Freedoms of expression include permitted rallies, but I absolutely condemn as totally unacceptable – to be acted against by authority and leadership – the idea that a freely permitted rally can include hate-speech, open-carry uniformed militia, symbolic support for “parties” whose policies include hate. It is outrageous that such parties are permitted in US society generally, and not acted against by enforcement specifically. (This implies an “arms-race” of legislation on proscribed parties and symbols, but the principle must be established. Public statuary of historical people is a separate matter for civil governance.)

Having said that:

I do condemn the (so-called) “alt-left” – the anarchic anti-establishment rent-a-mob that jumps on every peaceful and otherwise valid protest bandwagon. They pollute and undermine the freedoms they depend on. The fact that they use uniform dress, fear and masked-anonymity in their deliberately disruptive participation – the kind that escalates to anti-property looting etc – should be stamped on hard by authority.

No idea if there were any at Charlottesville.

I can of course believe and understand that otherwise peaceful counter protesters might turn threateningly abusive towards a hateful rally but I don’t condone it. I condemn that too. When we were anti-Nazi-League protesters in the 70’s the point was to defy the threats of the assembled fascists not to physically block or threaten. Prevention by force is by the authorities and the terms of permitting.

Freedoms also come with responsibility and respect for civil authority. Planned and coordinated law-breaking can be part of a protest, may be the point of some protests, but that right comes with the responsibility to accept prosecution in enforcement of current law – until such time as laws change.

Finally, I don’t call the car-attack on the anti-protest crowd an act of “terrorism” – it was part of an otherwise authorised event. It was simply an illegal – criminal, murderous – action by one of the otherwise expected participants. A failure of policing by the permitted parties and authorities. Terrorism implies violent threat to otherwise normal public activity. By definition a permitted protest event is not normal.


Post Notes:

Nick Cohen on the bonkers US freedom of armed expression.

And – Trump vs Witness ? Not a question of “equivalence”. Explicitly hateful and violent expression and behaviour met with physical resistance. It’s the (alt-left) “resistance” taking the law to it’s own hands that undermines the (enormous) strength of their (correct) argument. Collect evidence and drag law enforcement in FFS. We all know the alt-right is despicable (deplorable, someone said already). What fewer accept is the the alt-left are also a – different but related – problem. (Again, I’ve seen no evidence of any orchestrated – masked, uniformed, opportunistic – alt-left in the Charlottesville events. If you are aware of any, let me know.)

Reading the Dennett / Haig piece I’d bookmarked from Mind & Language, thanks to Dennett’s tweet captured earlier.

I see already – only partially read Dennett’s contribution at this point – that it picks up on the Papineau exchange – the competence without comprehension inversion of reasoning – and on the Shannon-Turing informational focus that I highlighted in my reading of Bacteria to Bach and Back (B2BnB). As he says:

Dennett (2017) [B2BnB] was completed before I had digested Haig’s ideas, and Chapter 6 of that book, ‘What is Information?’, now stands in need of revisions just weeks after appearing in print. This essay is a first installment of that editorial process.

And as Haig says:

My written text attempts to rearrange the associations of ‘meaning’ and ‘information’ in your private texts to change how you interpret and use these words. It is an invitation to join a language-game in which these new definitions are the rules of play.

Evolution of meaning by usage of information in a (Wittgensteinian) word game. I’m all ears. Especially as it not only leads to explanation of comprehending consciousness on the one side, but also the decisive application of will on the other.

[Haig] shows why and how we may contrive all manner of intermediate levels of expression or interpretation but need not hunt for a dividing line that distinguishes comprehension from mere reaction.

That range of levels of consciousness, from subconscious to comprehending awareness, without needing to establish a hard dividing line to define what we might call “conscious” is precisely the point I picked-up from Tim Crane’s summary of the Dennett-Papineau discussion.

And Dennett continues, the inversion proposed is:

Instead of coding and syntax [of meaning > information] “all the way down”
it’s interpretation [of information > meaning] “all the way up”.

Which explicitly leads in to Haig’s title: “Making sense: Information Interpreted as Meaning” and is straight in with an entropy reduction view of Shannon information leading to a meaningful choice [encoding > semantics].


It’s an excellent paper.

… an author always relies on rich sources and resources in the private texts of his readers for them to make sense of his public text.

When the Mafia leave the body of an informer in a town square, the murder is both a direct means to an end (removal of an informer) and a text (a warning to potential informers).

My text is the product of multiple drafts of an evolving text. In the process of reading and re-reading, writing and re-writing, I came to understand what I meant and I mean. My meaning is the public text that you see, not some nebulous sense in my mind to which the text points. As my aging mind becomes less nimble, I rely more and more on public texts of previous selves as aides-memoire of what I wish to mean.

As a blogger, I’ve noted before how much writing (by others, pre-blogging) comprises notes-to-self, evolving to some magnum opus.

My debt to Daniel Dennett is obvious.

Special thanks are due to a long-dead butterfly in Marilia who knew not what it did.

Why waste a perfectly good horse’s head, when a butterfly will do? Meaning is simply the outcome, the end result of interpretation by an interpreter. Meaning for the interpreter. Intended meaning is the creator’s own interpretation – hence games of feigned and unintended meanings. Simple for simple interpreters (the infamous thermostat, not actually used) as many outputs as inputs to others, as complex as you like for intelligent minds. Interpretation all the way up, like anything evolved. The sky’s the limit and there are no skyhooks.

Highly recommended.

Like Dennett’s recent B2BnB, the approach is suck it and see. The bet is that if you can suspend disbelief, simply try working with the author’s own terms – you might not yet understand (accept) the author’s definitions – but you will find explanation of complex evolved behaviours and properties are more easily understood (interpreted).

Mentioned bookmarking amid the chaos a couple of posts ago and I still have two three Dennett bookmarks unreviewed.

Hell yeah! I thought when I saw the Prospect link with this in the title

“The electronic age has triggered epistemological chaos”

… and bookmarked the piece for a longer read later. I needn’t have bothered, it’s a pretty shallow interview, not quite sinking to the level of “Dan, tell us, what’s your favourite colour?” The other question that drew most click-bait quotes was the one about the (two) most overrated book(s) of all time – the Bible and Quran being the implicit, expected answers – harking back to his time as “the least apocalyptic of the four horsemen“. Dennett is too concerned with proper rationality to have been side-tracked by the negative campaigning of New Atheism, something which is itself part of the trigger for current day levels of epistemological chaos I’d say. Too right.

The final Dennett link for now is Chris Oldfield tweeting a link to Dennett’s 1991 “Real Patterns” essay in the JoP. Hofstadter is included in the credits for the discussion that went into the paper, without any specific reference. As I noted in my last Dennett piece, Dennett and Hofstadter have been on this tack for some time, that patterns of information are more real than anything we’d think of as physical and independent of any physical embodiment.

Ah, and I still have this one bookmarked!

“Making Sense – Information Interpreted as Meaning”
David Haig, Harvard Evolutionary Biology

Still to read 30-odd pages with a dozen pages of intro by Dennett, but I note one of Dennett’s own references is “Get Real” 1994. Of course the reality of information and “Turing’s strange inversion of reasoning” figure highly in his latest “From Bacteria to Bach and Back” (B2BnB). A tangled web.

By most people’s standards I over-use “scare-quotes”. It’s a recognition that in many contexts use of a word to name a concept is inherently “political”. All naming is identity politics. Naming the classification of any “object” is always short-hand for a whole collection of variables, simply to get a handle on the topic of conversation, which is rarely well-defined objectively anyway. I prefer scare quotes to indicate that this is understood, rather than the PC alternative of avoiding the words and substituting neologisms or detailed-context-specific alternatives.

Race is notoriously slippery in this regard. (See previous Religious Racism post.)

The Beard / Taleb spat is exactly that same example, again.

Simply choosing “Western” as a label for European and Colonial cultural heritage back to the classical Greeks and Romans is really a recognition of that shared & overlapping cultural heritage. It has little to do with genetic DNA markers of racial heritage. The label “western” is useful for what it allows it to be contrasted with; Oriental, Arabic and aboriginal cultures. Cultures, not races that is. And even for cultures, that’s enormous short-hand for many points of overlapping co-evolution over time.

So, in a cartoon – simplistic visual, no visible culture or genes – how does one show a racial ethnic mix within Britons and Romans (and why?). Visual appearance of skin and hair is your only option. The token black-man in Roman attire as I said already. As a reminder that Romans were ethnically mixed it’s OK only with a stack of caveats. As a “heuristic” representation it’s not likely to be very representative, and it does matter what was the objective in making the Roman ethnic mix point in the first place?

This was only ever Taleb’s original point, but sadly Beard responded questioning his credentials. There’s no doubt both understand the politics of labels, and there is no doubt both have valid academic-political agendas. However whilst neither respects the other, nor acknowledges the validity of their agendas, then no useful discourse can emerge. To Beard’s “mob” Taleb is simply a loutish bully, and from his fuck you position, he’s fine with that. To Taleb and his mob, Beard represents Western “hegemony” in its entirety. Taleb followed-up with this post, lest there be any doubt. The detailed caveats that should be acknowledged around the cartoon representation are lost in the heat of battle.

Even this curious response – to the twitter traffic, not the article – needs caveats around the 140-chars choice of “narrative” and “truth”, but all considerations of the content of any debate are indeed buried by the inter-personal “hate”. On both sides. Underneath it, they’re both right of course.

On mobs:

I’ve written before about anti-religious / anti-Islam people using the religion-is-not-race defence when accused of racism.

Today Anne Marie Waters tweeted this:

Given that it’s only a 140 char approximation to truth – it does make an actual point about religion, after all – the question of how good a point it makes is entirely down to the motives and values of the speaker.

Either from birth or literally in-the-genes, the genetics of race is a slippery topic. Genes are not as well-defined objectively as some would have us believe in general, and not specifically when it comes to ethnicity. It would be possible in a scientific context to work with a definition of race as defined only by genetic properties, but that’s not possible outside the lab. (Interesting and topical to look at current Taleb work on the statistical patterns in the distributions of selected genetic markers in different populations.)

Determined and defined are over-statements in the real world, part of the greedy reductionism that accompanies overly objective takes on anything.

In reality, both race and religious identity are matters of individual and cultural identity politics, learned tribally as much as taught directly. The real argument against the simplistic statement is that it objectivises these cultural differences – which is what leaves it open to questions of motive. Anti-Islam is perilously close to everyday racism when it is seen to be directed against people who identify as Muslim.

However the focus is right. Values. Multiculturalism fails because incompatible values expect to be accommodated by segregation. A multicultural society succeeds when a set of values is maintained in that society by all its formal and informal institutions.

I am at last reading and considering this TLS piece in which Tim Crane presents the Papineau / Dennett exchanges on Dennett’s “From Bacteria to Bach and Back”.  I’ve had it bookmarked for over a week and so far made only passing references.

Tim Crane’s a professional, I’m an amateur, when it comes to the formalities of philosophical classifications.

“Papineau and Dennett are both well-known materialists.”

Likewise, I consider myself a materialist in the sense that the stuff of physics – the whole of the natural world including our knowledge of it – is all there is. Hence the centrality of this issue:

“one of the big debates here is between materialists – who think the mind is wholly material or physical – and dualists – who think that the mind is something else, something over and above its physical basis in the brain.”

(See here for a recent public presentation by Crane on many confusing views that arise in mind-matter theories.)

Like Dennett (and Rovelli to name but one physicist) I happen to believe this physical stuff is more fundamentally information than the particles of matter, energy and force of physics’ current standard models. All that belief does is move philosophical materialism a step further from common notions of material as everyday stuff having mass occupying space, but it’s been long removed from that by both philosophy and physics. The natural world is the unity of physics, nothing more, nothing less. Given a choice I prefer to self-identify with the term physicalism rather than materialism.

Papineau’s original critique contained this:

“… it is a category mistake to think of the mind as some inner pilot guiding [our] behaviour …”
[that just shifts the problems of understanding our mind to the “mind” of this ghostly homunculus]

“This is the source of Dennett’s strange views on consciousness. The more other philosophers complained that he was missing the point, the more he condemned their idea of special access to inner brain states, and accused them of sliding towards dualism.”

Which is my understanding of (and agreement with) Dennett on two counts – that is, not in the least strange to me. Firstly, that – “we” – “are” – “our minds” – at all conscious and subconscious levels – there is no separate thing communicating with us from within. And secondly, his “life’s too short” response to continuing to address specific criticisms on his critics terms.

Crane summarises Papineau’s taking issue with

Dennett’s idea of “competence without comprehension” [using the meme analogy to blind genetic evolution]

Dennett’s view that consciousness is a kind of illusion (“illusionism”) [where Papineau] argues that materialists should have no difficulty accepting the reality of consciousness.

Again, I’m with Dennett on both counts.

On the first he’s not saying all competence is automatic or unthinking, simply that most of it can be. Here I regularly use the top class tennis player returning a serve. Only a small fraction of the action requires conscious free-won’t / fine-tuning action, most of it is pre-programmed before the actual service. Most mental activity is subconscious.

On the second, it’s important to notice use of the “kind of” qualifier – in fact Dennett uses his kinda / sorta operator all over the place. He’s not denying the reality of consciousness, simply that it has an illusory “virtual” aspect to it, like any image, like the user display on a computer. It’s not what is actually going on inside the machine, simply a representation of it. Like the finger and the moon, both are real, distinct but physical (material). Most computer activity is invisible to the user in the same way most mental activity is subconscious. Consciousness is our user interface.

And on both points Crane continues:

“For one thing, it turns out that the illusion Dennett speaks about is not consciousness itself, but our mistaken ideas about consciousness. And on this point, perhaps, Papineau can agree. On the role of comprehension, things are a bit more subtle – Dennett and Papineau both agree that comprehension comes in degrees and cannot be completely dismissed.”

Comprehension is the knowing of the conscious mind, and the mind has degrees of consciousness from comatose to nirvana. And the level of knowing surely varies across individuals of all sentient species. How can this be remotely controversial?

I could go on cherry-picking points to respond to. Crane’s summary is a good one, and the Dennett / Papineau exchange is exemplary as philosophical discourse – progressively narrowing disagreement rather than either aiming to undermine or score a win over the other.

In fact Papineau ends the polite and respectful exchange with these:

“I am glad we agree on so much …,
our remaining differences strike me as no more than terminological.

Why then does your book go out on a limb  …,
so adamant that this is the only way to put things?

[But] there seems no route to your view that the agreed science eliminates animal thought and human consciousness.”

Excellent on all fronts.

Terminology – We are indeed suspended in language games, which is why Wittgenstein is probably the only philosopher I hold in higher regard than Dennett. As Crane suggests, perhaps more controversial is how to draw a line that says what is and is not conscious on the otherwise uncontroversial scale of consciousness (above). But that’s a definitional (linguistic) problem, and Dennett’s strategy has always been to hold off settling hard and fast definitions of terms that might limit explanations until after understanding has been achieved. This necessarily implies the need for evolutionary iteration of terms and definitions.

Out on a Limb – Dennett is indeed riskily sticking his neck out. In B2BnB he reduces his argument to a sporting bet – effectively, “I bet we’ll get the right explanation if you look at it my way” – having used up all his avuncular patience over many years entertaining all his critics criticisms on their “agreed science” terms.

The Route to a Full Explanation – There are inevitably gaps in establishing Dennett’s thesis at various levels of detail. The content of the bet concerns that route to better agreement. Current agreed science is greedily reductionist and necessarily reliant on well-defined objects in its hypotheses and logical explanations. He puts his money where his mouth is and, whilst he doesn’t actually say this, he suggests we take our own medicine. That is, if we also believe in evolution – across all of its Darwinian / Lamarkian / Human-Designed variations in the available design space – then we should let it work on our philosophical and scientific arguments too. Take the bet, work with his arguments in their current state of development, and the route to bridging the gaps will evolve without our predefining it. That route will probably involve the evolution of both science and philosophy, evolution in their forms, not just iteration of their content. Like any new species we will only recognise it for what it is with hindsight.

I’ve made passing reference to two Daniel Dennett pieces in recent weeks, TL/DR effectively bookmarking them for deeper reading and review at some point. In fact with Twitter and PinBoard I bookmark a lot of items these days, that I rarely get a chance to return to. There, archived, for some future-if-ever writing project. As with libraries, such archives grow faster than it is ever possible to read them all. Which is no bad thing.

Even focussing “on-topic” with ever more connected topics, there is never a shortage of more urgent things to do, and the more important items pay the price. Not exactly urgent but time-sensitive, of the moment, stuff to consider whilst the social-media has our attention. ‘Twas ever thus. Clamour for attention. Basic time management.

Some of the bookmarking is also multi-pronged, one or more Twitter RT and a PinBoard pin or two and even the piece in question left open in live browsers on any number of devices, as a reminder this one really needs some attention before falling into the black hole of an archive. Net result; device and desktop clutter of open documents piling up. Lose-lose.

One such bookmark is the Dennett / Papineau exchange on From Bacteria to Bach and Back (B2BnB) introduced by Tim Crane in TLS – proper civilised discourse I contrasted with the escalating Beard / Taleb skirmish. Trump and Kim have nothing on them. (The original Papineau “Competence Without Comprehension” critique of Dennett’s B2BnB.)

Another is Dennett’s “the electronic age has triggered epistemological chaos” piece in Prospect on achieving the point of philosophical discourse. Was there ever a piece more “on-point”?

And this is a third one:

With updated link to this version of the paper. Inversions of reasoning are a feature of Dennett’s work which is causing some puzzlement (and rejection). Re-grounding much science and evolutionary biology in information itself:

…. illustrates the unity of a radically revised set  of definitions of the family of terms at the heart of philosophy of cognitive science  and mind: information, meaning, interpretation, text, choice, possibility, cause. This biological re-grounding of much-debated concepts yields a bounty of insights into the nature of meaning and life.

So, there we have it, safely bookmarked and everything I need to say is in unpicking those few sentences. How long have we got?

[Back soon.]

[The words and orchestration of Wichita Lineman drifting through the air repeatedly this morning, reminds me it’s one of those songs of my youth to which I can recall pretty much all the words, every strain. Amidst the regular consumption of mid-70’s blues, rock and progressive bands, I was working in a bar for student pocket-money, and there was a selection of easier listening tapes that the bar staff rotated continuously. Glen Campbell (RIP) was one of them, and the memetic recall tells me Trini Lopez singing America from West Side Story was another. Never to be forgotten. Oh, and …]

[No, really, back soon.]

But before I do, this turned-up:

I’ve addressed this before in my reading of B2BnB. He says consciousness is an illusion, in the same sense that the images in a computer UI are an illusion, in the sense that images are virtual in optical physics. All our models and images of reality are illusory in that sense, but they are still images of physical realities. The whole of physics as we know it is a model, mental construct (of reality) – a free-floating pattern of information in Dennett terms.

[To be continued, honest!]

The Papineau exchange with Dennett, introduced by Crane in the TLS, I’ve reviewed here. It’s excellent.

So much UK media traffic this morning. The basic “tech” news story. All the original story links below. Lots of social media feeding the PC side of it that the the guy that wrote it must have had a sexist / racist agenda. Some, but not so many including myself, pointing out he has some valid points – about gender differences – and his sacking was a PC agenda. Damage limitation for a large corporation.

Same old, same old. Hot on the heels of the Beard / Taleb Roman ethnicity “unpleasantness”.

Particularly picked-up on Alom Shaha’s thread that cheerleading public science communicators are feeding (are part of) science geek culture over-selling science facts to those with bigoted agendas or merely careless inhuman “scientism”. Published stuff treated as facts to be deployed in any cause. Hear, hear! A large part of my agenda here.

Uncritical reading of science “fact” AND “PC motives” I say.

BUT, so many cheerleading in response to his thread are the PC mob denigrating the author and (his) motives.

Not had chance to digest the whole yet – hence the raw links below – but there really are important and valuable gender brain-mind differences. (OBVIOUSLY massively plastic and largely developed by education and culture, but valuable to properly recognise. As I said to Alice Roberts, largely is not all. Small differences ARE significant, by definition, and valuable to evolution, by definition. To deny is part of a PC agenda to MAKE gender insignificant.) I last fell foul of this responding to the Alice Roberts / Michael Moseley Horizon piece (reshown on BBC4 TV recently), where Alice adopted the PC line and Michael didn’t. She tells me he’s changed his mind since, but I’d guess that’s about the communication line, not the facts. He’s not responded recently.

Part of the problem with people being terrified to acknowledge the facts, is the slippery slope / thin end of a wedge mentality, but it’s part of a wider scientism agenda, greedily objectively reducing mind and will (of any gender) to mere illusion, and corrupting proper brain-mind understanding as a whole. Which is where my original interests in gender differences lie. But PC politics is killing real science. (A claim that goes back to Brandon Carter and his Anthropic warnings, if not Galileo before him, but we digress too far.)

Those original links TL/DR (yet):


Post Note:

And by way of balance this thread ..

Still baffled by how much of a PC furore this largely non-contentious piece has caused.

And this thread is a more believable balance. Being right isn’t always appropriate, Political Correctness has an original valid purpose in guiding what’s appropriate to say where, long before it became a pejorative jibe. The problem is when PC becomes a bar on expressing things at all, such that actual facts get overlooked, ignored or forgotten entirely.

In fact this is my main “scientism” agenda. That somehow good science is good full stop. Being true, in some objective sense, doesn’t give science the right to trump all other considerations. Thanks for that reminder.

And finally ….

OK, just one more – science is not truth … pity about the Evo Psych tag line.

And another …. stick to what you’re good at, girls.