Incoming links
from play
  • niceness – negative attitude to "purpose stuff". (see anti-purpose)
from Agency Made Me Do It
  • I have basically nothing to offer in this regard. I'm not even sure more agency is always a good thing (see anti-purpose). No, the goal here is just to try to build for myself a more accurate picture of the concept of agency, because it seems to tie together a lot of separate concerns. What good that does anybody, I can't yet say. At one point I had hoped it might provide new ideas for building software, but that hasn't really happened.
from optimizing
  • So it's not that optimization isn't real, it's that it's not a good way for humans to think about themselves. I guess this is most evident in the area of reproduction; the most basic form of optimization, implemented by evolution. With humans, reproductive success is obviously important but people who pursue it directly via some kind of rational process are considered kind of creepy, and often don't do very well at it. It's the kind of goal that can only be achieved indirectly (see anti-purpose).


30 Dec 2020 11:59 - 07 Jul 2021 02:36

    • Purposefulness in itself is a key value of Rationalism (see Being a Robust Agent). A good rationalist not only has goals, they have meta-goals about being more goal-oriented.
    • Not everybody feels that purposefulness in itself is such a great thing. This page is a collection of some writers who expressed doubts. Generally they aren't really opposed to purpose as such, but against a kind of limited, narrow, selfish variety of purposefullness. (see also gradgrindism).
    • Gregory Bateson's "Conscious Purpose vs. Nature" might be the best statement of this point of view. Note the qualifier – he's not against unconscious purpose, which presumably has closer ties to Nature. An equivalent standpoint is to say that goals work best when they are illegible or at least partly so.
    • This very text is working really hard against the idea of having an explicit or unified purpose. Normal texts are organized around a single goal or topic, which makes them readable and also helps people figure out if they are worth reading. I just don't feel like doing that, and the resulting product might appear formless or useless. On the other hand doing so allows me to write in a spirit of play.
    • James Carse's Finite and Infinite Games
      • The dichotomy he sets up between finite games and infinite games is basically between narrow, game-based goals of "winning" and the more expansive goals of infinite play.
      • In kind of a related fashion, this study of children's play behavior: Why are Rooie Rules Nice shows how children manage the purposefulness of their own play activity: they disallow what they call "purpose stuff", which is roughly playing with too much finite-game attitude and not enough niceness which permits the game to go on.
    • There's something authoritarian about being goal-directed. To be purposeful means that one particular sub-agent of your mind has successfully established control over all the other purposes and agents in your society of mind. Obviously this is necessary to accomplish anything, but it's also limiting and unstable.
    • John Cage's published his diary under the title __How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)__ and like his famous aleatoric music is based on chance operations, which is one way of avoiding being consciously goal-directed.
    • Taoists

      • the sage thus seeks what no one seeks he doesn't prize hard-to-get goods he studies what no one studies he turns to what others pass by to help all things be natural he thus dares not act – Lao Tzu 64 (Red Pine translation)
      • The Taoist term wu-wei (無爲) means roughly "action without intention".
        • I have a Lisp library that I named WuWei but I think there is a deep relationship between wu-wei and the characterization of hackers as "lazy engineers" by Stewart Brand (see Deep Laziness).
    • Buddhists

      • Chögyam Trungpa, Meditation in Action has an interesting passage which suggests, not exactly opposition to purpose, but questioning it at least:
        • Q: Would you care to sum up the purpose of meditation? A: Well, meditation is dealing with purpose itself. It is not that meditation is for something, but it is dealing with the aim. Generally we have a purpose for whatever we do: something is going to happen in the future, therefore what I am doing now is important — everything is related to that. But the whole idea of meditation is to develop an entirely different way of dealing with things, where you have no purpose at all. In fact, meditation is dealing with the question of whether or not there is such a thing as purpose. And when one learns a different way of dealing with the situation, one no longer has to have a purpose. One is not on the way to somewhere. Or rather, one is on the way and one is also at the destination at the same time. That is really what meditation is for. (p 83)
      • The Three Terrible Oaths of Dorje Tröllö

        • Whatever happens; may it happen! Whichever way it goes; may it go that way! There is no purpose!
        • There is no purpose, means that there is no one overriding, overarching, all inclusive – ‘purpose’. God is not working ‘His’ purpose out. There is no such ‘God’ and no such ‘purpose’. Reality is simply the dance of emptiness and form and compassion is the recognition that everything is its own purpose of itself. Each moment of reality is perfect as it is.
    • Obliquity, by John Kay
      • A book with the thesis that goals are best achieved indirectly. The author has a business background and a lot of the stories are about how companies with core real-world values often outperform those that are more explicitly motivated by profit.
    • How to Do Nothing, by Jenny Odell
      • Not really about purposelessness, more like resisting the imposed purposes of capitalism and technology. Countercultures are made up of people who have rejected the purposes of the mainstream, but they find their own.
    • Bartleby the Scrivener
      • "I prefer not to"
    • EM Cioran
      • Sarvakarmaphalatyâga . . . Years ago, having written this spellbinding word in capital letters on a sheet of paper, I had tacked it to the wall of my room so I could stare at it throughout the day. It remained there for months, until I finally took it down because I realized I was becoming more and more attached to its magic and less and less to its content. Yet what it signifies: detachment from the fruit of action, is of such importance that anyone who had truly possessed himself of it would have nothing more to accomplish, since he would have reached the one valid end, the real truth that annihilates all the others and exposes their emptiness, being empty itself, moreover—but this emptiness is conscious of itself. Imagine a greater awareness, a further step toward awakening, and he who takes it will be no more than a ghost, a phantom.
        • – Drawn and Quartered, p5