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Swimmer963 comments on Sensual Experience - Less Wrong

13 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 December 2008 12:56AM

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Comment author: Swimmer963 17 January 2013 04:16:15AM *  5 points [-]

It's a very old observation, that Homo sapiens was made to hunt and gather on the savanna, rather than work in an office. Civilization and its discontents...

I'm wondering if you don't necessarily need to modify the human brain in order to make this problem at least a bit better. There are already some jobs that are much closer to "savanna" than "office." I chose to go into nursing because, among other things, I knew about my father's experience working in a cubicle and I never wanted that. Nursing is both intellectually stimulating (very much so in critical care/ICU, which is where I'm currently doing my final clinical rotation), and also "sensual" in the way you describe. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from manipulation physical materials and supplies–mixing drugs, priming IV tubing, changing dressings, etc. It's fun. And then there's the direct human contact, which is kind of exhausting for an introvert like me, but also really, really rewarding.

I'm guessing that jobs like electrician, plumber, etc, are probably similar in having both intellectually and sensorially stimulating aspects. Manual labor or construction leans more towards the sensory, engineering/science towards the intellectual (although some scientists get to play with cool equipment, samples, etc), math and programming are almost solely intellectual, and a great deal of office work seems to be neither.

There are a couple of questions this brings up for me. 1) Can "boring" jobs be made more sensual? I wonder how much of a difference it would make if offices were more colourful, contained obstacle courses, involved walking around more, etc? It sounds silly and even like a waste of time, but if it keeps employees engaged, it might save time. 2) Do boring jobs really need to be done by humans? I'm not talking about jobs like math and programming, which aren't 'boring', just unilaterally intellectual. 3) Can strongly intellectual jobs be reformatted in a more physical way? For example, in the future, could programmers and mathematicians manipulate symbols in the air, like Tony Stark does in Iron Man? This would at least activate significantly more visual cortex than symbols on a screen. And all of these options seem significantly more achievable, with current technology, than trying to change the human brain.

Comment author: Nornagest 17 January 2013 04:27:27AM 1 point [-]

For example, in the future, could programmers and mathematicians manipulate symbols in the air, like Tony Stark does in Iron Man?

Well, doing it in the air probably isn't going to happen until we have augmented reality systems that go far beyond Google Goggles, but I've been hearing speculation about more visually oriented symbol-based programming since at least 1995 or thereabouts: basically, compilable versions of the block diagrams programmers already use for design work. It seems to be one of those technologies that's always ten years off, though.

It's already common for hardware engineers to directly manipulate chip layout through a visual interface, though for all but the simplest circuits there's also a syntactic element in the form of Verilog or VHDL code.

Comment author: gwern 17 January 2013 04:36:28AM 5 points [-]

I thought Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford was a pretty good book on pretty much this topic.

Comment author: insufferablejake 17 January 2013 08:29:53AM 2 points [-]

3) Can strongly intellectual jobs be reformatted in a more physical way? For example, in the future, could programmers and mathematicians manipulate symbols in the air, like Tony Stark does in Iron Man? This would at least activate significantly more visual cortex than symbols on a screen.

I was going to make just such a point about programming. If one were to look at coding as a means of controlling data flow, or controlling state machines or decision paths, then 'coding' by means of drawing up an active flow chart and manipulating this spatially, much like what Stark did, would be awesome fun. This lets me visually and in space stack the scaffolding of ideas, blocks, functions and subroutines, 'see' the connections between blocks and watch the -- the flow of control and data, yank things around 'literally', and so on and so forth.

Comment author: Swimmer963 17 January 2013 01:55:41PM 0 points [-]

This is exactly what I was imagining!

Comment author: V_V 17 January 2013 03:04:05PM *  9 points [-]

It was tried countless times: Visual programming languages. It never worked outside some specific application domains.

Keep in mind that text is a visual representation. It is a visual representation optimized to express our thoughts, trivial or complex, in a precise, efficient, and succint way. We went from making artistic cave paintings and wood carvings to writing simple, standardized characters.

Programming is about expressing how to do something in an extremely precise way, so precise that it can be understood by a machine with little or no intelligence.

Non-textual media might provide an aid when communicating between intelligent humans, and even there it is often used for superficial communication (e.g. advertising). When you need precision, text is probably the most effective choice.

Comment author: Peterdjones 17 January 2013 04:03:00PM 0 points [-]

OTOH, flowcharts and such are still in widespread use. And that a graph (mathematical sense) can be as precise as you like.

Comment author: V_V 17 January 2013 04:14:36PM 2 points [-]

OTOH, flowcharts and such are still in widespread use.

Flowcharts and other types of diagrams are indeed in widespread use, but as design documents to be understood by humans, not as executable specifications. Being made to describe the high-level design of a system to humans, these diagrams are highly abstract and omit most of the details that would be required for an executable specification.

You can define executable graphical languages, as listed in the link I provided, but once you try to use them for anything but a toy example, your diagrams become excedingly large and complicated, essentially unusable.

And that a graph (mathematical sense) can be as precise as you like.

Irrelevant.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 17 January 2013 06:25:19PM 2 points [-]

You can define executable graphical languages, as listed in the link I provided, but once you try to use them for anything but a toy example, your diagrams become excedingly large and complicated, essentially unusable.

There are entire management chains of my acquaintance on whose eyelids I could wish that sentence engraved.

Comment author: bogus 17 January 2013 07:04:27PM *  0 points [-]

There is research being done in improving abstractions for graphical languages. For instance, this applies to graphical representations of monoidal categories (so-called "string diagrams"), which can be used to represent functional programming, monad-based programs (at least to some extent), data-flow, control flow and the like.

It is still the case that textual syntax has a higher information density, though.

By the way, natural language generation could also be used to make programming closer to the cognitive style of humans, and thus more stimulating. I'm not talking about primitive efforts like COBOL here: we could take inspiration from linguistically-inspired formalisms such as Montague grammar to map commonly used calculi and programming languages to natural language in a fairly straightforward way.

Comment author: insufferablejake 19 January 2013 02:11:56PM 0 points [-]

I agree with you in that text is a visual representation of 'units' of ideas, if I were to be not very precise about this, that we string together to convey more complex ideas. And I agree with you that in the kind of complex scaffolding of little ideas into big ones ad. infinitum, that happens in computer science, that the kind of 'coding' medium I was suggesting, would be inefficient. But still the idea has a novelty for us humans who are more at home with spatially manipulating objects and stringing them together as opposed to doing all of this in abstract space.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 17 January 2013 03:59:15PM -1 points [-]

Visual real estate is more limited than cognitive real estate.

Comment author: insufferablejake 17 January 2013 08:55:58AM 2 points [-]

There is this aspect of coding (and I write code for a living), the very act of it, that I do find sensual, (I don't know if others perceive this in the same way or my calling it sensual is just a convenient metaphor for my experience) but as my fingers dance across the keyboard and I see my thoughts take shape on screen, there is a certain poetry there in the form of the combined sounds of my typing, the tactile feedback of the keys themselves and a well executed subroutine staring back at you. Writing that routine was not just a purely mental activity, it involved fine-motor skills, long hours of tapping away to get to stage where you don't even have to look down at the keys, you think the words and your fingers move, of their own accord, to put those words on screen! (This is even better if you use a good tool, such as Vim, to maximize the efficiency of your keystrokes. It's also the reason why I find it supremely satisfying to use mechanical keyboards.)