Your brain does not process information and it is not a computer

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The information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences. There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour could proceed in certain eras and cultures without reference to a spirit or deity. The validity of the IP metaphor in today’s world is generally assumed without question.

But the IP metaphor is, after all, just another metaphor – a story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand. And like all the metaphors that preceded it, it will certainly be cast aside at some point – either replaced by another metaphor or, in the end, replaced by actual knowledge.

As someone who makes a living (in part) by deploying metaphors to explain complex ideas, it is both harrowing and inspiring to learn how flawed the “your brain is a computer” metaphor actually is.

Despite the despair, this essay does a great job explaining why it is no longer a useful metaphor, and leaves you with the curiosity needed to explore and find a new, more helpful metaphor (or, as the pull quote says, “actual knowledge”).

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Why Faulty Streetlights Are Turning Cities Purple — and Why It's Worrisome

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People feel like something intimate, something definitional about their city, has been taken away. So they look for intention. Maybe it's for a holiday? Maybe it's a conspiracy? It has to mean something. Because if it doesn't, that's even scarier. Streetlights and street lighting are a city's deep infrastructure. If they can break in such a weird and unexpected way, so can everything else.

I’ve recently noticed some street lights in Apple Valley turning purple. I thought it looked intentional and kinda cool, to be honest, especially here in Prince/Vikings country.

But the part that I pull quoted is something on my mind a lot lately.

We all take tech for granted, yet the thing we appreciate least of all is how much we don’t know regarding how all this stuff comes to be.

It reminds me of the essay about how nobody actually knows how a pencil gets made. You’ve got separate manufacturers who know how to assemble the individual parts (erasers, lead, wood, etc.), but all of those folks rely on other sources for raw materials.

The further you go down, the more you realize civilization really does hinge on a bunch of trusting handshakes presumably done over Zoom these days. And that’s a sentiment that is equal parts romantic and terrifying.

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How to Limit What You Say "Yes" To

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I’d like to offer a tool to put in your emergency kit for shifting self-sabotage to self-care and going from overcommitted to well-resourced. And that is managing for whole capacity—rather than simply time or money. In other words, don’t ask, “Can I squeeze this in?” when presented with an opportunity. Ask, “Do I have what I need to do this well?”

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On Impostor Syndrome

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I saw this TikTok from Chelsea Fagan shared on a Slack community I'm part of, and I thought it was worth transcribing the whole thing and leaving it here for future reference.

So one thing about me is that I never have impostor syndrome, and it's not because I automatically think I'm great at anything I try... it's more that I realized that basically every industry is full of idiots.

I genuinely think that a lot of people who haven't been in the corporate world or exposed to it too much don't realize just how many successful people are mediocre at best at what they do.

And it makes sense when you consider all the factors that are usually required for people to reach a high level at a given industry. Things like having connections, having enough generational wealth to go to college and get an advanced degree, nepotism, networking, and all of those other things. Not to mention all of the other white, cis, male privileges that often go into success.

But by the time you reach the highest levels of most industries, you're often working with people who can barely put together an email.

Or you'll be on an email thread with 17 different people, none of whom seem to actually have a job.

Half of the executives have administrative assistants who do the vast majority of their actual work.

And this is true of a lot of creative industries... think of how many famous people are out there who have almost no discernible talent.

A driving force in my life is looking at something and being like "I could absolutely do better than that", and then I give myself permission to do it.

And just being the kind of person who is conscientious enough about the work you're doing to even consider having impostor syndrome, or think about whether or not you're good enough to be doing it, you're probably already better than most of the people there.

Related: this quote from Sarah Hagi:

Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man.

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The Number Ones: Crazy Town’s “Butterfly”

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My last handful of posts were a bit depressing... so I thought I'd share this one that was in my Instapaper queue for some reason.

I love the idea that someone at Stereogum is reviewing every single number one hit since 1958, and it brings me a great deal of joy that they needed to write a piece about this song.

The summary nails it here:

As a band, Crazy Town were fucking godawful, and they were the kind of godawful that’s easy to mock. But “Butterfly”? I’ve never been mad at “Butterfly.” It’s the kind of silly bullshit hit song that makes the world just slightly more fun. Rap-rock faded away in the rearview a long time ago, but “Butterfly” will always evoke a very particular moment. That moment was short, just as it should’ve been. Butterflies aren’t built to live forever.

A recent revelation of mine is that I've kind of been a music snob for most of my life. I basically turned my nose up at the entire emo/punk genre sometime in middle school and never took the time to re-evaluate that position.

Now that I'm in my mid-thirties, I've been letting go of those unnecessary positions, and I probably don't need to be the one to tell you this, but there's a lot of good pop-punk and emo stuff out there.

I've also found myself lately drawn toward music that reminds me of my middle/high school years. Rap rock is a defining genre of that time for me, and Butterfly is one of those songs that will forever transport me to a time when I would load 5 incredibly compressed MP3s onto my 16MB (that's megabyte, not gigabyte) Cybiko MP3 player and bike up to the middle school for football practice.

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No, you're not entitled to your opinion

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If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.

But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.

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The Disappearing Art Of Maintenance

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Whatever comes next must take responsibility for that legacy, while also articulating something new and perhaps even bolder than what came before. There is a useful lesson drably concealed in the MTA’s maintenance facility in Queens: What we inherit comes with responsibility. Vintage machines are owed our best efforts, and our ingenuity in keeping them running should at least be equal to our ingenuity in forging them. 

The work of maintenance is ultimately a way of parsing and knowing a thing and deciding, over and over, what it’s worth. “Maintenance should be seen as a noble craft,” said Rossmann, the boot-strapping repair man who learned the secrets of the iPhone’s circuits. “It should be seen as something that teaches people not just how to repair, but how to think.”

This article reinforced one of my core tenets of software engineering: the simpler, the better.

It also supplies an important distinction between repair and maintenance. Repair is when you fix something that’s broken. Maintenance is about making something last.

The article calls for finding a way to better incentivize acts of maintenance in our economic system, and the more I reflect on that, the more I find it reasonable.

Building new stuff is cool and often necessary, but finding a way to make our old stuff last longer is equally cool.

Not just with our bridges and train cars and iPhones, but with our elderly too.

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The Thorny Problem of Keeping the Internet’s Time

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In 2019, after years of effort, the I.E.T.F. released a standard for Network Time Security, a mechanism which adds capabilities atop N.T.P. in an attempt to make it more secure. (Time underlies much of the Internet’s cryptography infrastructure.) The expanding Internet of Things will only contribute to the ever-growing need for synchronization. Sharon Goldberg, a computer scientist at Boston University who worked on the Network Time Security effort, told me that she thinks time synchronization should have a cryptocurrency-like buzz around it (ideally with less controversy)—coders who contribute to it, she said, should feel proud enough to declare, “Everyone uses the software, it’s in everything, and I wrote it!” It’s striking how few people know Mills’s name, given how many know the pseudonym of whoever created Bitcoin.

It’s amazing how fragile our fancy pants civilization actually is, and this story is a wonderful case study into how hard it is to build a thing that can satisfy all the needs of our species.

It also serves as yet another reminder of how much it sucks dealing with time. Giving credit where credit is due: “leap smear” is a brilliant phrase.

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How Wine works 101

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This is preposterously nerdy stuff, but if you are into understanding how you could run Windows software on a Linux machine, this article is for you!

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How to Find Joy in Climate Action

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I have a habit of listening to podcasts and jotting down reminders to check out stuff that the hosts recommend, and then never ultimately getting back to consume that content.

I stumbled upon this video today while spelunking through my reminders app, and I felt like it was fitting considering (a) an upcoming thing that I’m really excited to share soon, and (b) it helps tie together the two most recent posts on this blog.

The part that made me go “ah, damn” was when she mentioned that most people who go through this exercise end up with some form of communication as their climate action.

After completing the exercise, the two things I wrote down were:

  1. Do the podcast idea, build your network of “doers” in various climate fields, leverage the network to institute policy change and inspire others into action.

  2. Do the podcast idea, discover a company doing something cool in climate (terrible pun), join that company.

The other thing Ayana warns in this video is to not start with your solution in mind, but dang, that’s just not fair, is it?

Either way, going through this venn diagram exercise gave me a lot to think about, and I’m quite curious to hear what you think if you end up doing this as well.