The Divine Gibbon … Again

Wonderful episode of In Our Time on BBC R4 this morning:

Fascinated by the biographical timeline of British and French connections to enlightenment thinkers (including very influential Hume and Burke) at the time of Revolution … and his own incomplete memoir. Also for the closing remark about the relevance of the Decline to our present situation. Saving the link for the references … more(!) reading to follow-up.

[Gibbon previously on Psybertron.]

Unbearably Painful & So So Important

Having commented on the risky – “careless” – non-PC and even misogynistic end of things, in the BrewDog situation in the previous post, I was returning to the other extreme, the crippling effects of PC-Wokeness, which is topical everywhere at the moment.

Not only generally topical but central to my own agenda about how knowledge, even would-be scientific knowledge, is distorted by a kind of PC dogma, much more so than critical-thinking sceptical defenders of science would acknowledge. And ever more so as the pace and nature of social internet communications further reinforces the effect.

A large part of the PC aspect comes from misguided ideas of (otherwise perfectly valid) “equality” of anything and everything across many different axes. Equality of rights and freedoms has a tendency to aim to flatten differences, as if they’re the problem or unimportant to the point of even denying their existence. Transwomen are women? Anyone? The idea that things have careful boundaries that matter, that help preserve genuine equalities, I call “Good Fences” (After Robert Frost and G. K. Chesterton) and have a long-standing draft piece of writing on that.

Two things happened yesterday and today that add very directly to that agenda. One is this story from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, picked-up and commented on by so many:

The depths of hypocrisy of wokeness – here in this feminism vs trans context yet again:

“What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another. God help us. It is obscene.”

“Out-angel” – virtue-signalling by any other name.

“I gave an interview in March 2017 in which I said that a trans woman is a trans woman, (the larger point of which was to say that we should be able to acknowledge difference while being fully inclusive, that in fact the whole premise of inclusiveness is difference.)”

“The whole premise of inclusiveness is difference.”
To deny this is “obscene”. Vive la difference.

Chimamanda’s story is one of bad-faith in would be intellectual interaction. This would be enough material by itself, but this second story came up that is deeply moving – taken as truth on good faith.

This original short piece in The Daily Wire, where Yeonmi Park compared her experience of Columbia University unfavourably with that of the North Korea she defected from. On grounds of the woke denial of freedom to know reality.

Followed up by this full 2 hours plus interview (with Jordan Peterson). Harrowing in so many details – an education in the school of life on so many points – so many a “too serious” privilege to hear. (Need to recognise that her book was written before her experience of Columbia University.)
Someone who understands more than anyone that equality (making everything equal) is so so different to equality of rights, freedoms and opportunities.

Finally since it’s Bloomsday, and talking about the power of reading books that don’t claim to be factual (as Yeonmi was), this image of Marylin always tickles me. At that point she is presumably reading the closing “Molly” scenes.


[Post Note: Many people picking-up the Chimamanda story, including this recommendation from the excellent Kenan Malik:

Critical interaction without good faith is mere performance.]

Punks With Purpose

I’ve been reading the BrewDog ex-staff open-letter regarding their oppressive management experience.

Actually prompted to do so from this piece on bad practices in the hospitality business generally which links not just to the original letter, but also to an early internal draft response to the “Punks with Purpose“.

As an EquityPunk since the second round, I need to declare an interest here.

However, I read both as sympathetic and genuinely committed to something better, “scathing” but positive. Even the response, personally defensive sure, hopeful and misguided, but still positive. And no reason to deny the reality of cultish, non-PC, misogyny in the craft-beer business marketing generally as well as in BrewDog specifically. Easy to imagine.

The one thing I want to add to the debate is the more general entrepreneurial-to-sustainable transition. The cavalier approach embodied by James and Martin, driven entirely by disruptive market penetration and growth takes no prisoners and (deliberately) creates collateral damage in its “careless” wake. That was always the point of the “punk” branding from day 1.

Some of us have been pointing out for years that the reckless growth at any cost strategy was unsustainable, humanly as well as economically. There was some hope (5?) years ago when BrewDog went through some external professional management selection for senior exec roles, the revolution was televised in fact, but – I need to research this – it seemed to be short-lived and fizzle out, with candidates either not able to fit in or falling out shortly after recruitment. The perfect storm of Covid on top of difficult economic conditions for the hospitality business has simply left (real) underlying problems exposed.

Sad, but not terminal.


[Post Note 17th June:

The Road Ahead for BrewDog

On LinkedIn for some reason?]

A Kite’s Eye View

I noted ten days ago I had acquired a copy of Chiara Marletto’s first foray into popular “trade” science literature “The Science of Can and Can’t” and noted at the time that I’d already been following her work and that of David Deutsch her mentor and collaborator for more than a decade.

I’ve been putting-off opening it up because I knew (know) as soon as I did I’d have to make space to read the whole of it. Well, dear reader, here we are.

In fact I’ve only read a few pages as I type. Apart from the blurbs I already mentioned, from Smolin and Pullman, it has an index, acknowledgements and a short further reading list. Aside from the earlier works of Atkins, Dawkins and Deutsch, the latter includes Brockman’s Edge collection of “Possible Minds” and Pullman’s “Essays on Storytelling” along with her life-partner Vladko Vedral’s “Decoding Reality“. Intriguingly it also includes Pearl and Mackenzie’s “Book of Why – the New Science of Cause and Effect“.

Of the six pages I’ve read, four are Deutsch’s foreword, one is her “how to read” and one is the first page of her “prelude”.

It’s an impassioned recommendation from Deutsch as his protégé spreads her independent wings, from:

This is a major departure from the traditional conception of physics and science more generally […] which rejects such intangibles as causation, free-will and choice as being mere psychological props, or even mystical.”

“[The lack of anything fundamentally new in science for decades is the result of] a cautious and risk-averse culture in science [where] pessimism and fatalism have become the norm.

There has never been a time when there have been more blatant contradictions, gaps and unresolved vagueness in our deepest understanding of nature […] this will require us to adopt radically different modes of explanation.”

Modes of explanation” is key, this is meta to any specific physical theories, and the real reason for my interest in general. The “how to read” is also reflected in a reference to one of my heroes in Deutsch’s foreword:

“[Marletto argues] with great enthusiasm and precision, punctuating the non-fiction in the chapters with short fictional stories that, in a manner reminiscent of Douglas Hofstadter “Gödel, Escher, Bach”, elaborate the ideas and give the reader space to reflect.”

By Marletto’s first page we already have allusions to Dante and the Blakes Quentin and William, and a writer at home reflecting on the Red Kites’ perspective circling high overhead Oxford, England’s green and pleasant lands of the Chilterns and Cotswolds.

Loving the evocation already.

It From Bit

The idea of “it from bit” is pretty central to my information metaphysics view of reality, but I rarely use the expression, and in fact don’t believe I’ve ever made explicit reference to John Wheeler’s seminal paper that coined this view. There is so much secondary referencing in the EES and IIT sphere’s of modern science. In coining the expression, even Wheeler acknowledges “little new under the sun”, with Bohr as one source of the concept (also acknowledged here previously).

Anyway, that seminal paper:


by John Archibald Wheeler, 1989

Bohr was already there, very recently mentioned here. Where Wheeler talks of our “registration” with knowledge of an empirical fact, Bohr and Whitehead (and I) talk of the “interaction” of subjective we with the objective world “out there”.

Wheeler was one of the last living links with Einstein and Bohr until his death in 2008, and there are several related video interviews with him on YouTube shortly before his death.

[Suffice to say – that’s a wonderful paper in the “one I wish I’d actually read earlier” category. Apart from himself, his first ten references are Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Mendel, Darwin, Crick and Watson. Only one von Neumann reference and no Shannon references, but dozens of references to his own publications which no doubt include these two. One ref to J. W. Tukey which intrigues because I heard another recently. Reading list continues to grow the more I read – and boy, is Tukey’s list of stuff enormous, where to start?!? Time to start using my British Library membership, methinks. Background paper on Tukey.]

[… the term bit (binary digit) that is coined by John Wilder Tukey, statistician at Princeton University, in 1946. It refers Claude Shannon, often misquoted as the one who used the term for the first time, which, in a paper published in 1948, talks about ‘bit’ and attributes its origin to Tukey: ‘The choice of a logarithmic base corresponds to the choice of a unit for measuring information. If the base 2 is used the resulting units may be called binary digits, or more briefly bits, a word suggested by J. W. Tukey.’ C.E. Shannon, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, Bell System Technical Journal, (1948) 27, p. 380. Cfr. H.S. Tropp, ‘Origin of the Term Bit’, Annals of the History of Computing, (1984) 6(2), pp. 152–5. Source Paper about Konrad Zuse – another connection(!)]

Link Dump

A new overload of bookmarked pages to capture. Life remains complicated for reading and writing for domestic and work reasons, so I’ll dump most here without reading or reviewing in detail for now. Resources for later.

Philip Goff on this old chestnut … Hacking, White and McGrath all referenced (but not Anthropics …)

Bogdanov. Having picked him up as someone I need to follow-up, coincidentally picked-up this in-person event in Hull later this week, 2nd / 3rd June. Systems studies, financial economics and cybernetics(!) in one event, with Rovelli giving a keynote the evening before. Could have been designed for me. H/T Paul Mason for the tweet.

Great piece in Aeon from Jessica Flack at Santa Fe Institute. Day job systems thinking as well as epistemology research application for me:

(Also good stuff about instabilities of mixed time-scale processes.)

Neurodiversity as an advantage. Positive piece in HBR.

George Berkeley piece in Prospect – by Alex Dean reviewing Tom Jones latest book on the subject.

Genetic heritability of behaviour – paper in Nature (Human Behaviour).

AI Is Neither Artificial nor Intelligence – short piece in Wired.

Review of Edmonds on professor Schlick in TLS.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (sometimes Cz…) have earlier references to him in “flow” contexts, someone shared his TED talk.

Keeping Time on Entropy’s Dime
May 6, 2021• Physics 14, s54
An experiment with a nanoscale clock verifies that a clock’s entropy per tick increases as the clock is made more precise. It from Bit on the time axis?

Zen and the Art / Pirsig meme …Covid and the Art of Parallel Parking in Austin Times.

Meta- 7 Apps for Cataloguing Your Home Library in HigherEd Blog (h/t Ian Smith for suggestion).

Galen Strawson interviewed by Robert Wright in Mind Matters on his journey from Materialism to PanPsychism.

War and Peace and War by Peter Turchin – add to book list. Turchin has been in my sights before – with Pirsig / Einstein / Magritte link.

Spooky “Periodic Table” correlation between species of DNA structures? H/T to David Morey on Twitter.

Dennett’s “Clergy Project” – Church as Theatre in Patheos.

Adding System 3 (None) to Kahneman’s 1 and 2 (Fast and Slow) Jumping the Shark.

Performative Victimhood – bad public decision-making. Bamboozled Britain dishes out Brexit Blame. Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times.

Piece on the Famous Einstein-Szilárd letter in Cantor’s Paradise.

By Any Memes Necessary in LA Review of Books. The memification of history, replacing detailed truth with catchy misattributed and dubious sound-bites. Yep, that’s about it.

Recurring link to Norway’s Oil dependency, with Mariana Mazzucato – but I though the sovereign wealth fund was being directed at green policy for more than a decade?

More on Neurosexism – gendered brains again in Nature.

More on Neurosexism – gendered brains in Neuroscience.

Essay on Hume by Baggini in Prospect to accompany his latest excellent book. The Hume paradox: how great philosophy leads to dismal politics. H/T Mark Hammonds

More brain/mind behaviour from abnormal brains. Tuckute in BioRxiv pre-prints. Frontal language areas do not emerge in the absence of temporal language areas: A case study of an individual born without a left temporal lobe.

Add Salma Rushdie’s latest to list “Languages of Truth”

Reactionary responses to this Max Plank quote on probability in nature.

Interesting thread on Wheeler’s “It from Bit” from Jessica Flack

As predicted by Mark Hammonds – Wittgenstein Tractatus at 100 is a thing.

Sabine Hossenfelder on Larry Krauss’ bandwagon jumping on Climate Change.

Re-Reading List:

Recent reference to the excellent Secret History by Donna Tartt – time to start a “re-reading list”?

Which should probably include this:

As well as this Goldstein link :
Recent reference to the excellent Goldstein’s Mind Body Problem

Everyone considering a career in philosophy should read these paragraphs (published in 1983, when things were not as bad).

— Bryan W. Van Norden (@BryanVanNorden) May 29, 2021

Done for now. Need to collect the book references and the library catalogue.

Being Constructive about Climate and Environment

I’ve been pretty clear that I reject a lot of what Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion do with their environmental climate emergency agendas. And I’m not coy about the fact a large part of my working life has been in or related to fossil-fuel and plastics businesses – my Dad worked for ICI too. But, I also have to be clear, I have no “interest” in perpetuating these, and indeed for most of the last 2, 3 or even 4 decades all work has been towards efficiencies, reductions, remediations and alternatives.

So I want to say, this is a brilliant video created by Greenpeace. It grabs attention for a massive problem in a stunningly visual way. Various versions being shared all over social media. It’s brilliant. Shines a light on a real problem with a credibly-real idea of scale (even though I’ve not done the calcs). Well done.

What’s not brilliant about it is its anti-establishment, anti-UK-government agenda. And I say that as someone who’s no time for Boris nor ever voted tory. The knee-jerk of archetype lefty-lib-tards is to blame a tory or more generally blame them, the government, the establishment. A world with no establishment? Careful what you wish for.

At least in the UK (and much of Europe) we do massively support separation and recycling of waste. Sad to see those in comment threads attached to the video questioning whether to continue such commitment. Certainly amongst our family, friends, colleagues and wider community, the idea of littering or discarding anything not immediately bio-degradable food waste – even the smallest sweet wrapper –  has been anathema all our post-war lives.

But I know from travel (and indeed living) around the world, UK, Europe, US, South America, Mid-East, South and East Asia, Asia-Pacific and Australasia in those decades that it’s an even bigger problem. There are huge communities and cultures where simply discarding disposable plastic has been the norm, long before any thought of collecting for recycle and the risk of poor arrangements for such recycling. I’ve seen so many rivers, bays and dead-end dry-land spaces simply choked with years of discarded plastic for many decades. This is cultural education, closer to home too. The amount of fast-food and beverage bottle and can discards is a cultural disgrace close to home.

Anyway, in or out of the EU, plastic production and use as well as disposal and processing will be at least partly international business for all the reasons any business involves global trade. It depends on shared standards (which is the common thread of my day-job, but I digress).

I happen to support localism, and I fully support proper economic accounting for environmental “externalities” – but with a global environment, this is yet more shared standards for global trade. It can’t just be box-ticking of offsets.

“We” have to own this as opposed to blaming “them” and looking for accounting loopholes. We are they.

Personally, apart from obviously seeking realistic alternatives to reduce disposable plastic use in the first place, I believe the right solution is to incinerate in properly regulated waste-to-energy plants, where there are no high-value recycled-product markets. And this is true whether these be at the eastern margins of Europe, say in Turkey, or in the far-east. Since we need alternative energy plants locally and we tend to be more compliant with regulations locally, and it’s easier to see locally when they’re not compliant, such waste-to-energy plants should and could quite practically be as local as possible.

If it weren’t for all the ER and Greenpeace nimby’s preventing them being built locally, that is. Attention-grabbing – even through civil disobedience protest – is fine, as well as catchy videos, but take responsibility for doing something about it.

Linking Links – It’s Already Connected

Noted only in the past year, after getting very engaged with the work of Whitehead recently that I needed to give credit to a strong link between him and Pirsig that had crossed my path unnoticed back in 2006.

With information and computation proving an ever more fundamental part of my agenda since the outset in 2001, I’ve joined-up dots with quantum computing in various guises at many points in that time. Most recently with Chiara Marletto and the “Constructor Theory” of Deutsch and Marletto.

Somewhat randomly I came across a post of my own from 2007 that had already connected cross-links from the Pirsig-Whitehead axis to the fundaments of quantum computing. There is very little new under the sun, and all the connections are already there.

The whole Zen <> Fundamental Physics
(Stapp, Josephson, Capra, Talbot, and even Hofstadter again)
The Holographic Universe <> Quantum Computation
(Talbot, Deutsch, Rowlands, etc.)
All in a Pirsig <> Whitehead context!
Even seems I did read some Whitehead at that time (2007)?

The thing I guess I’d missed the significance of with “quantum computing” first time, until the second time around with Rowlands, was that this wasn’t just some quantum-level  property to be exploited for human-scale computing purposes (which it is) but an explanatory model being offered for fundamental physics itself. It had been staring me in the face the whole time until the realisation that corrected the gap between 2007 and 2020 was my revisiting Rowlands. The recent Marletto work is now cementing the significance in more mainstream Physics & Philosophy arenas. She is the kind of person that will attract more attention than the likes of me or Peter Rowlands.

Just write something!