Metaprogramming Skill

There comes a time when programming itself is normal, easy.  You can encounter problems that are difficult to solve, sure, but programming itself is as second-nature as talking or driving.  Thinking in that way of looking at problems as systems of decomposable parts becomes second nature.

Whether at this point or beforehand, a programmer encounters a particular reality over and over again.  The real impediment to coding is not lack of knowledge about a programming language or a functional library, nor again is it the difficulty of reasoning about the problem space.  The difficult thing about programming, once you’re good at it, is learning how to enter that highly efficient flow-state at will.  The really difficult thing is in being able to pop in and out of it as people distract you without even knowing they’re plunking your cognitive handle holds.

I don’t think a lot of people really get good at this (especially that second part).  But it really depends on your flow state, too.  Some flow states are deeper than others.  You may be accustomed to a “2 inch deep” flow state whereas someone else may prefer “10 foot deep” flow states.  My experience is that 10 foot deep flow states are more challenging to get into and stay in than 2 inch deep flow states, but they’re also better.  When you’re flowing 10 feet deep you can not only flow with your fingers over the keyboard and complex editor key chords and the nano-functionality you’re working on at the moment, but you can also keep a strategic eye on the overall architecture and even on the long-term goals of the system.  Ideally, you can gain the practice of settling into your coding time such that you sink down through 2 inch flow states to 10 foot flow states as distractionless-time accumulates as if pulled by gravity.

Picture it – the flow state is pulling you down.  A little hypnotic suggestion can always help.

But the first thing you have to do is give yourself space to let that settling down commence.  From the outside, that looks like a person sitting at a computer staring at a screen.  From the inside, it feels like disengaging-from/quieting the inner dialog and expanding one’s proprioreception (oh yeah, that’s right, I have an abdomen and it has more to say than “I’m hungry”, in fact, it’s talking about how it is straining to help my lower back with my bad posture…).

This is all the same as meditation.

A foundational skill of a programmer, in my book, is the ability to sit in front of a computer and check into oneself to the point where one finds oneself flowing into the flow state, almost as if by habit.  Programming becomes a meditation on the programmer-body-action/problem-object/solution-visualization.

In this state, we are the wizards of a world that is redesigning itself for us through us.

 

Bonus Material: What is flow state?  Why does “going deeper” allow you to keep track of more that is going on (and there is a hell of a lot going on when a programmer programs).  I think the going deeper is simply the stilling of the personal ego.  Less of the mind’s resources are going into propping up an internal context of meaning concerning one’s “personality” and ALL of its desires and complaints.  As these resources of conscious attention free up, they naturally start seeing all the other stuff that is going on in the mind.  They also give the brain’s “user”, the conscious will, a chance to stand back and SELECT which thoughts to give extra time in the spotlight of conscious attention.

 

USE my_brain

SELECT * FROM BackgroundThoughts WHERE StrategicValue > 100 and AssociativityThreshold < 5

GO

 

In this way, the conscious mind can be used in the way it is best utilized – as a strategic overlay to initiate and adjust automatic processes in situ, in relation to a higher-level view of the details of the moment.  This is where masters like to set up base camp.

User Interfacing

User interfaces, as I am understanding them, are akin to dendritic wormholes in the social brain.  In some way, these days, we use our muscles, even if they be finger flicks or eye movements (there’s also less widespread interfacing directly with nervous system), to connect our minds to this vast flow of information and meaning that is around us, willy nilly.

User interfaces facilitate the manipulation and navigation of information by consciousness.  As our user interfaces interface more and more directly with the central nervous system, the metaphors we use to interact with information will crawl and then jump to fly ever further away from the desktop.  We’ll be able to communicate in animated meanings without all the indirection of our technology-limited ways of communicating these past billion years.

That will be a stitching together of mind on a distributed scale.  It puts me in mind of the books Nexus and Crux by Ramez Naam.  Great books.

I already consider the global super organism to be real and manifestly existing.  But I can see how others are dubious of reifying a distributed processes.  But I think of how the atmosphere is solid when you smash into it, even as it’s ethereal when you move through it slowly, or the body from the perspective of a molecule or a cell.  I consider the resiliency of our economy, as it shuttles matter and services about.  I don’t consider telephone poles nor electrical wires to be inorganic.  I don’t consider stainless steel counters in restaurants to be inorganic either.  They’re evolving solutions to biological problems utilizing available raw materials.  That’s life to a ‘t’.

The natural/artificial world-split is artificial.

But I do wonder what “self-awareness” looks/feels like for the beast.  I doubt these words constitute it, even as they’re read.  It would probably be in evidence past a certain threshold and density of efficacious social interaction over the “www”.  It would exist as a vast conversation with great inbuilt context that had an onboarding process perhaps even measured in years.  As the internet enables networks of people to specialize and influence other networks stably, using these powerful CNS-integrated “languages”, we’ll see a brain-like vortex of activity form.

Well, we already have to a certain degree, and that conversation already exists, and you are a part of it as you read these words as I am by writing and maintaining them, but we’ll have better tools to visualize this reamalgamerging our births injected our layered selves within in real time.  Like Google Earth to the fifth power.

innerspace

Same idea from a different angle to help throw things in sharp relief.

One last thing.  In a certain sense, this is the most important thing going on right now.  This is because no matter what whiz-bang technologies are invented that exploit the laws of nature, if we can’t, as a species, develop a more mature conversation, we’re going to lose.  Efficacious conversation is a law of nature.

User interfaces to save the day!!!  Talk about an underdog.

 

*Check out Discourse if you’re interested in stepping down an inroad (has the pedigree of Stack Overflow and Coding Horror: Because Reading is Fundamental [I sincerely encourage you, if you’ve read this far, to give that last link a chance {please comment on the irony of this request below |and if you’ve got the time, reflect on how these hooks play a biological, proteanic role in shoring up that massive self-aware conversation I mentioned earlier <maybe you could drop a few breadcrumbs for someone else? /in such ways the avalanche snowballs!just saying!/>|}]).

Our Yogic Homunculus

I was reading in David Gordon White’s Anthology Yoga in Practice and a funny image came to me.  Sadly, I’m not going to be able to express the actual image visually for you because I don’t have those skills tonight, but I can mix and match a couple things to get the trick done.

In fact, upon reflection, the image has transformed into an animation.

So, to set this up, in the introduction the editor’s discussing how modern Hatha yoga as a tradition in India had all but died out and was never as salient as it is today anyway.  He writes of how Krishnamarchya had to venture to Tibet to learn of it and what he ultimately taught was a mixture of traditional Hatha yoga postures and “British military calisthenics, and the regional gymnastic and wrestling traditions of southwestern India”.  In the west, a majority of yoga practitioners don’t deeply encounter or care about alternate facets of the Yoga and seem to approach yoga as another workout widget consonant with the goals of fitness, health and sex.

Yoga is such a vast landscape of practices and theories.  But at its core it is not and was never about fitness or even health.  I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to say what it is about, finally, but I have a useful working definition for myself: I call it Jungian individuation:

Jung considered individuation, a psychological process of integrating the opposites including the conscious with the unconscious while still maintaining their relative autonomy, necessary for a person to become whole.[4]

Besides achieving physical and mental health,[42] people who have advanced towards individuation tend to be harmonious, mature and responsible. They embody humane values such as freedom and justice and have a good understanding about the workings of human nature and the universe.[4]

So, on the other hand, we have this Yoga of mindfulness.  Perhaps even Citta Vrtti Nirodhah, the stilling of the spiking of the mind out from its center (my wording).  The yoga of self-discovery and transformation in a holistic, personally relevant way.

The image that came to me is a meshing of the above disparity with the image for the relative surface area of the brain dedicated to various body regions known as the “cortical homunculus“:

18lta79g0prpkjpg + Eight Limbs of Yoga

This is showing the relative area of each body part represented in the motor cortex.  Roughly, this could be said to correspond to our felt sense of physical self, as in, overall, this is how our body consciousness is spread out over time.

On the other end of the imagining’s pole we have the image of the 8 limbs of Yoga (I’d imagined more of a big round wooden ship wheel, but I couldn’t find that on Google).

And I laughed at how distorted our yogic homunculus is.

But then as I started to share this funny image I realized we are each transforming and balancing our “yogic homunculus” (and that’s summing up culturally) even as yoga is surely helping to balance out our own “cortical homunculus” as we turn on and refine awareness of parts of our own body and nourish connections outward everywhere.

And to be clear, I am not criticizing the Western emphasis on Hatha yoga.  In fact, I see it as saving a baby whilst throwing out quite a bit of bathwater.  If one looks at what Krishnamacharya passed on, it is vital and integral and it all meshes very well cutting edge research on the mind/body.  There are, of course, other yoga practices that I am not really qualified to say much about except that I enjoy reading about them in that book I mentioned in the beginning.  Some of them are downright bizarre historical aberrations.  I think Hatha yoga is an especially appropriate balance for our technological drift.  It may even be our saving grace.

Deus ex Machina

I wanted to understand the connection between the ‘machina’ of ‘deus ex machina’ and the ‘machine’ of today.  The ‘god in the scaffolding’, the ‘spirit out there’ – and mechanics, machines, things that concentrate the laws of physics into dynamism that can be exploited intentionally.

What connection could there possibly be?

It’s actually very clear to me how the gods descended Olympus into the atom – their diaspora into scrutability.

We used to think the events of the world were animated by intentions, because intentions were what we were comfortable with and what we understood.  Over time, these bastions of intention slowly fell way.  My guess would be because the people who saw things a certain way no longer communicated it (dead).  Without that there was a void of understanding.  In that void a pressure to mythopoeize dominated.  But the knowledge and memory of culture had moved on and so the mythopoeisis expressed more refinedly.  Especially the ones that snowballed through time.  Again.  And then Again.  And so on.

And we called them ‘machines’, these things we use to attach intention to the laws of physics.  Can you see the flow of the ‘spirit’ perception within humans, from the forces and events of nature to the… forces and events of nature that we have contained and controlled?

Truly, we’ve wrangled Zeus and some of the others.  And if you look athe direction of things you can see the ‘machine’ has quite the trajectory.

We may just end up with ‘deus ex machine’.