Massive number of hits on the blog yesterday when Chris Packham publicly announced his problems with Apserger’s. Good for him to acknowledge however obvious it had become to the rest of us, and sad for him to suffer the problems. Seems he suffered from it earlier in life and sees his “all consuming interest in wildlife” as helping him deal with it. I wish him well.

As therapy it may be good for the patient, but it’s bad for the rest of us.

My interest isn’t specifically with the “disease” of the individual on the Asperger’s / Autism disorder spectrum, though obviously they’re connected naturally with my main interest; the general human psychological error / fetish / addiction of scientism. That is, humanity actually believing that the objective / logical / scientific end of the rationality spectrum is to be valued over all others that contain any hint of subjectivity (for want of better terminology).

I’d held-up Packham three years ago as an archetypal scientistic public scientist based on his wildlife media appearances, and the motivations and attitudes he spoke about on Desert Island Discs. I knew nothing of his Asperger’s history until a commentor on that thread mentioned person-to-person experience of his autistic behaviour. It came as no surprise to me (see the comment thread) – and indeed I’ve had hundreds of Packham / Autism / Asperger’s search hits on the post since 2013 before being inundated with hundreds more yesterday.

Hearing the public announcement of his suffering from, and dealing with, his spectrum disorder yesterday on BBC Radio 4 Today [41:28] Chris Packham’s Asperger’s story was followed by two wonderfully counterbalancing items of historicity and poetry. War and the beautiful game.

Jim Naughtie Meets the Author [43:25] had Pat Barker talking about the predicted historical perspective looking back 500 years hence on the 20th Century seeing WWI & WWII as a single war. Like many other historical wars – the hundred years war, the wars of the xxxx, etc – labelled historically as a single war even if there were lulls in the belligerence and multiple triggers to action, there were common underlying issues being worked-out. (I’m sure the ongoing Middle-East / Islamic problems of today are still a part of that same war too – the increasing speed of our media perversely, but predictably, slowing down our human chances of achieving solutions.)

The caterpillar on the leaf,
Repeats to thee thy mother’s grief.

“Blake’s words can’t be translated into any terms other than itself.
We have no idea what that means, but we know it’s true.”

Immediately after that was Martin Rome’s Thought for the Day [49:13] – Sport is more than the sum of its parts – [Shankly / Hillsborough / Leicester City / Ranieri / Wenger] – It’s about us. It’s about our character in cooperative competition.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
…. rage against the dying of the light.

Like the poetry of Dylan Thomas, “sport says the unsayable”.

Science [objective logic] says only the sayable, as Wittgenstein tried to warn us.

I wrote a general piece on identity politics last year when the then current topic was “Islam is not a race“.

The whole nation / race / culture / religion subject is fraught with definitional problems, that really only resolve in self-identity. The fact that Semite has nothing to do with being a Jew in the first place, is only one of many nuanced issues in the Labour Antisemitism row. Of all the many nuances defining the antisemitism row, the distinguishing issue is the relationship to Jews of opinions on Zionism and Israel. Opinions about people and individuals (ie humans) are simply those of human rights and freedoms of thought and expression. End of.

Currently “Antisemitism” is really a question of Zionism. It’s all very well to hold opinions about “the idea of” an Israel – should it / shouldn’t it exist – but it does. We might not want to start from here, but we must deal with reality.

  • How many nation states in the world have UN-recognised existing names and borders more than one or two hundred years old? Not many.
  • How many nation states have dodgy political and bloody histories in how their modern day identity was arrived at. Most.
  • How many nation states have modern-day ethnic / religious political tensions – historically disadvantaged groups – that lead to violent acts. Most of us.

The specific parties in the current politics and enforcement through power vary from state to state, and will require their own specific resolution and mediation, but the idea that Zionism makes Israel any different is plain wrong.


[Post Note : There are of course plenty of other reasons why the “Israel” issue remains perhaps the knottiest issue of our times, not least because the oppressed group really are largely Semitic, Arabic, Muslims, a subject with it’s own share of topical issues, to say the least.]

[Post Note : And absolute chaos on Twitter – so many witty responses to #KenGate and #JohnMannGate ( all on #EdBallsDay) but this sums up the underlying point:


Sure – but hating (not-liking) “Jews being in Israel” is a million miles from “hating Jews” in Israel, or Golders Green, or anywhere else. No-one “likes” Israel being what it is, but 4/5 generations after its founding, Israel and its current population have the same human rights and freedoms as the rest of us, Palestinians included. Sorry, our fore-fathers made a mistake so you lot are fucked – is no solution. Jeez. Reparations can be retrospective, reversable even, within a generation or two, but need to be proportional and humane for individual citizens recognised as a whole nation state.

And the whole comparison of Zionism with Hitler was well-meant (see this old example from Jared Diamond) but crassly stated for a professional politician. And John Mann MP losing his cool. Labour in meltdown on #EdBallsDay and all a week before local elections. Man!]

[Post Note – And, the morning after, those defending Ken are using accusations of PC-taboo topics and anti-intellectualism. Well sure Ken’s opinions have valid points – that was my point above. And as the tweets above show Ken probably made an intellectual error in one of his remarks but he didn’t correct it and he kept digging, defending himself and Naz. To be clear. Israel is a brutal regime, the Palestinians are oppressed, the whole situation is surrounded by Islamist states and factions, Israel’s brutality extends to attacks being their best form of defence, and yes the whole “Middle-East Problem” situation has a recent history of imperial responsibility. It’s a mess, I’ve written about before in more detail and we’re all, Ken & Naz & Jezza included, entitled to robust opinions for and/or against any & all of the parties and behaviours involved. Nothing is taboo, not even bigotry. Yes you can even hold the opinion that the problem is the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and the solution is to remove it / them. However, since we’re talking about members of the government and opposition in one UN state, their opinions about dealing with another UN state matter – we’ve all got present-day situations resulting from historical mistakes (see above). Proposing a policy that the state shouldn’t exist and that it’s population should be deported (somewhere) against their wishes – many generations after the original mistake – is not acceptable. It’s plain crass. That is against the human rights of the existing population – that’s what’s rightly being branded “antisemitism” (even though the word technically means something else), it’s  a label for that crass inhuman bigotry.]

One way or another “scientism” is at the core of many of my conversations in recent years, and in fact several in recent days too. In the last decade and a half I’ve also become quite a fan of Wittgenstein; initially suggested by a theologian-philosopher on a discussion-board we both frequented in the early 2000’s. As well as reading his Tractatus and Investigations, obviously Wittgenstein – the person and his writings – turned up in many other philosophical readings too, particularly in Vienna-Circle, Gödel & Einstein contexts but that’s another story.

The only book I’d read specifically about Wittgenstein was Edmonds & Eidinow Wittgenstein’s Poker. Ray Monk, Wittgenstein scholar and author of The Duty of Genius (which I’ve not read, yet!) is a considerable source and reference in the Edmonds & Eidinow work. So much so that I’d mentally pigeonholed Wittgenstein’s Poker as Ray’s work – until I pulled it off the shelf this morning.

Yesterday, or maybe the day before, someone tweeted a link to Wittgenstein’s Forgotten Lesson written by Ray as a piece in Prospect Magazine back in 1999. Tweets being the ephemeral things that they are, I can no longer easily see that tweet or its context, but I had opened the link and it sat on my desktop. When I read it this morning, I remembered having read it before, but relatively recently, back in 2014, though the link I blogged then is only a brief holding reference for future follow-up.

The reason I read the Forgotten Lesson, and picked the Poker off the bookshelf when I did this morning was a little synchronicity that Ray and I both tweeted positively on Frankie Boyle’s latest Grauniad piece (on the UK junior doctors’ strike) and in a self-admitted kill-joy way, so did the excellent Tom Chivers – pointing out mis-represented “facts” in Frankie’s piece.

Now, I’m a serious fan of Frankie, our best and archetypal “Court Jester”. In a world where there are so many “bad things” to speak-freely about, limits to free-speech generally and limits to mockery specifically matter a great deal. The recognised court-jester(s) have the greatest license to mock – and even mis-represent to the point of being false, irrational, politically incorrect, disrespectfully ironic and downright offensively sarcastic – that’s the point of The Fool. We may all have the same “right” but that doesn’t mean we should all do it. As Stephen Fry reminds us, we can ruthlessly mock any problematic aspect of British freedom and democracy in practice, provided we love British freedom and democracy. We just can’t all be as good as Frankie at doing it.

Now Tom’s kill-joy pointing out that the “facts” about the weekend working issue in the NHS dispute (*), he justified because the Grauniad’s Comment is Free columns are generally seen as a politically editorial part of the Grauniad’s output – and should meet those standards of responsible journalism, when it comes to representing facts. I begged to differ where it’s clear the writer holds our official court-jester license. For the fool, this is a free-pass, a license who’s only rule is there are no rules – strictly only the kinds of rules that wise-men and fools can interpret. Of course gratuitous offence and not being funny can lose you your free-pass license, but until then Frankie’s doing fine.

Good satirical writing is more an art than a science. The same way a natural language sentence is more like a piece of music than an logical assertion. It is scientism to expect the rules of logic to apply to factual objects anywhere other than science. Man! Wittgenstein had that one nailed, even if Russell and the logical positivists never got the jokes in Tractatus.


(*) PS – To be clear on the subject of the dispute itself. It’s complicated and needs proper, mediated negotiation, like any real dispute. Hunt’s track record means his motives are rightly suspect, but whatever the 24/7 shift-working contractual rates and terms, (a) weekend days should carry no special premium in the 21st century, and (b) employees can take or leave any contract offered. End of. Now, go negotiate and take a Parker-Follett-ian mediator with you.

I’ve been using fetishisation and addiction as characterisation of the roots of PC attachment to accepted modes of thinking. (Frankie Boyle calls it “Weary Rationale”.)

Competition is one of those accepted (PC) modes.

Critical thinking seen as the ability to undermine interlocutors as if they were opponents. After all, the ultimate test of science is falsification and science is good, right? Well no, it may be the ultimate test of science fact, but it’s not the point or purpose of good “rational” endeavours. It’s become PC to value arguing against something – using peerless objective logic – above all else. It’s the “winning” form of rhetoric.

Most recently here, we noted Stephen Fry linking Political Correctness to acceptance of poor rationality, to the point of rejecting “rationalism”.

Today this link to The Conversation piece by Rajani Naidoo “Competition as a fetish: why universities need to escape the trap.”

I’m reading Self by Barry Dainton, recommended to me by David Morey, a friend who I consider has a well informed take on current philosophy, right up to and including “New Realism”.

So far I’ve read the prologue and started on the first chapter. From the blurb, I was expecting an original philosophical novel, but in fact it’s a normal philosophical text describing and referencing the thought experiments of others as far as I can tell, so I guess I’m already disappointed. But it’s worse than that.

There are two glaring errors so far:

Firstly, using Dennett & Hofstadter’s Brain in a Vat, he seems to suggest that it’s a widely held belief that we, our selves, our minds, our souls, reside in our brains! Huh? Does anyone think that? The very opposite is surely the point of the referenced thought experiment?

Secondly, this:

[When you think “What am I?”, what’s actually doing the thinking? Is it a soul, some other kind of mental entity separate from your body, or are “you” just a collection of nerve-endings and narratives? …]

We will be looking at why the problem of consciousness is so uniquely difficult – much of the answer lies in the conception of the physical world that emerged during the Scientific Revolution (and is still with us today).

No way. Jose.

Me, my mind, I am doing the thinking. There is no problem of consciousness. I know it. You know it. We have no problem.

It’s science that has the problem, basing itself on a dualism that keeps the subjective separate from its objective model (for its own convenience). The problem, rather than the answer, lies in science’s conception of the physical. It is science that cannot explain, and therefore must deny as illusory, the consciousness and free-will we well know from our own empirical experience.

Hopefully by setting up such straw-men, Dainton is heading to the same conclusions, but why start with such clearly wrong premises. Where’s the suspense?

Reading on, with hopes diminished.

Interesting piece in Aeon on The New Astrology by Alan Jay Levinovitz.

Almost three decades ago, when we were developing training in business information modelling, a colleague once warned me never to forget a model was always a model, however effectively the model fitted its purpose, it wasn’t the actual world we were dealing with. I’d previously already developed concerns that even in my own engineering experience things weren’t always as objective as they appeared. It takes a lot more than maths and physics to keep 10,000 rivets flying in close formation.

As that engineering business information modelling evolved into ever more generic reference-data-based asset-lifecycle information architecture, it wasn’t hard to spot this warning applied to pretty much any model of anything we know about our cosmos. Even that brings to mind another colleague who admitted to regrets having suggested a philosophical reference(*) to one of our number, and yet another who eventually penned a skit on comparing schools of art with different schools of philosophy each modeller might happen to have read over a weekend.

One thing we know about the world is there is more than one way to look at it. All our models of reality have their limits.

The more free-thinking science-based rationality wins the war against dogma, religious or otherwise, the more dogmatic the PC acceptance that it’s the scientific way or no way. A well-formed model of well defined objects with predictable behaviour is de-rigeur even for the social sciences. Even where political dimensions of decision-making are accepted, the free and democratic expectations are that justifications meet basic rules of objective logic, and global economics is a big as it gets for our earth-bound eco-system.

This morning, before even picking up the Aeon link above, I found myself tweeting in reaction to the economic fears and forecasting coming out of the Brexit and Bremain eco-political camps.

When political economists
start using numbers,
it’s time to ignore them.
Economics isn’t a science.

I’m not the first to coin the idea of autistic economics. Our pre-occupation with arithmetic is indeed a fetish, an addiction we can’t seem to shake off. Worth a read.


[(*) The actual reference was to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.]

I made a link to the Dave Rubin / Steven Fry conversation a couple of days ago. I was making the connection between Julian Baggini’s piece of why simple – black and white – moral logic seems to be more popular than anything that appears more complicated or thoughtful, and linking this to some of the simplistic conclusions and “click-bait” headlines being reported around the recent ICM Poll on UK Muslim attitudes (before more thoughtful commentaries indeed appeared).

It’s a long-standing agenda of Psybertron’s that many modern world problems stem from the fact that simple stuff spreads faster than good stuff. Pure memetics – exaggerated in our world of mass communications and social media – popularity driving us towards lowest common-denominators. And it’s true in all fields, from would-be pure scientific forms of rationality through the socio-economic-political “sciences” – even democracy itself – to the more artistic ends of culture.

When I originally made the link I was using primarily a transcript extract posted here, but since then I’ve watched the whole thing – it’s only 11 minutes long. As an active humanist / atheist / secularist – indeed a board member of the UK Rationalist Association – I was intrigued when it was pointed out that early on in the conversation, he announces :

I’m not a rationalist, I’m an empiricist [when it comes to clear thinking].”



He goes on to elaborate what he really means by clear thinking based on experience. After reminding us of the history of the enlightenment and free-thinking movements, and the original enlightenment aims of the founding the US, he points out important ironies at the heart of the project.

Ironies where the narrow (PC) rational view turns empirical common sense on its head.

The highest levels of social justice are found in the democratic states with constitutional monarchies. The best proper functioning secular arrangements are not necessarily found in states with clear separation of church and state. The Orwellian un-personing of famous persons (eg the Rhodes statue, Thomas Jefferson) when new generations learn of their historical immorality by modern standards. Topics of debate and trigger words becoming taboo and speakers no-platformed when they failed to fit simple agendas.

He is railing against the deep infantilism of the new (PC) rationality. Life is complicated.

Towards the end he’s  expressing the a further irony of “victimhood” …

“We’ll start feeling sorry for you when you stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

… he also goes on to attack that other holy cow of the freedom of expression, the right to mock.

“Don’t mock unless you value.”

In fact I’d say, like Psybertron, Fry is defending proper human rationality from a too-narrow, too-abstractly-objective, poor-substitute, PC-version of scientistic rationality.

True scientific rationality is of course ultimately empirical – evidence-based and repeatably testable. The difficulty is what kinds of “experience” count as evidence when you are outside the controlled lab of repeatability. Human life is not a repeatable experiment.


More from Psybertron:

Causation – It’s Complicated

The Court Jester

Our Addiction to Weary Rationale