and thinking.   It simply doesn’t add up.  But that’s an argument for another post.

Everything is connected.   Extensions of connections continue to evolve as more things connect to more other things in more ways.   It’s such a simple, boring concept that it doesn’t seem that it would “EXPLAIN” it all.  It doesn’t.  It won’t.  Because explanations are not the stuff of existence – intelligence or otherwise.

Thinking is not a thing.   Thoughts are not things.   There are connections between neurons and cells and organs and computers and planets and trees and galaxies and numbers and words and pictures and colors.  Where one thing ends and another begins is very not clear…. even with the “laws of physics” which Mr. Deutsch uses almost exclusively to justify everything.   The laws aren’t really laws.  Ironically.

What Are We?  There is no answer because it’s always changing.


“IS” creates. Its mere utterance, inscription, trace imbues existence. This IS. That IS. 1 IS. 2 IS 1 and 1. This IS different than that.

FIght to Exist

IS wordform is the trivial sign of the miracle act of creation. The giver of existence is merely Making It So. Made so by a finger pointing, a twitch of the eyes, a sentence declaring something is, action potential in the nueron, a bit flipped, a sum of numbers, movement in spacetime. IS. IS existence IS?

IS supercedes from the classic BEING and EVENT philosophy. There is no seperation of BEING from EVENT. Just as light is not a wave nor a partical. IS being split is a valid creation, all creations are, but the phrasing and philosophy of BEING and EVENT as the two actual, distinct creative gestures doesn’t mean they are.

IS in all its guises is the singular gesture, ex nihilo. And yet, really, the act IS NOT something from nothing. For nothing is a something. It is something from something. Nothing, redefined is SOMETHING in-distinguished from SOMETHING ELSE. There IS NOT some thing!

A word game? Hardly. IS can be experimented with and falsified. In fact, IS requires it. The completion of the IS is NOT. Negate it with another IS. This IS IS not THIS. Ad infinum. Do it without words, without thoughts. Merely observe in any perceptive medium and any perceptive tool. What “happens”? is happens.

This IS not satisfactory though. The meaning or import of IS to practical understanding should be established. Only through another series of IS can this be carried out. Paradoxically the truth of the IS cannot be established without an IS.

In fact.

Truth IS. Truth is the only concept that resists the IS, truth cannot be IS-ified. Truth IS true. This IS true. There is no basis outside of the truth that can objectify that IS statement. The true is primary to the IS. or IS it? IS anything true before the IS establishes it for evaluation? Truth is. IS truth? IS TRUTH? IS TRUTH. TRUTH IS.

In an newtonian world (and his associates Kant, Descartes, Lovelace, Darwin, Boole, Laplace, Jesus, Muhammad, Zeus, Curie) where IS and TRUTH are mere approximations, it doesn’t matter if we really know. ? It does. IS and TRUTH matters with more and more specificity depending on the relative stakes. To land humans in a rocket on the moon the recursion of physical mathematics and physical engineering needs a much more robust IS TRUE than two humans playing catch with a ball. The near infinite regress of IS TRUE of rocket physics pales in comparison to the IS TRUE of ALL OF KNOWLEDGE. In fact – if fact IS TRUE – ALL OF KNOWLEDGE cannot be established because IS TRUE goes on beyond all cardinal infinity. But yet, here we are. Something IS. Something is TRUE. some things are true. TRUE is. FALSE is not. FALSE IS not. FALSE IS NOT.

How much IS and how much TRUE one needs for existence… NOW THAT IS THE QUESTION.

Hi Greg,

I love you, first of all – and really that’s all that matters. Thank you for reaching out to me. It’s selfish but I needed someone to reach out to me. It’s been a long time since I was young and confused and mad about the universe ripping living people in my life into the grave. It’s been long enough that sometimes I wonder whether it really happened and whether all these years if I didn’t just go insane.

People die. They really do. And it’s as terrible as anyone can imagine. And it’s as natural as the science books suggest.

And it hurts. God does it hurt. It is punishment. I still feel guilty. Every day. I don’t know what I did or was or could ever be to deserve anything that’s be given to me. I really don’t. Rage isn’t even close to how it feels. AHHHHHAAAGHHHHH.

Comfort doesn’t come in words. Comfort doesn’t come song. nor travel. nor food. nor anything. You see, death just rips. It rips your anchors, your beliefs, your ideas and completely and totally destroys them in one fell swoop. And it doesn’t give you anything in return.

My heart breaks for you, for her, for him, for all. Because I know. I know that I will never know – never know those that died, those that died in your life, those that died in my life. And, GOD!, do i want to know those that died in my life. There they were … and then… no they weren’t.

You are young, and so was I, and so are so many people. Who are we to feel guilty? or mad? or sad? who are we, with life, to rage against the universe? who are we to dare to ask why? knowing no answer is coming. but secretly hoping in all these books. SO MANY BOOKS… there is no answer.

I searched for you. I’ve read them all. There are no answers, I’m afraid. I know you will read many more and talk to many others and take walks i haven’t taken. and yet we will both arrive right here.



Somehow, someway, I made it to 38.9 years old. I don’t really know how. But here I am. Thank you for reaching out, your tender years. Lost in this universe I remain. Is that hope? if i can do it so can you? hardly. but maybe….

I am so sorry she was tossed from a car and tossed from your life. No universe we imagine has that outcome. and yet, here it is. here it is. here you are. here i am. here your mom is.

greg, oh, greg. you are not alone. oh no you are not. but you feel like you are because in so many ways right now you are. and its real. oh god is it real. oh god am i alone right now. i wish you were here, even though we barely spend any time together. but we are also connected and not alone. i don’t know how you feel. i didn’t and don’t really know how i feel now. other than i just HOPE, goodness do i hope, somewhere out there something touched someone in some way. even for a moment. For A Brief Moment… anything that made someone think God I Do Matter.

greg you matter. amber matters. i matter.

i hope you keep talking to me.

i love you,

uncle russ

My Dad Origin Story

About 13 years ago d and I made the passive aggressive decision to open ourselves up to the chance of procreating.  I’m sure the reader can figure out the choice we made.  Well the chance turned into a probability of 1 rather quickly.  

 I was a 26 year old idiot who believed literally “I could move mountains of if I had to.” Yup I said that seriously in an argument back then.  So my decision making ability then was as optimistic as it is now only it was further enhanced with nativity and hubris.   Nonetheless the die was cast and I was to be a dad.  And the learning and appreciation needed to come fast.   Fast it came or so I thought.  
I distinctly remember the moment d’s water broke.   OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT.  what do we do?!?!   We are generally intelligent beings who faithfully read the curriculum and attend all required classes. But in that moment it was gone. All of it.  So of course WE CALLED OUR PARENTS.  mine laughed and when they were done they repeated a simple instruction: go to the hospital. Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.  
We got our literal and figurative shit together and did just that.  Generally things went as expected.  It’s sort of all a haze.  I remember that I was not to talk nor point out when a contraction was evident on the seismograph as she “was very well aware of the situation!”  It was July 4, 2003. Barry white passed away earlier in the day.  I listened to Barry white songs while d came in and out of sleep and pain.  
Then came go time.  The sun was setting (hey this is my blissful memory so don’t go fucking fact checking).  It was time to bring baby Bella into the light and air of Santa Monica.  D was so amazing and as the sun faded hell if I didn’t see a purple headed offspring come screaming into the world.  These moments are what I’ve called before HI FIDELITY. the streams of data are so intense and the change of state so intense it leaves you transformed and awed.  Awed I stood watching them clean that little thing and watch purple turn to pink.   And then fireworks shot off in the distance and they handed d the Beautiful Light and we were officially a family of three.  
That’s my dad origin story more or less. And I couldn’t have dreamed of one of my more Ill thought out just do it non decisions turning out any more beautiful.  
And so here we are today. In less than a month my first procreated turns twelve.  Over the years I’ve gone through waves of confusion and disbelief and low confidence that I had or could get things right.  I’ve openly questioned what any right any of us have bringing kids into a world so far from being worthy of their existence.  And yes the whole last few sentences are some weird cultural and philosophical backdrop that is sort of irrelevant. 
 Things happen.  We happen. I happen to be a dad.  And with what happens I must do what I can to make it happen as best I can.  My daughters are passed the point where I swaddle and bottle and make it ok with simple gestures.  I have not transitioned quickly into going from provider to confider.  Just as I started figuring out how to properly feed them they learned logic and peer pressure and emoji.  And so now I’m a dude that occasionally can mumble something about relationships or why pot isn’t legal or why reality shows aren’t really reality but what is anyway.  I’m still pretty clear on mathematical things so not all is lost on first providership.  
And this is why I paint and write and sculpt and generate programs.  My kids long ago escape a linear relation to me or the world and I don’t have enough solid dad talk tracks built up.  I guess my artistic endeavors and other attempts to express and give back some synthesis of the world are me trying to pass on a little of what I’ve learned.  It ain’t easy.  It ain’t obvious.  It ain’t entitled.  It ain’t certain.  
Put some same beautiful light on a canvas and get on with it.  
Peace and love dads of the world.  And moms and kids.  
– Russ

What is Data?

From within the strange loop of self-reference the question “What is Data?” emerges.  Ok, maybe more practically the question arises from our technologically advancing world where data is everywhere, spouting from everything.  We claim to have a “data science” and now operate “big data” and have evolving laws about data collection and data use.   Quite an intellectual infrastructure for something that lacks identity or even a remotely robust and reliable definition.  Should we entrust our understanding and experience of the world to this infrastructure?   This question seems stupid and ignorant.  However, we have taken up a confused approach in all aspects of our lives by putting data ontologically on the same level as real, physical, actual stuff.    So now the question must be asked and must be answered and its implications drawn out.

Data is and Data is not.   Data is not data.   Data is not the thing the data represents or is attached to.   Data is but a ephemeral puff of exhaust from an limitless, unknowable universe of things and their relations. Let us explore.

Observe a few definitions and usage patterns:

Data According to Google

Data According to Google


The latin roots point to the looming mystery.  “Give” -> “Something Given”.   Even back in history data was “something”.   Almost an anti-definition.

Perhaps we can find clues from clues:

Crossword Puzzle Clues for

Crossword Puzzle Clues for “Data”


Has there been a crossword puzzle word with broader or more ambiguity than that?   “Food for thought?”  seems to hit the nail on the head.   The clues boil down to data is: numbers, holdings, information, facts, figures, fodder, food, grist, bits.   Sometimes crunched and processed, sometimes raw.  Food for thoughts, disks, banks, charts and computers.


Youtube usually can tell us anything, here’s a video directly answering What Is Data:

Strong start in that video, Qualitative and Quantitative… and then by the end the video unwinds the definitions to include basically everything.

Maybe a technical lesson on data types will help elucidate the situation:

Data Types

Perhaps sticking to computers as a frame of reference helps us.   Data is stuff stored in a database specified by data types.  What exactly is stored?   Bits on a magnetic or electric device (hard drive or memory chip) are arranged according to structure defined by this “data” which is defined or created or detected by sensors and programs…   So is the data the bit?  the electric symbol?  the magnetic structures on the disk?  a pure idea regardless of physical substrate?

The confusing self-referential nature of the situation is wonderfully exploited by Tupper’s formula:

Tupper's formula


What exactly is that?  it’s a pixel rendering (bits in memory turned into electrons shot a screen or LED excitations) of a formula (which is a collection of symbols) that when fed through a brain or a computer programmed by a brain end up producing a picture of a formula….

The further we dig the less convergence we seem to have.   Yet we have a “data science” in the world and employ “data scientists” and we tell each other to “look at the data” to figure out “the truth.”

Sometimes philosophy is useful in such confusing situations:

Information is notoriously a polymorphic phenomenon and a polysemantic concept so, as an explicandum, it can be associated with several explanations, depending on the level of abstraction adopted and the cluster of requirements and desiderata orientating a theory.


Er, that doesn’t seem like a convergence.  By all means we should read that entire essay, it’s certainly full of data.

Ok, maybe someone can define Data Science and in that we can figure out what is being studied:


That’s a really long article that points to data science as a duct taped loosely linked set of tools, processes, disciplines, activities to turn data into products and tell stories.   There’s clearly no simple definition or identification of the actual substance of data found there or in any other description of data science readily available.

There’s a certain impossibility of definition and identification looming.   Data isn’t something concrete.  It’s “of” everything.  It appears to be a shadowy representational trace of phenomena and relations and objects that is itself encoded in phenomena and relations and objects.

There’s a wonderful aside in the great book “Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension” by Matt Parker

Finite Nature of Data

Finite Nature of Data


Data seems to have a finite, discrete property to it and yet is still very slippery.  It is reductive – a compression of the infinite patterns in the universe, it is also a pattern. Compressed traces of actual things.   Data is wisps of existence, a subset of existence.   Data is an optical and sensory illusion that is an artifact of the limitedness of the sensor and irreducibility of connections between things.

Data is not a thing.   It is of things, about things, traces of things, made up of things.

There can be no data science.   There is no scientific method possible.   Science is done with data, but cannot be done on data.  One doesn’t do experiments on data, experiments emit and transcode data, but data itself cannot be experimental.

Data is art.   Data is an interpretive literature.  It is a mathematics – an infinite regress of finite compressions.

Data is undefined and belongs in the set of unexplainables: art, infinity, time, being, event.

Data = Art Data = Art

She stood at the tree waiting.   Rain had softened the ground overnight so her feet sank a little as time passed mud creeping up.   Long ago the childish message carved in the tree disappeared as new layers of bark did what they do – cover up the years.   She kept her hand where the message used to be.   She did not move even as sweat matted her hair and tears streaked her face.  The bugs didn’t care about her situation.  They swarmed and nipped at their motionless meal.

The Tree

She Waited Here


He never made it to the tree.  Three years ago on a trip overseas he fell ill and with barely any notice slipped away.  He was traveling alone and had not noticed the severity of his illness when he fell into a deep sleep one afternoon.  He never awoke.

His body was removed from his temporary dwelling after finally being noticed by the housekeeper who had been away.   He had paid cash up front and left no useful information behind for the housekeeper nor anyone else to contact anyone.  The housekeeper had him buried in a slightly marked grave and buried his meager personal belongings, a journal and wallet, with him.  She kept a description of him on hand in the house in case a future visitor inquired.

Years passed.


When the search party found her she was still attached to the tree.   Drenched from several nights of rain and a near perpetual sweat rashes covered her bitten and weakened body.  She rarely blinked and her face was flush white.   At some point during the waiting it occurred to her he wasn’t coming and she wasn’t going to leave.

“Are you ok? Are you ok,” they repeated over and over.

No response.

“Let go of the tree.  Come with us.  You’re going to be ok.   Let go,” the pleading continued until they finally forced her hands away and carried her to the vehicle.   A tear, so slight, crept from her left eye.


“Let’s find ourselves,” the note ended openly and without commitment.   One night she had written the note and hastily dropped it in the mail after a long week of anguished failed attempts to compose.  The writing was sloppy and rushed and the stamped was not flush with the corner.


“Let’s find ourselves,” he read trembling.   Normally the envelope would have been thicker with more words stuck inside of it, but this one had been impossibly thin.   It contained few words.  He packed his bag in haste taking a few clothes and his journal.  He left immediately on the next boat with no idea when he would come back other than to meet at the tree.

With a little knife they carved “our love grows” deeply into the tree that day.   The hugged when they were done and whispered their promises to return to that tree 15 years from then.  They hugged and hugged.   The wind was gentle and did not rush them.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,256 other followers