In Shanghai, he tells me of a stratification, or rather a segmentation since it is not so emphatically temporal. I’ve mentioned it before – “… Below the temple is not the rivers and lakes but the general’s platform. Below the general’s platform is the row of soldiers extending to the rivers and lakes (江湖). Below the rivers and lakes are the people-slaves, blind-slaves, grass-slaves.”
But I am frustrated by his frequent outbursts of disdain, raising his voice about how thoughtless and automatic someone is, like livestock, and he says to me while they can hear, “But grass-slaves, what can we do about it? Maybe you have the patience for them, but I don’t. Of course I don’t want to be like this either. I know wrathfulness will diminish my lifespan too. I can’t continue this forever.”
He drives his wife to tears, and he is not blind to his material position. His wife tells our female colleague that for over a decade she has never known a husband’s love, but only a boss’s severity. She tells me that she has spoken against him before, but that she has grown tired, and stays only for the sake of their children.
Then I looked over all the assembly of beings and said in verse,
Don't you know the precariousness of your condition? Are you so deluded by the ideal that you've become blind to the material? Have you still not realized the emptiness of discernment on the level of aphorisms, such as saying of a value-production (a desiring) induced by advertisement or gamification: "that is not real value"? Therefore there is an evil in your affective aura, in your qi field, in your reality distortion field since you are fond of Steve Jobs - Because do you not recognize the conflict manifest in your demands? You insist that they are not idle but "have work in their eyes", but call them pigs and vermin when their actions do not comply exactly with what you would have done. Do you not recognize that your "system thinking" is by no means the only imposition of a total segmentation onto variegated phenomena, prismatic and diverse? Since you have not established an object sutra, and especially since you are inconsistent even within yourself, an inharmonious many, and cruelly tossed about by worldly attachments and immediate demands, Do you not see that you are inflicting all about you exactly Bateson's "double bind", and its schizophrenic consequence? If you instruct an infant to act thusly, but strike her whenever she moves to obey - isn't her condition clear?
And he replies, “But are they all infants? Who here is an infant?”, and one by one “Are you an infant? Are you an infant?”, and of course no one says that they are.
Ascending the highest peak of the Zhoushan Archipelago, on Peach Blossom Island, we come across a statue of Kshitigarbha. It’s a rainy day, and he prostrates three times on the wet stone. I say that I also like Kshitigarbha, and prostrate six times saying “ཨོཾ་ཀྵི་ཏ་ས་གརྦྷ་ཀྵིཾ་སྭཱ་ཧཱ།” as taught by Mipham.
Then I mention Kshitigarbha’s vow – he finishes it for me before I ask, “not to attain nirvana before all the hells are emptied”, and I ask if he abides by such a vow himself. He says he abides by an even stricter version, that he will not attain nirvana before earth is emptied.
But he admires Elon Musk, and mentions regularly how mundane existence is like a cage that we must escape from. It has even become literal. He admires Musks’s ambitions to go to Mars. We in the Western internet know how childish it looks, but I thought it might be forgivable given China’s isolation. He mentions regularly how I mustn’t evaluate his condition’s or China’s from my global perspective, because I have seen the very heights of things and tend to look on a realm of demons like a complacent god.
His wife asks me with great emotion whether I agree that earth is like a prison. It becomes one of those terribly simple situations where like with the Wolf-Man, Freud would “brush up against the truth and pass it by”.
Then I looked over the many beings gathered and said in verse,
Do you know how ridiculous you look? Are you blind and stupid, or do you lie to yourself because you are helplessly entangled in samsara, and thrown about by karmic eddies greater than your power? I see manifestly that you are in a cage, but for what simple totem's sake must you maintain that its bars are the mundanity of Earth? I have seen wonderful and compassionate bodhisattvas, manifestations of Kṣitigarbha, and miraculously compassionate beings who take on his vows as their own. But their own freedom is distinct and radiant, vividly illuminating the hells through which they pass. Meanwhile I only stay with you because I am lazy, and because you do not impose a great burden upon me as I wait to exit the world neatly. You have repeatedly asked me to decide whether I should choose to enter or exit the world, emphasizing that world-entry is full of pain. I answer clearly and repeatedly that I do not wish to enter it, but you are not even free enough to resist trying your utmost to pull me in regardless, because you hope my material value will deliver your family from hell.
But he says that he has seen in prophecy that I will surely be world-entered for another 30 years at least, and again that the condition of China is too distinct from wherever else I’ve been, and that he doesn’t even like Zhuangzi, who writes of idling in untroubled ease.
I know I am entangled in samsara again. There’s a girl I fuck often enough that I miss her when we’re apart for a long time, and I think of her when I’m sad. It’s comforting when she holds and licks me gently, like a mother cat licking her newborn kittens after they’ve been touched by something foreign.
She told me she stayed not because she liked or trusted her employer, but because she liked and trusted me. So for her sake among other things I left that hell, and now she intends to follow me to Guangzhou or Beijing.
My relatives ask if I have a girlfriend, and I say that there is a girl in Shanghai who loves me and intends to come find me in a couple of weeks. I tell her so, and when she asks why I don’t say that I love her, I smile and joke around.
While we lived together I never expected to communicate with her very thoroughly and vividly, but since there was nobody else around, I would speak to her at length anyway about various intimate things, also because she liked to hear my voice.
I looked upon the beings assembled and said in verse,
About these great problems that would lead someone to abandon a nice career in industrial materials to attack them, to do something meaningful and profound, 1. incredibly high and rising divorce rates, a disillusionment with lasting love, 2. ineffective education and the suppression of children's innate talents, 3. lack good food in and out of the home, I agree that they are worthy, and it is a shame that we are so karmically doomed. I like that our experience here is pure and simple, because I have known many things that lead ambitious people to develop totemic personalities around them - psychedelics like LSD and MDMA and ayahuasca, or jhana practice, or various methods of paying attention to commonly unattended-to things, like sensation and emotion. Even I agree that our defaults of relating to one another are not ideal, and can be practically improved upon within a small scope. If we so committed, there are ways to stay in love forever, more subtle but more effective than a dogmatic insistence on various sutric items, which point at a problem seen but not well-understood. Of course the whole world should not be as if on LSD or MDMA all the time, maybe not even as if highly practiced in various contemplative traditions. But there are wonderful possibilities available even if for just one person and their small surroundings, whether it be a thorough compassion and vulnerability, or miraculous openness to experience and annihilation of the limits by which most people are safely constrained. Even for example, how I think that peacefully and blissfully dying a painless death with the acceptance of my dearest loved ones can be a goal actively and skillfully pursued, only as hard as the casting away of many taboos which have already been cast away by powerful movements. But this one has been so much more difficult than I anticipated when I was young. Because though my mother agreed to not interfere with my death, even to try to be there to gently comfort me, the next time I decided I really wanted to after February. And though she said she'd be however much more likely to believe me after seeing and hearing me happy, because I told her I'd certainly be well and happy upon having something to do in China, but unchanged in my fundamental attitudes on life and death, still she is so frustratingly unready, and takes every sign of my happiness as an excuse to convince herself that I am only temporarily unwell, or that I will soon find a reason to attach myself to human experience for a long time, even though I have been communicating with her about such things even since I was about 15, only all while saying it was something of the future, so that she could put it off in her mind and not confront it too directly, so as to be painful. And it saddens me how much of a rift in our relationship it creates, how differently I value my life vs. my mother, so that I find it increasingly difficult to talk to her even though I so valued our good relationship with each other and wanted to exert myself to preserve it. And it has has had a very damaging effect on my relations with others too, because nobody living likes to be near to things relating to death. And whenever I love someone, my mother cannot relate to the situation without a lot of distortion because she wants me to keep on living, and it also distorts my own relation to love. I love you now and know that you don't want me to die either. I know that you also say that you hate hearing about such things. But surely you know that I am not thoroughly bound to life by you, and also that you wouldn't want to be such an object for me either.
She says she thinks I must have had a very unhappy childhood, and that I must have been hurt severely. Wanting to believe her, and because she is so gentle, I lean into her arms and cry.
Moving frequently from place to place, and involving myself in each rather than lingering on surfaces, the great rifts and valleys obstructing a dull homogeny, or a perfect flow of information, and making thermodynamic ultimates quite irrelevant to our daily experience, become exceedingly visible again.
Invited to China again, only because he was financially desperately and wanted me to “invest” in his company, filling the holes of 3 years of almost no business during the pandemic, and also because he knew his mode of operations was far too behind the times to offer him and his family any hope of material freedom within a lifetime, still I found something worthwhile to do.
I thought it might be valuable to assess and model human knowledge automatically by similar techniques as we’ve used in the development of various AI systems, especially while pure zero-shot inference from a generic large language model has not been powerful enough.
We can model a knowledge domain as a graph between nodes, and find the most root gaps in a user’s knowledge by processing artifacts they naturally produce in various ways. We can scan a student’s homework and quizzes and categorize each problem by knowledge node, then use Bayesian inference to determine the probability they grasp each node. We can monitor the activity of a user of some complicated software system to determine what features they don’t use, but which might be useful to them. We can embed what a user says during text conversations with an AI tutor into a latent space, then use techniques similar to sentiment analysis, or other geometric techniques, to evaluate the user’s style of thought, and to better contextualize LLM-driven tutoring sessions.
Well, but in China the whole internet is separate from the rest of the world. There is no analogue to Vercel or Netlify. There is no hosted Supabase or DuckDB, not even a DX-focused Postgres solution like Neon. Everywhere I go people just want me to teach their children English. Apparently I can make 1000 yuan an hour from that in private sessions. My relatives in various fields see various things of value I can do for them and want me to stay in China and “explore other opportunities.” Half the ugly things that spring up first in a tech boom and make enough profit for a few entrepreneurs’ lifetime financial freedom, then die, are still unknown and available here.
I looked over the myriad congregated masses and said in verse,
I'm here to look around. Maybe I'll stay and maybe I won't. It's clear that there are many opportunities here, since there are many things I am used to and find valuable that are not available here. An aunt who used to work at Baidu says she will take me around to talk to various CTOs of companies that emerged from there. It seems that something doesn't have to be completely novel in the world to be valuable or marketable here, since China has isolated itself in many regards. In college, I started working for a tech company after classes moved online during the pandemic, and decided not to go back after in-person classes resumed only because I was earning and learning more from work than college. It's not like I'm terribly ambitious; I just don't think it would be worthwhile to finish college or to find a job at an established company, since I'd be undervalued for not having a degree. There's a girl who loves me in Shanghai, and she intends to come find me in a few weeks, at least to play together for a while, though she has no definite plans afterwards. Her family doesn't want her to go somewhere too far away, so we wouldn't have a future together if I go back to the U.S., though I wouldn't necessary stay for her. The things you mention are familiar to me, but the field is very vast and probably not interrelated along the lines you expect. For example, those robots are not one monolithic system, but a composite of subsystems each for a specific function. Large language models don't have an internal logic pre-configured by or understandable by humans, like traditional domain-specific programs. No, they are not accessing a database, and the basic mechanism is actually rather simple, but their scaling behavior isn't well-understood.
And they say that really there are many opportunities in China and that it would be good for me to stay, and ask me various questions about anything that seems related to “tech”, indicating such a vast distance between them and the discourse I’m familiar with, and nod in feigned understanding as I reply.