I’ve been sitting on this link for a while, an Independent piece by Andy Martin on his interview of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She’s someone I’ve kept at arm’s length through the whole recent Islamophobia period – care is needed when unpicking the political correctness of anti-Islam / Islamism rhetoric and campaigns. Islam has a problem or two, but the extremes of nothing-to-do-with / all-to-do-with are equally unhelpful I find.

I rejected getting to know a little more about her back when drawing cartoons of Allah / Mohammed was the cause-célèbre. I’m all for freedom of thought and expression, and actions simply to claim that right in reaction to religious dogma, but beyond that not all expression is always appropriate or necessarily responsible. However, as ever with Andy Martin’s writing, he provides a great lead-in to her story and her thinking, with plenty of links to further philosophical avenues.

Ever topical, as I said recently, trust is one thing in short supply these days:

“I trust you,” she said, and smiled.

I appreciate that.

And the feeling is reciprocated.

Maybe that is the fundamental problem with all religions.

They don’t trust humans enough.


[Post Note : An up to date piece on the problem of finding the middle-ground between all or nothing when it comes to Islam, from Ali Rizvi “the atheist Muslim”:

… those on the left and right of the political spectrum are unable to distinguish between “Islamic ideology and Muslim identity”, preventing honest conversations about the link between religion and terrorism.


Attended a presentation last night by John Cossham – entitled in his own slides, as well as the organiser’s pre-publicity as – “What is Fracking?” It’s against my better nature that I have been egged-on to write anything about it at all, my adage being public praise / private criticism, if you can’t say anything positive, keep schtum.

Despite his early caveats about lack of expert knowledge and his wider “green” agenda, he entirely fulfilled the archetype of campaigner seemingly against one catchy attention-seeking meme, but who is really campaigning against all conflated bad stuff, and the “fracking” meme is just the hook. On that score he did not disappoint. This kind of mis-represented “protest” is a pet-hate of mine. It stinks. And it was a very frustrating experience.

So, what follows is pretty negative, so please treat it as a diatribe against the archetype, not ad hominem against the person.

I engaged him in conversation at the break – dialogue beats public criticism as I say. Having suggested he was “on the fence” regarding nuclear power, I assumed we might have a great deal in common in terms of actual “decarbonisation” strategy. And in fact we did! Sadly the Q&A continued the same “anti” campaigning rhetoric. No hope of constructive progress that way.

Firstly less than 1% of the talk (inc Q&A) was about fracking.

Most of it was a confused mass of anti-industrial / anti-capitalist as well as anti-hydrocarbon rhetoric with few if any facts or arguments. (I could say a lot more on hydrocarbon recovery, it’s a messy business I’ve been around for several decades. People have died for the life we lead today. They made a film: There Will be Blood, or if you prefer Piper Alpha or Deepwater Horizon.)

Sure, he walks his own talk as a pioneering low-carbon-footprint citizen, and tending one’s own garden / seeking change in oneself is as old as Buddhism, but it is hypocritical to then go out and spread misinformed and unhelpful nonsense. Better stick to the garden. Actually a Buddhist would go out and spread the meta-learning process, not the pseudo-knowledge content. Far from the fashionable ageist meme of “it’s a legacy problem for the younger generation”, the responsibility of us ageing “hippies” is to apply all our wisdom and experience to achieving the best future for us all. Many unborn generations. We all have skin in this game.

So it might seem wise to have some strategy on how we navigate our way through? I think so.

Our break-time chat seemed to suggest we both did. A strategy to maintain “civilisation” whilst guiding ourselves through a mass of massively complex actions and solutions to problems, to some brave new world. Anyone who suggests the best strategy is we “all” just down tools hasn’t thought this through. All is an awful lot of people – billions – with many different views of their world, not all friendly, especially if key resources like water get scarce, and they will. And whilst gardening is great mental health therapy in a rat-race world, a life comprised entirely of shitting and gardening, exactly the same as all our neighbours with no “industrial” divisions of labour, would be massively stifling of human creativity. Humans without civilisation. We’d die of boredom.

But the most glaring hypocrisy is the espousal of the “best thing for the cosmos is human extinction, the sooner the better”.

We humans are special in the true sense of the word. As a species we are custodians of the most advanced pattern of intelligence in the known cosmos. That pattern involves the whole biosphere, whether we believe (literally) in Gaia or not. We represent a very special – unique – set of influences and responsibilities on how AGW and the rest pans out. We owe it to the cosmos for our good fortune to be who we are, young or old.

That’s kinda it as far as the main point I want to make. Our responsibility as humans to seek the best outcome for the cosmos. We owe each other clarity on that.

These are a couple(!) of additional technical points (only one of them about fracking, naturally).

Fossil Hydrocarbons extraction and upstream processing. (Messy business, let’s ensure where we do need to do it we do it the best way possible, and where we are most in control of how it’s done. Nothing is totally free of risk. Much more to to be said. See also “Fee & Dividend” keep-it-in-the-ground and other carbon / trading tax incentives.)

Fossil Hydrocarbons usage as “Fuel” – Energy, yes, with energy into electricity generation, and electric power into practically every human activity and industry, not least the web itself, and energy into portable motive power. Hydrocarbon for electricity generation (coal, oil or gas) is pretty much already on it’s way out, and a good job too. Hydrocarbon for portable motive power is getting towards massive reductions as rechargeable electric vehicles grow, though some sectors will demand high-energy-density liquid fuel for some time I’d guess.

BUT Fossil Hydrocarbons also drive chemical and materials technologies into every other aspect of life, pharmaceuticals, polymers, coatings, films, textiles, computer components, you name it. Even electric cars are made substantially of hydrocarbon. Despite ongoing battery technology evolution, batteries have a massive embodied-carbon footprint. There’s some ways to go to switch to zero dependency, however much we – individually and strategically – embrace reduction and efficiency.

Basic economics of trade says that some efficient and clean hydrocarbon exploitation in one context may be a relatively eco-nomical way of reducing or displacing our overall carbon footprint. Life’s complicated. The cosmos is THE most complex system.

Fugitive Emissions : and leaks and spoils generally. Yes, general problem that always needs to be addressed. Ground and water pollution. Economic losses too. And HC’s and CO2 have different greenhouse potentials and half-lives. Natural routes to surface as well as man-made (see “keep-it-in-the-ground” and CCS, etc). His example: leaky, ageing, Victorian gas distribution piping. Sure those nations leading the industrial revolution need to take responsibility for our own particular legacies, but gradually such piping is being replaced or lined with modern plastic piping, higher pressure permits smaller bore for greater distribution too. (NORM’s too … alarmist.)

Shale Depth : Good understanding of the geology is key to any safe extraction of natural resources. Reservoirs exist at many different depths in different relations to areas of population. We need to get cause and effect the right way round in the UK fracking examples. The deeper examples proposed are precisely to keep the risks furthest from land, water and populations.

Nuclear : (I’m for modern intrinsically-safe, smaller-scale modular, nuclear options. Economically and politically, the existing industry is crippled by the massive investments and timescales involved IMHO. Much more to be said.)

Industry and Capitalism : Tremendous confusion and conflation of industry with capitalism. The globalisation of massively capitalist businesses is a problem (many problems) for us all, but that is not a case against industry in general, nor in favour of zero capitalism. As one questioner pointed out, we all have capital or various kinds, the question is really about how we manage its concentration vs localisation. But G20 protests? Eat the tories? Get a grip! See eg PostCapitalism and any non-autistic modern economics

Hypocrisy : Hypocrisy, far from being an evil, is actually an essential part of human affairs. Its very important we can hold conflicting ideas across multiple contexts. It’s very important we can change our minds with time across levels and contexts. Anything other is ideology. When dealing with massively complex and interconnected issues – fracking? do me a favour – we owe it to ourselves to keep each of the considerations carefully distinguished in our decision-making dialogue. Lazy conflation of bad stuff is a disservice to us all.

Objectivity : Objectivity is a myth. Making careful distinctions is not the same as being objectively well defined – but that’s an even longer metaphysical story.

Humanity : Most of our problems are human – how we humans behave, change our behaviour and make our decisions together. All technical problems have (eventual) solutions, even if proven technology cannot yet exist as a solution for every problem. Where there’s a will there’s a way or a way round.

Optimism : I’m not an optimist. I can see plenty of failures on the horizon – even near term. But prediction, especially about the future, is very difficult. I’m a positivist (socially, not logically). That is we should aim to do the best we can. Putting people in optimist / pessimist boxes is unhelpful. How we handle uncertainties – upsides and downsides – is a specialist technical topic.

AGW Denial : no way. It’s real, It’s common sense. All I deny is the masses of rhetoric dressed as pseudo-science (for or against). Polarisation is the most unhelpful contribution to solving any problem.

Presentation  & Argument : For a contentious topic – particularly a broad multi-connected topic that cannot possibly be covered in a single time slot – presentation with Q&A can sometimes be entertaining, but it’s the worst form of event for either increasing knowledge or progressing arguments. Dialogue is essential.


[Post Note :

On humans being “special”. Obviously we inhabit an immensely interconnected cosmos, and all inter-dependent species in the biosphere have abilities for population and innovation and population of their niches, but it is irresponsible and helps no-one, least of all the cosmos and our fellow inhabitants, to deny the special position and scale of human influence and purpose.

I will have to obtain Kevin Laland’s “Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony”. Given his subtitle “How Culture Made the Human Mind” it seems mean not to include Dennett in his index of references?]

I’ve been interacting with Jaap van Till for the last year or two, mainly on Twitter. His blog is The Connectivist.

He recently made a reference to, and separately blogged about, Ann-Marie Slaughter’s “The Chess Board and the Web in a comment to me. And my response was to liken the sound of her “Chessboard” metaphor to Doug Hofstadter’s “Tabletop” – the “theatre of operations for any future move”. (Aside – in fact it was this post that sparked the conversation, but that remains unacknowledged.)

Before I say any more about Chessboards and/or Tabletops, we are connected because “connectivism” seems to be a common agenda item, whatever our current policy agendas. Interestingly, we also both have fundamental physical interests – even metaphysical in my case – that treat information as the most fundamental “stuff” of the universe. (Cf most recently Carlo Rovelli and Erik Verlinde). Whether at the scale of nation-states or the fundaments of physical reality, relations – common connections & significant differences – ARE information, what’s worth knowing. Epistemology (what is knowable semantically) precedes Ontology (what can be deemed to exist objectively) I would say.

Connectivism – seeing the (human scale) world in terms of relations rather than objects – feels like a no-brainer for the last two or three decades, ever since the rise of speed-of-light connectivity of all entities and individuals made the relations most obvious in the connectivity itself. In fact I associate the concept of “Connectivism” as a thing with Stephen Downes, early in the digital age, but the semantic-web is older than Foucault, much older than the internet enabled web. So, the idea of a Harvard & White-House guru writing a book in 2017 recommending that organisations focus on connections rather than the objects and states seems like band-wagon jumping or maybe even bolting the stable door. No shit, Sherlock! Better late than never?

I’ve not yet read “The Chess Board and the Web” but it occurs to me that the fundamental difference between Slaughter’s Chess Board and Hofstatder’s Tabletop is that whilst they both rely on relations between potential positions on the stage, a chess board has constrained positions and moves, within which imagination must operate. The tabletop is limited only by the creativity of the imagination – conceptual-slipping – even though every individual move can be analysed as relations between binary states (now and next) and objects (this and/or that, me and/or you). The web adds an infinitely flexible, multi-dimensional and fluid layer of connectivity to the constrained grid of a chess board. That unlimited creativity was always there, simply limited by the pre-defined conventions of the game. And remember, after Wittgenstein, we may see words as signifying real-world objects, but in fact all language is a game, a game where we evolve the rules as we play.

Been reading a fascinating 2015 paper co-authored by @DrSarahEaton and shared recently on Twitter.


Fascinating for me on two levels.

Firstly in seeing that the Argyris “double-loop” learning process (aka Action Research), which I explored in my late-1980’s Master’s, has been taken up and evolved in many creative learning contexts since then, and forms part of collected textbooks like Keith Sawyer’s “The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences”. Even back then, “double-loop” was recognised as short-hand for the many meta-loops and considerations beyond learning from the explicit “procedural” process. Learning more by learning about learning, etc. Seems second nature now. Sure, there’s always the question of balance, avoiding analysis-paralysis whilst getting on with the planned task, but the process, not just the outcomes, is always a source of learning to improve the process and its outcomes.

Secondly, in this specifically educational context, as opposed to organisational learning generally, the need to recommend or even seek permission for the practitioners to engage collaboratively in the double / meta-loop processes of continuous quality improvement. In education the primary procedure (the single-loop) is the pedagogy. Fashions come and go in management practice, and “public service” practices like education suffer particularly from exposure to external management consulting fads, but stripped back to the underlying principles (*), quality will out.

“Findings reveal responsive pedagogy through reflection and collaboration that provided professional learning, especially in the areas identified as challenges [in Action Research]”

Almost by definition, once considerations apply to the many meta-loops, collaboration is the name of the game. Everyone’s loop is someone else’s meta-loop, the points of management contact between the different operational (pedagogical) procedures. Operational processes are about minimising deviation from those pedagogical procedures, with deviations seen as errors to be corrected. Once the meta-gloves are off, problems really do become opportunities to think out of the box, to step outside the daily operational loop into the meta-loops that bump up against fellow practitioners each operating in their own loops. It’s no longer about fixing and defending, questioning as the Socratic means of undermining the other guy, but about creative collaboration on better answers.

[Post Note: The key learning from my own research was to be careful not to turn these double and meta-loop processes into just another procedure – a box ticking exercise – they must be genuinely collaborative and freely creative between the people with skin in the game. Quite a few other lessons in Chapter 4 and as I noted back in 2002 shortly after I started this blog, this research project carries on where Chapter 4 left off.

(*) Ha! Even back then I referred to MOC / TQM / CQI as “A rose by any other name”Nothing new under the sun.]

Mary Beard’s short musing on how to tidy up and organise a sprawling library, ends with the fear that physical print libraries may be a thing of the past anyway. I think she’s wrong there.

Libraries are an infrequent but recurring theme of mine, and my own library is at that sad state of being so disorganised, following a couple of years of not-quite-complete house “remodelling”, that I actually have the same problem. I need to do something.

ISBN ordering seems arcane but, as with all good information management, meaningless index numbers are better than any other coding of what is meaningful or significant about the objects. Books that fall outside ISBN numbering can add a dummy “My-ISBN” prefix and follow the same conventions.

Extensible tagging can be used to add your own significance to the indexed database. After all, as well as having enough space to organise and evolve, such significance will evolve as our agendas develop over time,. And, there will be physical constraints like “oversize” shelves for individual books that disrupt efficient average shelf sizes. Having an indexed database ensure these kind of exceptions can also be handled with additional tags. The bonus is that using ISBN’s can also link you to other global library meta-data about the books you own. ISBN is the right way.

I’m not quite at Karl Lagerfeld’s “sideways library” state, but a good 40% of my books are currently in random stacks for assorted long-forgotten temporary reasons, and mostly not on or anywhere near the actually library shelves..

Last week & weekend I followed two conferences via Twitter. HumanMind2017 and BreakingConvention.

#HumanMind2017 I had originally intended to attend in Cambridge (partly because I have a nostalgic soft-spot for The Møller Centre where it was held), but diary log-jam meant I overlooked doing anything about it until they started Tweeting. I ended up following them very closely and interacting via Twitter. Excellent multi-discipline event bringing international neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers together around two existing Cambridge and London based research projects. Felt very constructive and important. I shall be looking out for their next get-together, and for any published proceedings or other outputs.

Active Handles: Chris Meyns – Human Mind Project – New Directions Project – And my own in responses mainly to these.
HashTags: #HumanMind2017 – #GC17 – June 27 to 29 +/- days.
Fixed Sources: Tim Crane’s “New Directions” Cambridge Uni project –  Colin Blakemore’s  “Human Mind“, London Uni School of Advance Study project – The Human Mind Conference 2017

#BreakingConvention (#4) I had not even noticed until it was happening and I simply watched out if the corner of my eye, but its focus was alternative (non-mainstream science) views of consciousness and altered-states thereof. Always fascinating. Noticed one contributor was Rupert Sheldrake of Morphic Resonance infamy, but many on Psychedelics too. Didn’t notice Steven Reid? (Ha, he was there, ironically he is the conference press-officer.)  Will share with others.

Active Handles: @BreakingCon – Jules Evans
HashTags: – #BreakingConvention – #BC4 – #BC17 – June 30 to July 2 +/- days
Fixed Sources: Breaking Convention

[Ha, and coinciding with 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love”, which I mentioned a week or so ago. Not sure what the ’09 means on the poster?]

[Storify – tried out but couldn’t secure more than 50 items per story, so left very disjointed still. Will have to hope Twitter and other links do not rot in the meantime. Help anyone?]