A significant part of my agenda is that what passes for received wisdom as “western rationality” is in fact degenerately irrational, damaging to humanity and the planet and as such, that received wisdom is a kind of collective “mental illness” of society. (The way we communicate and share truths and arguments is co-evolved with that psychological disorder, and the sheer pace and scale of 21st century communications is exacerbating the problem.)

It does mean that from time to time actual recognised mental disorders of individuals become topics of interest. Autism / Asperger’s being one candidate. Today the idea of Capgras Delusion being a form of reason where Bayesian analysis is in overdrive.

Capgras Delusion – is a psychiatric disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member (or pet) has been replaced by an identical impostor.

So, we have that link from Chris and a couple I Googled.



Love the (oft recurring) inference that too-rational = irrational (hence Autism, Brunsson etc.)
Being too-good at Bayesian reasoning.
Evidentialism – fetishising evidence also recurrent.
Fascinating. I’ll be back!

Before getting into Laland’s daunting read (previous post), I broke off to read a little gem from Julian Baggini.

A Short History of Truth” is 15000 words over 100 entertaining and readable pages. It is indeed a brief history of western philosophical ideas of truth topically related to the everyday frustrations we’ve come to know as post-truth.

A Short History of Truth : Consolations for a Post-Truth World, Hardback Book

Whether you’re new to the competing offerings of truth or you’ve already studied the concepts, Baggini creates a neat ontology of ten kinds of truth, which leads very conveniently to a simple recipe or checklist of ten traits we can all aspire to. This is not about defining truth, but about describing behaviours best suited to cultivating it.

In the words of the cover blurb:

These thought-provoking examinations reveal how the idea of truth has been used and abused over human history. Truth is complicated but Baggini leads us to a simple rubric for how we can all foster a better version of both ourselves and each other.

I loved it. Some of my favourite quotes – only one from the rubric – will give you a flavour.

There are no [alt-facts] just additional facts we may have missed.

Spiritual ‘truths’ should not compete with secular ones but should be seen as belonging to a different species.

[What] the Bush administration “misunderstimated”, was how important it was accurately to discern existing reality first if you intend to change it.

Science took a wrong turn because the wrong scientist held too much power.

Hallelujah! An unexpected pleasure.

I’m reading Kevin Laland’s “Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony – How culture made the human mind“. There’s two reasons I’m reading it but firstly, the one reason I’m posting now before I’m very far into it.

Since all readings and reviews are prejudiced by prior understanding and expectations, I prefer to be honest up front what those are, so that they provide context for any later opinions I express on the actual reading.

Secondly, some review(s) I’d already seen, suggested Laland relegated memetics to irrelevance in a single passing footnote, whereas for me memetics is simply short-hand for cultural evolution. I wanted to be reading something that claimed to be an alternative to views I already hold.

Thirdly, because Massimo Pigliucci has advertised that it is the next book he is going to review, in the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis context and I wanted to be forearmed.

So, let me confirm immediately, that meme / memetics has not a single mention in the index, and references to Dawkins, Blackmore and Dennett are simply single mentions each of The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype from the former and a single essay on Intentionality from the latter.

Given Laland claims this is the magnum opus of his 30 years study, and is promoted as a public science best-seller, it seems perverse to say the least, to not spend any time on addressing – explaining why he has no time for – the most popular and persistent metaphor in this domain. I understand, obviously, he has addressed this in earlier papers and writings, but not even a summary of his arguments in his latest. I need to find that single (non-indexed) footnote (*).

In my experience most arguments against memes are spurious straw-men, arguments against features not claimed by memetics. Not useful because they’re not objectively well-defined enough, and not the whole story. Just like genes, biologically, in fact. Since when did any complex story have a single silver bullet? So, let’s see:

For pinnacles of the human art we have the works of Puccini and Rachmaninoff “not evolving according to the laws of natural selection” in Chapter 1. Makes a change from the over-used Bach meme 😉

If intelligence, language or the ability to construct elaborate artefacts [and musical arias] evolved in humans because they enhance the ability to survive and reproduce, then why didn’t other species acquire these capabilities?” he asks sceptically.

The first answer to the question why, is that clearly there is no good reason it couldn’t have, and still could if it weren’t that humans already have most of the resources sewn-up on planet Earth. Very hard to imagine enough isolation for a second strand of cultural mind to speciate now.

But the premise is also doubtful when we’re talking about cultural evolution – advantages are concerned with more than biological survival and reproduction. The existence and copying of memes is not limited to numbers of living bodies. Biologically it’s the genes (and epigenetics) that replicate. Culturally it’s memetics – cultural information patterns beyond physical biology.

Clearly human brain, mind and culture have co-evolved in cycles of self-reinforcement. Fitness and survival are about copies of the content. Mind having evolved, drivers – subconscious and intentional motivations – are many more than physical life and reproduction. You only have to think Maslow or Pink for what drives other patterns of human behaviour, other “rewards” in patterns and relationships – information, however embodied. I need to be looking out for information as a topic. I can see only one Turing reference, one mention of information and no mention of Shannon.

If all Laland is saying is that human mind and culture co-evolved, and once intentional mind evolved there are not only many drivers over and above physical survival, but also many non-Darwinian selection processes, then how and where is that remotely contentious. Sounds 100% Dennett to me. Laws of natural and intentional selection. Human intentionality is natural too.

Not looking too promising. Good news is that Brian Boyd is extensively referenced, someone whose work I liked. Boyd also provides a cover blurb:

Laland shows how culture – socially transmitted knowledge – is what made humans so successful as a species.

Isn’t that just a statement of the obvious? Isn’t it equally obvious that success is more than headcount and individual longevity, when we’re dealing with human culture?


[Post Note: (*) That footnote on memetics isn’t a footnote it’s an end-note, one of the earliest notes in the first chapter.

Chap 1 Note (3) “In The Selfish Gene (1976), Richard Dawkins introduces the notion of the “meme”, a cultural replicator with gene-like properties. However the modern science of cultural evolution derives very little from memetics. For an introduction to the now extensive experimental and theoretical work that underpins this field, see Mesoudi (2011), Richerson and Boyd (2005), or Heinrich (2015). For a critical evaluation of the field see Lewens (2015).”

The actual reference in the text makes no mention of Dawkins or meme. I’m no fan of Dick the Dawk myself, he greatly over-reaches, but talk about mean-spirited!]

Management is Much More Than a Science – is the title of the HBR piece tweeted by Tom Peters.

The 2001 version of my own Manifesto here on Psybertron contained this passage:

Real human enterprises succeed or fail through subjective, chaotic and seemingly irrational behaviour. Management gurus have been emphasising this whilst proclaiming revolution, paradigm shifts and the like, ever since management mistook itself for a science. Enterprise information models, which continue to rely solely on positivist objective rationale and logic of mis-applied science, conspire to misinform.

Doubly interesting is the fact that TP shares it with his own urging “Why Management Needs Philosophers” – which is where I had got to within a year of starting out on this (originally business-focussed) research project. There is a lot to be learned from philosophy and philosophical fiction. Scientism – reducing all rational considerations to science – expecting all problems and decisions to be best addressed by applying more logic to more factual data is so misguided. So-called Management Science – eg Taylorism – is just one small part of management.

And particularly coincidental to me is that TP’s seminal “In Search of Excellence” was the first place I was aware of a reference to one of my original forays into philosophy: Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“. What goes round comes around. My Pirsig conference paper contains:

“ZMM turned up [in 1988!] (and remained un-read) as a quality management reference on a reading list, and indirectly in books by fashionable management “airport bookstall” writers, and others like Charles Handy and Tom Peters.”

Sad however is that TP’s glowing must-read in 2017 is set against the fact that I was already referring to this lesson being given (and learned by me) in the past tense in 2001.


[Post Note: some more detailed allusions to this journey into the management of human motivation in this post, and the fact that I already considered it “old news”!]

Despite being a big fan of Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism, selective Marxism and all, I’ve found myself having to keep his revolutionary-style participation in the New-Old-Labour politics at arm’s length. I was moved to revisit my own take on PostCapitalism by this tweet:

Tyfield’s extended review is here:

On PostCapitalism #1 – Overview.
A very positive and enthusiastic summary. Me too.

On PostCapitalism #2 – The Possibility of Information Capitalism
A detailed look at some of the challenges and criticisms, concluding that there really is something new and worthwhile here. My conclusion also.

On PostCapitalism #3 – The Non-Stalled Kondratiev Wave
The broken periodicity is something that has nagged at me too. Despite still holding up the natural Kuhnian / Kondratiev cycles of economic development paradigms to many others frustrated with expectations of plain-sailing progress, it has been clear that the information age is not simply another 80 year / 3 human generations cycle, but more like a relentless series of chaotically interdependent sub-cycles. Which legitimately leads us to think of a new and different set of economic cycles as something genuinely beyond capitalism rather than just another cycle of the same old same old. Good thinking.

My own take has been – around ubiquitous social-media comms – that the new problem we are dealing with is that the pace of information evolution (content and applications) has overtaken our collective mental (cultural) capacity to learn how to use it for human benefit, hence some of the problematic concerns and degenerate consequences. We really are dealing with a different model. It’s also why some are hyping (pale imitations of) AI and jumping straight to accelerationism, leaving human moderation behind, and giving me the uncomfortable feeling this is the wrong take. Right problem, wrong response. Tyfield’s looks like a better take.

So imagine my additional delight to find that Tyfield’s own book has this title:


Including the blurb:

[T]he pivotal location of a rising China, this book describes the global systemic crisis of a neoliberal world order and the embryonic emergence of an alternative global power regime of a ‘liberalism 2.0’.

This augurs both a web 2.0-based revitalization of the classical liberalism of the nineteenth century and new Dickensian inequalities and injustices …. Against hopes that the present is a ‘revolutionary’ moment, therefore, political engagement with this emerging power regime is thus presented as the most productive strategy for a progressive twenty-first century politics.

As well as generally well-travelled international experience of my own, I’ve had particular good fortune in the last decade and more to work with (Russian &) Chinese customers and collaborators and extended visits to multiple locations in both countries. The difference is staggering. Both have enormous disparities of wealth and power (and information freedoms) but nevertheless appear to be going in opposite directions. I already felt that China is doing something right that we can learn from and Tyfield is suggesting we might even throw in our lot.

Looks like a must read.

There is a snappy Arthur Koestler quote doing the rounds. It’s worth seeing the entire paragraph:

The tragedy is that only those realize what oxygen means who know the torture of suffocation; only those who have shared the life of the ordinary native in nazi Germany or Stalinite Russia for at least a year know that disintegration of the human substance which befalls people deprived of their basic liberties. But how many of us are capable of drawing comparisons? The English dock yard worker has not experienced the difference between risking, for the same negligence, a cut in pay or death as a saboteur. The English journalist does not know the difference between a limited freedom of expression and the status of a human teleprinter. The English highbrow, fed up with a statesman’s cigar or a general’s photo-mania, has no idea the abject idiocy of regimented Byzantine leader worship. The English public, disgruntled but secure within the law, does not know the shivering insecurity, the naked horror of an autocratic police-state. They only know their own frustrations. The atmosphere of democracy has become a stale fog, and those who breathe it cannot be expected to be grateful for the air which it contains.

The predicament of western civilization is that it has ceased to be aware of the values which it is in peril of losing.

Arthur Koestler “The End of an Illusion” 1944.

My summary would be the preceding sentences:

The public know only their own frustrations
and cannot be expected to be grateful
for the air which [their democracy] contains.

So true. Memetic understanding of democratic freedoms is so far wide of reality, even more so in our social media-connected world. Koestler often expressed unpopular opinions, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a shrewd commentator on the facts of life.

The perennial argument for (c)onservatism – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

The Ken Burns & Lynn Novick directed Vietnam documentary originally aired in the US on PBS last month is now showing on BBC Four TV. I’ve seen 6 of 10 so far, (though there is some confusion as to whether the BBC edit is the full version?)

The origins in 19th C French colonialism are well known, but Ho Chi Minh has an interesting background that I hadn’t known. Committed communist (obviously!) and well travelled in the 1940’s & 50’s (NY, Boston, London & Paris), it seems he was inspired by T E Lawrence (!) in the possibilities of guerilla war against an imperial army, and was really looking to the US to support his efforts for a peaceful transition to autonomy. Who knew how things would turn out. After the fall of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and another (!) temporary artificial partition, JFK and Nixon both involved on the ground in Trueman’s time, after the Soviet threat was amplified by revelation of their H-Bomb in 1959. From then on it was all about the cold war, local interests and promises were forgotten, a strategic chessboard with no prior understanding of the land …. and the rest is history.

[The numbskull Westmoreland. Mind-numbing shit happened. Excellent Geoffrey C. Ward scripted narration.]

For me personally, the despair in the summer of 1968 – when I was 12 – just one year on from the summer of love, black rights, the assassinations of MLK and Bobby Kennedy, the musical backdrop – all too easily brought to mind over that distance of 50 years. Both gripping and deeply affecting. How could it ever end well.

“The series is a masterpiece, an example of how to calmly assess episodes fraught with passion and sorrow.”

“The combat films are extraordinary; the recollections and reflections of combatants and others on both sides are even more so, featuring photos of them then and interviews with many of them now.”

George Will, Washington Post.


[Post Note:
Obviously examples of atrocities on both sides, despite equally obvious honourable intentions of most individuals involved, it seems worth sharing this link from last year. Mostly about WWII and Dresden, but “war dehumanises everyone it touches” (hat tip to Anita Leirfall). In fact more than one interviewee in Vietnam, then and now, expresses the real sense that they needed to dehumanise their enemy – even neutral, sympathetic civilians – in order to be able to act. ]

Can’t help feeling a take on the current stalemate is being missed.

(I’m a strong remainer, and see continuing with #Brexit as a damage-limitation / opportunity-maximisation exercise. Referenda? Don’t get me started. But rather than be that bystander wanting to start from somewhere else, surely the best route out of this mess is obvious:)

That is, obviously we have no real knowledge of the actual quality of negotiation dialogues between UK and EU teams, it would be mad to expect the public reporting to reflect to reality or totality of what’s going on – that’s the nature of any negotiation.

The question of whose court the ball is in is irrelevant too, as is the idea that “no deal” is some take-it-or-leave-it walk-away option. So, how about this:

Whatever the content of the proposals (offers) we’ve made so far to the EU, there will ALWAYS be the devil in more detail not yet tabled explicitly. All we need to know is if the EU rejects or disagrees with anything – at the level of detail – we’ve so far proposed. “No comment” is no disagreement; “Ah, but what about detail xyz” is no disagreement. The ball is always in our court unless we receive counter proposals.

Pretty sure all the existing agreements we need to honour or change – content and financial – will be the problem of many separate UK institutions and organisations, not just central government and its ministries. That’s where the detail will be resolved. The less detail agreed by the central UK team the better surely? Even the legal standards and court-jurisdiction stuff.

Obviously – as I’ve said since Cameron first announced the mad idea – the whole thing has always been a waste of time and effort and risk to good-will and good-order, but the worst use of that effort would be to have a central team attempt to commit to badly negotiated details on a 52/48 mandate.