NoBrexit End-Game

I posted my take on the “inevitable” Brexit end-game early-December last year, and so far it’s still going exactly to plan (aka the “cunning plan”) as far as I can see. The enormous defeat of May’s deal in the house is the defeat intended. Put simply, the best Brexit deal isn’t acceptable to anyone of any party-political colour or EU sentiment. May’s efforts have successfully proven this beyond doubt. The bigger the margin the clearer that is – not even any (many?) abstentions.

So what is the cunning plan? Parliament (only) to take action:

  1. Suspend or temporarily revoke Article 50 for (say) 3 to 5 years. (To give us all cross-party space for anything else we need to do.)
  2. Create a standing Constitutional (aka peoples) Assembly (CA) to take load off parliament.
  3. Allow parliament and government to focus on ongoing non-Brexit operational policy priorities. Health, Education, Eco-sustainability, Foreign policy, upcoming EU elections (!), etc. Business as usual.
  4. Brief for CA.
    1. Evolve it’s own constitution, processes and funding (voluntary service initially, mix of appointment & election, civil-services expenses) BUT key constraint is that however it functions / delegates / researches / debates, it can only recommend proposed plans to parliament – via normal party, committee, lobby processes – but “worked out” in sufficient detail and consensus in advance by the CA. CA has zero executive or legislative voting powers.
    2. Priority issues to address. “Proper-PR” electoral and government constitutional arrangements at all local, regional, national and international levels including EU relationship reforms not limited to all possible Brexit options, additional referenda (god-forbid) , whatever.
    3. EU / Brexit recommendations must be delivered to parliament in time for end of A50 suspension.

Take it away. You’re welcome.

Truth at Any Cost?

[Holding Draft – in progress. Links and arguments incomplete.]

When people cling to the idea of truth at any cost, I often find they are either misguided or have a hidden agenda. Misguided as to what truth actually is, or in their applying it in support of a specific agenda only. Often the misguidance is merely in the irrelevance of an un-contentious non-fact to the priority issue at hand. Politics is pragmatism. Many so-called lies are selective interpretations of historical intent, or description of future events beyond easy control, for wishful or fearful reasons. Real life is rhetorical.

I have three (five, many) discussions on the go that stall at this point.

Mike Sutton wishing to pronounce Darwin was a liar. To which I ask why would you want to say that? And his response is to continue bang on about the evidence for why it’s a fact. Missing the point of the question.

Steven Knight (GS – Godless Spellchecker) arguing with a conspiracy theorist about the facts of a cause of death, to which I tried to point out that the specific “cause” of death was irrelevant to the guilt of the murderer and irrelevant to that fact that he was indeed a conspiracy theorist. Arguing with a conspiracy theorist about facts promotes the conspiracy theorist. Again GS continues to argue with me on the truth or falsity of one phrase I used – quoting the conspiracy theorist (on that one point, not the cover-up conspiracy) in order to make the point that it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not. Missing the point.

Sputnik Steve wanting to damn an open ended list of teaching methods as entirely useless and reacting to my suggestion that some had some value – but were commonly misunderstood and misapplied to prescriptively.

And, beyond the three I had in mind when I started this draft there’s more:

@AOC making exactly my point that some focus too much on facts at the expense of the bigger picture. (To which opinion Mike Sutton responded ad-hominem and mis-construing my point, resulting in my blocking him.)

This Jamie Bartlett thread:

And finally adding to the “why call someone who tells an untruth a liar?”

Memetics – The Objectification Objection

I use memes / memetics as everyday language that fits with everyday social-mediated comms these days. How much #Brexit debate for example is about snappy branding of alternative solutions to the mess we’re in whether they are Unicorns or Norway models? How much smear or rhetorical marketing is involved in alt-naming of just about anything, January included? I’m so comfortable with “memetics” I tend to forget it’s an idea I’ve bought into that many still doubt or dismiss.

The meta-idea that ideas spread as part of cultural evolution is not contentious in itself and neither is the suggestion that much (most, if not all?) human evolution in the period we call “history” has been of this kind. The idea that naming – rhetorical choice of words – is part of that communication is hopefully equally non-contentious.

The contention seems to be two things. Firstly that, expressed in the common sense way above, the word “meme” doesn’t really add anything to the idea of an idea, so maybe it’s an unnecessary distraction to adopt the neologism. For me the only necessary response to that criticism is that it does give us (me) the shorthand of “memetics”

Memetics (abstract noun): the whole subject – content and processes – by which ideas evolve, are spread and adopted in use, in human culture.

(my working definition)

Can there be any more important topic? Brexit is a good idea, for example. I’d happily use an alternative term, but idealism or maybe just cultural-studies already seems to hold that field hostage? Personally I find the term “memetics” far more important to justify than “meme” itself, where “idea” is probably good enough.

Secondly, what really is in a name? More subtly, is the suggestion, that meme attempts to objectify what is essentially subjective. Ideas held in and communicated between human minds.

Part of the revulsion is the parallel with genes in biological evolution – surely physical and mental evolution must be different for these objective-subjective differences. Furthermore those “scientistic” people pushing genetic evolution and development as physical explanations for almost anything and everything are surely misguided in overlooking humanity in cultural evolution. Guilt by association? This really is just more of the mind-matter-stuff debate, but before we go there, let’s just stick to the objectivity – objects well-defined independently of human minds.

All I would say is that genes themselves are not as well defined objects as many suppose, independent of human conventions and purposes. There may be only four DNA bases, but the permutations of patterns is manifold on many levels. Exactly what defines the boundary of one thing we call a gene and another is moot and, like species themselves(!), a matter of human convention. This is a more general problem with identity and taxonomy within world ontologies which I call “Good Fences” – boundaries between objects of interest, defining those objects and classes of objects. They are NEVER independent of human purpose yet they remain invaluable, practically essential, to all human discourse about the real world (including humans as part of it). It might be considered unprofessional (unscientific / irrational / insane) in any field to talk without well defined objects of logic and argument.

The second part of the objectification objection is the sense in which memes are independent of humans when it comes to free-will / volition of thought and action. Dawkins selfish-gene (regrettable metaphor) extrapolated to selfish-meme by Sue Blackmore and adopted whole-heartedly by Dan Dennett and more. The metaphorical selfishness of a gene is harder to accept when the metaphor of self interest runs into the interests of our selves, both now at the mental level. As predicted, whether we give ideas the objective credibility of naming them memes OR NOT we run immediately into the physical-mental mind-matter, res-extensa / res-cogitans minefield and how much we want to argue these are distinct and/or related. (See dual-aspect-monism and res-informatica.)

The irony is that Dennett is using the independence of ideas (the physically-disembodied information-content of memes) as his explanation of how real consciousness and free-will arise in real human minds. He’s providing a natural evolutionary explanation of mind. He is using memes as independent objects in the process description of how thinking itself evolves. Memes no more have independent volition than electrons think. It doesn’t stop us talking about electrons. It shouldn’t stop us talking about memes as part of the processes of everyday, common-sense reality of our minds. They are as objective as any other terms we use for objects we deal with.

It’s not the first time I’ve paused to round-up my thoughts on memetics. This occasion was prompted by this thread of exchanges following this post from Martin Robinson:

Last time I tried a significant memetics round-up was in this review of Dennett “From Bacteria to Bach and Back, also published in New Humanist. Really must publish a definitive version of the Good Fences thesis.

Dual Aspect Monism

Interesting set of unrelated conversations throwing-up unexpected connections in the past week.

After the recent exchange on pan-psychism ended with Massimo Pigliucci conceding ….

…. I found in my reading of Mumford in connection with Russell’s metaphysics as a response to idealism, more specifically my doubts about that, I picked-up another passing reference to pan-psychism as another alternative.

Earlier today Philip Goff (also at Durham, like Mumford) interacted on a light-hearted thread about the limitations of sets … so I looked him up.

I see he is also an advocate of pan-psychism – (pan-proto-psychism I prefer) – more specifically as a Dual Aspect Monism. In fact I see he has (a) written a book “Consciousness and Fundamental Reality” and (b) is participating in 2019’s Science of Consciousness event.

“Some Russellian monists adopt panpsychism …”

Goff

That exchange with Pigliucci included me saying this question of what we were really suggesting by pan-psychism – beyond the straw-man that “electrons think” (not) – was really just the old monism / dualism (and in my case maybe “trialism”) debate. Seems to me that Dual Aspect Monism is what I was really trying to say with “trialism”. Two aspects cogitans and extensa of a single underlying res fundamental. Res Informatica in my case.

[As I ended the previous post I need to draw the connections together with Rovelli and Verlinde and include now Goff … in progress.]

[And I really am going to have to recap on Russell and metaphysics going back to starting again from idealism. Sigh.]

Doubts on Russell & Idealism

Spookily, I mentioned in the post before last that I had started a proper read of Stephen Mumford’s “Russell on Metaphysics and his first chapter is woven around Russell’s (supposed?) response to idealism. Spooky because in the previous post Ben Gibran (@PhilosophyFails) made a throwaway remark about philosophers attracted to idealism for the same reason some settle for pan-psychism of some kind.

Now, I’m not strong on isms when it comes to schools of thought and models of the world- an avoider of (the risks of) dogmas generally. In my amateur philosophical journey I’ve passed through many schools at first and second hand. (The isms lie on many independent axes, philosophical, scientific, political and cultural, and they’re not competing for the same ground necessarily.) Useful to know the archaeology of how thought has evolved and to file away connections of potential future value, but not essential (to me) to be able to talk about each ism as a thing-in-itself.

Rather than shoe-horning concepts into foreign ideas I see my approach as taking the best understanding I can make of each idea I come across and morphing or synthesising the best-bits model as I go. There is always a sense of broad and narrow aspects of each ism – the essential feature or a more complete world-view built using it. It does mean however that, having gutted them for the best-bits, I often feel I’ve left works about historical isms behind. I habitually call myself a post-post-modernist to emphasise this take. I’ve moved on. Obviously I make mistakes and my best current guess is always an evolving work-in-progress. It’s the main reason I stop to go back and read particular resources that throw up cognitive dissonances. (See why I’m reading about Russell on metaphysics – the suggestion I may have been wrong about him, and that’s significant to my evolved view so far.)

That said, the first 3 or so chapters on Russell, concerning idealism are already throwing-up doubts about my doubts. Do I crash on and see what the read throws-up or do I pause and diagnose why I have doubts about Mumford’s views about Russell’s doubts – given I’m not wedded to idealism (or Russell) anyway? As ever I will have to do both. Reading lists never grow shorter.

All roads lead back to taking a position on time & causation and on mind & matter. (This is as good a holding post – with links – on my position on dualism for now – but many PoPoMo references ….)

Pan-Psychism

Sabine Hossenfelder blogged a few days ago short post with the title “Electrons Don’t Think“. For me it was an obvious straw-man click-bait headline against pan-psychism. Sabine does admit her naivity in pointing out this is the first she’d heard of pan-psychism. Obviously, no sane philosopher or physicist suggests objects like electrons are sentient – beyond inevitable thought experiments and “ways of talking” which often confuse the unwary.

So I said as much in my one-liner response at the time.

But I am myself something of a pan-psychist – often I say “pan-proto-psychist” to stave off the insane presumption. The stuff of intelligent life IS in everything, and from that point on we’re into metaphysical territory as to what fundamental “stuff” really might be and whether we take a monist over a dualist view. Move over the particles and waves, materials and energies of quantum physics and beyond.

Massimo Pigliucci, a Stoic and evolutionary philosopher for whom I have a lot of time, tweeted in support of Sabine’s post:

To which I further reacted:

Now I’m not advocating fuzzy thinking in order to avoid the seeming conflict – per Ben Gibrain (Philosophy Fails) point. What I am suggesting – a la Dennett – that we have to suspend judgement on objective choices where object definitions are themselves at issue. Hanging on to the uncertainty as long as the discourse requires to achieve a sane conclusion.

Personally, as I’ve written many times before, consistent with many working at the quantum gravity level, I think “information” (any significant difference) is the fundamental stuff of both physical and sentient things.

There is no elan vital separate from the res extensa, they are both manifestations of the same res informatica forever entangled at higher evolved levels.

A New Leaf

Last day of 2018, and I’ve just dug out a new read to start 2019.

“To some who know a little of Russell’s philosophy, it might seem strange to speak of him being engaged in metaphysics. He is often depicted as standing squarely in the empiricist tradition that had, on the whole, rejected metaphysics and was concerned primarily with the theory of knowledge or epistemology. If this book has but one aim, it is to relieve its readers of that misconception. Russell was a metaphysician.”

writes Stephen Mumford in his “Russell on Metaphysics”

It seems I am exactly that target audience.

In my case, more in contrast to Wittgentstein, I see Russell as the analytic philosopher, a pure logician, so wedded to empiricism and logical positivism that his epistemology so constrained his implied realist ontology, that he simply “didn’t get it” when Wittgenstein made his linguistic-turn from the analytic logic of his Tractatus to the word-games of his “Investigations“. So much so, that I often cast the Tractatus itself as one long joke at Russell’s expense; a joke that he sadly didn’t get and which led to Wittgenstein’s withdrawal from the game until he had found the incentive and a new way to express the point he had been trying to make all along.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Russell as a thoughtful public intellectual – a philosopher to most in everyday terms, as Mumford notes – for his commitment to real moral questions and campaigns of the day, not least humanism and rationalism. An inspiration to many. But always seeming to be limited by his narrow grasp of reality – an impression reinforced by the rarefied conceptual detail of his “Principia Mathematica“, as Mumford also notes in his introduction.

For me this is further undermined by the likes of Riemann and Gödel. Exhibit A:

OK, so anyway, you got me banged to rights. This sceptical cynic will have to read-on and report back.

Darwin’s Untruths

A short follow-up to my more detailed post on discussions with Dr Mike Sutton, presenting on his “Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret.
[Edit note: emphases added.]

Firstly I’m NOT interested in arguing whether Darwin (and his bubble) told any untruths. (Quite possibly, they may have, but it’s irrelevant. Sutton is making no claims against Darwinian evolution itself. There may be evidence of untruth claims, there may not be any worthwhile peer-review of such claims, there are plenty of rebuttals of such claims. All irrelevant.) I’m arguing about whether, even if true, it makes any sense to therefore publicly claim “Darwin was a liar”.

Telling an untruth – even with intent to deceive – doesn’t necessarily make you a liar. Got that? Do not pass go.

OK, so even if Darwin (and his bubble) told untruths (with intent to deceive), the question becomes one of his / their motives and the motives of anyone wanting to promote the “Darwin was a liar” message? (Sutton has not yet responded to the specific points in my original post. JF Derry has provided plenty of rebuttals in the comments there.)

My best guess at Darwin’s untruths is that

  • (a) he probably did not consciously use Matthew’s work as a source,
  • (b) probably didn’t believe he’d been influenced when he published, and
  • (c) after subsequently corresponding with Matthew and giving acknowledgment in the 3rd edition of The Origin of Species, he probably thought the matter closed – so he could get on with the ongoing task of expounding and defending the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection – for which Darwin is rightly recognised.
  • (d) over time he may have realised he may actually have been influenced by Matthew’s work, at first and/or second hand, and was embarrassed, but the bubble needed to defend the project now in progress primarily against the religious / creationist establishment at that time.
  • (e) Matthew was possibly seen as a nuisance crank in his personal claims – to various publishers, not just Darwin’s bubble, and
  • (f) an impression reinforced by the fact Matthew was a Chartist, part of a radical socialist campaign against the Victorian establishment.

Motivations were (and still are) largely “politics” (small p) as I said already.

When I said that several times in conversation with Sutton, he denied it initially, assuming I meant Politics (capital P, partisan). I was simply pointing out he himself had made a political choice not to include the Chartism angle in his own book. That is, politically he has made  tactical choices which truths not to include in his own book, given his own strategic aims in publishing.

Which is the “so what?” I’m questioning: – Why make the claim?

Now, however, I’m not so sure the politics is purely tactical, given Sutton’s actual Politics – front and centre in his Twitter bio (*). I fear Matthew is to be cast as the downtrodden socialist worker sticking it to the Tory establishment. That context may indeed be real, but it’s not part of the content of the science.

Objective truths have to be valued above all within the processes of science itself. Sci-comm campaigns are of course always full of exaggerations, half- truths and white -lies. Shit happens in the real world, it’s how we get stuff done. Climate change – and (say) David Attenborough speaking at #COP24 – being the highest profile current example. Galileo as I mentioned, and his relationship with the Catholic church, being another high-profile historical example.

In my repeated experience, people who claim to be defending some narrow definition of truth above all else, tend to be doing so for reason of some extreme, misguided or dogmatic agenda. In balanced positions, most people can see that practical truth is usually more complicated. Science, and other topics claiming / wishing scientific qualities, tend to get blurred between use-mention / content-context distinctions, when dealing with this problem. [Many more examples in current dialogues.]

[If you want to respond to anything specifically written in this post please make sure you’ve read the original first, and considered the 4 explicit points summarised as being the questions at issue.]

[(*) Post Note – And, he he ha ha, he’s not ignored me entirely: He’s edited his @Dysology Twitter bio to remove the revolutionary leftie bollox. Hillarious. What a total charlatan. RIFF: This whole exchange – including rebuttals – nicely proving my real agenda that science is polluted by politics and that culture is infected by scientism. Together these form a vicious circle. Society is degenerately devolving to lowest-common-denominators – a kind of PC-autism. “Common” factors because the world of human communication is reduced to single noisy “village” – there is only one context, no boundaries or good fences to mediate – let alone facilitate – proper constructive dialogue.  (Brexit – populism without wisdom – is simply the latest example.)

Terry, we coined and shook-hands-on a two word name for this state of affairs when we spoke Friday last. Remind me 😉]