@jeffhargarten

a blog of data, dystopia and despair

  • In Closing

    I’ve had a number of blogging projects over the years. Each one originated in a specific need I had to say specific things about specific topics.

    Datamancy arose from a tangle of thoughts related to my philosophical flirtations with nihilism, the nature of reality, information dystopia and the shape of data. It’s also been a useful place for data analyses I can’t do professionally.

    I think it’s run its course, at least for now. If some other burning, irrelevant thoughts get into my brain, I might dump it onto here. Otherwise, Datamancy is game over.

    Obviously, I can’t stop creating new content lest I suddenly die, and there are countless places to find my subpar crap online. I’m always a very bored Google search away.

    Anyway, farewell. If anyone is out there, I appreciate you probably more than you did me.

    Peace.

    -Frey

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  • Data Preservation

    I’m a data hoarder. Not afraid to admit it. Hard drives groan and buckle beneath the weight of countless gigabytes of vital information, fun datasets, invaluable photographic memories, stupid memes and completely worthless crap.

    If my Cloud started raining, it would be Noah’s fucking Flood.

    As I was moving stuff onto yet more secure hard discs, I got to wondering why I do this.

    Data permanence, of course, is a massive technological and philosophical subject that very smart people think about for fun. My interest in the subject is much, much shallower.

    I’m a minimalist in every other aspect of life. My apartment is clean, my closet organized, and I just finished getting rid of 90 percent of my personal belongings, which was a completely liberating, nearly spiritual experience that helped me understand myself on a deeper level. Also, coworkers who visit my desk are convinced the lack of clutter in my workspace is a certain sign I’m a serial killer.

    And yet, none of my proclivities towards cleanliness and less being more in IRL translates to the digital world.

    Several things are at play. First, digital storage is cheap and infinite, unlike physical storage, so I’m never forced to choose between two files like I am two couches.

    Secondly, I’m used to things going away. Most of the best things in my life have disappeared before I was ready for them to, so if I like it and I can save it, it stays.

    Along those lines, Internet information decay is real. Ask anyone working for the Internet Archive or someone wishing they could retrieve their Geocities pages. Websites and online apps are constantly being updated, overwritten, removed or simply abandoned, so pages are here today and digital dust tomorrow.

    Keeping things solely on social presents its own privacy dangers, and the risk of a platform going away and taking all my memories and information with it. This happened with MySpace long ago. And I’ve definitely shifted my blogging exploits away from things like SquareSpace, Medium or Tumblr because I don’t feel ownership of my own information in those places like I do somewhere either self-hosted or easily transferrable. It’s part of why I’m so appreciative that Google, Facebook and Twitter allow me to download my whole posting history.

    News orgs also archive the living shit out of things periodically. Rather than rely on someone to lovingly save old articles in free and easy-to-access places forever, I would rather save PDFs of stuff I find interesting.

    A dangerous flip side threatens our civilization’s gluttonous digitization of all human knowledge though. Unless data is engraved onto golden records and shot into space on a probe, every bit of information on Earth is in danger of permanent oblivion in the case of nuclear war or some disaster that either kills power sources or damages global electronics. In that case, books will live longer than iPads.

    Also, cybersecurity is a constant issue. Just ask Equifax or Facebook right now, as they lose control of mass amounts of our personal information. And my own networks are laughably insecure anyone else’s, despite my best efforts and due diligence.

    And as cheap and helpful as the Cloud is, keeping things on someone else’s computer instead of my own doesn’t fill me with confidence.

    But I guess the upsides to digital information storage vastly outweigh the hypothetical doomsday downsides.

    In the event of global catastrophe giving way to a Mad Max hellscape, whether or not we can access old YouTube videos will be the least of our worries.

    So I guess I’ll just keep saving stuff until the lights go out.

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  • Dopplegangers

    Disclaimer: I know this is unscientific. I don’t believe or accept anything without convincing enough evidence. This is just me thinking out loud, a fun bit of hypothesizing rooted in my curiosity about the bleeding edge of studies into the nature of what we call reality. If you’re taking this too seriously, don’t.

    Anyway, in summer 2016, I had a strange experience still lingering with me today.

    It was a simple, stupid, routine thing: I was crossing a competely empty street – no vehicles coming from any direction – and I felt my whole body tense up and briefly seize as I reached the other side. I froze and suddenly felt what I imagined my final moments would be like as I’m struck from nowhere by a large, teal-colored semitruck. This vision flashed through my mind in vivid detail, a first-person hallucination where I felt my body crumple so far I didn’t feel anything before oblivion took me in a snap second.

    Just as quickly as the feeling rushed through me, it was gone. I startled out of my reverie and kept walking, trying to shake my head clear of what I just experienced.

    Basically, I felt as though I just been struck, crushed and killed by a speeding semitruck, even though no such thing actually happened. I was fine. There weren’t even any nearby vehicles to draw this sudden mental flash from.

    My brain looped through the incident over and again.

    Was it leftover trauma from when I was struck by a car on the UMN campus in 2013? That had hurt, but it was very low speed and my left leg recovered in a year. So it wasn’t super traumatic in the longterm.

    Eventually, I started to wildly hypothesize that my vision had actually happened – just not to me. What if it happened to another version of me, one that split off? What if there are multiple parallel realities, and what if the barriers between those realities can actually be quite thin??

    It sounds insane. It probably is insane. But it’s not completely without basis.

    Theoretical physicists, those incredible and magical thinkers of the scientific world, will often talk about the Many Worlds Interpretation1, or MWI. If you’ve never heard of this before, you may have seen its essence in sci-fi and shows like Rick and Morty or the fantastic Counterpart.

    The theory basically postulates that all possibilities play out simulataneously, and that each and every action we take or don’t take splits off infinite parallel realities each representing an alternative action or result.

    As with many high-level concepts, this is best explained by Mario2.

    If this idea holds some kind of truth, there are numerous strange implications3 to ponder. For instance, there may not be a single narrative of your life, but several. We shouldn’t think of ourselves as individuals in the traditional sense, but as a multiplicity within a single entity, one that could ultimately be considered immortal.

    Mathematically, proof for MWI seems to hold up.

    Experimentally, demonstrating MWI is a vastly tougher thing since it may not be possible within the realm of current science to test it.

    But what about anectdotally?

    What if phenomena like déjà vu, dreams, clarivoyance and other odd cognitive experiences are some or our multiple personal realities bleeding into one another?

    Imagine you’re thinking of approaching someone to introduce yourself. You do it and feel a sudden sensation that you’ve met them before, a strong sense of familiarity that shouldn’t be asscociated with someone certainly you’ve never met before. But what if you had met that person before, just in a different timeline, and there’s some kind of mental resonence leaking between dimensions?

    And what if, like the movie Arrival, time doesn’t have to be linear, but our brains evolved to perceive it as such? And what if it also evolved to compartmentalize our perceptions into a kind of tunnel vision? In many ways, the latter is already known to be true

    These seem like fringe ideas. But theoretical physics is full similar-sounding ideas these days, much to the consternation of experimental physicists4.

    5

    However, other phenemona may explain these sorts of incidents better. A whole slew of cognative biases6 could be to blame for déjà vu and similar brain glitches. The frequency illusion7, for instance explains a lot of strange coincidences.

    I’m not sure though which cognative bias explains my brief pseudo-hallucination and similar instances though. And if MWI does hold some truth, to what extent can it/does it affect our daily realities?

    Anyway, again, I’m thinking out loud. Maybe I’ll write some fiction about it.

    1. Wikipedia: Many Worlds Interpetation. Link 

    2. Seiff, Abby. “The Super Mario Multiverse” Popular Science. March 18, 2008. Link 

    3. Dvorsky, George. “The 9 Weirdest Implications Of The Many Worlds Interpretation” i09. March 23, 2015. Link 

    4. Jarlett, Kim Harriet. “In Theory: Is theoretical physics in crisis?.” CERN. May 18, 2016. Link 

    5. minutephysics. “The True Science of Parallel Universes.” YouTube. April 2, 2013. Link 

    6. Wikipedia: List of cognitive biases. Link 

    7. Wikipedia: Recency illusion. Link 

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