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12 Nov


I take belief in the theory of evolution for granted.  It’s difficult to believe that 40% of Americans reject the theory.  In some ways, the “God guided” option is the worst of all.  God must be real drunk, right?  Anyway, what’s “God” supposed to mean?  An extremely powerful humanoid up in the clouds?  Or maybe something more purely metaphysical?  The latter option can get very complicated, but for the sake of this question I assume the former definition.


There seems to be another major cleave within the group who believe in evolution.  One camp focuses on the reigning scientific knowns of existence and underplays, or even denies, the unknowns.  The other group takes the unknowns very seriously; they do not necessarily see the future as being merely a project of further clarification of a situation we already understand fairly well.


The former group is hostile to philosophy on the mean; the latter group embraces it.  There’s no sharp dividing line between these, but the distinctions are useful for purposes of casual illustration.


What if we found out that our Universe was actually churned out industrially as a kind of dollar store farm for some higher entity?  Wouldn’t this revelation drastically alter the tenor of the magisterial theory of evolution?  Oh, of course it would.  But if one doesn’t take unknowns seriously, then one imagines this kind of revelation simply won’t happen.  Out of mind, out of sight.  There are few books about it and anyone who mentions such things is usually laughed at, so it’s probably not a real thing, right?  If only it were so simple.

I think this bias against taking potential unknowns seriously is a very bad trend.  I wouldn’t want to encourage mass philosophical paranoia or wild and aimless postulation at the expense of productive investment in available scientific leads.  However, existence as humans know it remains full of mysteries — many of which are as fundamental as it gets.  Some of the mysteries, like consciousness, are as intimate and immediate as it gets.  I don’t find this to be a comfortable situation, but others seem content to ignore the pesky philosophical questions and carry on with their blissfully unphilosophical lives.  Instead of looking in behind of themselves, they try to trip out their cave wall with Technicolor.

My feeling is that if human begins are to ever have a serious and sustainable hope of overcoming our various self-inflicted miseries, then we better end The Human Evasion ASAP.  That means confronting the big questions and finding tangible places to start digging in.  It means opening up more to the uncertainty and the magnitude of the situation.  It means admitting of the deep vulnerability this approach entails — a vulnerability which may eventually sow a fuller and less defensive dignity.  Feigning existential wholeness is a lame and unstable way to come about a feeling of satisfaction as far as I’m concerned.  Ironically, evolution appears to reward this approach in many landscapes.

Complexity science and brain science are promising inlets to some of the mysteries.  Still, I believe the path will be arduous and lacking in reassuring guarantees.  It could even turn out to be troubling or tragic.  But is there any meaningful alternative to the truth, to the basis of oneself?


Fire and Ice

8 Nov

Is truth enough?

Truth alone has never been enough.  It’s only when will and truth coincide that  things happen.

The secret is that will always has a self-justified component.  Belief systems serve to hide this component from the masses.  It’s justified by Jesus, or the Cause, or a Utility function, or some other delightful item.  Our personalities often serve to hide this component from ourselves.  We easily lose sight of our own political shadows. “When the other guy is doing what he wants, it’s politics.  When I do what I want, it’s right. ”  History bears this out, but every age ends up certain of its own end of history status.  Sigh.

Hint:  We’re not at the end of history.

Some human beings have confronted the existential situation more honestly, but since will is as critical as truth in the game of life, these sorts are destined to remain forever on the fringes.  Another passive approach is to seek “pure truth and science” in the hopes that these will work a sort of voodoo and produce a kind of objectively valid will in the seeker.  The Buddha may have been right, but our Universe doesn’t reward that sort of passive righteousness with decisive and lasting political power.  It rewards a curious mix of will and competence.  One can oscillate on whether or not they approve of this state of affairs, but the Universe isn’t gonna blush about it.

Others have gone drunk on the pursuit of pure power, but eventually they lose touch with reality as their fealty to duty and definitive inviolability weakens.  Power depends on knowing how things work, on showing up to work on time, on people taking care of their kids, etc.  The will requires structure and discipline.  Common sense incorporates both lens and reflex.

Evolution punishes both extremes.  I would not go so far as to claim that this means evolution shows us what’s right and wrong.  I prefer to see it in a more detached manner.  I have sympathy with the position — which has sometimes been attributed to Gnosticism — that our Universe itself may be fundamentally flawed.

Our time is curious in its refusal to be honest about the nature of will.  There are neurotic tendencies to absolutely justify something which actually has an irreducible implicit component.  Do ya really think science gives objective reasons to roll out of bed in the morning?  Nah.  Today, this justification is sometimes packaged in faux-scientific reasoning — especially under the banner of “rationality”.  That’s bad.  Legitimacy and self-assertion have always been combative topics, but I was holding out hope that there could be a more open discussion of their deep nature.  That’s sort of what I was trying to do here; maybe I’m just being naïve.  Oh well.

The Game rolls on.

Global Warming

6 Nov

First:  Global warming is a scientifically verified problem, and it’s a big bleeping deal.


I’m sick of the blame game in global warming.  At least stop blaming and antagonizing ordinary Americans.  Elected officials and major sources of influence are another matter.

Yes, global warming is real, verified science.  Guess what:  I’ve done primitive energy balance calculations before.  I know a bit about: albedo, absorption spectra, black body radiation, irradiance, etc.  I’ve taken an atmospheric science class at a university, *gasp*(more than one class, in fact).  I suppose I actually have to say that, since today you’re not allowed to be broadly open-minded on reality.  You have to either be a hardcore materialist who mocks his own consciousness, or you have to be an end of days mofo preacher who likens science to the snake in the garden.  Most importantly, ya gotta call the other guy a lot of names and pretend like the problems can be instantly solved if you are put immediately into power.

I have no doubt that global warming requires experts, dedicated policy, and innovation to be dealt with properly(the present response being hopelessly inadequate), but even with the best response it’s going to be a significant challenge.

Well, I ain’t a polarized loon.  Sorry, dude.  I’m not a member of any party.  There are no banners on my wall.  Reality is complicated, but the global warming science is sound and is independent of, for example, mysteries about consciousness.  I thought that was obvious, but maybe it’s not obvious.  I try to respect myself and others by going outside of thought-on-rails when I can, but maybe it’s too much for some.  Maybe they’re ashamed to be associated with anyone who might say something their associates consider disreputable.

Need every little comment be laboriously explained?

When I say things about being skeptical of human ability to control our own destiny, I’m not saying science and technology don’t make great advances.  They do.  The real difference of opinion is in the political interpretation of this situation.  I’m observing the obvious: power struggles will go on, and power differentials will determine sentiments(consider PR’s mottled history — plenty of science there).  We can accelerate the game and steer it away from various dead ends, but our control over what ultimately dominates the game is tenuous and partial at  best.  Humans do their best to reinterpret all of this as romantically as possible, but it’s not very romantic at the end of the day.  It just is.  

Alas, our Universe appears geared for popping out creatures who take themselves too seriously.  I’ve accepted that this is beyond my control.  I don’t make the rules of the Universe; it’s going to keep happening.  Whoosh!




IQ linked to ability to ignore distractions

5 Nov

Intelligence linked to ability to ignore distractions

I noticed the headline of this article fiendishly substituted “intelligence” for “IQ”.  They’re not synonymous items.  They’re related, but they’re not identical.  One can imagine the wonderful intersecting Venn diagram circles for a visual of the intersection of sets *angel chorus sounds*.

Who gets to decide what is or is not a “distraction”?  This can become an extraordinarily subtle matter in some contexts.  Life is not an IQ test, and distraction is much more easily quantified on an IQ test than in, say, trying to figure out the nature of reality.  My experience has been that some persons have an overly restrictive conception of relevance, and this actually makes them dumber than they’d otherwise be.  This happens a lot in academia — understatement of the century.

Note the interesting syncopation of this phenomenon with the present fetish for crisp explicit formalisms at any cost — these tools play an essential and laudable part, but they are not the only valid aspect of thought and expression.  Our tests exert an enormous influence in shaping the medium of discourse.  Naturally, this is hardly noticed at all.  Noticing things beyond the prescribed radius is for the sorry peasants, you see.  So annoying, uhhHHhhHH!

The obvious, politically fraught conclusion: there are tradeoffs in some areas of cognition, and a bit of neural diversity is a welcome thing.  I’d be very interested in meeting the high IQ outliers who buck the trend.


Humans and the Universe

3 Nov

Whatever one thinks of philosophy, one thing is clear:  human beings persist in a chronically subordinate position in the Universe.

We are subject to ridiculous confrontations with hyperbolic skepticism, and even our inner being appears mysterious to the more honest fellow travelers.  Our best answer to this is a highly defensive common sense, which is supposed to serve as a replacement for a more intimate connection to the source of our being.  This only appears acceptable because it can’t be helped.  Furthermore, the conditioning parameters of the situation are not encouraging.  There are big fish, little fish, and all that.  One can look at bad events and blame concrete local situations and individuals, but the overall conditioning profile ought to be the real target.  It’s not clear how much control human beings even have, or can have, over these processes.

Whatever the human role in the Universe is — if any — it’s probably a role in which we’re doing something for an entity which vastly exceeds us.  Nothing like organized religion imagines, tho.  I have no hope of a heaven or anything like that.  If there is something transcending human reality, it’s not necessarily friendly to human beings!  It’d probably be a real drain on profit margins…all of this eternal life business.

But humans have incredible mental compartmentalization.  They can walk into the little grocery store with the precious soft rock playing and everything seems serene and certain.  I can’t necessarily knock the indulgence, either.  Philosophy is probably just another delusion of control over the situation.  I have my grocery store and soft rock as well.  It’s just a little fancier and includes some nice rippin’ solos.

I hold out some hope for the study of the brain and consciousness(I have educated suspicions that Humean-style skepticism will be partly dissolved by these studies), but it’s also possible that such studies will only result in a whole ‘nother gear of crazy.  Overall, one can only make the cynical best of a psychotic situation.  The strategies for doing so are well-established by now and depend a great deal on personal characteristics.  An extremely advanced philosopher could probably generate a successful formula for writing great literature and such(Shakespeare?).  Enjoy the sweepstakes!

At least there’s humor.  Maybe humor is a sign that there’s a little compassion in the situation.  Humor and fannies will turn the tide, God dimmit!

There’s a lot to be said for making the most of the warm and playful little things, too.  It might be all we have.  I also find a lot of beauty in mathematics — maybe it’s a partial taste of the deep real.  In other news, philosophy’s getting homelier by the day.


Evidence and Ideology

30 Oct

Pop-science seems to have helped make it taboo to think a person can know something on his own.  This is nonsensical, since science has empiricism at its core.  Look up the etymology of that word.

One subtle implication of this trend is that a person is not allowed to know on her own that she exists — at least that something vaguely coherent exists.  Claiming anything transcendent is, of course, completely banned.  We don’t know why anything exists, much less why there would be something as striking as pain and pleasure in this world, but don’t you dare venture the transcendent!  Many materialists confuse their arrows with what the arrows point at.  I’ve tried to explain this.

What if I prefer Debussy to Mozart?  Under this view, it’s either meaningless babbling epiphenomenon or scientifically invalid, right? (I’m being sarcastic.  Extreme materialists will probably fail to detect the sarcasm.)

If this goes far enough, it will eventually become permissible to violate a person’s dignity on the grounds that only some inaccessible authority is qualified to judge such things.  The new model: people can’t decide for themselves.  You can’t own yourself, because “you” are a specter.  If so and so pinches you and says it doesn’t hurt, then it doesn’t hurt.  Try to pay attention;  dignity is inconvenient.  Never mind that it’s necessary for genius and sustainable civilization and all that.

This does not mean that people make perfect decisions, are never self-destructive, have ideal Platonic souls, etc.  It just implies that such a thing as private truth does exist.  It does not mean that private truth can, by fiat, displace scientific truth.  It just means it’s there as a logically additive aspect of the situation.

Four lights.

How long will it be until seriously talking about even a scientifically compatible transcendent is banned?

“One of the greatest superstitions of our time is the belief that it has none.”

-Celia Green

Consciousness, Qualia, Freedom, etc…

23 Oct

Dude: Isn’t consciousness just a physical thing?

A:  No, but our meaningful and coherent experiences are inextricably bound with physical and formal constraints inherent to our brains and, by hierarchical extension, to our Universe.  Consciousness is not merely physical, but it would be meaningless without these constraints, mediations, and ordered transactions.  It’s kind of a trick question.

Dude:  What about it isn’t strictly physical or broadly tangible?  Are you a mystical fairy boy?

Sidenote: This topic has repeatedly produced polemical debates to nowhere which have convinced me that neural differences between individuals come into play on the question. Some people are trying to look good for specific audiences, others are trying to introspect.  Some people seem to have very strong top-down/gestalt inhibition and structuring of their awareness, while others have more access to less processed components.  Some like to confuse absurd feelings for “illusions”.  And so on.


A:  Qualia.  Explaining this away as “information” is inadequate.  It’s a start of a start — that’s all.  We have subjective experiences which are logically additive to the merely physical and/or informational.  Many typical people agree with this, and I think some very smart people like Ed Witten and Saul Kripke are also likely to agree.  Philosophy is very difficult, and we won’t have metaphysically comprehensive answers to such questions for a very long time — if ever.  Roughly speaking, I like to think of it this way;  human being : reality as bureaucrat : genius.  I’m no poet, but I think you get the gist.  The crude idea is that we are basically piloting vehicles of necessary conditions which are satisfied for us in ways we neither understand nor care much about(compare this situation to the way farmers work their animals for their purposes in spite of mostly just knowing how to breed and feed ’em).  The bird hatches at height.

We don’t care about every little detail and trail of history because we can’t afford to in the unrelenting race of life(see: James’ Will to Believe and all that…).  Life’s a rush on the tips of history.  These pre-processed items get pooled into consoles which end up forming the visible(explicit!) terminals of our explanations. This is why so many people are satisfied by hand-waving.  All of our explanations eventually come down to hand-waving, but the explanations we celebrate are the ones which are continually reinforced by pragmatic triumph.  Descartes might be a bit of an exception in that he tapped something more innate and partly implicit, but even he would have done well to elaborate the implied formalism of his cogito ergo sum.   We point at various laws and correlations, but at some level we are probably trapped in an absurd user-view of stuff like qualia.

Dude:  What about freedom?  Isn’t it an antiquated term for mush-minded wimps?

A:  Yes and no.  The more reputable modern notion of freedom is not that we’re all special snowflakes with infinite prerogative, but is instead premised on the idea that we need sophisticated diversity in order to give us more perspective on our institutions and grand assumptions.  Part of it is a search space function, but part of it is even simple definition!  Healthy diversity also promotes greater resilience and flexibility.  There is more potential for recombination of various ideas, methods, and such.  Think of this diversity as providing a special kind of light which we can’t get from our crappy old light bulbs.  However, it must be sophisticated and serious diversity.  Not random sentimental crap.  There is a sense in which human beings must deal with a perpetual inadequacy of our explicit attainments.  One way to do this is by broadening the explication.  Lots of old-fashioned guys would announce various concepts from the mount as if the things stood alone in their own special private reality which sometimes condescended to mingle with the broader reality.  That’s poor form.  It’s better to explore the grounded contexts of such things.

Also, the human brain is partially capable of questioning its own assumptions.  It can sometimes objectify its gods.  That’s a remarkable ability.  It gives no appearance of being magical, but it’s certainly interesting and relevant.  Furthermore, information has a certain chemistry to it.  Different bits become member to different properties in different contexts.  My understanding of these processes is primitive, but I’m trying.  Think for yourself and follow the empirical results.  It’ll take time, but many good scientists are working on it.  In the meantime, oversimplifications are sure to proliferate.

Dude:  Wasn’t Hayek way over the top with his skepticism of explicit intervention?

A:  To an extent, but I think Hayek’s deep insight was that we don’t understand ourselves or our culture nearly as well as we like to believe we do.  There is a danger in being seduced by one’s own explicit symbolic productions to the exclusion of the underlying implicit supporting elements(recall the above analogy regarding human beings and reality).  Symbolic crispness, provincial successes, bros, and echo chambers are a dangerous combination.  People are quite dumb about this.  Hardly anyone realizes how amazing it is that we even care about what happens to ourselves a week from the present(more compelling philosophical diversity might help…).

It’s an incredible product of evolution, but common sense hides this wonder of nature safely in plain view as though it were some default aspect of reality!  As such, one can imagine why I think Hayek is worth more than a glib footnote.  This is basic stuff, and humans are really, really bad at introspecting it.  Imagine what else we must be glossing over(recall, for example, the early optimistic predictions about AI from very clever people…that never would have happened if they had excellent ability to introspect)!  I also have serious concerns about human cognitive limitations in comprehending many simultaneously interacting scales of selection and conditioning.  This sort of thing gives Hayek a lot of cred in my book.  Does Hayek provide realistic comprehensive solutions?  No way, but he had some good insights.  It’s the same with pretty much all authors who write about complex topics.  Different parts of the elephant are analyzed by specialists, and it’s hoped that the results can be pieced together well enough to draw some useful global conclusions.