A Little Holiday Reading – Robinson, Rovelli and Carroll

Just received three books in time for some holiday reading, all ordered locally via The Guisborough Bookshop.

Mentioned all three in passing already.

Trivium 21c by Martin Robinson is focussed on the Trivium of three complementary ways of knowing, called here Grammar, Dialectic & Rhetoric. The point being that a complete worldview needs all three. I’m betting this epistemology will turn out to be a node<>edge transformation of the three ontologies here, that is fully equivalent and simply and alternative expression. Robinson however is new to me.

Carlo Rovelli I’m already a big fan of, not so much his Brief Lessons as his Reality is Not What it Seems. His latest The Order of Time seems to be a continuation looking at time and causation not being what they seem either. I appear to share Rovelli’s fundamental information ontology, and I’m forever pointing out that causation and hence time are weirder that our common intuitions so I’m expecting to find more reinforcement. Given the recent celebrations of the life of another physicist who authored a very famous book about time, intriguing and reassuring to find no Hawking in the index, but plenty of Democritus, Bach, Gödel and Boltzmann.

Sean Carroll I’ve not read before, but have observed his sci-comms and observations on others. As I mentioned in the immediately previous post, I’m pretty sure Carroll has a misguided anthropic blind-spot at the root of his worldview but, that aside, both his physics and his communications seem intelligible and in good faith. Especially looking forward to his “poetic naturalism” which rings of at least two components of the trivium / triad. I have high hopes for The Big Picture, despite the cover endorsement from Brian Cox, because the index does include Dan Dennett and further endorsements from Rovelli and Sabine Hossenfelder and he does seem to understand – like Dennett – where Sam Harris gets it wrong.

I may be some time.

Sam Harris & Sean Carroll – Raw Notes

Harris Podcast with Sean Carroll

[Aside – Identity Politics topic – previously talking past each other with Ezra. Apart from better management of conversations with specific Q’s requiring A’s, main Harris lesson is to avoid agendas of extremists left or right. Convincing an extremist that they may be wrong is a counterproductive waste of effort.

Cannot be branded a racist bigot for wanting to talk honestly about race or any other identity politics issue.]

Today’s topic – primarily with Sean Carroll on the “The Big Picture – the origins of life, meaning and the universe itself.”

Poetic Naturalism he calls it.

Naturalism – OK (ie not super-natural, whatever there is, there is a natural explanation)

Poetic – multiple ways of talking – Good.
Very, very good in fact (see trivium & rhetoric).

A unity, no disjunction of levels, even though some levels emergent and meaningless to talk about in terms of lower levels. But not (literally) downward causation. Non-reductionist element – compatibility through emergence even if no simple & meaningful direct causation.

Laplace Demon – everything determined by total knowledge of a state – is a thought experiment.

The snowflake example. so he really is a total reductionist? Otherwise it’s really a consciousness agenda

So why has it evolved / emerged? And how is it “effective” on physical states – clearly it is, question is how via fundamental levels. Panpsychic physical mental dualism description? Proto-psychism in fact, and now Zombie argument. Expressing feelings felt is a behaviour, even if you’re a zombie.

We don’t know at what level (subjective) consciousness arises, but we know it does?

Mapping many (possible) worlds onto naturalism? He really sees many worlds as many simultaneous physical realities – so long as they’re all possible and compatible with physics.

We can do with less information … Not just probabilistic (approximate) but wholly true. Temperature of a gas IS independent of where each individual molecule is – 100% certain true fact despite large uncertainty at detail level.

OK many worlds is a perfect info concept (thought experiment). Not – what is possible state given our knowledge of rules and another state – that’s physics. Therefore many worlds is not physics.

Copenhagen > Everett

Should accept counterintuitive nature of what the maths says. Believe maths not intuition.

Sorry, wrong mixing or cream and coffee is NOT reversible! (Except in theory). There are chemical de-naturing processes involved. But do like the entropic explanations of why? and how? This is the fundamental information model (much alignment with Rovelli?)

Reversible and perfectly (reductively) deterministically predictable only in theory (demon). Consciousness (effectiveness and predictability) is in the ignorance. OK, I’m with him.

So free will is real. No Sam it’s not a matter of chance in the unpredictability – it’s the conscious opportunity in the ignorance!

Free-will choice tests – suicide / listening

Sensible people are compatibilist – inc Dennett – the type of free will worth having – as opposed to free-will simply the name for our argument.

The ethical choices of having been able to do other … the hot stove … narrow vs broad views of science – chestnuts all.

Sam really is a determinist-plus-randomness subscriber. He really didn’t learn anything from Dennett (or Carroll yet).

Recurring use of the free-puppet analogy. (Recently after Gray). Carroll does seem to get Harris “mere-puppet” misunderstanding -level / category errors. (Clue – Laplace’s Demon is imaginary!) “Best” note. Not a question of objectively determined fact at all levels. Sam still questions whether good and bad even mean anything – other than post-hoc rationalised value judgements.

AI (Smartphone) “playing” with you – finishing your sentences – sure, but once it did, it would spook you, and you would game it better. We’re more highly evolved than electronic AI’s.

Time and causation are more fundamentally weird, across levels. Hume is the good guy – and mischievous.

Signing off. The more I hear of Carroll, despite his apparent cosmic-anthropic blind spot, the more he seems to talk sense. Harris continues to sound “chastened” by having had conversations with more experts than himself, but is only very slowly changing his actual world view. An interesting case study – and all credit to Harris for exposing himself to all these shared dialogues.

[Shall be interested to hear Carroll’s take on time. It is the root problem with (simple deterministic) causation as I’ve been saying for decades.]

“100% certain true fact despite large uncertainty at detail level” Ignorance – less information – is a feature, not a problem.

Search Polarises Extremes

A simple illustration that non-AI search algorithms are the cause of polarising memes that dominate public discourse.

You know from experience that Google search terms out of context can return irrelevant items, so you think as you start to type what are likely to make key terms relevant to your particular interest. Finding something specific or finding out about something, explicitly or implicitly, you have a search strategy in mind – even if it is a completely neutral, I’ve no idea where to look or what I’m looking for specifically – looking for ideas. That’s your experience and your (human) mind working so far.

However, Google offers a helpful type-ahead of previous and popular search strings, even before you’ve completed the first word you had in mind. To save typing and mental effort, how often do you find, yeah, that string might do the job, and click on it. Relevant early returns? If not go back, continue typing a word or two, and pick one of the alternative strings offered? Obviously, Google’s prioritising of the returns gives its own set of skewed prejudices, a commercial attention-grabbing game of SEO and the like, but the very act of selecting a previously trended search string skews you to popular options. The non-AI search algorithm has intercepted your own human-intelligent strategy. Binary extremes emerge naturally, even if your original intent was neutral.

(My own strategy at this point is to notice if there is a wikipedia item near the top or to the right, and select that first – read around the subject – find contentious hot-topics to avoid if possible before continuing. But it takes effort, so inevitably the search-strings and returns offered dominate the traffic, and the traffic reinforces the algorithms, even search-string clicks that don’t return any relevant items!)

Jaw-War? – Let’s Not Carpet-Bomb Dresden.

The Rhetoric of International Dispute 101 – a Noddy / Abbott guide

Are we outraged? Shall we do something about it? Shall we have Jaw-Jaw or War-War? Let me think. Shall we ask the public if it is in favour of armed intervention that might lead to war? Poll? Referendum? Debate?

No-one is in favour or War-War. Never met a single soul. Anywhere. Ever.

Question is, are you a pacifist activist, or are you a politician of state? More to the point, do you know the difference?

What we’d all prefer is Jaw-Jaw. Actually we might prefer to be lying on the beach, but that’s another story. Let’s get people around the table to talk. Let’s get independent mediators to facilitate that and to independently assess the facts of the outrage brought to the table. Good so far. We’ve brought the horse to the water. Now what?

What are the motives and aims of the people around this table to find solutions? What are the aims and solutions desired by each party? How many parties and aims are there, in fact? Have we been here before? How much do we already think we know? How many of those issues are beyond the immediate outrage? Which reminds me, has the outrage stopped yet?

We need things to focus the mind on the immediate as well as solve the Gordian knot we call The Middle East question. Don’t mention the Jews / Israelis. Rats, just did. Now what? Repeat. We need something to focus on the immediate whilst we wrestle with the (practically) timeless.

We need Jaw-War.

Whether at the conference table or in Trump tweets / diplomatic missives the rhetoric must include real carrots and sticks. Real risk and reward. Real skin in the game. And they need to be credible. Not hollow threats or impossible promises. These  need to be chosen carefully and delivered precisely, surgically, because there are few second chances once promises and threats are broken and mistakes are made. And choosing carefully means with immediate care, care in the moment as well as care for the bigger picture. It does not mean slowly and exhaustively debating every option, now. No stone unturned.

Carefully chosen because each sanction, rhetorical or physical, has limited use. We won’t be carpet-bombing Dresden again any time soon. How did it come to that? Seriously, that’s not a rhetorical question, ask yourself. How did it come to that?

At the same time, ie simultaneously and continuously, those making the immediate Jaw-War decisions, need to take responsibility and be held to account. It’s tough at the top. As well as our institutions of our free democracies, we also need the standing Jaw-Jaw table. The conference that never ends. We can be sure that in the time of some future immediate outrage, that steaming pile of unresolved issues will still be there on the table. You may recall that was the conclusion last time we carpet-bombed Dresden.

No-one wants War-War. That’s failure. Total disaster. We’d all prefer the Jaw-Jaw alternative, but to get that we need integration, not binary choice.

We need Jaw-War.


[Post Note: It had to happen. Implied and actual criticisms of Diane Abbott always get cast as sexist-racist:

I’m a “Corbynsceptic” and all the Corbynsceptics I know are fellow humans. Corbyn and all the “Corbynistas” are also fellow humans.

I’m sceptical – as the original post here is an example – that Corbyn / Abbott etc are making the gaffe of conflating activism with politics. And they’re doing it with the content (policy) and with the process of getting the best outcomes to happen (politics / rhetoric / media-interviews / debate / diplomacy etc.) Both. Both of them. All of them … Owen Jones, Paul Mason, John McDonnell you name them. And they’re all individuals. Good in parts, ideas and actions. Well all except Owen, but that’s another story 😉 I’m a big fan of Paul Mason in fact, but that’s another story too.

If by “Corbynsceptics” Stephen Bush meant the “Corbynista vs Corbynsceptic” memeplex he does indeed have a point. The standard content and patterns of communication (memes) reflect the archetypes on which they hang (caricatured identities of difference) and in doing so reinforce them to the point of polarisation. It’s a natural evolutionary process that information goes through. We humans have to do everything in our power to steer our communications away from those archetypal polarising caricatures. Corbynista or Corbynsceptic, we owe it to ourselves.

Bush may be right, a Google of media references will indeed prove his (and my) memetic point. As I say, it’s a given, a natural phenomenon. My criticism is that he shouldn’t be reinforcing it?]

It’s Never Too Late for Sartre

Mentioned before that, apart from hearing their voices via the excellent writing of Andy Martin, I’d kinda resigned myself to never really getting to grips with Sartre or Camus in any technical philosophical sense. Those strange foggie-froggies that predated the even foggier (mostly French) PoMo’s destined to be left in the mists of time as I ploughed my own PoPoMo furrows.

Sartre vs Camus – The Boxer and the Goalkeeper
(aka Philosophy Fight Club) by Andy Martin

So I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this 2 minute explanation of Sartre’s Existentialism by Open Culture, narrated by Stephen Fry.

(Hat tip to Dr Jim Walsh of Conway Hall Ethical Soc, who tweeted the link.)
(Shout out also to excellent collection of resources at Open Culture.)

Obviously, I have little idea if it’s a good summary in any objective sense, but it is very simple, very clear and eminently sensible to my mind.

Having said it’s sensible – humanity is something we shape by shaping ourselves individually because there is no absolute or god-given template – was there ever any doubt? Obviously the freedom implied is scarily nihilist and relativist to anyone concerned with moral cohesion, and who isn’t?

Now where have we all heard that before? Sartre’s freedom is our life-sentence – to a “lead role in a cage” to “trade heaven for hell“.
Existentialism because of that nature of our existence.

Fear doesn’t change facts, it shapes our real world responses, so long as we’re allowed to understand them. And I can see now that, whilst their characters and appearances and voices were chalk and cheese, Sartre and Camus were of a piece.

A little enlightenment?


[See also – Sartre vs Camus – The Boxer and the Goalkeeper (2012)]

[See also – Anglophone understanding of French thought (2017)]

[See also – Pairs or Triples, it’s about relationships. (2018)]

[See also – Finding a voice (2018)]

[Post Note – also need to follow-up the infuriating conflation of existential (as in threat) with existentialism. Never the twain.]


A recurring topic. Just capturing some thoughts / links prompted by (partly) hearing Alberto Manguel reading from Packing (and more to the point unpacking) My Library on BBC R4 Book of the Week.

The mnemonic of unpacking books.

Obviously resonances with Eco and Borges, but also Alexandria and much more.

[Eco – Ur-Fascism, The Rose, Queen Loana
(also Tartt / Caldwell&Thomason)]

Here Dublin from New Year visit 2018 …


Panrelationalism – Everything Comes in Threes

Triples, Triads or Trinities

Every layered, taxonomic or network model of anything.

1D – The identity of every thing being distinct from not-this-thing and the distinction made.

2D – Levels or layers (in 2D orthogonal to any axis in n-dimensions, think onion-skins) come in threes. This layer, the next layer and the interface between the two is the most obvious. But each layer comes in threes – the layer and it’s two interfaces to adjacent layers (network node-edge equivalence). But once you unpick each distinction, it has relationships between the two (or more) things it is distinguishing, etc. Fractally, each component, each identity is a triple.

The semantic web is made of triples, OWL etc.

Most recent collection here Penrose-Foucault-Pirsig.

Relationalism. First mentioned in connection with “relationalism” being a better take than “relativism”. Panrelationalism in facteverything is relational. Sure everything is in context relative to everything else, but that’s not some subjective groundless valuation, it’s simply reality, at a pretty deep level – fundamental physical ontology – information is any significant difference – thing / distinction / not-thing. Meaning.
(Wow – More Pirsig and Mary Parker-Follett in there. Hat-tips to Matt and Rebecca too. Connections in everything.)

Physics as the Child of Meaning – John Wheeler (1986)

Very much my fundamental information ontology of epistemology, shared as I see it with many current physicists too – Carlo Rovelli for one and of course the whole Integrated Information Theory (IIT) project. Most recently noted the Wheeler origins here in Nov 2017.

[Note however that in Wheeler’s Meaning Circuit, meaning is communicated by humans, not a suggestion that information is necessarily more fundamental to the physical world itself, simply integral to the human model we call “Physics”. (See the Penrose-Foucault triad.) In IIT is is presumed fundamental to the physical world itself.]