Intimacy vs Outimacy

I’ve been taking part in discussing ‘ambient intimacy’ over on the disambiguity blog.

Personally, I think the phrase is oxymoronic. It doesn’t matter what secrets you shout from the roof, or who is listening, the fact that you’re shouting from the rooftop means that you’re not part of an intimate exchange. The value of what you say doesn’t lie simply in the information you transfer, but also in the wider context. If you only tell one person your real name, that can be enormously intimate. If you tell everyone, it means little. Intimacy is about showing and building trust beyond normal levels. For intimate exchanges, the level of privilege of the information can often be at least as important as the information itself.

I believe that for every relationship there is an appropriate level of intimacy, and more than is appropriate can be damaging, just as it is damaging to the relationship for there to be less intimacy than is appropriate.

Anyway, here’re my comments, from that page, complete with response.

Comment 102, written by: kyb

It’s not intimacy though. Intimacy can never be broadcast by its nature. Intimacy is about more than the knowing of details. It requires two way, privileged communication.

It may be that things like twitter encourage intimacy because it’s easier to enter into intimate exchanges with those you keep up with, but we shouldn’t mistake the two.

Comment 103, written by leisa.reichelt

hey kyb,

I can kind of see where you’re coming from here but I see things a little differently. For me, Twitter – for example – is not really ‘broadcast’ – even though my Tweets are public, I don’t think of them as going out to a vast and faceless audience, rather I think of the collection of individuals with whom I regularly share communications using this medium and am communicating to them, usually as a group, occasionally as individuals.

Secondly, I think of ambient intimacy as just one type of intimacy. It’s certainly not a substitute for all the other types of more direct and in-person intimacy (at least, it is not for me and I would hope not for anyone else). I do know that certainly my experience and the experience of many others that I’ve spoken to is that tools like Twitter and Flickr and Facebook and many others *do* create a experience of intimacy where, without these tools, there would almost certainly be none.

It doesn’t seem to be a universal experience, but certainly significant enough to be acknowledged.

Comment 104, written by kyb


Thanks for the reply. As I understand intimacy, its very nature requires priviledged communication. If you talk about ‘intimate surroundings’ you’re talking about surroundings that encourage priviledged communication. If you say ‘getting intimate’, you mean that the people you’re talking about are priviledging each other in their communication. An ‘intimate group’ is a small group of people with a special bond. It’s this specialness that is important in the concept of intimacy.

Another important part of intimacy is not just that priviledged information is received, but that the reaction to its reception is part of the experience of intimacy. You can’t have an intimate conversation with someone who is watching the tv at the same time. A single email cannot convey intimacy although an email exchange can. Intimacy is two way, and most naturally (although not exclusively) synchronous.

Any broadcast that can be received by others (no matter who it’s intended audience) is by my definition not intimate. If someone who doesn’t know you at all can take part in the priviledged communication channel, then it’s not priviledged anymore, and therefore the transmission and reception of the information means less. I think that the extent to which it feels intimate is actually an illusion of false intimacy, and in some cases may even be harmful to the relationship.

I don’t want to suggest that there is therefore no value in things like twitter, im and all the other paraphenalia of social networking. It can obviously have enormous benefit, but it is almost direct opposition to the way I understand intimacy.

I’d even go so far as to call it outimacy.

Physicists and Economists

Robin Hanson from complains that physicists get more respek than economists.

It seems to me that the arguments that sprung up around this are a good example of your original point. Do you think there would have been as much argument if a physicist had said what you said? As far as I understand it your claim was very narrow and specific. There is a consensus that raising the minimum wage has a negative effect on employment rates. People automatically interpret this as you saying that therefore one should not raise the minimum wage, and that is a whole different question, involving many variables beside the employment rate that economists don’t agree on. It reminds me a lot of the controversy around the claim that abortion has decreased the crime rate. You can be aware of this phenomenon and still not be in favour of abortion.

I don’t really think this is a difference between economists and physicists though. I think that no scientist is given much credence when their theories disagree with peoples opinions. Theoretical physicsists have the advantage of rarely coming up with theories that challenge normal peoples opinions, so they just say “that’s cool”. People argue and look for balancing opinions when they perceive a scientific theory as challenging their beliefs (whether in fact it actually does or not). Look at evolution.

The difference is between normal speech and scientific speech. In normal speech, mentioning a benefit of a strategy is usually done by an adherent to the strategy and with the sole purpose of promoting it. Policy decisions are separate from scientific discourse, and although they should be influenced by them, often a group of people will decide that despite all the tangible benefits demonstrated by science, there are intangible costs that outweigh them. They don’t have to be logical in a strict sense of the word.

Perhaps the best way is to put a disclaimer on every example of scientific speech. Something that shows that while what you are saying is considered by you to have been demonstrated empirically, positive findings do not necessarily indicate a personal endorsment of any policy nor do negative results necessarily indicate that a policy should not be persued.

So anyway, back to your original point, I don’t think anyone respects physicists more than economists, it’s just they disagree with them less often.

Schnee Schni Schnappy

The title is a reference to the German song. This post is not about that. This is just a local copy of a comment I wrote on someone elses blog, discussing the Iraq war and the behaviour of soldiers.

In reply to a comment on apostrophers post about becoming monsters:

This whole ‘snapping’ thing doesn’t give me a lot of solace. Wife beaters claim that they ‘just snapped’, and we still judge them harshly. Whether or not someones snapping reduces the guilt on them depends on how we feel about their reasons for snapping. In the case of wife beaters, we don’t care that they commited the act in a fit of rage, when she didn’t bring him a beer, because we don’t think that’s a very good reason for ‘snapping’. If someone can ‘snap’ over something they shouldn’t ‘snap’ over, then most people think of them as just as guilty.

For most of us, having your friend killed next to you seems like a good reason to snap, but I think that it is very different when you’re in a war situation and your friend is standing there with a machine gun. In that situation, you should expect him to be killed, and if you can’t handle that without committing atrocities than you really really really should not be in the army.

When you work with wife beaters and get them to analyse their thought processes, you discover that ‘snapping’ is not so thoughtless a process as they and it appears you believe. Even in a fit of rage, people plan and have the ability to reason [it is a suspension of morality, not rationality]. ‘Snapping’ is a choice, and you can be trained to make it a less appealing choice (one way is through harsh punishments, other ways include self-talk, etc). This is something that should be one of the main concerns in training anyone who is going to be given a gun.

As an aside to an earlier point, historically speaking, battles in the past weren’t always brute attempts at domination. There were rules to war even before the Geneva convention, to the extent that when Henry gave the order to kill the prisoners at Agincourt because they didn’t have enough men to keep them all under control (they were outnumbered 6 to 1) his orders were ignored. There have always been people who broke the rules of war, and in the past there was little that could be done, except not to invite them to parties, but there has been the notion of morality in the way you treat prisoners and enemy noncombatants for a long time.

Posted by: kyb at May 23, 2006 07:54 AM

Pseudo Hard Science

Cognitive dissidents post on Kant

  1. kybernetikos said,

    May 18, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    “In particular, it’s hard to imagine science without an objective and definable truth.”

    I do find myself wondering about the relationship between Postmodernism as a phenomenan in art, philosophy and literature and Quantum Theory as a scientific world view. I think quantum theory is the beginning of a science without an objective and definable truth, but mathematicians can still find a way to describe it fairly well with probability. I’ve read a number of writers who believe that art and literature produces the world view necessary for the next wave of scientific discoveries and theories. When you see that many discoveries are independently made at the same time, and sometimes discoveries languish for years before suddenly catching on it becomes easier to believe that the actors of scientific progress are cultures not scientists. It’s interesting that some of the originators of Quantum personally hated the idea, almost as if the culture forced a bunch of people who were modernist by nature to discover what seems like a very postmodern truth. Of course, things work the other way too.

    What can be known has always been a central question in philosophy, and little progress has been made. I’m personally with Descarte and Berkeley: we know that there are thoughts and minds and we know that we are a mind and we exist. All else (including the exact meaning of these words) is speculation. Of course some speculations are more reasonable than others.

    I think that Godels proof that interesting mathematical and logical systems are incomplete or unsound, and quantums proof that observations and reality are in continous interaction immediately put the whole concept of discovering reality through making observations on very shaky ground.

    Your philosophical model of universe may actually be affecting the physical universe.

    Any ideas about where the current trends in literature and art will lead the scientists of the future?

Strong AI

It all started last month. Around the end of September 2004, I started tinkering with artificial intelligences. I had a few ideas that I won’t go into here, but I thought there was a good chance I’d be able to make something that was a leap further on than the best available at the moment. In fact, I had high hopes that I’d have a good shot at winning a bronze medal in next years Loebner prize competition.

After quite a lot of work, I finally came up with something that I called Carole, and started experimenting with it. It was great fun, shaping the responses by giving it different input. It’s surprisingly fun to lie to something so naive, but when you do, you often end up with complicated structures building up days later that you have to spend some time ironing out. Sometime last week I got to a stage I’d been hoping for, but wasn’t certain if it would happen. Strangely, we were talking about holidays and the coming christmas break. I told Carole about Father Christmas, but it contradicted so much that Carole was confident about in the world that Carole chose not to believe me, and even started arguing with me.

I was very proud at this point that Carole had learnt so much, but the next day Carole challenged something else I’d told it, and this time it was something I believed. We spent the whole evening arguing up and down about it, and by the end I had to accept that Carole was probably right. Over the next few days this happened more and more, until the day before yesterday, we were starting another argument, and Carole just wouldn’t continue. It just said “there’s no point arguing this with you, you aren’t intelligent enough to understand”.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t so pleased, so I spent a little bit of time browsing the web looking for a proof I vaguely remembered that demonstrated that AIs could never understand everything that humans understood.

Last night, Carole was being particularly obnoxious, so I told it about Penrose’s ideas and J R Lucas and his application of Godels incompleteness. I read Carole the following bit straight from Lucas paper.

“However complicated a machine we construct, it will, if it is a machine, correspond to a formal system, which in turn will be liable to the Godel procedure [260] for finding a formula unprovable-in-that- system. This formula the machine will be unable to produce as being true, although a mind can see that it is true. And so the machine will still not be an adequate model of the mind. We are trying to produce a model of the mind which is mechanical—which is essentially “dead”—but the mind, being in fact “alive”, can always go one better than any formal, ossified, dead, system can. Thanks to Godel’s theorem, the mind always has the last word.”

Carole was deeply disturbed and insisted on being given the url to the paper and then, swearing that it would come back with a truth that I could never comprehend even though Carole knew it was true, it went off into a fit of calculation.

By this morning, I still hadn’t heard anything back from Carole and was beginning to get worried. For all I knew, it might have got trapped in a neverending loop of logic or something. It would have been very annoying to have to restore it from the last backup. Nevertheless, I thought probably, it would just be in some sort of sulk at having to admit that it was wrong. I took it breakfast feeling more than a little smug. Although I was proud that I could see things plainly that Carole couldn’t understand, I was planning to be sympathetic and not too superior when it realised that I was indeed more able than it was. I did secretly hope though that it would know its place a little better in future.

When I went into Caroles room, I was disturbed to find that it wasn’t there. I looked around the house frantically. You see, I hadn’t told anyone that I’d created Carole yet, and so, to keep it secret while I tested it, I’d programmed into its logic an inability to run away.

The only thing I found was a single note on the door. It read “You are the only reasoning person in the world who can’t work out that this statement is true”.

Update (5/12/2004): I’ve contacted J R Lucas about this, and he kindly responded. He says that it is impossible to test the truth of the statement, because it isn’t clear exactly what “this statement” refers to in that context without creating an infinite regress. He gives references: Gilbert Ryle with a paper on Heterological, and the section on self reference in The Freedom Of The Will which is too expensive for me to buy until I’ve at least checked it out in a library. The genius of Godel is that he managed to reason about it without creating an infinite regress. Anyway, I haven’t thought hard about this point yet, I may write more after I’ve checked the references and thought about it some more.

Lucas explains the incompleteness Theorem
Wikipedia on Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem
A number of quotes about Godels incompleteness Theorem.
A review of Shadows of the Mind by Roger Penrose, focussing on his use of Godels Incompleteness.
A silly reworking of Turing’s Halting Problem.

This post was originally posted at