Week #5: Life in Vermont, thoughts in Vermont

February 20, 2018


Thinking back on this week, there has been this very interesting juxtaposition between the possibly unexceptional daily life, and the trans-formative discussions that occurred during the same time frame.

Andrew and I made a routine of hanging out in the hot tub for a few minutes before the gym / after skiing. On this particular Wednesday we ended up talking about our motivations for Artificial Intelligence and what could be our life goals. As we climbed out of the hot tub, we agreed that we want to focus our lives on using A.I to improve the relationships of people around the world.

We picked up Mike later that evening. He’s our old roommate and best friend, he came in by train. we waited for him at the Montpelier train station. Over a long Thai dinner he told us about the roller coaster ride of his half year relationship. It turned long distance, and through a few fumbles and indecision, it had just ended a few days before. We picked apart everything that happened in the relationship with him, and it was interesting to be talking again about relationships on a very zoomed in level compared to the blue sky conversation earlier that day.

Back at the snow house, we caught up on all our projects. Andrew and I had rekindled an idea we’ve been playing with for a while now; which is using A.I to provide a means for keeping track of events, people and things in your life better than any existing tools. Turns out Mike has been working on a relationship management tool himself. We all agreed there exists a problem around relationships and experiences (or lack-thereof) for everyone. Facebook as a social network attracting 2 billion people isn’t a coincidence; there is a fundamental need there. This concept of a problem existing here is still a bit nebulous; we don’t know yet what aspect of these ideas we should address with engineering.

Later in the week we decided to stop in the local town. There are all these small shops we would pass by every day on the way to the mountain. Every once in a while we’d say something like ‘I wonder what’s in all these shops’. Turns out there were pottery stores, toy stores, old fashioned general stores and everything you would expect to see in a quaint Vermont town. Al in all it was kind of nice to get a better feel for the surrounding area; every time I drive by the shops they hold a little bit more meaning to me.

Last night, right as Andrew and I pulled into the driveway of our snow house, I killed the engine, then we kind of just sat there for a long while, looking at the snowy moonlit fields and the shadowed forests . We touched on ideas about being present, about losing information about your own life, about how doing the same thing every day makes life slip by so much faster. I wonder if every person thinks these kind of thoughts at least once in their lifetime.

Lastly, I just finished watching a lecture on Freedom. So here comes a block of notes.

Turns out there is a lot of history around the word, and a good amount of work has been put in to understand what Freedom even means.

Hobbes started out centuries ago by saying Freedom is two fold; first, the power to act on your options and alternatives. Second, the lack of interference by any external agency on your body, which would render all alternative options impossible. So essentially, if you’re able to do it, to be free means you are able to do it without anyone stopping you.

John Locke said, “What about coercion? Coercion and freedom can co-exist?” Turns out if a highway robber says to you “give me your money or your life”, you are free to choose, but the reality is that the ‘your life’ deal is really ineligible, so you’re really not free. So really if an external agency stops you by force or by bending your will with negative coercion, you just lost your freedom.

That’s a good definition, but things only get weirder from there. Bensen Berlin said “Yeah, freedom exists in the absence of interference by external agencies… but what if the agent who takes away your freedom is you yourself?”

Turns out, there are a couple ways where you can remove your own freedom too. If you are preventing or compelling your actions by the following things, you are no longer acting freely:

Passion: strong emotions, such as anger or love can cause you to act not in accordance with your true motives, but what is licensed by the strong emotions. You are now a slave to your emotions and not free. In-authenticity: One may think he or she is free, but they choose what is customary in preference over their inclination, until it occurs to them to have any inclination except what is customary. There is a possibility that your decisions are based less on what you want and more about what society may want of you. False Consciousness. This one I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Your very own thoughts may not have been true to your own interests. If you’ve ever read Brave New World, I think this encapsulates the dystopic feeling of the novel. Everyone in the novel believed themselves to be perfectly happy, but their thoughts on the matter were put in place at birth by the central authority. Hagel dismissed all these ideas, and simply said you are truly free what you act in accordance with the essence of your true nature. This branched off into representing Freedom with the idea of self-realization, determining your civic essence or your spiritual essence. Only when you act in accordance to this are you truly free. Wasn’t quite sure on this one myself.

The last addition to the construct of freedom was the concept of dependence. Matthew Kramer said that if you are dependent on anyone else, then your actions will be based on not only your own will, but that which to maintain the good will of whoever has power over you. Your decisions can never be autonomous, and you are not free. Even if the power you depend on gives you free reign, the mere acknowledgement of dependence will cause self-censorship. When you are subjected to the arbitrary power of someone else, you are no longer free. Taxation without representation was a good example. We had no say in the amount of taxes, so we were dependent on the good will of Britain and therefore not free.

So in summary, Freedom only can exist when you have the power to act on any of your available options, provided that there is absolutely no interference by an external agency on your body or bending of the will, by your own self, making sure to act that which aligns with your true nature, and without being dependent on anyone.

Sounds like it is very hard to be truly free.

If you want to watch the lecture too, here’s the link:


So, a lot of heavy thoughts this week. On a cheerier note, outside of the talks we have, every day has been just pure fun. It’s very low stress up here for sure.

See you next week. Josh