I’m spending the weekend dog-sitting my pal, Bentley (who seems to have fully recovered from eating a cotton towel!), while her mom follows strict Minnesota tradition by “going up north for the weekend.” So I have a nice furry end to the two-week posting marathon. Time for lots of walkies!
As a posted footnote to that marathon, this post contains various odds and ends left over from the assembly. Extra bits of this and that. And I finally found a place to tell you about a metaphor I stumbled over long ago and which I’ve found quite illustrative and fun. (It’s in my metaphor toolkit along with “Doing a Boston” and “Star Trekking It”)
It involves the idea of making a bad ROM call…
Which, as with most metaphors (at least mine), got some explaining to do.
But it shouldn’t be too bad; we’re all computer geeks these days, anyway, right?
So, firstly, ROM stands for Read-Only Memory. It’s a general class of computer memory (those good old ones and noughts) that, as the name says, can only be read.
Secondly, the reason for read-only memory is to store things you never (or very rarely) change. Permanent things. Generally that means code — data tends to change frequently. In particular, low-level system code.
Because, thirdly, the standalone term, “ROM,” implies a certain kind of read-only memory: the kind that’s embedded in a chip that has the right bit patterns “burned” into it. Other kinds of read-only memory have other names (e.g. CD-ROM).
Fourthly, in many smaller systems, the entire O/S, or major parts of it, are burned into ROM and installed permanently on the motherboard. The ROM contains all the useful low-level things the system can do.
So, fifthly, a ROM call is when software (any software) wants to use an O/S service. It “calls” the function stored in ROM.
Finally, a “bad ROM call” is when you meant to do something not typical for you, but which has much in common with some unrelated task that is very typical for you.
My canonical example involves driving to work.
You do that every work day, and that pattern is “burned” into your brain — metaphorically, into your ROM.
Now imagine you’re going somewhere, a ballgame for instance, and much of the drive to the ballpark follows the same route you take to work. As you’re driving with your friends, all talking about how amazingly well the Twins are doing right now (so amazing), you suddenly realize you unconsciously drove right past the exit to the ballpark because your “inner driver” was using the ROM call for driving to work.
Of course it was. In fact, your thinking about the route to the ballpark probably involved the realization that it was the same as your drive to work. You may have visualized it as, “Go as if to work, but take this earlier exit instead.”
And in your distraction, forgot the mental flag you’d set to interrupt the “drive to work” task for the early exit.
That’s a bad ROM call.
Something similar annoys the crap out of me when I write.
Many years as a programmer mean I’ve typed the words “date” and “data” a lot. Most programming languages have some sort of date type, and working with dates is extremely common in programming.
I’ve also used the word “data” a lot, in documentation, of course, but I use it rather frequently as a local variable name for a general clump of data.
Well, you can see the problem, right? D… A… T… [AE]
And it’s like plugging in a USB plug. Somehow it’s always the wrong way around.
I get similar yips with “out” and “our” as well as “serve” and “server” — that last one drives me crazy because I rarely need the “serve” call so I always get it wrong. I type “server” every time. I’ve also noticed I often type “and” when I meant “an”.
Getting “its” and “it’s” wrong is also a bad ROM call. Likewise “they’re” and “their” and “there” — assuming you do know the difference.
The irony of the whole metaphor, especially in the context of computationalism, is that computers don’t make bad ROM calls.
Computers never accidentally do anything. They don’t call a familiar ROM routine instead of a less familiar one because they’re used to the first one.
They are never absent-minded or distracted or accidentally forgetful. They don’t have the capacity to do one thing when they meant to do another.
Programmers, on the other hand, do make bad ROM calls.
Programmers, because of the bad ROM calls, also make mistakes, which we fondly call “bugs” and believe will always haunt us. Which raises a whole other set of questions for AI and computationalism.
(There is an almost Gödelean absoluteness to the idea that software errors can never be fully eliminated. Even text resists proof-reading!)
As I’ve said before, perhaps our high general intelligence (and consciousness) is in a sweet spot. Maybe being messy and forgetful and slow is necessary.
It’s been said that a genuine photographic memory is a nightmare. And I think there was a House, M.D. episode about a woman with (diseased-caused) perfect recall. It was devastating to her life!
§ § §
Speaking of the stuff we’re speaking of, I noticed something striking a few years ago. I’d be interested if anyone has experienced anything similar.
It requires that I’ve been asleep, or at least had my eyes closed, for a while. Long enough for my visual system to completely shut down.
It also requires that I regain sufficient awareness before I open my eyes. For instance, if I wake up in the morning and lay there thinking before opening my eyes to face the day.
And finally it seems to require a fair amount of brightness in the room. I can’t say I’ve noticed this in dimly lit situations.
What I notice is that — for the briefest of brief instants — my visual field is divided into quite prominent little squares, as if in a grid. The illusion is gone the moment I notice it, but I have noticed it time and again.
Basically, I notice it every time the conditions are as described above.
I have no idea what it means! I mention it here (A) to document it and (2) because it fits in with “weird things about how our brains work.”
Little squares. A complete grid. It’s really weird. (I like to think I’ve detected the machinery behind the virtual reality we live in. I’ve seen the Matrix, my friends!)
§ § §
I really wanted to call one of these posts Intentional States, but I couldn’t find a good hook for it. It’s kind of a trite title, anyway.
And yet, according to TMSE (The Mighty Search Engine), there is apparently no movie named Intentional States. How is that possible?
How has no one ever named their movie Intentional States.
I hereby copyright the name for my upcoming movie! Intentional States, by Wyrd Smythe! Appearing in the fantasy theatre of my mind this summer 2019!!
§ § §
And lastly, this: Physicalism doesn’t require computationalism.
One can believe the mind arises naturally from the operation of the brain without believing it’s a computation. (As laser light arises from a lasing material.)
Even a Tegmarkian could believe that consciousness, although a purely mathematical object, is something akin to a complex waveform rather than a computation. (Because computation is a remarkable and extraordinary property invented by intelligent entities and which doesn’t seem obviously to appear in nature.)
Perhaps our minds are just incredibly complex standing waves formed inside our skulls by the electrical operation of our brain. As with the complex waves that occur in a lake.
Stay complex and standing, my friends!
 Pro Tip: Don’t go to metaphor until you reach metathree.
 Well, obviously it was written once to be there at all. But that’s considered special and private, like birth. It’s sometimes done in dimly lit rooms.
 Dates are very probably the biggest pain-in-the-ass of any basic computer topic. All those formats and time zones… Just getting the USA right is tricky. Handling dates internationally is a nightmare.
 The whole Y2K thing was about dates, of course. (Well, it was really about short-sighted programmers.)
 No, of course not. You just remember it frustrating you more than you remember getting it right.
 Grammar rules: They’re there for their reasons. Knowing your shit from you’re shit. It’s the principle of its principal.
 They never ever walk into a room and then forget why they went there. On the other hand, they’re incredibly stupid in their own way.
 I keep my mattress on the floor so I metaphorically and literally have to pick myself up off the floor every morning. It’s how I know I’m still alive and kicking.