Eh, It Wasn’t Worth Celebrating Anyway (rwblog S6E4)
So, I completely missed March, did I? Oh well, nobody really needed March anyway — certainly, Julius Caesar won’t miss it.
I’m writing to you here, from the safe side of April Fools Day, a day which seems to be marked by less and less celebration every year. Perhaps that is how Saturnalia died, slowly petering out, as a generation of Romans decided, “eh, it wasn’t worth celebrating anyway.” Perhaps that is how every holiday dies, as the would-be celebrants find they no longer care.
“claymation julius caesar partying at saturnalia”, Stable Diffusion1
Table of Contents
Open Table of Contents
Here’s a lil theory. I think a new
life philosophy is being born. That’s right! It’s not every day you see a new life philosophy like stoicism or existentialism!
So I’m gonna take a stab at giving names to things and call it New Absurdism.
Right now it’s more of a vibe than a real “philosophy”, but the one sentence summary I would give is “life is nonsensical and weird, so let’s party.” It’s a positive kind of nihilism.
So far, so existentialism. But the emphasis is different. Sartre was the kind of dour you can only become by chain-smoking a lot of cigars in Parisian cafes. There’s a grimness to Kierkegaard. The absurdism in existentialism is just saying that life is inherently meaningless.
But New Absurdism says that life is inherently meaningless and also really weird, and then goes on to celebrate that weirdness. In existentialism, we should think Sisyphus happy because, hey, at least he set himself a purpose in life. But New Absurdism would find that terribly depressing — he should give up on the boulder and, like, open a sex toy shop or something. That’s not to say that New Absurdism is above the mundane or avoids the unpleasant — but it also ultimately finds the strange in the ordinary and the silver lining in the cloud.
The great exponent of this thought is, of course, most-awarded-film-of-all-time Everything Everywhere All At Once, which combines existentialism and Mahayana Buddhism’s sunyata and butt plugs into a touching, humanistic story. But I also see touches of this in, say, 100 gecs or the hyperpop genre generally, who make extremely weird music and seem to be having a great time doing it. And of course there’s other antecedents — particularly relevant might be Andrew W.K.’s album You’re Not Alone, including spoken word tracks about finding the purpose of life through partying, or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with its nonchalant attitude of “eh, the Earth just blew up, let’s go get Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters”. But it definitely feels like this attitude has become more common recently.
“artificial intelligence taking over the world but like in a nice way”, Stable Diffusion2
Has Artificial Intelligence Taken Over The World Yet?
Let me check my pulse.
Nope, it seems humans are, at least for now, still the dominant creature on earth.
I still tend towards the anti-doomer camp, though I hope that statement doesn’t seem painfully naive a year from now — I’d like to get married first. Still, sparks of AGI or no, it’s not immediately obvious that ChatGPT and its ilk is conscious in the bright, shining way we humans are, even if I still hold that “If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Probably Conscious”. If the stochastic parrot is conscious, I suspect, it’s only in fits and starts, not even nearly to the level of our beloved canine companions or, for that matter, actual parrots.
For the time being, then, GPT is a tool, which clever product engineers and product managers the world over have to somehow figure out how to use. From that perspective, I really liked Simon Willison’s framing of a “calculator for words” — GPT is a cultural technology3 and we have to figure out how to use it effectively. For a similar take, see Hillel Wayne’s GPT is revolutionary, which is actually much more measured than the breathless title.
So far, I haven’t played with LLMs that much! But I suppose I should.
What Else Is New?
Well, I added search to my site, which more-or-less works. I have to say I did like how easy Astro made it to add a one-off Preact component for search, although also, hey I guess I’m a frontend engineer now, which made it quite a bit easier.
Oh, I’m working on a new novel. Shush, you in the back. I’ll edit things eventually.