The Chamber of Sounds
I stand here, in my small closet, locked away from all other life.
For as long as I can remember I have been here, nutrient tubes running to my veins keeping me alive and filtering my wastes. I imagine there must be a ventilation shaft as well, to keep me supplied with air. I don’t know if there is – the multitude of sounds always drowns it out.
I believe I am in a space ship, for far away I can hear the thunder of the engines. Maybe this is a maintenance space of some kind, for surely it isn’t normal to hear so many sounds: the bubbling of water in pipes, the whirling wheels of maintenance robots, the constant clicking of communications relays. All this I hear but cannot see, the darkness of my closet enveloping me at all times.
And then there are the voices, the automated electronical voices spitting out status reports in binary. I cannot make out what they are saying, cannot grasp the inhuman tongue of the machines. There are many of them, and they all sound the same, their bizarre sound giving me a sense of peace, of order.
I believe it is a chasm I’m next to, from the way the sounds and voices echo. A deep, huge tunnel full of wires, full of pipes and full of voices. Surely it must go on near forever, lasting miles and miles and perhaps never end. Maybe it is lined with closets like mine, filled with people kept inside for eternities.
Who I am or why I am here, I do not know. At times I ponder these things, but those ponderings never lead me to any end – after all, this is the only world I’ve ever known of. The one of sounds and the one of machines, the one of peace but not of quiet.
As the stars burn and the ship’s engines burn I stay locked here, locked here for eternities as I always have. It is just me and the machines, and all is as it should be.
This work by Kaj Sotala is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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> At a remote research center on the Nebraska plains, scientists are using surgery and breeding techniques to re-engineer the farm animal to fit the needs of the 21st-century meat industry. The potential benefits are huge: animals that produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise.
> There are, however, some complications.
> Pigs are having many more piglets — up to 14, instead of the usual eight — but hundreds of those newborns, too frail or crowded to move, are being crushed each year when their mothers roll over. Cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been retooled to have twins and triplets, which often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed.
> Then there are the lambs. In an effort to develop “easy care” sheep that can survive without costly shelters or shepherds, ewes are giving birth, unaided, in open fields where newborns are killed by predators, harsh weather and starvation.
> Last Mother’s Day, at the height of the birthing season, two veterinarians struggled to sort through the weekend’s toll: 25 rag-doll bodies. Five, abandoned by overtaxed mothers, had empty stomachs. Six had signs of pneumonia. Five had been savaged by coyotes.
> “It’s horrible,” one veterinarian said, tossing the remains into a barrel to be dumped in a vast excavation called the dead pit.
> These experiments are not the work of a meat processor or rogue operation. They are conducted by a taxpayer-financed federal institution called the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a complex of laboratories and pastures that sprawls over 55 square miles in Clay Center, Neb. Little known outside the world of big agriculture, the center has one overarching mission: helping producers of beef, pork and lamb turn a higher profit as diets shift toward poultry, fish and produce.
> Since Congress founded it 50 years ago to consolidate the United States Department of Agriculture’s research on farm animals, the center has worked to make lamb chops bigger, pork loins less fatty, steaks easier to chew. It has fought the spread of disease, fostered food safety and helped American ranchers compete in a global marketplace.
> But an investigation by The New York Times shows that these endeavors have come at a steep cost to the center’s animals, which have been subjected to illness, pain and premature death, over many years. The research to increase pig litters began in 1986; the twin calves have been dying at high rates since 1984, and the easy care lambs for 10 years.
Animal Welfare at Risk in Experiments for Meat Industry - NYTimes.com
Things that I’m currently the most interested in doing (Jan 21st of 2015 edition)
* Creating social environments that actively support and reinforce people’s growth, as well as the incentivizing the development of valuable projects. Our environment has a huge impact on us. The topics that we happen to see or hear discussed around us will, if not quite determine the topics that we spend our time thinking and ultimately caring about, at least vastly influence those topics. Similarly, the habits of the people around us affect our motivation and behavior: if everyone else is slacking off, then we too are likely to follow suit.
As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words: even people and communities with good intentions may get sidetracked into becoming less effective than they could be, if they spend a lot of time talking about noble goals but in practice do little but play games. On the flip side, if people really do consistently act in a purposeful manner, that is likely to also motivate the others around them.
I want to figure out the social technologies we need to consistently create communities which encourage people to develop themselves, work on valuable big-impact projects, and feel good about themselves.
* Reducing societal conflict by making people feel more safe. Our emotions evolved for specific purposes, one of which includes defending us and protecting us from threats. Someone lashing out in anger or exhibiting some other form of physical or emotional violence is an indication that there is a world-model in their head that evaluates the situation as being dangerous to their well-being, and requires a defensive reaction. Unfortunately, this has a tendency to make things worse: a person whose defensive systems has been engaged will predominantly focus on the potentially threatening aspects of the situation, causing them to exaggerate other people’s bad sides and be less likely to see those others as fellow humans. In response, the other person will (correctly!) feel unsafe, causing their protective systems to engage as well, and what started out as a minor disagreement may quickly escalate into a major conflict.
We are currently living in the safest, most well-off period in history. Our evolved instincts, still calibrated by evolution to a riskier time, have not properly caught up. What’s worse, parts of modern society exaggerate our perception of risks, and incentivize people to manufacture polarizing new conflicts. It can be seen all the time on social media, with communities united by their hate and mistrust of a common enemy, or people sharing articles ridiculing or highlighting the worst sides of their common enemies. As people stop viewing the people disagreeing with them as human beings inherently worthy of respect, and rather start to treat them as enemies, those others will lash out in return, their brains correctly interpreting the situation as a threatening one and engaging protective systems.
I would like to find ways to put a stop to this cycle.
* Creating a sense of purpose for people. Modern Western society has a distinct lack of clear vision and sense of purpose. Young people are told that they can do what they want with their lives, but are rarely given much in the way of suggestions of what could be a valuable, interesting thing to do with one’s life. Many drift aimlessly, never quite finding anything that would motivate them, or that would encourage them to really work hard for some deeply fulfilling aim.
There’s no need why this would need to be so. The world is full of valuable things that could be done, countless causes needing heroes. There are still people living in poverty, diseases that need to be cured, people living in unsatisfying circumstances, whole societal structures that could be reformed and remade, and even things threatening the survival of all of humanity. People just don’t know what they could do about all these things, nor have they been provided with emotionally compelling stories about working on these things that would make them feel valuable and important to do.
* Develop ways to live in harmony with one’s emotions. There’s a stereotype that has reason and emotions as two opposed things, and a popular view of the world that makes people think that in order to succeed in life, they often have to grit their teeth and force themselves to do things that they wouldn’t actually want to do.
I think that both ways of looking at things are mistaken. Reason and emotions are two mechanisms for furthering our goals and protecting our well-being: they only seem opposed when the two mechanisms aren’t properly sharing information with each other, and come into conflict instead of co-operating. Any time that we have to use willpower in order to make ourselves do something that we ”wouldn’t want to do” is a time when we have failed to bring different parts of our minds into harmony. They are situations when one part of our mind believes that we should do something and another is unconvinced, but instead of the two clearly considering the situation together and seeking to come to an agreement, one of them uses brute force to compel the other to obey.
This doesn’t need to be so. With enough practice, one should never need to encounter a situation where they needed to do something unpleasant. Either they would conclude that the thing wasn’t worth doing in the first place and happily give up on it, or had their whole being agree that it was worth doing and do it with pleasure.
Things that I'm currently the most interested in (Jan 21st of 2015 edition)
The house where I'm staying at has pages from some surrealist book hung up on the walls. This page is my favorite:
Why go on living?
Because at prison gates only the keys sing.
What is absence?
Calm, limpid water, a moving mirror.
What is military service?
The noise of a pair of boots tumbling down a staircase.
What is day?
A woman bathing nude at nightfall.
What is a torrent of blood?
Shut up! Delete the abominable question.
> Today at Cochrane, you'll find reviews on everything from the effects of acupuncture for preventing migraines (maybe works) and premenstrual syndrome (may not work), to the usefulness of cranberry juice to treat bladder infections (probably doesn't work). The hard-working people behind Cochrane even translate their conclusions into "plain language summaries" and podcasts.
> These summaries are considered the gold standard of medical evidence because they allow doctors to make decisions not just on the basis of whatever random research they come across, but on the totality of science about whatever medical question they have.
> Now, there are a number of other databases that bring together high-quality reviews on health issues and the Cochrane methodology has been applied to other areas of science — from education and crime to health systems questions. (See chart below.) These summaries are more accessible than ever before, not just for doctors, but also for the rest of us.
Stop Googling your health questions. Use these sites instead.
> When we think of slavery, we tend to think of this African traffic. Yet it was not the only such trade – nor was it, before 1700, even the largest. A second great market in slaves once sullied the world, this one less well-known, vastly longer-lasting, and centred on the Black Sea ports of the Crimea. It was a huge trade in its own right; in its great years, which lasted roughly from 1200 until 1760, an estimated 6.5 million prisoners were shipped off to new and often intensely miserable lives in places ranging from Italy to India.
> Slavery in the Crimea, however, differed in significant ways from the model made so familiar by the trans-Atlantic trade. The slaves sold there were white, being drawn for the most part from the great plains of the Ukraine and southern Russia in annual raids known as the “harvesting of the steppe.” Their masters were successively Vikings, Italians and Tatars – the latter being, for nearly half of the trade’s life, the subjects of the Crimean Khanate, a state that owed its own long life to its ability to satisfy demand for slaves. And most of the slaves themselves were not male labourers. They were women and children destined for domestic service – a fate that not infrequently included sexual service. The latter sort of slave was always fairly commonplace in the Crimea. When the Ottoman writer Evliya Çelebi toured the north shores of the Black Sea in 1664, he noted down some examples of the local dialect that he hoped other travellers to the region might find useful. Among the phrases that Çelebi selected were “Bring a girl” and “I found no girl, but I found a boy.”
Blonde cargoes: Finnish children in the slave markets of medieval Crimea