Dragon Fruit - December 2019

Quite a productive end of the year! I quickly wrote this piece during Christmas Holiday, as the last movement of a three-part piano composition with exotic fruit titles. The first one was Durian. The second one is going to be Buddha Hand (currently just started). I am not sure if there is going to be anything else in between, but the last one is Dragon Fruit, an exuberant Toccata with a late-romantic section in the middle. I am really happy about how this piece turned out, and also about the video itself! I put quite a lot of effort into getting the correct angles, lightning and sound, but they really paid off. Some people didn't like the title style but I think it's appropriate for the piece.

Durian - November 2019

Seems like I have not been updated this space about my compositions for about a year, but I have actually been quite productive (taking into account that I have a full-time job, that is!). I have composed 'A Golden Knife' (performed in public in Milano at PianoCity 2019, but not on YouTube yet), which I am really proud of, Miniature 4, simple but cute, another untitled piece with a lot of async patterns, and most recently this one, Durian. I am also getting better at recording myself, so now I can accompany this piece with some decent video.

Like the Durian fruit, it's is spiky and smelly on the outside, but with a rich and flavoured inside. It also has some Asian scent to it due to the byzantine scale used. This is the first of a 3 set piece, so more to come soon-ish.

Pianocity Milano 2019

I was lucky enough to play for Pianocity Milano 2019 in the session titled 'Wrong Notes' on the 19th of May. Due to the hectic time I was going through 6 months ago, I didn't have the chance to write anything about it. That's a shame, as that event was absolutely fantastic, very well organized, and a lot of good music was performed. I had the chance to play my own repertoire to a public mostly made of young interested people, and it was very well received. One comment I got which made me particularly proud:

It's fresh, new, but a bit like Bartok

The concert took taking place at the beautiful Fondazione Pini, which at the time was hosting an exhibition of the visionary artist Carlos Amorales: a swarm of thousands of black butterflies was filling the space, creating a surreal (and very fitting!) atmosphere.

I have recorded the whole concert so I will slowly drop the videos here. I also played 'A Golden Knife' which I still don't have on my youtube channel.

Math Piano Rock - December 2018

This piece was written in a few days, and it took much longer to master it technically. It is demanding and very tricky in the middle part, with the left-hand beating sometimes on the main beat, sometime in the split between beats. But, I believe, this *works* in creating an interesting effect of an ordered-yet-unstable rhythmic pattern. That was difficult, and that chromatic scale with both hands is also difficult to master at speed. But oh well, the piece overall is *very* fun to play and, I hope, very pleasant to listen to (but not more than a couple of time in a row, eh?). As said in the video, I am indebted to the Math Rock scene. Another partial inspiration is the music of S. Prokofiev. I don't think I have taken anything in particular from these sources, but they did give me so many interesting rhythmic patterns that I have to recognize their influence.

This piece won the 2nd Prize at the International Sorodha Competition in 2018.

The is the piece that people like the most, so I have several versions of it on my youtube channel.

This is the one with the score:

This is me playing it live in Bristol in a particularly successful performance:

And there is also this close-up version - not performed as good, but received many more views for some reason:

INTENSO - November 2018

I recently composed this new piano piece, called INTENSO. Here it is:

I am pretty happy about the result, but not so much about the performance. I noticed that after I finished composing a new piece, I really can't be bothered about studying it properly. I have spent so much with it, and generally the last days of working on it are so intense (eh), that when the last notes are written on the paper I just want it to be done. But, since I want people to listen to it, I also have to push it under my hands and do a decent recording.

Anyway, I plan to play this piece in a public performance in May at the Bristol Music Club, together with a couple of other pieces of mine.

The piece is rhythmically unstable, but not in the way some of Ligeti's piano pieces are rhythmically unstable. And I think the harmonies are interesting. I try to make it melodically compelling, and violent at times. I am not following any particular style, just trying to compose stuff that I like. I am particularly proud of the part at 3'40''.

Now that I am getting more confident with piano composition in terms of piano writing and harmonic progressions, I am realizing that the most difficult thing is the structure. In my previous longish piece, the Little Rhapsodic Waltz, the structure was completely missing. In this one, I tried to have something resembling a Chopin's Ballade form, but I can see that I haven't totally succeeded, and the piece still loses its thread at times. Nevermind, I'll do better next time.


Another word: this piece is really fun to play. It sounds quite difficult, but it's not really, and any pianists with some dexterity can do it without much fuss. It's fun because it requires some keys hammering and some head slamming, and how can that not be fun?

Little Rhapsodic Waltz - February 2018

Around the beginning of this year, I started composing at the piano. Before that, I composed a piano piece "away" from the piano (also on Youtube, for now) which does not represent my idea of composing properly modern classical music.  My first composition at the piano does. Even though it suffers from a lack of proper structure, I am still really happy about it.

After composing, I learnt to play it properly, and I performed it (reasonably good) in a concert in June. However, I am only an amateur pianist, and my execution would never be comparable to that of my friend Aldo Roberto Pessolano, a real pianist (better: a pianistic genius).

I consider this a piece of classical music. My definition of classical music is music that presents complex harmonic structures. I strongly believe that this is one of the best way of capturing the different between what people normally refer to "classical music" and other genre.

Anyway, here it is: my Valzerino Rapsodico (Little Rhapsodic Waltz). Enjoy.

Morality is the way humans solve Prisoner's Dilemma problems.

In a Prisoner Dilemma problem, each agent has to choose between an action A that would benefit itself by a certain amount X, or an action B that would benefit each individual in the group by less than X. However, if most of the agents choose their best option, A, no one would benefit, or they could even get damaged.

There are several example of how to make this less abstract, but I will use an uncommon one. Let's say that you have to  choose between advancing your career in a selfish and dodgy way, hurting several people in the process of getting to the top. The other option is to painstakingly treat everyone in a nice way, never step on anyone's toe, and try to do as good of a career as you can within these limits. Let's say that you `can be pretty sure that, with the first option, you will get to the top earlier. What would you do? What should you do? What do you think anyone should do?

Intuitively, we know that one of the option is morally wrong, the other one is morally right, or neutral. We know  which one is which because we feel it, and we don't have to think about it.1

It also happens that the immoral option is the most rational, in terms of evolutionary fitness. It doesn't make sense to get the longer route, suffer through it, and maybe not even getting to the same results, where I can be on a better position faster, without hurting my chance of finding a suitable mate for my offsprings (maybe not within the pool of people I have hurt - but I will have access to another pool of people, more powerful and thus more convenient, evolutionistically speaking).2

This same reasoning holds for everybody, but if everybody would do that, we would leave in a horrible world where everybody hurt each other for their own benefit.  This, like many moral problem, is a Prisoner's Dilemma problem (from now on, PDp)3.

Across history, there must have been groups that consistently tackled the PDp by chosing the most individually convenient action. We are not one of those groups. Those groups are probably extinct or evolved into something different, as their actions would in the long run damage the group itself, and would make any civilzation impossible.

We, as a human speces, have mostly solved these types of problems through coordinate signalling. We have developed a way to signal to each other that someone is solving a PDp in an individualist, group-hurting way.  The signals lead to a punishment: ostracizing, imprisonment, etc. These signals are mostly aimed at other agents in the group. At a certain point, however, it just becomes convenient to aim them at ourselves: we don't want to be the target of retaliation, we want to prevent punishment, and thus we need to automatically tell ourself what is the best thing to do to solve PDp. But, watch out! The best thing to do in this case is the opposite of what you would do if you were a rational individualistic agent. Thus, this feeling has to be an innate and irrational (it has to come from your gut and not from your head) because it goes completely against our evolutionary drive of doing the best thing for ourselves.

So we send signal to ourselves to avoid punishment. You also know that a signal of "you are doing something PDp-wrong" (as in something would hurt your group and benefit yourself) is most likely going to be followed by a punishment. When you consistently associate  a signal to a certain punishment, the signal becomes the punishment itself. In this way, signalling that someone is doing something PDp-wrong is a way to punish them, and people have developed ways of efficiently signalling each other. Internally, people can signal+punish themselves with a sense of guilt for making a PDp-wrong action. Externally, they can use a variety of techniques, such as social shaming. If this seems absolutely horrible for you, imagine a society where this doesn't happen. If you take the signalling out of the equation, the set of people that solves PDp in an individualistic way will take over, and this would the horrible for everyone.

So we developed signals for indicating actions that are good individually but bad for the group. These signals are associated with punishment, and they are "punishing" themselves. They can be targeted at each other, but it soon becomes convenient to target them at yourself as well, for preventing group retaliation. Put all of this together, and you get a morality system.

Morality is the way humans solve Prisoner's Dilemma problems. A moral problem is a Prisoner's Dilemma problem.

Why the most rational action in moral problems is to behave immoraly? Because morality has been developed precisely to prevent people to behave rationally in moral problems.

Drink, drive, and kill: are you morally responsible?

This is controversial. I am about 60% confident about the following argument.

I design two thought experiments to better understand the moral implications of drinking, driving, and killing, or all those similar situations where you voluntarily put yourself in a state of altered consciousness, and then commit something terrible.

Though experiment number 1. There is a red button in front of you. If you press it, you will perform an action: you will initiate an action, and you won't be able to stop it until the selected action is completed. You being conscious or not of your action is irrelevant. What is important is that you cannot control your body doing the action. The actions are randomly chosen across all the possible actions that a drunk person does. Most of these actions are harmless: most of the time you just have a nice night out with your friends, some time you'll do something stupid like getting a tattoo, but in a few cases you'll do something terrible and kill someone. You don't have to press the button. If you do, and you end up killing someone, did you make an immoral choice? My intuition says yes, and I bet yours does too.

Though experiment number 2. There is a blue button in front of you. If you press it, two actions can happen: 1) with 99% of chance, 10'000 people with incurable cancer will be cured immediately, or 2) with 1% of chance, 1 random person in the world will die. You don't have to press the button. If you do, and you end up killing the one person, did you make an immoral choice?

My moral intuition says no. My moral intuition says that the immoral action is not pressing the button. But saying no to this though experiment changed my point of view about the first one.

The second though experiment suggests that we shouldn't morally judge people based on the outcome of their action. Their outcome may be just based on luck. We should morally judge them based on the integral over all possible outcomes from their action.

How is this connected with drinking and driving? Assume that when you get drunk, you enter in an altered state of consciousness. Within this altered state, someone is obviously doing an action, and this someone inhabits your body, but is not you as his/her mental state is substantially different from your average mental state. If this is true4 you shouldn't be judged based on the action itself (since is not you doing it), but you should be judged based on the decision of entering this new mental state (giving the reins of your action to drunk you). I argue that the way to judge this decision morally depends on all the possible outcomes estimated at the moment you are getting drunk.

To answer the question in the title:

Your moral responsibility in this case depends on the state of the world when you take the decision to get drunk 2. If you are about to drive home and now you get drunk, you are as more morally responsible as if you got drunk  at home, alone, whatever is the outcome of your action. Let me spell it clearer: if you drink, drive, and not kill, you are as morally responsable as if you drink and drive3. Even more: if you are about to drive, but not driving yet, and now you get drunk, you are in the same moral landscape as someone that had now decided to drive, and ends up killing someone, even if you decide not to drive4.


Governments in a Multidimensional Space

I live in the UK, where the government is not great. However, when I talk about politics with friends and colleagues, I often draw parallels with the Italian government.

The Italian government is a clear example of a horrible system. There is almost no one in Italy that would question that, and I can bet some money that most of the Italian politicians believe that the current system is pretty bad. However, I do think that the Italian government is more advanced than others, but not in the classic sense: I mean that its current, horrible state, will be reached by other governments, eventually.

Think about a prototipical  bad, despicable, corrupt, horrible government, and think of it as a state where other governments are headed to. Current governments around the world are at a certain distance to this horrible one. Italy happens to be closer to it than the UK government, but they are all slowly moving in that direction, at different speed. The horrible government can be then seen as an attractor.

This is a very pessimistic view, and I do not believe in it completely. But is a good introduction to the idea of governments as attractors, and not only that. The idea of a government developing in time, given the set of rules it's been built with, is very powerful, and can unlock some useful insights. So let's explore it a bit further, and let's see where does it lead us!

The Multidimensional Space of Possible Governments

A government is a type of social structure responding to some rules, influenced by the environment (the population is governing upon, but also other governments), and shaping the environment itself. Let's think of the government as an instance of all the possible governments within a multidimensional space. Is multidimensional in the sense that it has a vast number of variables and one of the important ones describes the goodness of the government. Let's not spend several thousands words defining what I mean for good, and feel free to take whatever definition it works for you, as my reasoning should make sense anyway.

A government is always moving within this space, and is almost always moving along the axes of goodness: sometime a new law is passed, sometime a new party enters the game, sometime the population interact in such a way to push the government in a certain direction, etc. Generally these movements are slow and strongly correlated with previous positions: if we know the position of the government in the multidimensional space some time before one of these slow events happen, we can predict with high confidence where is position is going to be some time after it.

Now, think about what happens when a new governmental system is born after a period of strong social instability (a revolution, a riot, with a strong minority taking power and so on). This corresponds to a moment where the preceding governmental structure is most disconnected with the new one: the movement in the space is fast and weakly correlated with the previous positions. The new people in power have now the occasion to re-organize the governmental structure. When they draft the Constitution, they are effectively placing their government in this multidimensional space of possible governments - as new - mostly disregarding the previous position. Every time this happens, we can consider this point a new starting point for the government.

Most importantly they are placing the government at a certain distance from two things that must exist in the space: the best and the worst possible governments, according to your preferred metric. We will call them the Utopia and Hell-On-Earth.

The set of rules written in the Constitution5 not only places the government in space - it also defines a  trajectory. To be more precise, given that there is variability in the process, they define a stochastic trajectory in this multidimensional space of governments. This trajectory answers the important question: how is this government going to evolve in time?

With a very good simulation, if we had *enough* information about the environment, we may actually predict what direction this social structure will likely go given the initial set of rules it was responding to. So, now, the important question is: where are we going? -sorry, I meant: where are we most likely going? First, let me say something more about the idea of attractors.

Utopia, Hell, and Attractors

An attractor is a state of the governmental structure which other governmental structures tend to evolve towards. If a government is close enough to an attractor, it will more likely get even closer to it, even if perturbed. Let's imagine that the space occupied by Hell-on-Earth (the worst possible government) is actually an attractor, and a government is close enough to it. The population can try to oppose the government becoming Hell-on-Earth. Heck, even the politicians themselves can try to oppose it. But if the rules are set up in a certain way, after a certain point in space it just becomes very likely that the government will be drawn towards the Hell Attractor. And from there, who knows what's gonna happen (almost by definition: chaos, murderers, hell on earth, etc.)

Let's be less pessimistic. Of course in the space there is a point with the best possible government, our Utopia type of government. Like the Hell-on-Earth, this may or may not be an attractor. If it is an attractor, a government close enough to it will just be sucked in, and utopia forever ensues.

We are in a pretty symmetric situation. We don't know how distant is our government compared to the best and worst governments, and we don't know if these two prototypical governments are really attractors or not.

If there anything else to say about attractors? Yes: we don't have to be naive about it. Hell-on-Earth and Utopia are obvious candidates to be attractors, but they are not the only ones, and they may not even be the most likely attractors. A very average, grey, bland government, with some good and some bad characteristics may be an attractor. There are some reason to believe that this types of attractors are more likely than Utopia or Hell-on-Earth.  The important thing is that: once we are in there, is impossible to get out; and, if you are close enough, you'll get in there whatever you do.

Why is this framework important?

Because it allows us to express some concept faster and clearer. One thing is to say "our government is bad", and another one is "our government is very close to a bad attractor". We can express new concepts, such us "the starting point has been badly designed", or "the current perturbation (for example, a truck strike) may increase the variability of our movement". Try to express one of these concept without using this new framework, and see for yourself how difficult it is.

Another important point, maybe a bit more psychological: with this framework, we get away from the human considerations that pollute politics at all time, and start thinking about the system itself, how does it evolve with its rules, and how we can design it. We stop thinking about who to blame for this or that, and we stop thinking about individual problems for individual governments, and start thinking about the general good rules for any government, within a given environment. Solving individual problems is almost surely irrelevant, if they don't modify the trajectory. And if we don't think in terms of trajectories and attractions, we will only focus on individual problems.

Finally, let's go back to be really pessimistic mood, considering this point: Some stuff are not going to work whatever we do. Utopia may exist, but it may be unreachable: the condition for getting in that point in space may be too narrow, or it's attraction may be to dim, so that we are just not going to get there. We may ask ourselves what is the distribution of starting points in this multidimensional space, and find that in most of the cases, we are going to be close enough to the Hell-on-Earth attractor, and almost never to the other one. We have to be willing to face one possibility of our investigation: there is no good solution to our problem. In this case, we may want to change the problem altogether2

This is obviously unreasonably pessimistic, because I have not motivated my pessimism, but I will certainly try to do that in the next posts. Armed with this concept of multidimensional space of government, we are going to see where are we, where are we going, and how do we get to Utopia (if we can).

Programming Projects

This is a list of side-projects regarding programming.
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