The seven annoying habits exclusive to stupid people

Stupidity is everywhere, and it seems that people don’t quite get how to think. So here are seven things to NOT do if you want to have some shred of intelligence.

7. “Gathering evidence” by reading a bunch of anecdotes off of the Internet.

The logic of science made a great post about why stories and anecdotes are not really scientific evidence. You can see their article here. That post assumes that the people posting those anecdotes are being honest and not just making those stories up. The truth is that stories can be, and frequently are, completely fabricated by propaganda accounts.

It’s amazing how often people will see a tweet with a story in it that provides no proof or even evidence that the story is true and the replies will be full of people automatically assuming that it must be true. Stories are not proof of wider societal problems. They are propaganda.

If the news posts a story about the president murdering every member of congress and declaring martial law then that’s one thing, but when the media posts ten different stories about school shootings that does not imply that school shootings are a common problem. Ten data points out of 300 million people should not, under any circumstances, be seen as convincing.

6. “Proving” things by looking at a bunch of your “evidence” and the impressions you get from them

I can’t believe I have to point this out, but there are no degrees to how proven something is. It’s either proven or it’s not. Far too many people think that proof comes from gathering anecdotes until it seems convincing enough. It’s so bad that even the legal system uses the word “proof” wrong.

To prove something means you’ve shown that it has to be true, and that there’s no way for it to be wrong (so long as the assumptions we’ve used are correct). One could argue that there’s degrees to how proven something is based on how few assumptions were made to get to that proof, but that’s a very different kind of fuzzy logic from using real world evidence.

We don’t generally prove things about the real world. In order to prove something you need to make assumptions. In math we prove things based on as few assumptions as possible, and sometimes we’ll use math to prove things about the real world based on assumptions about physics (these are called “the laws of physics”). What we generally do to establish truth about the real world is use theories. We come up with explanations for things.

Proving things in Math isn’t easy. You need to come up with arguments that aren’t any kind of logical fallacy, and make as few assumptions as possible. Proving things about the real world is about gathering actual evidence and trying to come up with explanations for said evidence.

5. Arguing with and then blocking anyone who came to a different conclusion

There are quite a few problems with this mentality. For one, the people who came to a different conclusion are typically looking at a different set of anecdotes. Of course they’re going to form a different conclusion. It’s not necessarily them being any more ignorant than you are. It’s them not having heard the “evidence” that you did.

Blocking doesn’t do anything to help. Just because you can’t change someone’s mind over the course of a single conversation doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. All that blocking does is make the problem worse because now neither you nor the person you’re arguing with are able to see any counter-arguments from the opposition.

People often agree that we shouldn’t ignore evidence that we’re wrong, but where do you expect to get the evidence that you’re wrong? The evidence fairy? If you’re not using google to debunk your own views then you don’t have a choice but to rely on people bringing evidence up in conversation.

4. Straw-manning opposing viewpoints based on the snap judgments you’ve made from arguing with people.

Remember earlier when I said that people never see opposing arguments? Well that wasn’t 100% accurate. There are accounts on social media that seek out the dumbest arguments that the opposition makes, take screenshots of them, and then show them to their own side to create the impression that the opposition is stupid.

This is straw-manning. The accounts doing this know damn well that they’re helping to maintain echo chambers. That’s the entire reason they’re doing it. Echo chambers don’t just happen by accident. They’re deliberately created by people who have ambitions of building a cult.

Debunking stupid arguments isn’t a bad thing so long as the people using those arguments can see the debunk, but if you’re not making sure that they see it then you’re just preaching to the choir.

3. Using tactics of persuasion that literally ignore the people you’re trying to persuade and preach to the choir instead.

Sometimes people will do shitty things like pressuring businesses to fire “racist” employees. These tactics do more to piss people off than persuade, and they also persuade people watching all of this unfold that these “activists” are just a mob (hence the term “the woke mob”).

Another thing they’ll do is block people who don’t agree with the zeitgeist strongly enough. These kinds of pointless purity tests make the group weaker since this is, by definition, infighting. Splitting the group into pieces makes a bunch of small groups that are each less effective at creating helpful change.

2. Never trying to disprove your own conclusions.

Disproving your own conclusions is how critical thinking works. Just because something has been established, that doesn’t mean you should take it as absolute, unquestionable truth. What that means is you should try to disprove it. The more you fail to disprove it, the more certain you can be that it’s true. Scientific evidence is not based on anecdotes, and it’s usually not based on proof. It’s based on disproving things.

1. Wondering why your pointless purity tests don’t do anything.

How on Earth anyone can wonder why these methods don’t work is beyond me. It’s obvious that they don’t work because, since Trump first ran for the 2016 election, there has been almost no progress at all in politics. Trump managed to stay in office for an entire term, and nearly managed to become a dictator, and he’s still got the potential to be a dictator.

If you want to solve the problem then you need to be willing to make sacrifices. I know that breaking these bad habits is a counter-intuitive solution to many people, but counter-intuitive is not the same thing as wrong. The sacrifice you have to be willing to make is that you must give up these idiotic habits. Progress will never happen so long as you’re trapped in the cycle of ineffective problem solving.

You can whine, and moan, and bitch, and complain all you want about how people who disagree slightly on one tiny thing are literally fascists, but that doesn’t do a damn thing to defeat actual fascists.

What it’s like being on the spectrum: the upsides

In the last blog post I talked about the downsides of being on the spectrum. Let’s talk about the positives now through another story. I can’t remember when it was that I first became obsessed with robots and computers, but I think it might have started with robosapien.

It’s probably for the best that my mother never could afford it for me. I would have just been disappointed by it’s inability to consistently walk forward without falling over. Over the course of decades people have figured out how to make robots that can stand upright and walk, so I kind of doubt that a toy robot would be able to do something that larger robots needed millions or even billions of dollars in research and development to do. Robotics is hard.

But as hard as robotics is (it’s very hard), I still wanted to build my own. I had a deep craving to build things. There was something about the idea of a machine that blindly followed orders that I couldn’t get enough of. I decided that, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many failures I went through, and no matter how much it cost me, I would build my own robots.

I started teaching myself electronics at a young age. I didn’t actually understand the basics of electricity until high school, but I thought I did for a while. What I didn’t realize is that I merely understood digital logic circuits. Once I figured out how to build something that can (kind of) follow commands using digital logic gates I decided to move onto computer programming.

The first language I started with was C. I had rented a book from the library (remember libraries?) that must have been out of date because it said that C was one of the most commonly used languages (it kind of is, but still). I didn’t have the foggiest clue how the language worked, but I pretty quickly picked up on the fact that you could use printf to print things, and scanf to take input, and that each line was it’s own command.

Then I moved to st. louis, and I discovered Linux and python, and got mentors who helped me learn programming. I immersed myself in a digital world that was built entirely from ones and zeros. I learned all about the most advanced topics, and I always tried to build something that was far beyond what I was capable of making at the time (I tried to write a web browser in python and couldn’t even figure out how to parse HTML since it’s got javascript mixed in with it so often).

I learned about functional programming, C, Haskell, Lisp, Erlang, Prolog, the Linux command line, how operating systems work, how simulators work, how artificial intelligences work, and so many other topics. To many people computers seem like magic, but to me they were better than magic. They were machines that you could always learn something new about.

When I went to high school I learned the basics of electronics from attending a technical high school during half of the school day. When I went to college I learned calculus and absorbed all the information because it helped me solve so many problems I had run into before.

When I went to university I decided to major in mechanical engineering so I could finally get the last piece of the puzzle for designing, building, and programming my own robots (there was actually a fourth piece of the puzzle called “control systems” which I never managed to understand but I didn’t know that would be a problem at first).

The story of my life until college was that school was mostly a waste of time for me. I didn’t take the educational system seriously, I didn’t take high school seriously except for the technical school. When I went to college I had a slight problem when it came to studying (I wasn’t in the habit of doing it), and when I went to university things got worse (as mentioned in the previous blog post, and I still didn’t get into the habit of studying). I had wound up having to take most of my classes multiple times, and I had to take control systems four times and I still don’t understand it.

The simple fact of the matter is that I was too good at math and science in high school, and I was totally unprepared for having to actually study for the first time in my life. I wasn’t a good student (though in fairness I don’t think there have been that many good teachers I’ve had from the school system).

As bad as things got (and they did get pretty bad), I still kept going. I’m turning 30 next month and I’m still working towards building robots that can do interesting things. In college I had put together one that had wheels and a camera. That was easy, but programming a robot to be able to move around and deal with the world is the hard part.

Soon I’ll be moving back to Ohio and I’ll try to see if I can build self-driving vehicles. AI technology has advanced in recent years, and I think it might be ready for serious robotics. I’ve never been into engineering for the money. I can’t imagine why anyone would want more money than what they’d need to pay the bills (and maybe buy a few nice things).

Robots aren’t just machines that can move around. They’re living things. We’ve invented a new kind of living thing, and now we’re figuring out how to teach them to navigate the world. Computers aren’t just microchips that let you send tweets on your smartphones. They’re minds that are powered by tiny amounts of lightning. This is not exaggeration. This is how I actually think of them.

There’s something truly amazing about having built something that actually works. Even if the thing you built isn’t an original idea, just knowing that you put it together is an indescribable feeling.

The down sides of being on the spectrum

In the past I’ve seen videos claiming that they can show people what it’s like to be on the spectrum. They showed people what it’s like to be more sensitive to sounds and lights, but that’s not really enough to get a good understanding of it. To understand it better, I’m going to go into detail about an incident that happened in my own life.

Back in 2017 I met someone in thermodynamics class (I was at university at the time). Let’s call her “Mai Urai”. I remember when I first layed eyes on her I immediately thought “she’s kind of cute”. When the semester ended I hadn’t said anything more to her than “Hey, I forgot my textbook. Can I borrow yours?” I thought I might never see her again.

Then the next semester came and, to my pleasant surprise, I had not one, but TWO classes with her. A few weeks passed by before I decided to try and become friends with her. I had become friends with someone else online before this point by just saying “You seem nice, let’s be friends” on twitter, so I thought I could maybe try that in real life.

I pulled her aside one day after class and said “Hey, Mai, right?”

“Yes.”

Now was my chance.

“Do you want to be friends with me?” I blurted out.

“Sure.” She said.

Little did I realize that I had made the biggest mistake of my life.

Months passed by where we never had time to talk. She was always too busy. “Asian students are always busy” my Internet friend said (he’s from China and is still getting a phd in biology). So I didn’t think anything of it. I’d send her emails asking her for help with something, or if we could chat and she’d never respond. I remember one time I asked her what the homework problem was that we were supposed to be working on (I used to procrastinate on homework assignments) and she never even replied to that one.

It was getting kind of annoying for me. I didn’t have anyone else to talk to at the time aside from a social worker I saw every week, and the friends I had on twitter. I was so lonely. Then, after the semester ended I found her twitter account and followed her. I went back to making tweets and playing hashtag games and didn’t see her account again for a while. Then when I rediscovered her account I had seen that she blocked me.

Panic set in. I didn’t know why she blocked me. Was it that she just thought I was annoying, or was it something worse? In a panic I wrote up a long-winded email to her where I told her my side of everything that had happened and I begged her to respond.

She did respond, and she accused me of stalking her and threatened to get the police involved if I ever contacted her again. She also said that all future emails would go straight to spam.

It felt like I was in an episode of the twilight zone. I had plenty of experiences where people randomly got pissed off at me, but this was the first time anyone threatened to get the police involved. I didn’t have the foggiest clue what she meant by stalking. I still to this day don’t know what on Earth that was about.

I was devastated. Days passed where all I could think about was her and what had just happened. Literally every thought was about her. I tried sleeping in all day to prevent the thoughts from happening but then I started having nightmares about her.

I had never gone through anything like this before. No matter what I did the thoughts wouldn’t go away. I was barely able to feed myself because I had so much trouble focusing. This went on for days, and then I was able to get at least some of my thoughts back. I went from having 100% of my thoughts be about her, to merely 50% of them being about her.

Every other thought was about her. I told my mother and sister about what had happened and they suggested I go to counseling. That never worked out. The next semester came and I had to repeat some classes. It felt like I was in Hell. I couldn’t focus at all, and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to. It was the most painful experience of my life.

Why was this happening? One day while I was talking about it with my mother she told me it was because I was on the spectrum. That was the reason why I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and that was the reason why my thoughts often repeated themselves so much all throughout my life.

Then after the semester ended I got to choose my next classes. I looked at the list of classes available to me, and there was one simple goal I had: to maximize my chances of picking a class that she would also be in. I was going to fix this mess one way or another, and I knew that I had to be able to see her. Maybe if I could sort this out with her then the thoughts would stop.

I showed up for my first day of class and she was right there. After a month of hesitation I passed a note to her explaining the whole autism thing along with documentation of it. The next time we had class together the police hadn’t shown up. I waas ecstatic. I thought maybe we could staart over.

Two weeks passed by before they called me into the school’s administrative office. They told me I wasn’t in trouble but I wasn’t allowed to talk to her anymore. It was devastating. I still couldn’t stop thinking about her, and every day I was tempted to talk to her again.

I started losing weight for her, and I made sure that she saw me every day so she could see how much weight I had lost. I did that from early 2019 all the way until the pandemic hit st. louis in February of 2020. I had managed to lose forty pounds for her. She never seemed to have even noticed. Then one day I went to my psychiatrist and she told me that I had gained ten pounds in two months. I also told her that I had been getting intrusive thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that pop into your mind that you can’t get rid of. For me the thoughts took the form of me imagining myself doing something that would get me into trouble whenever I was in public. I remember one time I was working on a project in a library and there were other people there and I couldn’t stop imagining myself just screaming at them for seemingly no reason.

Sometimes I’d imagine interrupting other people’s conversations, or physically attacking people, or jumping off of a bridge (that one would happen whenever I had to walk over a bridge). These took up about 25% of my thoughts when I was in public.

My psychiatrist swapped out my medication, but the new medication had weight gain as a side effect so I wound up gaining back all the weight I had worked so hard to lose, and I then gained even more. To this day I’m still trying to get rid of the weight.

All that weight gain led to me getting sleep apnea, and so I had trouble waking up in the mornings. Eventually the intrusive thoughts got better because of the new medication but they never completely went away.

She graduated in 2020, while I wound up graduating in 2023 because my grades were so bad.

I started going to events more often, I went to meetups, I met new people, I worked on a novel, and yet no matter what I did I couldn’t stop thinking about her and I couldn’t help but want to contact her.

The ability to resist temptation is like a muscle. It gets stronger when you use it, but like a muscle, you can’t keep it up forever. If you have a sweet tooth and live right near a place that sells candy then it’s only a matter of time before you give in, and for me I wound giving into temptation once every few weeks by sending her a message on facebook.

She never replied and eventually sent a restraining order. When you’re on the spectrum people randomly get pissed off at you. It’s always the polite types who are the worst to have to deal with. There is no way around this other than for other people to get how autism works. People tend to make snap judgments a lot and that is a horrible habit to have that can screw other people over.

If you want to learn more about autism then here’s a playlist for you:

Thoughts on AI art.

I recently came across a tweet on Twitter (I’m not calling it “X”) which claimed that the AI art crowd was being dishonest.

My first gut instinct was that the person tweeting this was the one being dishonest. This was, after all, a straw-man argument. I even made a reply tweet. However I’ve said in the past that you should never draw a conclusion based on just one piece of evidence (I know, I know, I should have thought it out more before responding). There’s always another explanation when you only have one piece of evidence. So what’s the alternative explanation here?

I think it’s possible that this person doesn’t quite understand some of the arguments that the AI art crowd are making. So let’s dive into exactly how programmers think, why so many of them think this isn’t copyright infringement, and what kinds of misunderstandings people might have.

First let’s start with the basics. I made a blog post on the main blog here: https://noahs-blog.net/?p=422 about the basics of computers, but to make a long story short: computers are machines that follow basic instructions which tell them how to think in any way that’s possible.

When programmers think about programming, we think in terms of how we’re shaping an artificial mind to think. That’s why so many people use the argument “It’s mimicking the human brain”. To them it sounds like a convincing argument because not only is this just a machine thinking, it’s even thinking in a way that’s kind of like how humans think.

You wouldn’t call it copyright infringement for someone to look at and remember what a piece of art looks like, would you? Of course not. That would be insane.That’s absolutely comparable to what the computer is doing. In order for it to imagine Pikachu caught in a mouse trap, it first needs to know what Pikachu, and mouse traps look like, and it needs to have some idea of what it means to be caught in a mouse trap.

The only way to do that at this level of technology is to show it a huge number of images with accurate descriptions of what’s in those images so that the machine can learn the pattern. That way it can learn what Pikachu looks like (from images with Pikachu in them), what mouse traps look like (from pictures with mouse traps in them) and what it means for something to be caught in a mouse trap (from images whose descriptions say that something was caught in said trap).

In my opinion computers should have to follow the exact same rules that humans do. We shouldn’t have a separate set of rules for bots because bots are thinking systems much like humans.

Nobody that I’m aware of is claiming that publicly available is the same thing as public domain. The idea is that it’s okay for an AI to look at images and learn the patterns behind them because that’s what humans do all the time. Why shouldn’t machines be allowed to do that as well?

While artists tend to care a lot about intellectual property laws (for some reason), programmers tend to dislike things like copyright and patents. That might be in part because of vendor lock-in (which I’ve described here: https://noahs-blog.net/?p=383 ). STEM related stuff tends to be done better when it’s done openly without worrying about things like patents and copyright.

This is possibly why artists freaked out at the thought of automated tools downloading massive amounts of drawings off the Internet and learning from them. To programmers this is far less big of a deal. Nobody on the programming side of this debate sees it as “stealing art” (whatever that’s even supposed to mean). They’re getting data samples so the computer can learn the patterns behind it.

As for those who think that AIs shouldn’t be allowed to learn the pattern behind art pieces that are publicly available: how SHOULD they learn the patterns exactly? It’s not exactly practical to pay a huge number of people to draw all that art for them. At the end of the day, this was really kind of inevitable.

Hello world!

Hello, this is my second blog. My main blog is noahs-blog.net/ which is supposed to be about explanations for how to engineer things and (hopefully eventually) figure out how to invent everything from scratch.

If you want to contact me my email is: noahmartinwilliams@gmail.com. Also I’m active on twitter if you want to hang out with the username @noah_anyname. I’ve also got this youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB9Bmy34jTl0wx9Kz3cjWEQ I don’t post there very often, but I do have tons of playlists that may be worth checking out.

Thoughts about life, the universe, and everything.