A Russian Take on Political Leadership

In the heat of Trump’s Putin-Helsinki summit fall-out, I posted this cartoon from Twitter to Facebook:

(Hat tip @NickBryantNY for tweeting it. A Brit journalist living in US.)

I posted it bare, without comment, letting the cartoon speak for itself. A picture paints a thousand words, but ~998 of them are in the eye of the beholder I find and that leaves a mid-sized infinity of meaningful sentences any one person might read into it.

It’s a cartoon, caricaturing lots of the essences of the “whole” picture, but obviously it’s not a comprehensive source of political information on Trump (or Putin, or America). Notwithstanding all of that, for me the two points it captures are:

  • the “sycophantic” relationship Trump visibly evidenced in speech and action towards Putin, and
  • the fact that this visibly evidenced behaviour is “destructive” to the America whose interests he’s meant to represent, and to any number of “western” institutions (like EU and NATO for example) targetted in the same trip.

I scarcely need point out a further day’s evidence would suggest a lot of other people saw those same two messages, compounded by Trump’s own follow-up retractions and tweets.

So, when the smartest person I’ve ever known (V) responded “Are you serious?” to my posting it, I was naturally curious what (implied) message V was disagreeing with (see infinities, above).

I’m a Brit whose lived and worked in US and Russia (and Norway, and Germany and Australia and China, and …)
V is a well-travelled Russian living in Moscow.
In the ABC that follows:
B is a Russian living and working in US.

Google Translated from Russian:

A says:

So it is. A respectable user found a chiseled formula that touches me. They say that those who did not like Trump, consist of cynical crooks and fools. The rogues built a caricature on Trump, and the fools took her by accepting the ugly doll they had slipped for the true president. In the crooks, I’m not good at the reason of natural naivety, I simply do not have time to get rid of it. So there’s a place for me among the fools. Well, from the outside you know better. One only worries. I, actually, looked and listened to no caricature. Had for quite a long time the opportunity to directly contemplate, listen and read Mr. Trump himself and personally. Without, so to speak, malicious, cynical intermediaries. And on the basis of his considerable life experience, while still in a solid mind and sound memory, I am ready to state firmly, that he showed me his image of goon, boor and ignoramus. I express myself in a distinct Russian language, although he showed me his image in a different language, which I understand well. Reading sometimes the reports of those whom the respectable user calls cynical swindlers, I find that the “caricature” presented by them surprisingly closely matches my personal, unmediated perception. Maybe in the classification of a venerable user fools like me and there are those most malicious rogues, but to myself I know for sure that, as indicated, I can not be a crook by definition. So, with the proposed chased formula, something is not quite right. Or not at all. I find that the “caricature” presented by them surprisingly closely matches my personal, unmediated perception. Maybe in the classification of a venerable user fools like me and there are those most malicious rogues, but to myself I know for sure that, as indicated, I can not be a crook by definition. So, with the proposed chased formula, something is not quite right. Or not at all. I find that the “caricature” presented by them surprisingly closely matches my personal, unmediated perception. Maybe in the classification of a venerable user fools like me and there are those most malicious rogues, but to myself I know for sure that, as indicated, I can not be a crook by definition. So, with the proposed chased formula, something is not quite right. Or not at all.

B responds:

Thank you very much for honoring me with the title of “respectable user”. 

You seem to think that my formula applies to you. But from what you wrote, it does not follow. 

You write that from the observations of Trump you got the idea that he was a bitch, a boor and an ignoramus. Maybe it will surprise you, but my idea is about the same. I would just add that he is still monstrously narcissistic and very superficial. In particular, it does not prepare for press conferences, it does not know how to parry the simplest traps, etc.

And I would also prefer that, other things being equal, the White House would house a delicate, precarious, erudite, diligent and modest man. The problem, however, is precisely this “with other things being equal”. Because the practical results of the president’s work on his personal pleasure depend to the smallest extent, but primarily depend, first, on his ideology and, secondly, on his willingness to follow his principles. 

And from this angle I will always prefer a hamovaty and maloerudirovannogo president or prime minister, adhering to the correct principles and their conduct – polished, elegant, well-read, pleasant-in all respects to his colleague, adhering to wrong principles or declaring one thing and doing another.

The most superficial acquaintance with the history shows that it was full of terrible dictators who differed in correct speech, good manners, the art of charming the interlocutors, the ability to insert in time the mention of something sublime, and also the ability to memorize many different figures, names and facts, at least and not true. In the same way, there were (and is) full-fledged unscrupulous careerists demonstrating the same set of characteristics at the top positions. Finally, these same virtues can easily be found in characters, conducting a very destructive policy, be it Obama, Trudeau, or any of dozens of European figures of the same series. 

Simply put, it all goes under the heading “you checkouts or go.”

That’s it for those who were actually quite satisfied with the ridiculous tramp’s checkers right up to the moment when he announced joining the presidential race – but who gets furious with the course he is going to – that’s exactly what he is an enemy, they are exactly who generate one after another silly inventions about the “Russian trace”, etc. Not manners, he is their enemy, but an ideology. 

Plus, as I have explained many times before, those who still can not recover from shameful self-immolation in a mud puddle, when they haughtily explained for a whole year that Trump could not win under any circumstances – and eventually put themselves in their own eyes full of fools. What, as you know, is bitter and insulting.

Here they are those who together create the caricature picture of “the enemy of America and humanity”, and so successfully that Boris Efimov and Kukryniksy in coffins are turned over. [/B]

Elsewhere, C asks B to elaborate on one point:

[C] 17 Jul 2018
“because the practical results of the President’s work from his personal nice depend on the smallest measure, and in the first place depend, first, from his ideology and second, from his willingness to follow his principles”.

Could you describe the principles of trump (as you understand them): 1., 2., 3.,

And in addition to tell for what you love and don’t love trump.

B responds:

[B] 17 Jul 2018
I don’t like him at all, and just for a few reasons.

First of all, I don’t like politicians, Generals, prosecutors, judges, and such personalities willing to make decisions about the life and death of other people, force them to go to death, etc. D., well and for other similar reasons. This work nowadays is inevitable, but nothing cute I find it.

Second, trump is extra unpleasant in a personal way. I won’t repeat myself, I’ve been mentioned his personality flaws many times.

But if still someone has to be president, it will inevitably be a man with a shitty moral guide. In particular, one that considers it possible to send others to war, to put them in jail and dispose of other people’s money.

In this case, it is possible to confine yourself to democratic politicians. That is, take out the brackets of dictators, Kings, usurpers, electoral forgers, conquerors and other skank.

Democratic same politicians personally i apportion on the scale of their aspirations to expand (or not to expand, and sometimes even and cut) the volumes of diverse forced regulation of their fellow citizens. The more a politician wants something forcibly to select or force – that, I think, is worse. And if a politician is ready for some previously existing regulatory coercion to review towards the reduction is better.

Aesthetic I’m considering something very secondary. Good when the good is still and beautiful, but if the bad is prettier, I’ll still prefer the good one.

So here’s to regulation – in the broadest sense – that trump is firmly and certainly showing himself the most deregulâtivnym president of our era. Here and direct deregulation (its scale is strongly limited by Congress and other factors), here and a much more cautious approach to new regulation, here and devolution regulation from the federal to the lower levels (which, as you and I understand, at all the optimal thing).

And he was originally promised to be like this – and so became, that is, it is for him not an undoubted opportunism, type as a kogdatošnââ Clinton’s willingness to go to a sharp (and very correct) reduction of federal benefits just because he was afraid to block the Republican Bill for the third time – see. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Act#Passage_in_104th_Congress).

In that kind of aksepte

In a private message conversation V shared those social media links because he says B represents his position, and I said:

Too cynical!

To which V suggested:

Cynical critique of politicans,
the most cynical class of all people

So, my analysis of B’s position:

[B] “You seem to think that my [caricature] formula applies to you.”

I think intelligent people can appreciate the value and risks in caricatures and the vested interests of people using them, whilst at the same time forming their own opinions (even their own caricatures) based on empirical impressions gained as an individual following politics directly through multiple journalistic channels, relying on first-hand readings wherever possible. I know I do. I share a cartoon when I see humour and a message that fits (with some level of absurdity) with my own mental picture, not the other way around. I am of course as fallible and prone to errors of interpreration as the next person – but that’s why I ask people (like V) to point them out to me.

[B] “[He’s a] bitch, boor / ignoramus /  monstrously narcissistic / very superficial,  as well as [unprepared / ignorant of briefs / unskilled in rhetorical traps] etc …”

I think we’re all in violent agreement, that whilst Trump cannot be completely without intelligence, he’s an intellectual pigmy and an ignorant moron. And since we agree, it’s safe to say the impression has been gleaned from plenty of evidence of our own eyes as well as a whole range of interested caricatures. We don’t think we hold this opinion because we are brainwashed members of the alt-left libtards, I’m guessing?

[B] [Paraphrase] – “All other things being equal” … [prefer a leader who is] …  delicate, precarious, erudite, diligent, modest, polished, elegant, well-read, pleasant-in all respects, with ideology of “correct” principles with willingness to speak and act consitently with these – as opposed to the many opposite combinations.

I say, don’t we all? So we are in violent agreement again. These are personal character qualities and intentions for which we can use the good old Greek shorthand of “virtue”. [See also “after virtue” and “philosophy of action” take on virtues.]

[B] The problem, however, is precisely this “with other things being equal”. Because the practical results of the president’s work on his personal pleasure depend to the smallest extent, but primarily depend, first, on his ideology and, secondly, on his willingness to follow his principles. And from this angle I will always prefer a [-] president or prime minister, adhering to the correct principles and their conduct –  to his colleague, adhering to wrong principles or declaring one thing and doing another.

This is precisley the philosophy of action point: The Intent may seem the dominant view, but only in the context of the Character, and only with honest evaluation of action and likely Outcomes. [Naomi Goulder – Last session towards the bottom of this post.] I think it is wrong to say only one aspect dominates, it’s always about all three and their relationships in practice. So for example: Focussing instrumentally on outcomes is tanatamount to “all ends justify any means”. Focussing on intent (ideologies, principles and aims, explicit and implicit) ignores particular the honesty of execution and evaluation of outcomes. Honesty is one of the personal character virtues. And so on.

[B] First of all, I don’t like politicians …

That is at least honest. Not liking politicians is a prejudice. Politicians are fellow humans. “We” are the politicians.

[B] [I don’t like] … personalities willing to make decisions about the life and death of other people … in particular, one that considers it possible to send others to war.

Politicians in leadership positions will always have to be prepared to make lethal decisions in conflict, even if (obviously) those with the preferred virtues (character qualities and intentional principles) would always prefer and work hard to avoid it. Any stronger position is pacifism – zero right to deprive any human any of their rights and freedoms or to kill a human individual under any circumstance? We have UN rights and responsibilities to help guide such decisions and actions.

[B] But if still someone has to be [leader] it will inevitably be a man with a shitty moral guide.

Absolutely not true.
[Unless your only moral standard is absolute pacifism above]

[B] Democracy …

… isn’t perfect.
[Which is just as well, because we humans aren’t perfect either.]

[B] Regulation … Trump  is showing himself to be the most deregulationist president of our era.

Sure, but regulation is a balance.
Part of the imperfection in a democracy.

In conclusion, I don’t actually find any arguments there to suggest Trump “is a good thing” even ones I might disagree with?

What have I missed??????

There are two points I would make:

Firstly, I had expected to find the idea that someone prepared to act to “shake up” existing order and imperfect institutions has some value even if they were an imbecilic moron with immoral aims and lousy character. This is true – it’s been called creative destruction for a couple of centuries, and tactically “useful idiots” can be quite, er … useful. But it leaves the question of useful to whom?

Secondly though, is it just a preference that a leader be otherwise “good” as well as being a “useful idiot” or does being “good” have some value over and above immediate instrumental outcomes? It has at least two values. One is that surely we need “good” leaders to help create the better outcomes in the ruins (opportunities) created by the destruction and also that surely we want good leaders to reflect and set the moral tone of all our actions.

If we are saying we can have separate leaders (and institutional arrangements) to do the immoral destructive stuff, and separate leaders (and institutions) to do the moral and creative stuff, then these latter “moral” institutions would need to be able to control and override the immoral ones – be able to treat tactically them as “useful (but immoral) idiots”. Sounds like theocracy. If not those with the immoral aims and objectives would be controlling or competing for the creative activities too.

You cannot be serious V?

Medium and Gaming the Message

I seem to have been following Ev Williams around the web for years.

After a few months handcrafting my own HTML and PHP pages during 1998-2000 I started with Blogger in 2001. I migrated to WordPress in 2005. Switched back and forth to Blogger (briefly) and various Google offerings but stuck with WordPress to this day across several personal, charitable, not-for-profit and commercial projects – with parallel publication of my main “hobby” (life’s-work) project to Medium since 2016 without registering as either subscriber or partner. Twitter I’ve had for over 10 years and for the past 4 or 5 is my social-media “channel” of choice. Facebook I barely tolerate as a channel for those genuinely social friends and family for whom FB is their only active web presence.

Blogger, WordPress, Twitter and Medium are all or have been Ev Williams projects.

WordPress is a wonderful eco-system – so much “free” open-source stuff in themes, widgets, plug-ins and integrations. You get what you pay for, I find, and I have ended up with quite a stack of hosts, licenses, accounts and services. Eggs in many baskets, so reasonably survivable redundancy, if now a little over complex and unsustainable in terms of cost and management effort. Ironically, the biggest unsustainable – and valuable – basketful of eggs is probably my Google / Gmail account. I’m looking at a serious rationalisation and consolidation task.

I’m thinking about Medium as my main platform. $50 a year seems a good deal. This Fast Company interview with Ev Williams from last year shows how he is thinking about the sustainability model for Medium.

Especially intrigued by this:

“figuring out signals of value that can’t be gamed”

Beyond “claps” (ie likes) and shares / comments, how is the quality of given content judged, and then rewarded by promotion and (potential) income. The current subscriber upgrade interface says:

“We’ll distribute your membership fee directly to writers based on how much you read, engage with, and applaud for their work.”

Read, engage and applaud. Ultimately it’s all algorithms, like FB and TW, the key question will be how “meta” they are to the variables being logged explicitly and how non-gameable they will be to individuals, bots and campaigns.

I wonder? Signals of value that can’t be gamed is pretty much the focus of my life’s work.

Intelligent Flow by Alan Rayner

Intelligent Flow

We remain Caught
In a Web of Thought,
Dislocated from our natural senses,
Which argues the Toss
Between Prophet & Loss
As to whether
Life is Created by Intelligent Designation,
Abstracted from randomly generated particular
According to which best fits
Some pre-conceived niche

Stuff & Non-sense I say!
At this dawn of today

Nature’s made of Flow
Don’t you know
Not building blocks
Assembled by some hidden hand
According to some Master Plan

Yes, even building-blocks are made of Flow
And Flow is made
From space and energetic Flux
In receptive-responsive relationship
Also known as Love
Our only true Source of natural, evolutionary Creativity


Alan Rayner

Tweeted this morning by Alan Rayner following a twitter exchange on “fluidarity” yesterday. All roads lead inevitably to love(*). The metaphysical language of receptive-responsive-flux at the heart of Alan’s Natural Inclusion worldview remains hard to fit into accepted norms of rational discourse – arguing the toss between prophet and loss –  but is seen to be entirely natural in his poetry.

(*) What’s so funny ’bout … ?

After the Fireworks

8th July 1968 was a Monday 50 years ago when Robert Pirsig set off from the Twin Cities on his Honda CB77 Superhawk with son Chris riding pillion and friends John and Sylvia Sutherland alongside on their BMW. That road trip to California formed the narrative of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM). You get a clue to the summer holiday timing when Chris finds discarded 4th July firework cases at the Shadehill campsite near Lemmon (SD) on the evening of day 2.

Many fans of ZMM – it has sold many millions – have pieced together such arcane details over the years, from DiSanto and Steele’s Guiebook to ZMM to the many so-called Pirsig Pilgrims who have dropped in to the DeWeese’s in Cottonwood Canyon, Bozeman (MT) as they’ve retraced the journey for themselves.

Artist friends of the Pirsigs from the days when Bob had worked teaching English composition at Montana State in Bozeman 1959 to 61, the DeWeese’s are signficicant to the chatauqua – the public educational dialogue – within the ZMM story. Bob shifts his metaphors away from his main thread on the mechanics of motorcycles to that of a seemingly mundane self-assembly barbecue for the edutainment of his artistic audience. As well as being a teacher of English rhetoric, Bob had previously also written manuals for early computers and weapons guidance systems. All the while we are reminded that the real object of our maintenance is ourselves. What we are looking for is an operating manual for our minds.

One reason for ZMM‘s success and fanbase was that it caught the zeitgeist of its 1974 publication. It was “culture-bearing” at a time when many were dissatisfied with a post-hippy void left by rejection of the increasing mechanisation of life living with the prevailing military-industrial-complex.

I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
We are stardust,
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.

(Joni Mitchell “Woodstock” Big Sur, 1969)

Pirsig provided a reflective philosophical dissertation packaged up in a motorcycle road-trip / buddy-movie script on what back to the garden might mean for a generation of seekers after truth and goodness.  Think Easy Rider minus the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, or Kerouac’s On The Road stream-of-consciousness with added index-cards. Many ZMM fans found satisfaction in the qualitative individual Zen-lifestyle advice they found there. Whether classified on the shelves under philosophy or under lifestyle, it sold millions and still does. But Pirsig was on a more tangible mission to define quality as something altogether more metaphysical, underlying the whole of objective reality.

This is the start of what I’ve characterised as a persistent irony with Pirsig’s work. A Catch-22. I didn’t come to Pirsig until 2001 aged 45 after 25 years as an engineer. When I did, this battle to dissolve the distracting division between things classically objective and romantically subjective was already raging between Pirsig afficionados who at the same time were working to establish his Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ) as a thing – the object of serious academic study. The example of modern-day Stoicism gives hope to the idea that life-style advice and serious academia are not mutually exclusive when in comes to living philosophy.

[Timely post-note on living philosophy:

 Zen and the Art of a Higher Education – It may seem odd for the university educated or even university educators to welcome a book that seems to view the academy as enemy territory. But properly understood, and more in keeping with Pirsig’s original intentions, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance shows how the learning in a lecture hall or seminar room should be preparation for a life of learning on the open road.”

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from LA Review of Books 15 July 2018.
A recommended read on many levels.]

Pirsig himself wrote his follow-up to ZMM in Lila, published in 1991, as his attempt to establish his MoQ more explicitly as a philosophy, though again his message was bound-up in the rhetoric of a “road-trip”. Actually a sailboat trip this time down the Eerie canal system, the Hudson and the Intra-coastal waterway via downtown Manhattan, where the audience for his chautauqua this time are fellow sailors, Robert Redford and a bar-girl Lila he picks-up along the way. Contrasting with the mysterious recluse persona cultivated to market the original ZMM, Pirsig did in fact go out on the road to promote his philosophical ideas on quality in 1993 and 1995. Pirsig himself however never engaged in comparative criticism with fellow philosophers, a practice he once dubbed disparagingly as philosophology. A philosophologist being to a philosopher as an art-critic is to an artist.

The Lila Squad, those that had taken-up the challenge of Lila to set Pirsig’s MoQ in the philosophical canon, formed an on-line discussion  forum whose primary condition for membership was to have read Lila as well as ZMM. 12 years later in 2003 Dan Glover was able to publish Lila’s Child, a consolidated set of interpretations on Pirsig’s MoQ complete with Pirsig’s own annotations.

As I mentioned, I was a latecomer to Pirsig. I had joined the Lila Squad on the MoQ-Discussion (MD) forum only in 2002, the same year I read both ZMM and Lila for the first time. I stayed active thru 2010 though I’d already signed-off my own Pirsig learning aims in 2008 and eventually dropped-off any participation in 2014.

Anyone “debating” Pirsig’s MoQ has their own reasons for doing so. Initially anyone might honestly claim to be curious to learn and/or test understanding. For some Pirsig becomes the professional interest of their career in philosophy and/or education. Given non-acceptance of Pirsig in mainstream philosophy, that represents significant personal investment by those that do so, in order to achieve and maintain such a position.

Now, as Dan Dannett has said, philosophy is a contact sport. Even small differences over otherwise large levels of agreement can lead to quite vicious personal and rhetorical fisticuffs. Everyone has their own good-intentions, but bad-faith easily sets-in as the default position regarding the disagreement and questioning of others. Claims of authority of direct communication with the author, some I’d even characterised as Pirsig’s Bulldogs. Sometimes even expressed agreement is tainted with ad-hominem suspicions of wilful misrepresentation for personal interests. Part of that irony, where relegation of the ego is an explicit aspect of the MoQ.

People pressing each others buttons.  All kinds of dirty tricks, and not just rhetorical ones. There was even one infamous “Sokal” trick of presenting a spoof paper to test the Pirsig “establishment” response. Suffice to say bad feelings linger between certain parties over particular disagreements. Mis-representation and trolling seem part of the fabric of social-media reality in 2018 but ever since on-line mailing lists and internet discussion forums were invented, flame-wars and very public personal attacks have been occupational hazards. These are of course as old as philosophical discourse itself. If I learned anything, it’s that academia is as inter-personally cut-throat competitive as any commercial business.

After a decade of participation I’d learned a lot about philosophical and rhetorical debate generally but the Lila Squad / MD bubble no longer felt like a healthy environment in which to make progress on either Pirsig or philosophy in general. I actually made several acquaintances that have become firm friends and stayed in regular contact, some still in ongoing Pirsig-related contexts and not solely on-line.

One such, in his last post on his own blog relating to Pirsig, back in 2010 wrote: “[We’ve] have had several long-standing disagreements for over seven years now” and an increasing “rudeness” where “we’ve found less and less new to talk about”. In that same piece he goes on to describe the specific point of disagreement – the idea of accepting a “Subject-Object Layer” in order to resolve definitive mis-understandings of the level which Pirsig had called “Social”. Ironically, those defending the Pirsig status quo were actually displaying a more static social view of the ongoing evolutionary dynamics of human intellect, but at some point we all have to stop arguing and live life.

I, and I think I speak for a few others, didn’t stop participating in Pirsig debates because I’d lost interest in Pirsig. Far from it. Pirsig’s MoQ had become embedded in my own world view to the point that I’d lost interest in arguing about that in particular. I’m quoted by others as holding that “Pirsig’s MoQ represents the best framework for the whole of reality I’ve come across”. I still believe that, even though no-one can have the last word, ideas always evolve and anyway, I prefer synthesis to criticism.

Some ex-MD Pirsigian’s continued to plough their own furrows in academic philosophy, so they have personal interest in solving the problem of how to fit Pirsig into the philosophical canon. There are obvious relationships to the Greeks, to Kant and to the US Pragmatists as well as Zen Buddhist philosophies to be explored. None of which we can even attempt here. Still only one person to my knowledge, Anthony McWatt, has successfully made Pirsig’s MoQ the subject of their entire PhD thesis, though gradually more and more academics have Pirsig as a string to their bow. McWatt also went on to create several documentary films, the second of which “On the Road with Robert Pirsig” I’d recommend as an introduction for any Pirsig newcomer with”On the Road with John Sutherland” as probably the best of the bunch for those already interested.

As I suggested, one supreme irony in Pirsig is his rejection of comparative philosophical debate. He’s not in the mainstream precisely because he didn’t like mainstream behaviour – he rejected the academy – and yet, for many, a serious question is what’s the best way to get the essential value – quality – of his work recognised by the mainstream?

One attempt by “established” UK philosopher Julian Baggini in 2006, to tease out connections between Pirsig and the accepted canon, foundered at least partly because the Pirsigian camp chose to conduct the dialogue by indirect correspondence. The attempt to insulate Pirsig himself from perceived critical intent of philosophology was surely misguided, but in any event it achieved little progress. We can’t fail to notice the parallel in the subsequent rise of the intellectual dark web as a safe-space for constructive dialogue on the publicly disagreeable?

But, there is ultimately that Catch 22 in attempting to fit a novel take on what it means to be rational, using the rationality of established public academic discourse. Pirsig himself noted the exasperation in trying to add something new to mainstream philosophy whilst at the same time manouevring to outflank the entire Western canon. Philosophy is not just a contact sport, it’s war and the Art of War was written by a Zen Buddhist. Good luck to those on that quest.

For many others, the point is that direct and immediate participation  – the radical empirical experience of what matters most in life – is the lesson learned beyond any academic rationalisation. The koans of Zen serve to emphasise that rational responses to life’s biggest questions can be beside the point to actually learning the answers in living practice. Most of us have of course chosen our own balanced selection from the available menu.

Pirsig died only last year, his books still sell and philosophical debate continues 50 years on, if a little more diffuse and less intense than the Lila Squad years. As I noted at the time, his demise prompted a renewed interest in his work and many reflective pieces on what that meant to many different people. Underway since then is a new film project with the working title “Pirsig’s Journey. Pirsig more than once discussed a film project directly with actor-director and mutual-admirer Robert Redford and in later years let it be known that official biographical rights to follow that up lay with his wife, now widow, Wendy. There is a certain perfect circularity that the present film project is targetting the Sundance festival for its release.


More information – generally:

My own “Psybertron Pirsig Pages” of Pirsig, ZMM, Lila, and MoQ links and many more Pirsig references in the blog. Including Pirsig Biographical Timeline. [Biographical source materials and correspondence archive with Mark Richardson and extended in his “Zen and Now“.]

Henry Gurr’s “ZMM Quality” web site of the ZMM road-trip narrative locations and so much more. (Also via Facebook). [See also Gary Wegner’s ZMM Route Map in Google format.]

David Harding’s “Good Metaphysics” for metaphysics and the MoQ itself.

Pirsig dot org” (temporary holding pages) incorporating key content from Good Metaphysics and “Robert Pirsig dot org” pages of Anthony McWatt (retired). [McWatt-Pirsig correspondence archive also at MSU.]

More information – the specifics referenced:

DiSanto & Steele’s – “Guidebook to ZMM

Dan Glover’s – “Lila’s Child

[Easy Rider, On the Road, Catch-22, Cuckoo’s Nest, Woodstock – givens inspired by the beat generation?]

Massimo Pigliucci’s – everyday stocism as living philosophy “How to be a Stoic“. (See also his blog at “Footnotes to Plato“)

Matt Kundert’s – “last post” 2010 Pirsig / MD post.
(Also his 2006 post on Dewey, Pirsig and Rorty.)

Ian Glendinning’s – retrospective on MoQ Worldview in a picture.

Julian Baggini’s – Pirsig “interview”.

Sun Tzu’s – “The Art of War“.

Correlation is not Causation, but …

Correlation is not causation …

… smart-asses often point out when someone mis-uses some statistical or perceived correlation. That’s true, and easy enough when potential common causal connections are obviously available, but that’s quite unusual in the “real world”.

Causation is fundamentally mysterious even in simple Newtonian billiard-ball cases, or our daily expectation of sunrise, but at the common sense level causation is really about empirical certainty of expectation and prediction – if this then that, whether precise “physical” mechanisms are or are not clearly available.

In the real world however mechanisms are rarely simple or precise, so causation is really a testable theory of why if this then that, where the why is controllable. But real life is never a repeatable experiment, except maybe with drosophilla, and rarely with humans. And in  real life caustion may involve many variables over many space-time-scales. It’s complicated.

Correlation is useful even with negligible knowledge of causation. More knowledge of causation always helps. (Now, let’s read this:

Big Data, epistemology and causality: Knowledge in and knowledge out in EXPOsOMICS” by Stefano Canali

(Hat tip Timandra Harkness.)

More Multiverse Bollox

Quite normally these days, headlines deliberately mislead – it’s called click-bait – and so often these days “Multiverse” is that click-bait. Total bollox, but it sells clicks.

Trouble is, when it’s the headline, it’s very hard to tell if the piece itself is saying anything useful that may or may not depend on any multiverse ideas. The simplest conception that there are parallel universes where alternate realities have arisen independently of our own is not – and never can be – science. It’s a thought experiment. And as a theory it can explain nothing – by explaining everything conceivable as merely a possibility, it explains nothing. And being an independent universe can never involve any empirical validation in this one. Just not science.

There are scientific theories that predict multiple “universes” that become independent, but they must share some historical points with ours. Even these – the wrong side of some space-time horizon – will only ever be empirically testable by very indirect means, if ever. However, their explanation can have value, and these can explain – must include explanation of – different situations arising non-randomly in these different zones. A single multiverse: one universe, multiple zones, not multiple universes.

Philip Ball writing in Prospect asks “Just how special is human existence?” and his headline writer baits the hook with “The answer could lie in multiverse theory.” Yeah right. Actually some interesting discussion of anthropic prespectives of our special human existence. How could there be any other?

Jim Baggott responds also in Prospect “The problem with “multiverse theories”: they’re just not science.” Agreed. And as he notes, the context of what the author is actually trying to say matters more than any misleading headline.

Anthropic discussions remain interesting however. Also recently, here Max Tegmark writing in Cosmos on the Fermi Paradox paper by Anders Sandberg et al that has been shared widely. (Interesting doesn’t mean either Sandberg or Tegmark are necessarily right …. that’s a longer story eh, Rick?)

Science. The original “fake news”. Sigh!


[Post Note. Talking of science news, New Scientist now has this story:

Which on the face of it is addressing the bollox, at least making the important distinction between cosmological space-time history and non-scientific quantum hackery.]

[Post Note: Twitter exchange with Tom Chivers, referred to by Elizabeth Oldfield in sharing the original link (follow the thread too, for alternative statements of the argument consolidated below).

“Not science” is only interesting in so far as scientific journals and supporters of scientific explanations make claims for a scientific monopoly on justifying what are really metaphysical assertions.

What really matters are “good explanations” – explanations that are (a) likely to be true, (b) not super-natural and (c) likely to be useful in their explanatory reach. Honesty helps too, when it comes to metaphysical positions.

Likelihood is about information complexity – kinda like Occam’s simplicity argument, which sparked the original exchange – but really about probabilities of events in space-time. Evolution – simple algorithmic repetition – is the simplest, indeed inevitable, path to complex life and intelligence. (The reason other non-human life is unlikely to exist in the “observable” universe is because we’ve failed to observe it, despite our efforts. Not that it is unlikely to arise. We have, already. The observable matters here – see also “horizons”.)

JBP reminds us that even the most objective scientists need metaphysical positions.]

Because Data?

Possibly conflating two things inappropriately but they are linked at an information level.

Games evolve as their rules are evolved. I call it the John Terry effect. When Terry made the overt calculation that a non-violent “professional foul”, perpetrated on other than the last man with a scoring opportunity, wouldn’t get him sent off, and therefore he would commit the foul and take a yellow-card “for the team” …. he was sent off. Applying the rule, in prior knowledge of the rule – being a smartass – changes the rule. (Ungentlemanly conduct is about bad faith in relation to a rule, not about knowing the facts of the rule.)

That’s evolution, by definition.

Jermain Jenas is intelligent. No amount of information will make Harry Kane as intelligent (or John Terry for that matter). The more is known about the game (eg statistical data), the more how it’s played will evolve, the more its rules will evolve in response AND the less current knowledge will successfully predict its future outcomes.

That’s a game, by definition.

Short-term Jenas will probably be a better pundit than his current older peers (old dogs, new tricks is surely as old as the hills). But that’s because he’s intelligent. Don’t believe the big-data hype.

“There’s an expression: when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Computers are our hammers right now.” https://t.co/mRdTNsbsyd

(And if you’re interested in football, Inverting the Pyramid is a great book on how successful footballing strategies inexorably fail. It’s all in the game. Even Eco on Italian Fascism invokes Wittgenstein on games.)


[Post Note: And who knew?

Later that same day, yesterday, we now have the Harry Kane and the VAR meme doing the rounds. All games depend on the possibility of bad decisions and actions by players and officials – they wouldn’t be a game otherwise. There’s a kind of sweet-spot between the predictable and unpredictability of outcomes that makes for a “good” game. It’s why the rules of long-running popular games (like football) need to evolve over time, to keep play in that sweet-spot and audiences interested, as technologies and tactics evolve. Three points for a win, the back-pass rule and of course the (apocryphal) offside rule. Often subtle changes are not to the rules (or laws) but to the guidance on how they are applied, handling benefits of the doubt. There are many variables for a wise FA to tweak.

Sometimes technology or extra eyeballs are introduced to reduce doubts – enter VAR. Sometimes specific doubts (goal-line technology), sometimes doubt in general (VAR linked invisibly to the ref’s wrist).

Firstly can I say, it was a dire game by the England team after an encouraging first 20 minutes, and as is normal in international football (which I rarely watch these days*), the refereeing was dire anyway. Kane gets MotM because he scores two goals (!) not because Trippier was the best England player on the pitch by a mile (Khazri was the best player on the pitch). How Young and Sterling even get selected ahead of Rose and Rashford is beyond me, but I digresss. Back to the refereeing: No discipline and control generally, tolerating too much disrespect from the players (see Terry-effect) and too many decisions given to England (eg for Tunisia offside). What was meant to be new was the VAR, but few people, least of all the refs (and possible even the VAR teams themselves) appear to know how it is meant to be used. It will take time – that’s evolution.

The problem was the lack of respect. Blatant rugby tackles on Kane at all set-pieces nonchalantly ignored by the ref as the players knew he would. Crap refereeing spoils a game, even for “winners” – see sweet-spot. The VAR never even invoked to help make any call (few of us will know how or why, there is no public “challenge a decision” concept). The talk is not about the quality of VAR decisions, but about their obvious absence, either way. Nothing marginal or sweet-spot about that. Nothing to do with any game. Apart from artistry of the likes of a Messi or a Hazard (or hopefully a Salah) all the value in any game is in its marginal decisions.

When all you have is a computer every problem is a nail in football’s coffin.]

[(*) Prefer real football in championship and football leagues. Where boys (naive) are men (respectful) and goalposts are jumpers …. well maybe not.]

[Post Note: When it comes to philosophy in football,  David Papineau

Seems I am in good company.]


Formally agreed names for recognised philosophical positions often elude me because quite often I do want to play fast and loose with definitions until something new emerges. Infuriating I know, but bear with me.

This whacky click-bait headline in Scientific American:

“Could Multiple Personality Disorder
Explain Life, the Universe and Everything?”

… introduces this paper from The Journal of Consciousness Studies:

“The Universe in Consciousness.”

by Bernardo Kastrup, whose idea is:

“There is only cosmic consciousness.” – And the abstract lists the paper dealing with: physicalism / bottom-up panpsychism / cosmopsychism / the hard problem of consciousness / the combination problem / the decombination problem.

Obviously anything like pan-psychism undermines centuries of established physical science, so as is often said extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (As Kastrup points out in later Twitter traffic, despite the undermining, much of the established structure can in fact stay intact.) But why make it this hard? Why make such an extraordinary claim?

If physics and consciousness are both emergent from the same proto-stuff and emergent through evolution to be more than the sum of their parts – both ergodic and non-ergodic parts – then job done?

I often refer to my own fundamental information position as pan-proto-psychism. It’s not that the universe comprises or depends on a cosmic consciousness, but that both the physical and mental universes are built of the same proto-conscious and proto-physical stuff – stuff called fundamental information. All the things we know and love are emergent from evolved patterns (of information) but are rarely reducible to their components. Philosophy-friendly scientists in both physics (String and QLG?) and consciousness (IIT?) both seem to be headed to this conclusion.


[Hat tip to Sabine Hossenfelder for the original link. However a great flame-war arising from his response to her tweet …

Another side to my agenda – why go looking for a fight when there are more constructive options? Funnily enough in the immediate preceeding post I had said:

“public conversations in science are often dishonest, largely political in fact, about playing to galleries and tribes”

Hear, hear.]