Links & misc #4

All right, time to return from the unofficial summer break I almost accidentally took from blogging! I have actually written quite a lot this summer, but most of it is currently in a half-finished state, so here’s another exciting list of links and miscellany.

Links:

• A list of terms that psych papers frequently use but probably should generally avoid due to their ambiguity or inaccuracy (e.g. “a gene for”, “hard-wired”, “neural signature”). I’m so glad to see this recent trend of people calling out researchers using superficially convincing, but substantially vague and misleading terminology. (Related classic: Still Not Significant.)

• A group at Karolinska Institutet has built a functional artificial neuron capable of communicating with human cells. At this stage it looks pretty clumsy, but the authors believe that miniaturized devices following the same principles are probably feasible in the future and could be utilised e.g. for remote-controlled release of neurotransmitters, all of which makes this technique pretty interesting.

• A neat summary of the wide variety of problems that governments could face when trying to regulate the development of powerful AIs. Novel areas of technological progress tend to be difficult to control as a default, because changing laws is practically always a tremendously slow process compared to the speed of profitable technological advances, but there are many good reasons to assume that AI will be an exceptionally tricky research area to attempt to regulate.

• Similar things have been done in E. coli before, but this looks potentially very useful: a common gut bacterium can now be equipped with synthetic sensory receptors and other basic computing components which allow its gene expression to be programmed and controlled e.g. by the food the host eats.

• In a recent experiment, researchers induced in the subjects a sense of body ownership (similar to the rubber hand illusion) for “a virtual balloon changing in size, and a virtual square changing in size or color, in synchrony with movements of their real hand”. The authors suggest that previous experiments have overemphasised the resemblance between the subject’s own hand and the other object, and that sufficient synchrony does indeed let us identify with objects that don’t even look like our limbs. Woohoooooooooo etc.

• A strange art project trying to visualise what Windows93 could have looked like (utterly ridiculous, very colourful, a bit disturbing).

• According to one study, people on physically unstable surfaces are less likely to believe their current relationship is going to last (subjects also reported less affection towards their partner as well as generally lower relationship quality, so at least they’re, uh, being internally consistent in their assessments?).

Other stuff:

• I don’t even play video games myself, but I watched a friend’s gamedev stream the other day and it looked like a lot of fun, so I downloaded Unity, started learning C#, and am now in the process of making my first tiny little game (which is one of the reasons I have sort of neglected this blog lately). I’m not sure if the end result is going to be anything interesting – basically I just wanted to establish some sort of a coding habit, and messing around with games turned out to be a motivating way to do this, because I get to alternate between scripting which I enjoy on a challenging problem-solving level and making graphics which I enjoy because it’s relaxing, but I’m sure the process will remain more rewarding if I end up actually finishing something cool, so we’ll see. (Ha ha just kidding – when someone says they’ll “see” whether they’re going to Accomplish a Thing, they’re very reliably not going to Accomplish the Thing. But I’m learning new stuff anyway, so!)

I realised chalkboard paint exists and have now painted most of the suitable surfaces in my apartment with it. This is so worth it. I can now have text all around me and effortlessly keep all sorts of proto-insights in sight so I spend more time processing ideas just because they happen to grab my attention more often – I also used to have a problem with forgetting many potentially interesting thoughts because I couldn’t be arsed to keep a bunch of mostly low-quality jottings organised on paper, but now I can just write everything down with low threshold and erase it later on without cluttering my desk or text files.

My moods have been super positive for a few months now, which is v cool after a long time of mild-to-moderate anhedonia following a burnout/depression thing I had a couple of years ago. Things that may be going on here:
– Probiotics, which I started taking after noticing there’s a surge of recent articles about their potential mood benefits and noticing that supplements with a few lactobacillus strains are dirt cheap. Temporally this coincides extremely well with my moods starting to improve and in any case, even if the research on psychobiotics is still at an early stage, this is a great solution as far as placebos go: sufficiently convincing, cheap, completely safe AFAIK.
– Summer and sunlight – even when my moods are fine, I seem to be slightly less effective during the darker months of the year, so it’s pretty likely that this is a factor too. I have considered eventually moving someplace else, but most of the countries I have always wanted to move to (Iceland! Northern Norway!) are very Finland-like in this respect, so idk. To do: start wanting to move to places closer to the equator.
– Recovery/regression to the mean & this being something like my normal hedonic baseline. Mayyyybe? When I was depressed, I recall taking it as a given that my baseline mood was & had always been somewhat lower than average, but now I’m not so sure about it – this whole “feeling generally cheerful, getting stuff done as long as it’s interesting, finding new things to be fascinated about all the time” thing actually feels very very familiar and is also consistent with lots of my old writings, so yeah, this could just be how it used to be. It’s not like mood-related memories are going to be totally accurate when you’re depressed.

Definitely also related: reading lots of Douglas Hofstadter. I’m being at least 38% serious here. I mean I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to enjoy his writing as much as I do now if I were still intensely anhedonic, but then again I pretty consistently feel slightly better on the days I start out reading one of his books, so what do I know. The super compassionate, curious and sincere mindset he has seems to be very effective at reminding me of All The Good In The World – I’m almost sure this guy is actually from some secret cotton-candy coated parallel universe where science and philosophy actually are full of romance and beauty instead of excessive cynicism and sketchy frustrating signalling competitions, debates don’t have people resenting and wanting to hurt each other as a default component, and everything just generally is at least 30% more motivating, wonderful, pure and good, and yes I am having a huge crush on this person.