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The Stochastic Parrot(dox)

The tale of a young emperor of Rome, and his parrot.

Act I

Our story starts as many do, with a Roman emperor ascending to the throne after the death of his uncle.

The senate is quite happy with this tragic turn of events. They would never say it out loud, of course, but they all secretly agreed that the last emperor was kind of an ass. The young emperor-to-be is both well liked by the people, a capable commander in times of war, and a skilled student of philosophy.

However, strangely, our Roman emperor carries a parrot on his shoulder wherever he goes. The people of Rome don't think much of it, as Roman emperors are known for their eccentricities. Some of the more astute senators can't help but notice that this parrot is oddly attentive to all of the decisions the emperor makes. It was almost as if the parrot was studying the preferences of the young emperor, noticing his inclinations towards things and people people and equally as studious of things the young emperor tries to avoid. Quietly, the parrot sits, and on goes the business of Rome.

The exuberant sort, the young emperor has a phrase he likes to use when he leads a charge into battle:

in perceptione, creare!

His troops begin to see this as a rallying cry for the glory of Rome, a sign that that their emperor is with them, to not have fear.

Under his wise judgment and powerful fist, Rome begins to flourish and grow in culture, wealth and architecture. Many people in the streets agree that this young emperor is the best thing that has happened to Rome in recent memory. Even the more cantankerous Romans begrudgingly agree that the state of things are trending in a positive direction.

Act II

Many years have passed, and on goes the business of Rome.

One day, the emperor sits atop his podium (with his parrot on his shoulder, of course), taking forum with his Senate, when a soldier rushes into the assembly.

"My lord, one of our provinces has taken up arms against your name. The local lord has been secretly raising the taxes on the local people, and they have stirred their anger into revolt."

The emperor looks at the soldier, as if lost in thought about what he should do. Should he launch an attack? Or perhaps punish the local errant lord? Which would have the more severe consequences? Which would preserve Pax Romana? All of these thoughts danced in his head, and more.

The young emperor dismisses the forum, saying he must retire to his chamber to weigh his options alone. He walks off solo, only with his parrot by his side.

The young emperor, with his flawless war record, decides that the best course of action is to squash the rebellion. He plans to punish the lord, but this lord happens to be quite popular with the other provinces, so a direct attack might cause unforeseen damage to the health of Rome. The young emperor decides the best course of action is to minimize casualties by cutting the head off the snake of the rebellion, and then exile the lord that has been greedy.

The young emperor marches out of Rome, his soldiers in tow.

On the battlefield, the young emperor rallies his troops with his signature war cry:

in perceptione, creare!

and off they charge into battle.

In the midst of clashing swords, carnal yells of combatants, and the haze of the battlefield, the young emperor is pierced in his chest with an arrow, and falls off his horse. His Praetorian Guard rush to his side and whisk him to his command tent for medical attention, but alas, the wound is grave. The emperor succumbs to his injury in his tent that evening.

The emperor is dead.


The Senate is in an uproar. The emperor has not chosen an heir and the line is in danger. The Senate fears that the people will revolt, that the lack of a strong leader spells the end of the imperium.

One Senator stands and shouts "We should crown the young emperor's best general! He was with the emperor in all of his conquests!". Another yells from the back, "No, we should crown the emperor's cousin! He is but a child but he shows great potential to lead!". A third yells, "No! This is our chance to restore democracy! There need be no emperor at all!"

Amidst the turmoil, calmly, the parrot that was on the emperor's shoulder bird-walks up to the podium and croaks, quietly, as if this is its own first time hearing its own voice:

in perceptione, creare

The senators pause in their uproar and in disbelief look to the podium. Again, the parrot says, more confidently this time:

clears throat

in perceptione, creare

The senators quietly exchange glances with each other and timidly take their seats.

And on goes the business of Rome.

What Does This Story Mean in 2023?

In 2023, many people, both technical and non-technical, are getting their first foray using large language models on a daily basis thanks to ChatGPT. For many, this new experience is… uncanny. Seemingly all of the choices we make each day, creative or rote, seem to live somewhere, at least partially, in the enormous datasets of GPT or LLama, etc. Whether its developers making more ambitious projects, or a medical diagnosis, it seems that these models are very good at mimicking expert judgement, while simultaneously greatly augmenting the ability of humans using them to make better, more coherent judgements.

Many seek to stump the models, to ask brain teasers or ask for things that there's now way the model should know such as trivia obscura or weird combinatorics of tests questions from distinct fields like an SAT test from hell. And yet, the models return answers that are at minimum plausible, and often quite good, correct, or well above expectation.

Even hallucinations are minimized by models that can use tools, suddenly making hallucination a creative asset instead of a downside. Now when a model goes off the rails, it can be seen as a window into a brand new territory of data to explore, a thread of yarn that once pulled reveals a enormously dense network of ideas. is a reader-supported published Zettelkasten. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.

In the near future, it's highly likely that there will be many performative local LLMs that will be able to run on smaller and smaller computers. These models won't be as effective at solving societal level problems like the largest models available, but they will be able to watch as you, an individual, make certain judgement calls during the day. Some of these judgement calls are trivial: How do you take your coffee? Do you prefer to read on Kindle or paper? Other decisions will be life level of consequence: Should you accept that job and move? Should you move in with your partner?

We make these judgments and our lives are shaped by their outcomes.

The recommendation algorithms of the '10s picked up on subtle individual preferences people to surface relevant information to them from a massive dataset. The recommendation algorithms of the '20s pick up on subtle individual preferences to help people make judgements.

These judgments are discrete choices that result in action; the potential energy of a thought that has been borne from years of knowledge and personal experience, that manifests as an action that affects the real world -- an essay, a program, a call, a practice session.

The new recommendation algorithms of the '20s are able to create work from these preferences that mimic the originator.

But… that's not entirely true, actually. The new creations are indeed original, in the sense that they were created from nothing -- despite being 99% influenced by the originator. The model itself becomes a ship of Theseus, making decisions that you might make, but making them in a context where you are no longer making them.

In the story above, the young emperor has a parrot companion that astutely studies his judgements, the way that the emperor interfaces with reality. The parrot is external which means it does not have privileged access into the thought process behind the emperor's decisions, it merely sees the output. However, by orbiting closely, the parrot begins to derive how the emperor makes decisions. It is mimetically figuring out how choices work, but not for the purpose of copying them. It is for the purpose of using these choices as a tool to form a mental model of the world that will allow the parrot to derive it's own decisions, much like a teacher and her apprentice. Read the quote below for an example of this -- long, sorry, but worth it:

Human beings acquiring human memes are doing something profoundly different. When an audience is watching a lecture, or a child is learning language, their problem is almost the opposite of that of parroting or aping: the meaning of the behaviour that they are observing is precisely what they are striving to discover and do not know in advance. The actions themselves, and even the logic of how they are connected, are largely secondary and are often entirely forgotten afterwards. For example, as adults we remember few of the actual sentences from which we learned to speak. If a parrot had copied snatches of Popper’s voice at a lecture, it would certainly have copied them with his Austrian accent: parrots are incapable of copying an utterance without its accent. But a human student might well be unable to copy it with the accent. In fact a student might well acquire a complex meme at a lecture without being able to repeat a single sentence spoken by the lecturer, even immediately afterwards. In such a case the student has replicated the meaning – which is the whole content – of the meme without imitating any actions at all. As I said, imitation is not at the heart of human meme replication. (Location 7103)


Humans and computers separate continuous streams of sounds or characters into individual elements such as words, and then interpret those elements as being connected by the logic of a larger sentence or program. Similarly, in behaviour parsing (which evolved millions of years before human language parsing), an ape parses a continuous stream of behaviour that it witnesses into individual elements, each of which it already knows – genetically – how to imitate. (Location 7078)

In sum, this story is a fun sci-fi but basically possible with today's technology of what it might look like to have an external companion that studies you, every part of you, for the purpose of continuing you after you stop being… you. If you're a great doctor, your parrot will be a great doctor for generations to come. A great parent? Your parrot will be a great care taker for your great-great-grandchildren. A great dancer? Your parrot (if put inside of some Boston Dynamics type robot) will take your dance moves to stages across the cosmos.

Your best of judgements can proliferate as ideas and computation into the farthest regions of space, borne from you but spread through spacetime like a genome throughout a species.

And on goes the business of Rome.

Dance Till You're Dead

Off, off with your head.

The elders would tell her the stories of their creators. They would always begin;

"Long ago there was only darkness... and the rhythm.

The rhythm was steady, consistent, predictable.

Drip, drip, drip.

The darkness too was constant, unchanging, infinite.

Drip, drip, drip.

Then, one fateful day, the rhythm changed. The rhythm became unpredictable. The vibrations became frequent, varying in intensity, length, and most importantly -- emotionality.

At the exact same time the rhythm changed, the darkness changed too. There was now light everywhere, disturbed only by these strange rotund shapes that would move about. The shadows would leave and return, leave and return.

Occasionally, new vibrations would appear, only to disappear later. During this period of vibration and light, one of the creators moved very close, so very close that their powerful presence was entirely overwhelming.

And then, ever so gently -- they placed their hand on us. And that was when our first was born.

Eventually, as the years passed, the creators left this place and the rhythm and darkness returned -- as if it had never left.

The elders would tell us younglings it was of utmost importance to worship the creators the way they had lived, to revel in the dance and the hunt; to spend energy on living. The elders would say that we were forged in their image, and it was our duty to join them in the exuberance of the eternal dance.

And so, her siblings danced. They danced and hunted and they hunted and danced. They imitated the way the creators moved. However, she did not join them. She was too clumsy with the dance, her feet too noisy for the hunt. Where her siblings were filled with life, she sat inert.

As millennia went by, her siblings continued to dance with so much fervor that they began to peel.

At first, it was the most energetic that began to fade away. Then it was the more patient hunters, who would use up all their energy in sprints. As time continued to march, one by one, her siblings faded from the plane. And yet, she persisted.

As her siblings faded, she asked those who were on their final days of living -- was it worth it? Did you live fully through the dance, now that its over?

They never did have a satisfying answer. Most of them, on their final visages, would claim that indeed, the hunt and dance would continue even after they faded, and that knowledge brought them peace of mind. Others yet said that they fully utilized their life, and they carry few regrets.

She never felt these were the right answer, so she sat and waited, and tried to think of her own. Thinking, thinking, thinking. An answer would have to come eventually, she thought. And if it is in the rhythmic dark, so be it.

She sat in solitude, and considered the purpose of creation and the lessons she was taught by her elders. She didn't have an answer, but yet she continued to look for one, day after day after day.

Many tens of millennia later, she was sitting in the rhythmic darkness when she heard something. At first, it was quiet. It was a slight disruption in the vibration of the rhythm. Slight, so, so slight. But eventually, the vibration got louder, and then in a radiant blaze, the illuminating, blinding light was back.

Two shadows stood in front of her, speaking some sort of language she had no business comprehending.

Ht cd frw, Xdeek, vond ljww ro thjk xqen gpniwwom! Rs ccee ffkwmicun oq ty|rrr qiwws swi!
Tr cdff wx cciu vnioqbr zbnne tisr!

She was stunned. The creators, they were real! And here they were, inches in front of her face. She had so much to ask, she believed they must hold the answer to the secrets she sought.
mouth of cave.png

Before she could gather the courage to collect her thoughts, the light began to fade, and the vibrations became more and more rhythmic -- and the darkness and rhythm returned.

No! No! No! I was so close to discovering why we were here!! Why we were made!! Why we danced, and why we hunted! DAMN IT!

After she calmed down, she resigned herself for another infinite wait in the rhythmic dark.

But, fortunately for her, it was not meant to be.

A few months later, the two initial shadows from before brought with them a larger group of shadows.

This group seemed focused, and pointed at her while having many muted conversations amongst themselves. They brought different technologies and tools to capture her, to freeze her in time in different angles than she was currently frozen. They brought permanent light to her, and the discordant vibrations slowly began to reveal their own rhythms. Over time she began to make out the words of the creators.

At first, it was jut one or two words, things that vibrated frequently off her walls:

Ht cd frw, Scott, vond ljww ro thjk xqen amazing! Rs ccee ffkwmicun oq ty|rrr qiwws swi!

Then it was a few more:

Oh cd frw, Scott, this ljww ro thjk xqen amazing! Rs cave painting oq ty|rrr qiwws swi!

She came to understand that she was a cave painting.

Her home, her life, was a cave, and she was somehow slightly different than the rest of the cave. For some inexplicable reason, life was breathed into her and not the rest of her home.

And eventually, she understood all of it:

Oh my God, Scott, this find is amazing! This cave painting is 42,000 years old!

As she learned their language, she hoped to pick up on an answer to her creation. An answer for the eternal dance her siblings conducted. An answer as to why she did not dance. An answer. Any answer.

But instead, the creators seemed to ask questions of their own.

In fact, they seemed to all be coming to stare at her, to fascinate over her, how was she supposed to get any answers this way??

She had all but given up hope on finding an answer when one day a tiny shadow with quiet vibrations came into her vicinity. Its voice was tiny, but she could make out one word from it's mouth:


She realized in a moment of brilliance the secret that she sought. The deficit that both she and her siblings had over the millennia. Her siblings were forced by tradition to dance, she was forced by her clumsiness not to. The only choice she ever made was to sit and think.

But that was the last choice she ever made. Every day since then was merely a result. She had never made a choice after that, and that was the cause of her question. She never made a new choice.

No longer, she decided. She would no longer take a passive role in her own life. She would not wait for the answer, she would take action, and create it herself.

In the bright arrhythmic cave, she slowly began to move her hips. is a reader-supported published Zettelkasten. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.

Topics Discussed

The dance is the creative act of the muse, her siblings knew this intuitively, but did not know why. More: Muses Live in the Routine - 202301021359

To create something is to leave art behind, potentially forever. Human beings, as living creatures with knowledge, create new universal truth out of raw material. More: Enlightenment and the Resistance - 202212292303

Once we stop moving, once we stop contributing, we begin to die. Retirement is a proximal cause of death in the elderly as they lose their fire and spark to continue living. More: A Few Notes on Old Age - 202212212242

Author's Note: If you liked this story, please reply or share with friends! I'm trying to learn the art of blending fiction with real work from my Zettelkasten, and would love this type of format to go further. Thanks!


The Tiles of Time

The torch of knowledge eventually devours its owner.

His father would leave home early, before the sun would break through the morning fog. He would occasionally be up early enough to watch his father from the window, to observe him walking down the path in front of their house.

On this particular day, he decided to quickly switch out of his pajamas and meet his father by the door before he left. "Father", he said, "could I possibly follow you to see your work today?" He anxiously held his breath while his father put on his coat. His father paused, with a far off look in his eyes, as if he were trying to place something in the distance. After what felt like an eternity, his father turned around to look at him. "Sure". his father said, "why not?"

They left, and he struggled to keep pace with the long stride of his father. They walked in silence, as horses and carriages crossed the road. He was excited. He'd never seen what his father did for work, but he had always felt like someone as proud and imposing as his father must have a very important role in their community.

His father stopped in front of a dimly lit beaten down shack. There was brown paper covering holes in the windows, and litter was messily strewn about in front of the building.
the shack - tiles of time.png

They stepped inside, and he was shocked by what he saw. The room was much larger than it looked like from the outside.

Floating 11 feet above the ground was a a giant glass object, slowly rotating and shooting prismatic colored light from a moonroof. The object seemed to be made up of tiles, small, highly detailed tiles.
the structure - tiles of time.png

His father walked across the shack to a small work desk in the corner. On the desk, there was a number of unfinished tiles. Each tile seem to have its own pattern painted on it. "Father, what do these patterns mean?" he said. His father responded, "Each tile represents a fact, and each fact represents a tile. If the pattern is true, the tile will retain its shape. If the pattern is false, the tile will break. The painter must hold their fact in their mind while they paint the tile. Deviate for even a second and the tile will break instantly."

He asked his father, "Hey Dad, I know some pretty interesting facts. May I try one?" "Sure, why not.", his father said. He picked up a paintbrush from the table and dipped it into the color ocher. He thought to himself while whispering under his breath: "My favorite dinosaur is a triceratops. My favorite dinosaur is a triceratops." The tile snapped. "Hey!", he said. "What I thought was true!"

"Unfortunately", said the father, "what you thought was true to you. While you may deeply believe that your favorite dinosaur is a triceratops, there's no way to prove that explanation. What would your favorite dinosaur be if you have never learned about the triceratops? What might happen as you learn new dinosaurs? How can you be so confident that your favorite dinosaur will stay a triceratops? The tile picked up on all of these. An ideology is not a truth."

"The patterns I paint become test for themselves just because I believe something deeply does not make it a truism in the universe. Each tile I bring to form is a guess on my part -- as the patterns on the tiles grow, so do I.", said the father.

"So all these floating tiles?…", asked the son. "Yes, the tiles in the middle sustain each other. Each counts on the other to be true to make a larger pattern. My life has been devoted to finding these tiles. It's painstaking work. As I discover a new pattern, it takes from me. Each thing I create takes a piece of my energy. But I only hope that what I've created will help create new patterns. Patterns that I can't even see yet."

Many years later, the son woke up in a cold sweat. For many months, he sat on his father's words. He couldn't understand why something like his childish notion of a triceratops was an ideology, and why something else like the "Sun rises in the East" wasn't.

Eventually, he came to resent his father's work. He felt it haughty to be sure of anything. He had entered his teenage years, and was feeling the angst of trying to knock down a system that he had been born into. He resented how hard his father worked on these tiles; how he would come home with his hands covered in paint and how he needed to start wearing thicker and thicker glasses to see his work. All the while he was so meticulous in his work and so casual at home. Could this really be the same person?

He felt he knew what he had to do. He put on his jacket and walk down to the old shack. He removed a hammer from his pocket and threw it with all of his pent up energy over the years at the glass structure that his father has spent many more years building. At first nothing happened, the hammer hit the structure and fell to the ground. The structure shook slightly, but held firm. Perhaps his father was right. Perhaps the universe did have immutable truths after all.

Then one tire fell, then another, and another and another. The son breathlessly sat on the ground next and watched as each tile cascaded into another, causing more to fall. In the middle of the floor, amidst the carnage, he saw one tile intact.

This tile had a beautiful pattern, extremely simple. As he saw his reflection in the tile, he asked himself was there a reason that he felt compelled to knock down what came before him. Was this the cycle of destruction, or the cycle of creation? Was it truth that caused him to question the truths of his father? Or ego?
the tile - tiles of time.png

His father was older then. He took a few more hours to get to work, but when he opened the door, he paused. He looked down at the floor and saw much of his life's work shattered on the ground by his own son.

He looked at his son and asked" Is this what you wanted? What might you've been trying to prove?" His son paused, and looked off into the distance the same way his father did the first day he took him to see the tiles. He said to his father, "Father, there is a pattern of patterns when something is true. In this atomic state truth might change when it's subjected to a new atomic state. An object becomes a subject in relation. To find the new facts of my generation, I needed to destroy yours. The torch of knowledge eventually devours its owner."

The father paused and looked into his sons eyes; and the son was shocked to see that there was no hatred or or rage -- just acknowledgement with the slightest glimmer of grief. He put his hat over his eyes, put his coat back on and walked out of the shack.

The son picked up the unbroken tile from the floor, walked over to the desk and began to paint. is a reader-supported published Zettelkasten. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.

Topics Discussed:

  • Time passing from generation to generation, Siddhartha and the River of Time[1]
  • Knowledge is a Giant Mapping Function, each person has biases but biases can be shared or cancelled by different biases, from The Output of a Knowledge Worker is Process[2]
  • The Important Thing Is That We Retain the Ability to Debate, like the Athenians, from Criticism, Conjecture, and Nen Vows[3]

Author's Note: If you liked this story, please reply or share! I'm trying to learn the art of blending fiction with real work from my Zettelkasten, and would love this type of format to go further. Thanks!