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The Gradient: Perspectives on AI

Thomas Mullaney: A Global History of the Information Age

Thu May 30 2024
knowledgeauthenticityworld-makingwritinghuman temperamentclarityepistemic framesorganizationuncertaintyinterpretationdimensionalityhistorical writing

Description

This episode explores the pursuit of knowledge, authenticity, world-making, evolution in writing, human temperament, clarity in projects, epistemic frames, alternative forms of organization, uncertainty in interpretation, dimensionality in historical writing, authentic connection in writing, editing and exploration, and preparation in writing. The speakers discuss various insights related to these topics and reflect on their personal experiences and perspectives.

Insights

The Importance of Multiple Narratives

Researchers need to develop multiple narratives simultaneously when working on long-term projects, including the honest internal story that involves naivete, uncertainty, and gut instinct.

Balancing Authenticity and Performance

Being inauthentic is sometimes necessary to inspire change or make progress, but maintaining a persona that feels authentic to oneself is crucial to avoid feeling disconnected or tortured.

Violence in World-Making

World-making involves forms of violence, including epistemic violence, in shaping worlds through technology and language.

Evolution and Continuity in Writing

Writing evolves over time, and there is a sense of excitement and terror in exploring new directions despite external pressures to continue on familiar topics.

Complexity of Human Temperament

Human temperament and behavior are complex, and there may be a kernel of essence or self that influences how individuals manifest in the world.

Clarity and Inarticulateness in Projects

Clarity can come from various emotions and experiences, even in the absence of a clear explanatory model. The podcast discusses the clarity found in projects like ethnic classification and blueprints for Chinese typewriters.

Epistemic Frames and Identity

Different epistemic frames can lead to potential breakdowns in government and raise questions about identity and liberation.

Alternative Forms of Organization

There are alternative forms of organization beyond the dominant grid system, which have historically relied on grid systems for large-scale infrastructure and global achievements.

Uncertainty and Interpretation in Writing

Dealing with uncertainty and embracing competing truths is important in effective writing, as it allows readers to interpret and engage with the narrative beyond what is explicitly shown.

Dimensionality and Historical Writing

The concept of dimensional beings operating in a greater than n-dimensional space is explored, emphasizing the importance of dimensionality rather than reality. Filmmakers who recognize and play with higher dimensions tend to create better work.

Chapters

  1. The Chinese Typewriter and the Pursuit of Knowledge
  2. Authenticity and Performance in Life
  3. World-Making and Violence in Research
  4. Evolution and Continuity in Writing
  5. Human Temperament and Creative Works
  6. Clarity and Inarticulateness in Projects
  7. Epistemic Frames and Identity
  8. Alternative Forms of Organization and Writing
  9. Uncertainty and Interpretation in Writing
  10. Dimensionality and Historical Writing
  11. Authentic Connection and Realism in Writing
  12. Editing and Exploration in Writing
  13. Preparation and Readiness in Writing
Summary
Transcript

The Chinese Typewriter and the Pursuit of Knowledge

00:01 - 08:39

  • The interviewee was inspired to learn more about the person behind a book called The Chinese Typewriter, leading to a conversation with Tom Mulaney.
  • Tom Mulaney reflects on his early years working on the project investigating the history of the Chinese typewriter and discusses his comfort with not knowing why he was pursuing it.
  • Mulaney explains the need for researchers to develop multiple narratives simultaneously when working on long-term projects, including the honest internal story that involves naivete, uncertainty, and gut instinct.
  • He compares the process of falling in love with a project to falling in love with a person, highlighting the importance of understanding one's motivations even if they may not be immediately clear.
  • Mulaney acknowledges the theatrical aspect of grant applications and professional endeavors, where storytelling is necessary even if it involves some level of 'BSing'.
  • There is a balance between crafting a narrative for external purposes like grants and staying true to one's genuine passion for a project.

Authenticity and Performance in Life

08:13 - 16:58

  • The podcast discusses the balance between authenticity and inauthenticity in various aspects of life, including academia and personal identity.
  • Sometimes being inauthentic is necessary to inspire change or make progress in certain fields.
  • Maintaining a persona that feels authentic to oneself is crucial to avoid feeling disconnected or tortured.
  • Having a confidant or sounding board can help individuals navigate the complexities of balancing authenticity and performance.
  • Research and love are compared in terms of not always needing full articulation to be sincere.

World-Making and Violence in Research

16:28 - 24:34

  • Research and love can be understood and felt without necessarily being able to articulate them
  • The speaker's first book was about world-making in the context of ethnic classification in China
  • The second book explores world-making in the realm of technological language and communication
  • Both books involve forms of violence, including epistemic violence, in shaping worlds
  • The process of world-making through technology involved adapting writing systems to fit a specific model, with varying levels of ease and violence

Evolution and Continuity in Writing

24:07 - 32:40

  • The speaker discusses the evolution of their work from one book to another, highlighting the shifts in focus and concerns over time.
  • They use the metaphor of saccadic eye movements to describe how our understanding of problems changes and evolves over time.
  • The speaker reflects on the concept of continuity and coherence in their work, pondering whether there is a pre-given continuity or self that guides their writing.
  • There is a sense of excitement and terror in exploring new directions in writing, with the realization that starting over may be necessary despite external pressures to continue on familiar topics.

Human Temperament and Creative Works

32:13 - 40:54

  • The speaker discusses the complexity of human temperament and behavior, suggesting that there may be a kernel of essence or self that influences how individuals manifest in the world.
  • Methodological anti-essentialism is proposed as a logical approach, even if there could be a hint of essence, to avoid oversimplification and economization in explanations.
  • The idea of continuity and coherence in human experiences is explored, highlighting how individuals strive to create a sense of continuity from discontinuous events.
  • There is a discussion on the clarity and inarticulateness that coexist in creative works, emphasizing the mystery behind how individuals can produce vastly different creations while maintaining a sense of continuity.

Clarity and Inarticulateness in Projects

40:27 - 48:47

  • Clarity can come from various emotions and experiences, even in the absence of a clear explanatory model.
  • It is normal to struggle with articulating what you are doing, especially in academic or research settings.
  • Being genuinely interested or bored by a topic can indicate a coherence and shape to one's thoughts, rather than randomness.
  • The podcast discusses the clarity found in projects like ethnic classification and blueprints for Chinese typewriters.
  • There is a discussion on the concept of false alphabetic universalisms and how they can be destabilized.
  • The early communist state's attempt at anarchist taxonomy failed due to diverse epistemic frames among respondents.

Epistemic Frames and Identity

48:24 - 57:11

  • Different epistemic frames led to a potential breakdown of the Chinese government and Congress.
  • The idea of a world without taxonomy raises questions about identity and liberation.
  • Exploring the concept of an anarchist self-categorization system challenges existing structures.
  • The dissertation delves into slowing down the analysis of horror in media through classification.
  • The digital age limits our perception of possibilities, creating a collapsed space of technolinguistic imagination.
  • The second book discusses a zone that resists being absorbed by traditional grids, leading to alternative possibilities.

Alternative Forms of Organization and Writing

56:47 - 1:05:39

  • There is an alternative to the dominant grid system, which is feared but still exists globally.
  • Large-scale infrastructure and global achievements have historically relied on grid systems.
  • A visit to Sagrada Familia in Barcelona sparked a realization that there may be ungrid-like forms of organization possible.
  • Research is deeply personal and existential for academics, impacting their beliefs and perspectives.

Uncertainty and Interpretation in Writing

1:05:09 - 1:14:07

  • Early thinker Yokobi criticized the idea of monism and free will in philosophy, leading to a different approach.
  • Vertigo can be caused by tiny biocrystals moving in the inner ear, affecting one's sense of self and space perception.
  • Dealing with Vertigo involves acknowledging competing truths and embracing uncertainty.
  • Effective writing involves creating space for readers to interpret and engage with the narrative beyond what is explicitly shown.
  • Graphic novel theory emphasizes that storytelling happens in the gaps between frames, allowing readers to bring their own interpretations.

Dimensionality and Historical Writing

1:13:40 - 1:21:50

  • The concept of dimensional beings operating in a greater than n-dimensional space is explored, emphasizing the importance of dimensionality rather than reality.
  • Filmmakers who recognize and play with higher dimensions tend to create better work, as exemplified by Herzog's 'Grizzly Man' documentary.
  • The podcast host discusses the unique act of exclusion against the Chinese language and its impact on ontology, prompting deep reflection and questions about historical writing approaches.
  • Different approaches to breaking the fourth wall in historical writing are compared, highlighting the power of destabilizing conceptual algorithms and engaging readers in a continual process of reevaluation.

Authentic Connection and Realism in Writing

1:21:28 - 1:29:56

  • Authors can build goodwill with readers that can be enhanced or depleted based on their writing decisions
  • Self-indulgence in writing can sometimes engage readers even if it's not always productive
  • Including personal vulnerability in writing can invite readers into the author's world and prevent a sense of transcendence
  • Acknowledging the complexity and interiority of storytelling can create a more authentic connection with readers
  • Striving to navigate between realism and escapism in writing is a challenging but admirable endeavor

Editing and Exploration in Writing

1:29:26 - 1:37:20

  • The speaker discusses the importance of concise and impactful writing in a book, emphasizing the value of cutting out indulgent parts for a better reader experience.
  • During a period of limited time due to family circumstances, the speaker was able to do some of their best editing by removing about 10% of the manuscript, focusing on writing for readers with limited time.
  • The speaker reflects on completing two books in a series and describes how problems or subjects they have explored start to lose their grip over time, leading them towards new areas of exploration involving language and transnational questions.
  • They compare this process to getting new glasses where old problems feel distant like old glasses once you move into exploring new areas.

Preparation and Readiness in Writing

1:37:02 - 1:43:45

  • The speaker discusses the concept of writing a book about disappearance and entropy.
  • There is a metaphor used about being smarter than oneself and having ideas beyond one's current intelligence.
  • The idea of leaving certain topics 'in the ground' until one is ready to explore them further is highlighted.
  • The importance of preparation and readiness in tackling complex subjects like writing a book is emphasized.
  • Acknowledgments from other authors are mentioned as examples of prioritizing certain books before others for intellectual growth.
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