Monday, January 31, 2011

Of Cults and Churches

I watched a documentary on NatGeo called Inside a Cult. It was about some small cult led by a guy who, of course, claimed to be the Earthly embodiment of God... or something like that. All of these cults sound the same. As per cult SOP, the leader, Michael Travesser, made a prediction that the world would end in 2007, which, according to Wikipedia, it didn't.

What I actually took away from the show wasn't anything specific to its content, but more in the eye of the director. There are multiple shots of followers gazing upon Travesser with these glassy looks of absolute devotion in their eyes. I'm working on a book about the existence of God that I hope will reach a wider and more general audience than most philosophical books, and maintained a sort of fantasy about convincing religious people of the validity of my arguments. I have since abandoned those fantasies.

This guy is wrong. I can best describe it as looking at an elephant, saying "There is an elephant," and having someone say "No. There is no elephant there." It is an immediate impasse. There is no logical path or argumentation that can be taken from that point in hopes of alleviating the disagreement. If I see an elephant, and you disagree that the elephant is there, all I can do is call you an idiot and leave.

Looking into the eyes of these cultists made me realize emotionally something that I had kinda'-sorta' realized cognitively. That there is nothing that can be said. There is nothing fundamentally different from a cultist of this ilk and your average churchgoer. The core of their belief systems are identical, the only difference is the behavior that arises from that core.

As is the problem with our inborn assumption of the existence of other minds; given imperfect information about other people we are prone to project our own internal world onto them. The vast majority of people with religious beliefs are grossly quite similar to myself. They go shopping, they eat dinner, they watch movies, they get erections at comically inconvenient times, etc. Their empirically observable behavior is so similar, I incorrectly assume a similar intellectual core. As such, my emotions tell me that arguing may be a fruitful endeavor.

This isn't the case, though. For the vast majority of believers, there is no logical argument that can be made. I know that full well with extremists of the violent ilk, like Muslims, but they're so out there that I stop seeing them as purely religious entities and instead see them as being plum crazy. These cultists were just passively religious. I could SEE it. I could see it in their eyes.

I'm still going to write my book. So what. I'll preach to the choir a bit. Now my fantasy is convincing fence sitters who, while never religious, had yet to form explicit opinions on the subject. They are the ones who kinda-sorta-maybe didn't really believe in God, and I can provide a strong logical underpinning to well-defined beliefs. That's pretty good, I think.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Legalize Prostitution, Already!

I've said it before, but we need to legalize prostitution. Not only do we need to legalize it, we need to have a large, social push to legitimize it. To make people stop seeing it as the exclusive domain of seedy people that we shouldn't give a rat's ass about. Only then, ONLY THEN, will we have any chance to stop sex trafficking. We have to draw the world out of the shadows. If we keep moralizing about it and charging around with our Bibles out, we only succeed in driving it underground, where it's going to happen anyhow!

Stop persecuting these women! If they choose to sell sex, it's their choice. We have no right to judge them or any other aspect of the situation. We can't assume that they'd rather be doing something else. We can't feel sorry for them. It's a job for which they get paid. That is the only thing that we can safely assume.

"I'm Not Buying It" Targets Super Bowl Sex Trafficking (Jezebel.com)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Living Forever

On that same episode of Nova Science Now that I mentioned in the previous post, Neil DeGrasse Tyson says that, if we ever develop an ability to live forever, our only option to deal with the population problem that would follow is interplanetary travel. I disagree. And I think it's patently obvious that that position is false.

Our only option, and I want to be perfectly clear in this, our ONLY option is social restrictions on breeding. I'm talking dystopian-level stuff. We either do what China did and make is so absurdly expensive to have children that the vast majority of people can't, or we make it illegal to have children and force abortions on people.

Population growth would be logarithmic. Even if we develop interplanetary travel, we would fill up those planets in very short time. With a population of 60 billion, we'd be generating a billion people every couple of years. There is no where that we could put that. We couldn't build space ships quickly enough.

Our only other option is stopping sex. If you want to live forever, you forfeit the right to want or have sex. Because if the desire is there, there is nothing we could do to stop it. Adultery is punishable by death in some areas of the world, and people still mess around.

This is undeniable. Immortality would force the greatest cultural upheaval in the history of our species. It would require a complete rewriting of our concept of human rights, because for the first time, doing something that is natural and, in itself, not harmful, would be incalculably destructive.

Artificial Ridiculousness

I'm watching Nova Science Now on living forever, and there's a section on artificial intelligence. In one scene, a researcher talks about how the avatar isn't gesticulating, and they need to start thinking about making the avatar communicate with its hands.

To me, this illustrates the reason why the traditional approach to artificial intelligence will never work. We cannot build an intelligence from the top down. We can't copy the gross aspects of life, i.e. behaviors, we need to figure out the basic building blocks that generate that behavior.

This comes back to the computational theory of mind. We do have to program certain basic assumptions about the world, but the fewer, the better.

I think that the basic programming is going to be based on a binary-like yes/no language. Light is good, darkness is bad. Warmth good, cold bad, etc.

Wouldja Like to Take a Surrrveeey?!

Do you like George Wendt? Five points to Gryffindor if you know where that's from.

I just received a call with an automated survey from the National Organization for Marriage. If you can't tell just by the name, this is a right-wing, Christian organization that of course believes gay marriage is evil and, somehow, a threat. I'm getting the call because Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island's governor-elect, has made it clear that he supports gay marriage, so there's a lot of attention being paid by American religious groups to our tiny, little nugget of the union. It doesn't help that Rhode Island is so damned Catholic.

Regardless, there's a fantastic episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit called Numbers, you can watch it here. It's a Hong Kong site called Megavideo, which is a little scummy, but it's at least safe. The important part comes in at about 12:20, if you want to fast forward.



The survey that I answered, and I'll try to be as accurate as I can, opened the survey, opened the survey, with the statement "This survey involves one of the most important subjects of our time: the institution of marriage." Nice primer, there, assholes. Look at what they said. This is IMPORTANT. We're talking about an INSTITUTION.

Then, the money question "Do you believe that marriage should be legal only between a man and a woman?" It's worded juuuust funny enough to possibly elicit a particular answer. Why not just ask the most straightforward question? "Do you believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry?"

Because asking that question emphasizes that we are not allowing a group of people to do something. We have a rather strong freedom streak running through us, and pollsters want to avoid asking questions that collide with it. They phrase the question not in a way that makes it sound like we're preventing people from doing something, but that we are protecting something. That we are, in that protecting, preventing people from doing something is glossed over.

If you've watched the episode of P&T, you'll understand that this is not a merely semantic issue. It is a fundamental issue in the posing of the question. By phrasing it as though we are defending something and not as though we are oppressing a group, and priming people with the concept of "the institution of marriage" beforehand, the pollsters can easily shift the results of the survey in the direction that they want.

They then asked whether I was male or female, and whether I was over the age of fifty. This is likely important because men are shifting towards a pro-GLBT position faster than women, and there is a startling opinion shift in the mid-40's. People younger than 45 are strongly pro-gay, and people older than 45 are strongly anti-gay. Damned old people. Just die.

This also makes me question the timing of the call. I work out of my home, so I'm here, but calling on a weekday, at 2pm, when most people are at work; the pollsters are likely to get a disproportionate number of women and old people answering. Miiiiighty suspicious. It reminds us that the sample quality is important for any survey. Is it actually random? Or is there some other variable that can be affecting the qualities of the sample? And, even more perniciously, are the pollsters well aware of this and using it to their advantage? Judging from the wording of the actual survey, I'm quite sure that they know what they're doing in calling at 2pm.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Science For... Whom?

Michio Kaku, that omnipresent, physics-spouting android of a television personality, has a show on The Science Channel called Sci-Fi Science. Each 30-minute episode discusses some sci-fi concept, like warp drives or something, and goes over the basic physics behind that concept and what we can do today.



(Really? You GUESS that carbon dioxide is denser and heavier than air? You aren't sure about that?)

My issue with the show is that I don't know who it's for. If you're catering to the uninformed-laymen market, why have it on a channel that's aimed squarely at the super-laymen demographic. It would be like Scientific American explaining chemistry with wacky comics and slapstick. There's nothing wrong with being an uninformed-laymen. You're still interested in this stuff, you might just not have enough time to read up on this and do all of the other things that you enjoy. But Discovery Networks already has a channel for this demographic, it's called the Discovery Channel! What? Are they too busy just blowing shit up in the name of "science" in an attempt to attract a demographic one step below what they should be doing? What the fuck!

Is that their strategy? Create a channel, aim it at a market, then, tailor all of the shows to entice a lower market? The Learning Channel used to be simple but educational, now it's aimed at assholes. Discovery is now the simple but educational, and Science Channel is now the somewhat dry and educational channel (with a few silly things thrown in). What the fuck is the new Science Channel, that actually covers science, going to be called?! The UNIFIED FIELD THEORY CHANNEL?!?!

It's also odd that they'd attach a luminary of advanced (and some would say fringe) concepts like string theory to a show that seems aimed at middle-schoolers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

When Web Design Goes Wrong

I'm on the hunt for blogs and websites about art and design. I stumbled across one called WeHeart out of Britain. It's well-liked and has won a few awards but it fails one of the web's most important tests: the five-second test. Namely, can a user tell what your website IS in five seconds or less. If not, you have some work to do.

WeHearts website was obviously about something, but damned if I could tell at first. It took me well over a minute to determine what the navigation was, where it brought me, what I was looking at, truly, it took me over a minute to figure out what the fuck this website was telling me!

This is a website designed by an "artist." This is in comparison to Google, which is designed by engineers. I prefer the latter. If you are a website that is distributing content, like Google or a blog dedicated to content, you should be easy, readable, straight forward, and only have artistic flourishes on the edges of your design. If you're a website that is content, like sprite.com, or a band's website where the intent is to draw in listeners, feel free to have wacky-ass shit that makes no sense. But if you're trying to get words in front of people with the website as the avenue, ditch the artistic bullshit. It's annoying.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Is Moral Nihilism Correct?

Yes. Yes it is. While Wittgenstein never intended this to be the case, an investigation into language necessarily ends in nihilism. In fact, this direction seems so inexorable that it puzzles me why nihilism remains a dirty word.

I started thinking about this in regards to morals, and how a discussion of morals inevitably fails. It faces the same problem that David Hume tried to address when asking why metaphysical discussions always fail.

I always separate words into two classes: internal and external. All words are representative of something, but those somethings are sometimes non-empirical. They represent an internal state that is available to me only. For example, when I say "I'm angry" you don't know what that means. You only know what it means in relation to my empirically observable behavior.

You then associate that word with your own desire to act in a similar way. Thus, my world and your world acquire the same word to describe private internal states based on observation of the non-private external world.

In Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, he has a chapter on inborn moral drives. We seek out right and wrong and everyone, everywhere, seems to make similar determinations about the morality of situations. For example, I can save ten people on a trolley by diverting it to another track, but the trolley will hit a man who just happens to be on that track. That is not morally wrong. But if you present people with the situation where that same man is used to stop the trolley, like throwing him on the tracks, that is morally wrong. The end result is identical in both scenarios, but one garners a moral reaction.

But those questions relied on each person's interpretation of the word moral and how that meaning applied to the situation. I think the situation works better if we remove the word entirely and simply ask which scenario is repugnant? Which scenario gets under your skin and makes it crawl? Which scenario gives you the shivers. Morals have always had the concept of transcendence attached to them. That the determination that I am making somehow exceeds me and achieves some sort of universal rectitude.

But to describe something at all requires interaction with other people to allow a word to emerge based on shared empirical information. For example, if I suddenly start describing myself as Quizzilunked, you have no idea what that means. But if every time I used it, I shivered, smiled, farted, and then sneezed, you would only know what the word means if you also experience something that elicits the same behavior. So asking people to determine morality requires the use of internal sensations whose descriptors are determined by external data. The external data is a prerequisite to applying the word in similar ways.

This means that morals can only arise from a linguistic (social) environment, and insisting on continuing the use of the word introduces nebulousness into the discussion. The goal of any philosopher, regardless of their area of expertise, is to eliminate nebulousness and speak clearly. It is impossible to speak clearly in morals, thus turning ethics into an endeavor for fools and charlatans. The latter of which seem to all become politicians and religious leaders.

We CANNOT talk about morals. We have to talk about the other things that tie internal states with external information. If I say "I'm nauseous" and I puke every time I say that, you know that the next time you feel "off" just before barfing is likely the same feeling that I'm having. Thus, you can attach the word to your internal state while being somewhat confident that I'll attach that word to a similar internal state.

But when I say "That is morally wrong" what I'm actually describing are internal states but using an inaccurate word to do so. Most people would, today, say that burning a person at the stake, or beheading a child in public, are all morally wrong. But when we say that, we are just describing our feelings of discomfort and disgust with the image. That disgust and the corresponding word arose from our linguistic environment. There is NO TRANSCENDENT ASPECT TO THIS. If anything, pulling out the morality card has just been used as a manipulator. The word is so damned nebulous but held in such high regard that it can be used to actually cause a disgust response to something that hadn't originally caused it. For example, homosexual behavior. But remember what we're dealing with. Morality only represents an internal aversion to something (which I admit can also be internal). So when it's used in places where everyone isn't in agreement about the morality of an issue or event, it becomes a synonym for disgust.

For example, eating pie is not currently morally wrong. But let's say that a group of people move in who find pie to be a moral evil. I'm sitting with them and they begin to complain that a nearby person, who is eating pie, is morally bankrupt. Their usage of the word does not line up with my usage because our internal states when presented with this person do not match up. But if I really want these people to like me, I'll agree. Eventually, I'll fake the behavior that lines up with the statement of pie being morally wrong. Eventually, when surrounded by similarly behaving people, I will begin to feel the same internal state that triggers such behavior.

Now let's say that these people start describing really random things as morally wrong, like walking backwards, Corn-Pops, blinking both eyes at the same time, and whiskers on kittens. It is conceivable that all of this things could be habituated to trigger a disgust response ALL COMPLIMENTS OF MORALITY. There is no other word in the world that can be so flexible in manipulating people.

I frequently use the example of saying "I am horny." If someone says that to me, and always has sex afterwards, I associated "horny" with the drive for intercourse. But if they use the word wildly, saying that they're horny and eating a sandwich, sleeping, watching TV, the word association between the empirical data, the private internal state, and the word falls apart. The word becomes meaningless. But not so with morals. We can use that word to describe anything that strikes our fancy, fake it until we make it, and actually create a disgust response! The fact that a disgust response, something so primal, can be socialized I think reveals the incredible importance of society and especially language in the evolution of the human psyche.

There are no morals. None. They do. Not. Exist. All that exists are your private, internal states which you associate with words that represent the observed behavior of other people. Stop using the damned word. Stop studying ethics. If you want to do something useful, run some experiments studying the disgust response of humans to stimuli before and after reading certain phrases or hearing certain things. That is the root of morality. It's the only way to explain how, once, not all that long ago, it was entirely righteous to tie people to poles with their own intestines and watch them die.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Diary of a Cluster Headache Sufferer

I am, right now, suffering from a cluster headache. No need to explain, you can go the Wikipedia page and read up. Needless to say, it sucks. And unlike migraines, there is no behavior that seems to bring me relief.

I haven't had them in years. I got them in January/February-ish for three years in a row, then four years of nothing, and now they're back. I get them throughout the day, but they usually crop up when I'm sleeping. Pain levels are mild in comparison to others with cluster headaches. My worst pain registers only a 6-7 (if we assume that 10 is agonizing, I-want-to-die pain). It's always on my left temple, but I sometimes feel pressure on my right temple. I have no other symptoms other than stiffness in my neck. I think other symptoms like nausea are just associated with the stress response.

Symptoms:

I've never noticed this in the online literature, but my urine has been affected by whatever this is. It's strongly odoriferous. I've found studies showing that people in bouts of cluster headaches show abnormal levels of various chemicals in their blood, indicating some other underlying issue of which the headaches are merely a symptom.

I eat a complex breakfast every day, take a vitamin cocktail with multi-vitamin, Omega-3 complex, flax oil, vitamin C, and vitamin B. I take huge amounts of protein, fiber, and a small dose of creatine daily. I drink one V8-Fusion every two days. My blood chemistry should be magnificent, but the stinky pee indicates a broadly physiological problem.

Since I've started taking the magnesium supplements, I haven't had any nighttime headaches. If I stay late in bed, I will still definitely get a morning headache, but it will come late. For example, today, I slept till noon and was awoken by a headache, but even now, it is very, very mild. A slight annoyance more than anything.

This is unique, as far as my memory goes, so I'm leaning towards attributing it to the magnesium. When I last had headaches, it was an off/on sort of thing. I either had the headaches, or I didn't. There were no real degrees of suffering of which to speak.

A further update on the Magnesium supplements. I feel confident that the Magnesium is having an effect. I have had one more full-blown headache, and three strange pseudo-headaches. The pseudo-headaches are in the right spot, and feel very similar to a headache, but they're marked primarily by a sense of pressure and discomfort, moreso than any pain. I've gotten three of these in the middle of the night. I seem to skip a morning or night headache, and have skipped both of them once. I have upped my bedtime dosage of magnesium to 800mg. That's 800mg at breakfast, and another 800mg at bedtime.

A couple of 4am headaches have also semi-confirmed that alcohol is a trigger. If I take NyQuil, or any drug dissolved in alcohol, I'm much more likely to have both a night and morning headache.

Melatonin: 12mg daily around 11pm-12am, just before bed. I'm on my eighth day with no sign of significant help at night. During the day might be affected. I'm not sure, and I'm continuing to take the melatonin, but throbs of pressure or sensitivity seem to have been lessened, but only during the day when I'm standing and doing things. Night time headaches still come in full force. NOT EFFECTIVE.

Capsaicin: I am NOT paying $14 for a squeezy bottle of overpriced, holistic nasal spray that's little more than spicy salsa. So I went to the store, bought some habanero hot sauce, smeared some in my nose and drank a quarter of the bottle. No difference whatsoever. NOT EFFECTIVE.

Breathing exercises: I tried Yoga-like breathing exercises. No effect. NOT EFFECTIVE.

Changes: Be it changes in temperature, pressure, what have you. Changes seem to at least alleviate the immediate pain. I once spent 45 minutes just getting into and out of the shower. SEMI-EFFECTIVE.

Caffeine: Caffeine used to have a positive effect on my headaches, but no longer. This bout appears to be immune, but previous years were positively effected by a latte or two. POSSIBLY EFFECTIVE.

Dietary Changes: I lived primarily on instant breakfast for two days. No difference. NOT EFFECTIVE.

Pain killers: I haven't tried prescription level drugs, yet. I have tried all OTC drugs and the only one that seems to have any effect is straight up ibuprofen. I'm 6', 210 pounds, so I take a hefty dose: 800mg, and that's usually enough for me to feel alright for a day, but even if I take 800mg right before bed, I could be up with severe pain one hour later. Preemptive Advil just before bed seems useless. The best use for the Advil is the post-headache neck stiffness and general aches. NOT EFFECTIVE.

Sex/Masturbation: If ONLY it were that easy. No difference. NOT EFFECTIVE.

Magnesium supplement: Magnesium appears to have had an effect. I take a double dose (800mg) in the morning with my nutrient slurry (shake mix, protein, fiber, creatine, flax oil) and vitamin cocktail. I then take another single dose (400mg) at around 11:30pm, before bed. I still had my morning headache, which would hit between 9-10am, but the 3am headache was skipped. I don't know if my headache cycle is merely ending, though. It's difficult to say if this is directly attributable to the mag pills. (Update below)

YET-TO-BE-TRIED CURES:

Oxygen: Apparently pure O2 provides relief for people. I'm going to try this, but I have no clue where to buy oxygen. Dammit. I think I'll have to go to a doctor.

Verapamil: Apparently very successful as a long-term treatment. I might try this.



CONTINUING WORK:

I'm going to switch to magnesium gluconate because of higher bioavailability, but the oxide variate appears to be helping. Apparently, magnesium absorption requires vitamin B, which is gotten from animal products. My diet has been near vegetarian for a couple of months, just because, and I'm wondering if this happens every year. Perhaps my patterns just drop animal product ingestion without my really noticing, which causes B levels to drop, which causes a drop in magnesium absorption.

This makes we wonder if cluster headaches are more common among vegetarians and vegans. That would be an interesting study.



UPDATE: 2/28/2013

I am beginning to believe that my cluster headaches are caused by a much wider underlying physiological state than first believed.

Basically, sunlight, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin B, melatonin, and testosterone are all linked. A more common symptom of this time of year is known as S.A.D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which essentially means Winter Sadness Disorder. This disorder is similarly affected by the listed variables, and much like migraines and cluster headaches, depressive symptoms and bipolarism are frequently comorbid with S.A.D.

I am not depressed or bipolar, but I do feel a lack of vim and vigor, a lack of get up and go, if you will. My exercise level drops off, I have a harder time working, and on and on.

My nightly dose of Magnesium Gluconate seems to keep the headaches at bay, with the only symptom being an occasional sensation of pressure on one of my temples combined with minor neck stiffness. I have started also taking Vitamin D and taking every chance to expose my skin to sunlight in an attempt to boost testosterone levels.

I appear to have my cluster headaches under control, but for many who get them all year, my results may not be valid. I know as far beyond doubt as is possible -- with what amounts to a complex anecdote -- that magnesium helped alleviate my headaches. Unfortunately, because I have hit the point where something works, further experiments will provide no data without me actually doing blood tests.

If you also suffer from cluster headaches in the winter, try magnesium first, then the other listed ideas. If you suffer from cluster headaches all the time, I would recommend as your first step looking into your overall physiology, starting with testosterone levels. I do not think that there is a single "cause" of cluster headaches, and in all likelihood migraines as well, and they are instead a single symptom of broader problems.

UPDATE:
I was just made aware of a website called www.clusterheadaches.com. They have a forum that you should check out if you haven't already done so.


UPDATE: 11/14/2014

I can provide you all with some inside info about this post. Cluster headaches and the change of the seasons into shorter, colder days is undoubtedly linked with cluster headaches. During the summer, the traffic to this page drops off significantly and is rarely among my top pages. Around October, traffic begins to pick up, and by January, this is always my most popular page. Get outside. Wake up early. See the sun as much as you can. It's a depressing time of year. Make the best of it.

Is The Games/Art Debate Possibly Moot?

In my previous post, I simply uploaded a discussion thread from another website in which I argued that Roger Ebert was correct in saying that a game will never be art. I have perfectly defined what I mean.

A game is a rule set. That's all. It is a rule set applied to corporeal things. Checkers is a rule set applied to small plastic disks and a board. Checkers is not the disks and board themselves. Halo is a rule set applied to digital information and a controller. It's remarkable how this comes back to Wittgenstein so well, because he used this very example in Philosophical Investigations. But where Wittgenstein was concerned with the absolute meaning of the word game, I am only interested in the usage of the word that applies to the sorts of games that we're discussing. Video games must have rules. Truly, the very fact that they are programmed requires underlying rules for the programming itself to work.

So, in this sense, of course games can't be art of any kind, because that's all a game is: rules applied to something. Those rules can be part of art, but not art themselves. A decent example is the game A Force More Powerful, where you overthrow governments with peaceful demonstrations. The game is nothing amazing. It's essentially a real-time-strategy game where you use protesters instead of tanks. But the message the game carries is arguably art.

So now I come to the crux of my post; video games are a medium almost beyond comparison. As technology advances, the rules will always be there, but the experience will become ever-more immersive, allowing for art to come forward. The game is not the art, because the game is not part of the expression, but after awhile, does it become moot?

What I mean to say is, take a sculpture made of stone. Now take a sculpture made of polygons. One is a digital simulacrum, but is no less artistic. The process of creation is identical, only the material has changed. A virtual sculpture can be just as artistic as a real one. The same goes for music in a game, or paintings, or dialog. The rules, and thus the game are not art, but once we get to a point where everything in the game is art, does it become pointless to distinguish between games not being art and games being filled with art? Does it just become more efficient and more sensible to say that the games are art?

I am actually inclined to say so. I consider it beyond contest that rules cannot be art, and as such games cannot be art. But if everything to which the rules apply are art, we might as well not split hairs and just call the game art.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Of Games and Art

I recently participated in a comment thread on Gizmodo instigated by a post about Roger Ebert and his comments about games. Ebert said that games will never by high art, and unlike many of my internet-dwelling, tech-addled, male contemporaries, I agreed.

ME: I still support Ebert. He's right. High art is an expression of the artist. The demands of a game put limits on the artists expression separate from the inherent limitations of any sensory experience. That negates a game ever being high art.

I think games can get very close, but they have to take an increasing degree of control away from the player, reducing its status as a game. Like Myst, which was very artistic, but was nothing more than clicking through images.

HeartBurnKid: Agent of R.O.A.C.H.: Don't the demands of film put limitations on the artist? How about the demands of prose? The demands of paint on canvas? Any artist is limited by his medium; that doesn't make the final product not art.

ME: @HeartBurnKid: Agent of R.O.A.C.H.: That's what I mean by the inherent limitations of any expression. For example, I can't express sound with a painting. But INSOFAR as it is a visual expression of an idea, I as the artist have complete control. Even though a game has sounds and visuals, the angle of view, the course of events, the drama are all at the mercy of player control.

High art can be interactive, certainly. In fact many art installation involve interaction, but that interaction is an optional element that communicates something deliberate. The interaction of a game is a requirement, not an option, and as such the interactive element is a non-communicative part of the sensory construct.

KBlack: As Tycho from Penny Arcade said, consider this: how can a few dozen people make art for 4 years and the result not be called art?

Napilopez: You make interesting points, but it's such a difficult thing to assess, that at this point I feel like the argument has devolved into semantics, revolving around the essential question of "what is art?"

I have many ideas to elaborate on for this argument, so as to possibly take pages, but I will try to summarize as best I can while still remaining clear. I don't pretend to be an expert art connoisseur, but I have long thought about this debate. Forgive me if I am not so concise though, as I wrote this as a sort of stream of consciousness.

From my perspective, what I believe your definition of art is, is rather limiting. It limits the number of media through which art is allowed to be expressed, similarly to the way you say games are limiting to an artist's individual expression.

I currently prefer the definition of art as given by wikipedia. "Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect".

Many videogames nowadays do all of this.

Let me start with a rather vague and simple example that will hopefully convey my point. Say an artist wants to convey the theme on individuality and personal choice. Or fun? What better way to convey such a message than through a videogame?

You mention that things such as angle, course of events, and drama are at the mercy of the player in a videogame. Yet in a sculpture, the angle of view is often largely up to the person viewing. In some interactive art pieces, which you have acknowledged as existing, you can control the course of events.

Also, can a medium not be two things at once? Why can videogame not be both entertainment and art? Certainly, entertainment and interaction are necessary constituents of videogames, but the way I see it, those simply help define games as a category of art. And sometimes the inter-category distinctions can become hazy. We define cubism, surrealism, and impressionism by certain characteristics of their presentation or construction, and sometimes these categorical distinctions might seem blurry. As I think you would agree, sometimes art can have a function or role outside of solely being aesthetically pleasing. Is the Sagrada Familia more work of art or church? Furthermore, why does it even matter? That it is such an aesthetic beauty does not significantly remove from it's religious role. Nor form the fact that it is a building, a shelter, a gathering place, and whatever other roles it may play. It's eccentric shapes may not be the best form of for any of these actions, yet it is still regarded as having all the qualities I mentioned. Likewise, videogames can entertain and be aesthetically pleasing at the same time. I disagree with you and hold that a videogame does not by necessity become less entertaining or interactive for being more artistic.

You said that myst was "artistic", but yet was nothing more than clicking through images. In such a case, it's distinctions between art and game are becoming blurry, but I don't that makes it any less of either. Additionally Myst isn't just about clicking through images, it's about clicking through them in the right ways. You cannot complete the game, unless you click the correct images. Clicking through images alone would be nothing more than a slideshow. Additionally, I think there re games that are much more interactive that myst, such as shadow of the colossus or kingdom hearts, that are also much more "artsy" than myst.

Finally, I'd like to assess the point of "high" art. I don't know what your definition of high art is, but I think it's agreeable in a crude sense that it involves those works of art that are placed in the highest regard in a culture, perhaps as a sort of consensus. It might seem like a circular argument, but to me, the simple fact that the subject of this article is being displayed so prominently at MoMa, one of the most renown institutios for the display of modern art, demonstrates that videogames can be high art.

If art is indeed about using deliberately placing elements to affect the senses, emotions, or intellect, then I do not see how interaction takes away from that, and in fact I believe it usually strengthens it. Even though videogames are made to allow human interaction, all the elements the player interacts with are deliberately placed by the developers. In my opinion, a videogame, as art, is both medium and "synergistic container". Medium, by being able to affect emotions through the happenings in the game. What does it matter if it happens slightly differently for each player, if they will still generally be receiving the same themes, going through the same story? "Synergistic Container" in the sense that it brings together different kinds of art. In the way a movie brings together static images, kinetic ones, and music, videogames can do all this and more.

Wow that was much longer than I thought lol.

Joonbug: @napilopez: I will write more on this to address your points as I'm on a time constraint at the moment, but just a few things:

Art isn't just about the aesthetics.

High Art (think Velazquez' "Las Meninas" and the interpretations thereof, or Courbet's "The Painter's Studio", or even Balthus' works) is about the complexity and nuance of the works, as opposed to Low Art which is immediate, shallow (WYSIWYG).

As a container and medium, it's not that the elements that consist of 'video games' (which is an extremely broad amalgam of technology) cannot be used as "art" -- look at Nam Jun Paik's works in pushing the boundaries of performance/video art -- but that it has yet to break the mold of its own devising in narrative, interpretation, and experience.

Even though a painting only has two dimensions and by nature is limited in the way you physically view it, the fact that there can be multitudes of interpretation and understanding beyond the physical attributes (color, style, composition) into the metaphysical (theme, allegory, emotions) is what makes it so amazing (with that said, we as the public look at art with a very reactionary, immediate perspective which is a goddamn shame).

Games have yet to give that sense of awe or resonance in my soul.

True art is hard. It takes complete dedication from an individual to create something that speaks to the contemporary yet transcends the time, place, and culture.

CommanderK: @Joonbug: And this is why most movies, and most books are also NOT art.

They don't really transcent time and place.

Video games have the potential, but I think that too much has to be taken away from the player in terms of what we expect in a game, to make them more like art.

A game is primarily for competition. Art is primarily for reflection.

Boundaries are blurry, but you won't find Final Fantasy VII in an art museum. Hell, Final Fantasy VII hasn't even aged very well. It's slow, the graphics, like most 3D games, don't age well, and the story, as moving as it was to a 13 year old (my age when I played it) is really kind of weak compared to what we consider good literature or good cinema.

Video Games are amazing fun, but the primary reason for creation, is for profit these days.

HeartBurnKid: Agent of R.O.A.C.H.: @Aaron Martin-Colby: Prose has a similar element, as it's up to the reader to imagine the visual element from the description he's given. In fact, I'd say a video game is the opposite of a novel in that way; whereas a novel supplies the narrative, and relies on the reader to supply the visuals, a game provides the visuals and the environment, and relies on the player to move the narrative forward.

ME: @KBlack: I'm not saying that it isn't art. I'm saying that Roger Ebert was right in saying that it's not HIGH art.

ME: @napilopez: I agree that we're getting tied up with words. I am not referring to art. I am referring to HIGH art. The perfection of artistic expression. There's some stuff on this in Wikipedia under High Culture. High art is the communication of something through a particular medium, while being limited only by the nature of that medium, nothing else.

All aspects of high art are communicative. Every aspect says something that the artist wants to say. A good analogy would be an illustration for a book. It can never be high art because it must necessarily communicate what it is

illustrating. Compare this to the works of Jackson Pollock, which wildly explore the potential of the visual medium.

"your definition of art is, is rather limiting. It limits the number of media through which art is allowed to be expressed."

I completely admit to that. High art does have a limited number of mediums through which it can be expressed. For example, painting, performance art, and music can all be high art, but architecture cannot. Architecture must achieve some end, be it heat, shelter, defense, or acoustics. Architecture as high art simply becomes sculpture.

"Say an artist wants to convey the theme on individuality and personal choice. Or fun? What better way to convey such a message than through a videogame?"

You're right, but say an artist wants to convey loss of control. They cannot do that within a game, because control is part of the game. Imagine a game where people always lose. It ceases to be a game at this point. That boundary of expression, beyond which it ceases to be a game, prevents games from being high art. Moreover, the fact that the artist chose a game to communicate something means that the game is not iself art, but part of an over-arching artistc construct. The artist made the explicit decision to say something with a game, but it is the expression, not the game that is high art. In the same way that a wonderful painting is not necessarily high art, only if that painting is part of a statement. For example, if I copy, stroke for stroke, Leonardo's "Madonna of the Rocks," it is not high art, but Leonardo's original is.

"You mention that things such as angle, course of events, and drama are at the mercy of the player in a videogame.

Yet in a sculpture, the angle of view is often largely up to the person viewing. In some interactive art pieces, which you have acknowledged as existing, you can control the course of events."

This is an interesting point. PARTS OF a game can be high art, but that's because they are virtual analogs of high art in the real world. A sculpture in a game can be high art just as a sculpture in real life can be high art. But that is not the game. The gestalt of the game cannot be high art in the way that the gestalt of a movie can be high art, though.

I do acknowledge the existence of interactive art, but that interactivity is part of the art. The artist is saying something explicit with the art insofar as it is interactive. The artist can take the interactivity away to say something else and it remains art. Take the interactivity away from a game and it ceases being a game.

"As I think you would agree, sometimes art can have a function or role outside of solely being aesthetically pleasing."

I vehemently disagree. In fact, high art is the absolute antithesis of this. High art, by definition, exists for its own sake. It is in this way that I go so far as to say that many, if not most, movies do not achieve high art, because they are themselves beholden to the requirement of entertainment. When movies become completely artistic, they can easily turn into bizzare audio-visual contructs like "Un Chien Andalou" by Salvador Dali, or some of the works of early Soviet directors like Sergei Eisenstein, who in movies like "October," used the medium almost exclusively to communicate abstract concepts through images. More modern movies like David Lynch's "Eraserhead" fit this bill rather well, too. But this is beyond the point. We are discussing the inherent limits of an endeavor, and movies have proven that they CAN BE high art, even if most are not.

"Is the Sagrada Familia more work of art or church?"

It doesn't matter. It is certainly a work of art, but it is not high art. It has a purpose outside of the art.

"I disagree with you and hold that a videogame does not by necessity become less entertaining or interactive for being more artistic."

We do not disagree. I'm saying that as a game moves closer towards HIGH art, it must necessarily become less a video game because the transition to high art requires the perfection of the artistic expression. A game can be incredibly artistic, much like a building can have incredibly artistic flourishes, but the gestalt of the game, same as the building, cannot be high art because it does not exist for its own sake.

PARTS OF the game can conceivably be high art, much as a sculpture adorning the outside of a building can be high art, but we're not arguing about the textures, or the 3d models in the game, which are just virtual representations of things that are certainly high art, namely painting and scuplpting.

"I think there re games that are much more interactive that myst, such as shadow of the colossus or kingdom hearts, that are also much more "artsy" than myst."

I used Myst to illustrate that it was closer to high art than games with higher degrees of control. It is still NOT high art, but since the angles and positions were all pre-chosen and rendered by the programmers, Myst is closer to high art than a game like Halo, which provides freedom that exceeds the expectations of the programmer. For example, in Halo, I can break out of the game map and wander around in un-programmed nether space outside of the map. This is impossible in a painting or music. I cannot break out of what the artist intended me to see.

Even high art that is interactive, if I succesfully break out of the pre-programmed area, its status as high art is not lost because the very control that allowed me to break out is PART OF the art. In Halo, the control was required to maintain its status as a game.

"Finally, I'd like to assess the point of "high" art. I don't know what your definition of high art is, but I think it's agreeable in a crude sense that it involves those works of art that are placed in the highest regard in a culture, perhaps as a sort of consensus. It might seem like a circular argument, but to me, the simple fact that the subject of this article is being displayed so prominently at MoMa, one of the most renown institutios for the display of modern art, demonstrates that videogames can be high art."

High art is art that exists for its own sake. That is essentially the definition of high art. Cultural acceptance or recognition has nothing to do with it, since high art is frequently seen as trash by the culture that spawned it, and only recognized as masterworks years, or even generations later.

"It might seem like a circular argument, but to me, the simple fact that the subject of this article is being displayed so prominently at MoMa, one of the most renown institutios for the display of modern art, demonstrates that videogames can be high art."

Yes, but the fact that it is a game is saying something explicit. He could have said what he wanted to say in some other way, but he chose a game. That means that the control itself MEANS SOMETHING outside of simply being a game. It stops being merely a video game and becomes an interactive art installation. Ubisoft does not have the choice of making the next Splinter Cell as something other than a game, like, say, an enormous flip-book.

Similarly, I can take a game like Halo and present it as art, but it's not the game that I want to communicate. As the artist, I'm saying that something about this is art to me, and I am trying to communicate that. Perhaps it's the time in which the game was made. Perhaps I want to make a statement about agression. Regardless, the art lies above the game in this scenario where the game merely becomes part of the greater statement.

"If art is indeed about using deliberately placing elements to affect the senses, emotions, or intellect, then I do not see how interaction takes away from that, and in fact I believe it usually strengthens it. Even though videogames are made to allow human interaction, all the elements the player interacts with are deliberately placed by the developers. In my opinion, a videogame, as art, is both medium and "synergistic container". Medium, by being able to affect emotions through the happenings in the game. What does it matter if it happens slightly differently for each player, if they will still generally be receiving the same themes, going through the same story?"

The interaction can certainly strengthen certain things, but the fact that the interaction is REQUIRED negates games as a perfectly communicative medium. The fact that every person experiences the game differently, while seemingly innocuous,is actually the killing blow to games as high art. Unless that difference in experience is purposely put in, it's not high art. High art requires the, at least, theoretical perfection of an expression. Because games require interaction, that theoretical limit is negated.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Soap and Water

Compliments of some posts on major blogs likes Gawker and BoingBoing, there's new found attention being paid to those who go "soap-free." Basically, they never use soap. In their morning shower, they scrub, rinse, and everything else, but they skip the soap. I made fun of them, but then I realized that I rarely use soap. I use a minuscule amount of shampoo, lather up the crotch and butt, and that's about it. Still, most people who adopt an explicitly soap-free lifestyle frame it in such a way as to be bucking the man, or otherwise rejecting the terribly destructive trappings of a modern life that is not aligned with the natural human.

It's in this sense that I classify going soap-free as Shit That White People Do. Much like veganism, 24-hour emergency hamster care, and spending a lot of money to look like you shop at thrift stores. This is the shit that happens when you live a life of extreme privilege, are unaware of that, and still feel the need to get self-important about stuff.

Think about it. Humans have made soap for hundreds of years, and soap-like products for thousands. They didn't give a shit about marketing campaigns and social expectations. If they smelled fine, why did we ever feel the need to invent soap so long ago? Because, we did stink, back then, contrary to the opinions of many no-soapers. Soap-free people can be soap-free because they live a life of ease. Anyone who has ever worked on an engine, done serious gardening, or works with animals knows full-fucking-well that hot water just doesn't cut it.

Why is that? Because of the nature of water and what soap does. I'm assuming that all the no-soapers forgot the experiments with surface tension from seventh-grade science class, or they'd realize that the point of soap is to make water "wetter." By breaking the surface tension, the water is better able to grasp particles and wash them away. Hot water will not get grease off of your hands, no matter how hot it is or how hard you scrub.

Again, this is the side effect of a life of extreme ease and pleasure; People who sit in front of their computer all day and never need to exert themselves. Now, I'm not attacking that. I am that. What I'm saying is, don't forget where you sit and immediately assume that things that don't apply to you are inherently unnecessary, silly, or part of some grand conspiracy. Go watch Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, then tell me that we don't need soap.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Public Service Announcement

This is the second time that I've been nailed by a "drive-by" malware attack. The first time, I knew what caused it. I went to a website that hosted an infected advertisement, and bam, I had XP Security 2010 on my computer, which was apparently a variation of Total Security 2009. At the time, it was exploiting a hole that prevented Task Manager from opening. As such, I wasn't able to see what the name of the program was and go and delete it. That hole has apparently been fixed as no later "editions" have had this power.

This time, I was nailed while I wasn't even doing anything. I hadn't touched the mouse for at least a minute, I was reading, suddenly Firefox disappeared. Not crashed, disappeared. Then, audio started playing, and I had five or six invisible instances of Internet Explorer running, according to Task Manager. I tried to use Firefox and found my searches and link clicks being re-routed to a variety of ne'er-do-well websites like beezid.com.

I ran through all of my running programs and was able to shut down and delete most of what was running, but the virus was directly affecting both explorer.exe and wininit.exe. The modification dates indicated that neither file had been changed, so there was some addition to calls for these programs being made somewhere in the registry.

Norton's free scan worked, but since Norton sucks and only tells you about the virus, this didn't help much. I was able to learn that the virus was called the Bamital Trojan, and this variation was brand new. Very little info at Symantec, Microsoft, TrendMicro, or AVG. It prevented me from installing any antivirus except for the TrendMicro Housecall, which didn't detect it.

If your security definitions are up-to-date, Windows should detect the virus before it can do any damage. My virus definitions on my laptop were a month old. A month! That's all it took. My girlfriend's computer had fresh virus definitions when the virus attacked her computer two days before mine. It was actually pretty easy, if time consuming, to get rid of it. Windows blocked it from doing anything and a two, not-so-quick virus scans with Housecall cleaned it out. I was unable to determine how the virus was affecting Wininit and Explorer, and was going to run Kaspersky off of a USB stick, but my computer crashed completely before that could happen. Possibly because I was killing registry entries like quirky-yet-somewhat-famous actors in a Tarantino movie.

I don't know the specific vector of infection, but it came through Firefox on both my computer and my girlfriend's computer. Kudos to Chrome, which the virus was unable to hijack. Instead, it just prevented Chrome from working at all. This is insane. Back in my day (2006), you had to actually be stupid to get a virus. You had to open the "I love you" e-mail or click "yes," or SOMETHING. Now, the fuckers can just come in and rape your poor computer.

Recommendations from my experience:

  • Update virus definitions constantly.

  • If you're a Windows user, download Microsoft Security Essentials. It's the lightest-weight antivirus program out there, easy to use, and is completely free.

  • Use Firefox and install both the Adblock Plus and NoScript add-ons. It makes browsing a bit less seamless, but you're leagues safer. You'll also get used to the control allowed you.

  • If you're infected and you know things are wrong, open up Task Manager with ctrl+alt+delete and start Googling the processes that are running. Make sure you click the "show processes from all users" button/box. This will help you with the nature of the beast. Once you've determined if a program is a virus or not, try to shut it down. Usually, there will be multiple programs that will reopen other programs, just to make this even more difficult for you.

  • Determine the location of these programs that were running and go and delete them. Try to shut it down in Task Manager

  • If you don't have antivirus, try to install some. Try MSE, AVG, TrendMicro Housecall, Malwarebites, and Norton's free scans. As I mentioned, the Norton scan won't fix things, but it might at least tell you what the infection is.

  • If the programs successfully run, run ALL OF THEM. If one of them misses the infection, another might find it. Then run them multiple times. Just accept that you're looking at multiple hours. Start up Lord of the Rings Extended Editions! Those take forever to watch.

  • If you can't run the antivirus programs, even after deleting some of the running programs, you're left with either digging through the registry, which is dangerous, or running antivirus off of a bootable disc or USB stick. Kaspersky Rescue Disk is good for this.

  • If this fails, you're left with the nuclear options. Combofix is a powerful tool that will leave your computer functional, but will likely kill some of your installed programs. And finally, a complete reinstall of Windows.

  • If your computer is functional, copy and save all of you files to a usb stick or external hard drive. Insert your windows disc, restart your computer, and when prompted, hit a key to boot off of the disc. Then follow the instructions to format your hard drive and install Windows fresh.

  • If your computer is non-functional, you're going to need to boot up an operating system from a disc or USB that will recognize your external storage. I used Knoppix. Either download or have a friend download Knoppix, burn it to a DVD, then start up your crap computer with Knoppix in the disc drive. Boot off of that disc. This will take awhile, but once it loads, you'll have a fully functional graphical operating system that will let you search through your hard drive, then drag-and-drop your files onto external storage.

  • If you don't have a Windows disc, which is common with shitty pre-built computers from the likes of Sony and Dell, you might have to request a disc from your manufacturer. Just make sure to tell them that the "rescue" disc that they provided didn't work, you tried it multiple times, and the virus remains.

  • You can also ask around to see if you have anyone who pirates software a lot and have them download your version of Windows again. Make sure it's the same version or your serial number won't work.

  • Once you reinstall, reactivate Windows, and begin the long quest to reinstall all of your software.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

To Filibuster or Not To Filibuster

The democrats are trying to change the legislative rules associated with filibuster. Their argument is that the government is broken and drastic measures are necessary. I agree with that, but I'm unsure as to whether I want any legislative changes. Our current system is stagnant, but when our country is packed with such perfect morons as those in, say, Mississippi, I prefer having a government that can't do anything. It's desirable.

The other options is fixing what's wrong with our government. This is a non-option. It's not going to happen. Again, we have morons electing morons. We cannot stop that. There is no way to fix the rift, so we simply compensate for it by preventing the government from doing anything substantive. Yes. It will be bankrupt in twenty years, and we'll deal with it then. There is no way to motivate this country to fix it until we're actually on fire. So don't worry, be happy, and let the government do its thing.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

No Dilemma At All

I already hate the upcoming move The Dilemma. Why? Because some fat fucks have thin, hot wives. Vince Vaugn is looking more and more dead as time goes on, and Kevin James' entire shtick is being a fat fuck!

Yet in The Dilemma, Vaugn's character (himself married to the luminous Jennifer Connolly) discovers that his brother's wife is cheating on him. Who plays the wife? Winona Ryder. Yeah. There's a good reason why she's cheating on him. She's thin and attractive, and he's a fat fuck. James has an attractive wife in real life because he's famous. If he wasn't famous, for example, if he actually was Paul Blart, mall cop, his wife would be as fat and unattractive as he is.

Look at Kevin James entire oeuvre! Grown Ups, wife: Maria Bello. Paul Blart: Jayma Mays. Hitch: Amber Valletta. And of course, we have The King of Queens, which practically refined the "fat fuck/hot wife" cliche into an art form.

I am so done with this. My girlfriend thinks it's a massive conspiracy to convince women to lower their standards. I'm forced to agree.