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Showing posts from January, 2018

Is a Computer Neuron the Same as a Brain Neuron?

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When I took a philosophy of mind class in high school, my professor proposed neural networks in computer science as a potential way to create consciousness. At the very least, it's a way to create high levels of intelligence. I didn't know exactly what a computerized neural network consisted of (I imagined it being built in hardware), and I still don't, really, but I'm curious: how similar is an artificial neural network to a biological one? Is it really a good replication?

From an article on the similarities and differences


An [Artificial Neural Network] consists of layers made up of interconnected neurons that receive a set of inputs and a set of weights. It then does some mathematical manipulation and outputs the results as a set of “activations” that are similar to synapses in biological neurons. While ANNs typically consist of hundreds to maybe thousands of neurons, the biological neural network of the human brain consists of billions.
On the other hand:
Biological…

The Beauty of Swimming Next to Fishes

It's not often most humans encounter aquatic animals face to face (unlike domestic animals, and somewhat unlike even pigs or chickens). If we do encounter them, it's likely at the end of a fork.

Seeing fishes, sharks, and a lobster face-to-face was probably the highlight of my recent trip to Belize. You can appreciate their subjectivity in a way that's rare otherwise. Here's a video so you can experience a bit of that, too:







What I've Been Reading/Watching/Listening To

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Here are some recent things I've been following and would recommend:

Books:
1984 – It had been a while since I read this. In light of my experiences last year–the personal and the political–I dusted this off, and I am newly impressed by Orwell's world.
Infinite Jest – Apparently one of the best novels of the 21st century, this book has been enjoyable to read so far (I'm about half-way through). It's the first book I've read in a while that's an intellectual puzzle with obscure references and a counter-intuitive structure that one has to piece together.
Superforecasting – Social scientist Philip Tetlock discusses his forecasting tournaments, which set out to figure out how to predict the future–and do just that. It's both fascinating and important.

Films:
Call Me By Your Name – I loved this movie. From the music to the photography to the actors' playful banter, it's a beauty to behold.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – You've all seen this by now so why say an…

An Engagement Good for More Than Two

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Last weekend marked six months since my fiancé, Lucas Freitas, and I got engaged, and I thought it would be helpful for us to share how we (he, really) did it while keeping the event aligned with our shared values of altruism and rationality.

Lucas proposed to me in the conference hotel where we'd first met in person, just one year prior. We met at the National Animal Rights Conference in 2016, and he got down on one knee at the same tent by the pool where we'd had our first kiss.

When he offered me a beautiful ring, designed as the prairie diamond I'd gotten him when we were first dating, I was surprised and uneasy about the ring, and its potential cost, after saying yes while drowning in tears.

Jewelry had always seemed to me the essence of frivolity; the sort of expense one can commit to a charitable donation. What I didn’t realize was that Lucas researched and thought critically about the matter, and arrived at a middle ground that I believe combines a physical symbol of …

Not Everybody Feels the Same Way as Chewbacca

On Monday I commented that Star Wars: The Last Jedi may do more for animal rights than Chewbacca.

Apparently my canine companion has yet to get the message. It's a reminder that change comes in fits and spurts, not all at once:


Or maybe it's just jealousy.


Could Star Wars Do More for Animal Rights Than Cowspiracy?

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If you live on the planet Crait and haven't seen The Last Jedi yet, don't read this.The new Star Wars movie contains two moments with unsubtle animal rights messages. The first is what my fiancé Lucas is now calling the "Chewbacca goes vegan" scene. Chewbacca cannot bring himself to eat one of the adorable porgs, who strangely share an unfortunate but useful characteristic of most domestic animals: they look like babies. The second is when children liberate a bunch of horselike creatures from a cruel capitalist casino after we see the horses abused with the Star Wars version of a bull hook.

Those scenes mark Star Wars doing something Pixar is good at: giving animals both personalities and personhood, and making the audience root for them. While vegans cheer at documentaries like What the Health? and Cowspiracy, it may be the Last Jedis and Finding Dorys of the world that really carry the day for animal rights. Fiction, in fact, is a powerful way to increase empathy ac…