All posts for the month November, 2005

Fascinating novelty item [via Rivets] of a week’s worth of activity through locks on the Panama canal compressed into 11 minutes of time-lapse video.

Must be something about the sequence of locks and holding pools, but there are long inefficient sequences with all boats going in the same direction, lock’s repeatedly filling with no up-bound ships, locks emptying without down-bound ships.

Been away from blogging for a week, spending a week at a business development and golf sales conference in Koh Samui, Thailand. Beautiful location, fun time.

Flying back, Bangkok to London, I continued to read Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”. 75% through, it’s a great read. Whacky style, funny, serious period of childish biographical Indian history – loaded with the language of Hindu / Moslem / Christian mythology and morality – “strange fiction more credible than rational truth” – reminded me of Martel’s more recent “Life of Pi” with Joycean linguistic invention thrown in.

Caught in the act.

Anyway two points of note.

Flew right over Benares – Amritsar – Lahore – Faisalabad in clear darkness whilst reading the machinations of Partition and subsequent Sino-Indo-Pakistan wars. The cease-fire line / border between India and Pakistan continuously sodium illuminated with border posts in a long twisty thread just east of Lahore, stretching south from the line of dispute in Kashmir. Spooky.

Intriguing is the fact that one of Rushdie’s heroines is a sea captain’s wife called Lila, promiscuous lady, with a shady past involving a death or two. The book’s 1960′s / 70′s chronology refers to Kerouac and Heller amongst others, but no Pirsig or ZMM. Pirsig’s “Lila” was published in 1991. Rushdie’s Lila saw print ten years earlier in 1981, when “Midnight’s Children” won the Booker Prize. (It won the Booker of Bookers too in 1993, when Rushdie also became Honorary Professor at MIT.) Must read more Rushdie – I first made the Pirsig / Rushdie connection here.

[Thanks to Alice for this Reason On-Line link to an interview with Rushdie.

Loved this quote from Rushdie

This is the problem with the truth. Truth is never one-dimensional. It is contradictory sometimes. But politics wants clarity.


Browsing The Edge (see previous post) I see this article by Canadian paleontologist and broadcaster Scott Sampson. He sees cross-discipline eco-focussed education projects as shifting the evolution debate from history on geological timescales to here and now relevance, and creating a better informed population in the process. As a pan-Darwinist, I’d have to agree.[My last post on this only this morning.] Sampson says …

Fortunately, there is movement afoot within both science and science education to bridge the eco-evolutionary gap. Increasingly, scientists are seeking out cross-disciplinary collaborations. Ecologists are expanding their scope to embrace regional and deep time effects on ecosystems, while evolutionists increasingly are considering the role of ecosystem dynamics on evolutionary patterns and processes. Research on topics such as complex adaptive systems is uniting once disparate disciplines in a search for common explanations and even natural laws. In parallel fashion, radical new approaches to education are challenging traditional notions of learning. For example, the ecoliteracy movement has argued persuasively that designing curricula around key ecological concepts and outdoor activities has great potential to connect children with the natural world and foster the growth of a more informed citizenry. But this is just the beginning.

Good to see the shift from bashing the creationists, and Dawkins-style defence of Darwinism against them, to simply better science education.

Freeman Dyson used the title to describe Google on a recent visit, which he wrote about here at The Edge. [A "must read" says Mark Federman]

Edge editor John Brockman says

Some sincerely believe we are entering a golden age of wonder and Google is leading the way. And I am pleased to add from personal experience that the leading players, Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, are fine individuals: very serious, highly intelligent, principled. They don’t come any better. Still, others believe there are reasons for legitimate fear of a (very near) future world in which the world’s knowledge is privatized by one corporation. This could be a problem, a very big problem.

The same concern I expressed a few posts ago, despite also being a big supporter of Google, about the content becoming the commercial pawn in competition between the big players.

Anyway, an interesting piece by Dyson. I must keep a more regular eye on The Edge.

Sorry, heard this yesterday, but it has to be commented on. Kansas school board has used gaps in witnessed first-hand evidence “for” Darwinism to say it is “unproven”, unlike divine creationism no doubt (!)

When will these guys get their own education in what science is about, before they get to wield this kind of power to decide how it is taught. There is no such thing as positive proof (of anything) just the best reasoned explanation, not undermined by any repeatable disproof.

No scientist denies evolution per se, even though many debate details of particular evolutionary mechanisms and causal chains; the basic change / survive / reproduce cycle is unchallenged. But that’s not the point, Darwinism can stand the arguments, this is high quality knowledge and science itself being perverted by the ignorant in positions of power.

The best outcome would be if a little philosophy of knowledge gets taught in gaps in mainstream science. (Which I think is Dennett’s most positive approach too, in turning the Darwinism / Creationism debate into an example topic for analysis.)

Did you know that Andrei Bitov wrote and first published “The Wheel” in English in 1974, the same year Robert Pirsig published “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” ? Both using motorcycles as a vehicle for Zen Buddhist inspired philsophical development.

The kind of thing you can discover by searching the on-line content of published books in or out of copyright in Google Print.


Whilst being a fan of both Blackmore and Dennett, one of their claims I have trouble with is the idea that consciousness (and free-will) is an illusion. I’m never sure if that’s a claim that it isn’t therefore real, which would clearly be preposterous, or simply that it shares some attributes with illusions, which is clearly true.

At the Skeptic’s Society 2005 conference Sue replicated the Libet experiment, whereby the movement of a hand appears to preceed any conscious decision to do so … reported here …

The most animated speaker of the day, Blackmore orchestrated an audience participation activity that replicated Libet’s experiments demonstrating that motor action potentials appear before a decision to move is made. That is, free will is an illusion. Something in your brain makes a decision to, say, move your hand. A moment later, you consciously decide to move your hand. But the decision to move it and the impulse was already well under way. My own take here is that there could be a ‘will you, won’t you’ cell that transmits its decision simultaneously to both ‘consciousness’ (which then realizes, “This is my decision”) and the motor neurons concerned (which quickly execute the decision). Consciousness appears to be a little behind the process (dynamic illusions of reverse depth can be particularly revealing here). Blackmore made the strongest case for consciousness being an illusion of sorts, and she did so in a very entertaining and informative manner.

I don’t buy this explanation either, other than the parallel aspect of the processing involved. My take is that the Libet effect is simply a matter of exposing the many levels of consciousness involved, and the fact that a relatively simple response type decision can be “conscious but delegated”, as a causal result of conditioned free-will / decision making, that doesn’t need to reach the level of active conscious thought to model the inputs / outputs / constraints / alternatives / risks etc, but can be left to the hard-wired genetic / physiological and soft-wired memetic / memory aspects to sort out with only parallel supervisory involvement of the conscious level in the process. In general the conscious level could kick-in to countermand the lower level action, if aware of other significant issues, but the workings vary from the wholly reflex to the wholly considered, and all points in between.

Can’t tell whether this is serious, a spoof or some kind of thought experiment, but interesting none-the-less. Designing an informative sign that will survive and remain both meaningful and credible for 10,000 years (to mark a nuclear waste disposal site.) Interesting design problem. Seems the result is literally monumental. Figures.

Link from Earle Martin’s “downlode” e-text library [via Rivets]

Also amongst the e-texts this 1987 essay by Timothy Leary and Eric Gullicson “Huxley, Hesse and the Cybernetic Society“. Some background to Siddhartha (1922), The Bead Game, and other gems, a truly excellent essay, linking so many sources.

The great convergence goes on. I picked up this link from a cross-hit; Lectures at the Rafael Escola chair of Ethics. The inaugural 2004 presentation by Jeffrey Pfeffer is straight into the morals of CEO remuneration and immediately picking up on the perverse drive of purely objective, logical measures of company performance (See “why reward success” posted 3 days ago, and my general thesis)

Robert Jaedicke is a former accounting professor and the former associate dean and dean of the Stanford business school. He was also the chairman of the audit committee of Enron and served on the Enron board since the mid- 1980s. The question posed by those who know Jaedicke well is how could this ethical, honest, and decent man have been caught up in such a massive financial fraud? There are many possible and plausible answers, including a) the complexity of the transactions that ultimately brought the demise of Enron, b) Jaedicke’s long association with the company and its CEO, Ken Lay, that may have made him complacent and reluctant to challenge a long-time colleague, and c) the fact that responsibility can become diffused when many people are present and observing an action (e.g., Latane and Darley, 1968), in that no single individual may feel particularly responsible or comfortable with disagreeing with the others. But there is another possibility as well. Suppose Enron, with its high stock price, needed to show growing earnings or earnings of a certain amount as expected by analysts in order to maintain and even increase that share price. A transaction is presented with the following possible outcomes: approve the possibly questionable deal and permit the company to continue to report favorable financial results and maintain the stock price, or refuse to approve it and potentially face a calamitous decline in shareholder value. If maintaining shareholder value is the only thing that matters—if it is only the short-term results that count—it is clear that there will be enormous pressures to approve the deal and, in fact, doing so is probably the logical thing to do.

Hypocrisy rules, as I’ve said many a time. Anyway, so nothing new under the sun continues as a theme, but the real reason I was drawn to this link is that hero Charles Handy gave the 2005 lecture, and in expounding his ten moral dilemmas to address in modern business life, he uses “Eudaimonia” as his archetype for the duty to “flourish”. Good read actually, Handy’s usual folksy style advice, including a good reminder that for Adam Smith these personal duties came before capitalism. [Previous eudaimonia references.]

Continuing the thread on psychedelics place in the study of consciousness, here is a bang up to date “scientific” study on the use of Peyote – OK so it’s from the media school of “Today US researchers announced …”, but it’s current and credible. [BeliefNet via Scott over at MoQ Discuss.]

Damned by faint praise in the headline …

“Peyote Doesn’t Damage Brain”

… the article acutally focusses on

“Quite the contrary, these individuals [Sacramental Peyote Users] scored higher on several indicators of mental health … etc … “

Twas ever thus.

Post Note : This blog is about knowledge, not “drugs”.

My opening remark, about the school of journalistic scientific reporting ….
is the same school as “lies, damn lies and statistics”, geddit yet ?

Nowhere in my post, nor in the article actually, are there any positive assertions of causality, reason or responsibility, though there are some disclaimer (truism) negative assertions in the interests of political correctness – well don’t blame us, we didn’t say xxxx was the cause, etc.

Causality (how and why) is a whole other ball game;
Beyond journalism, and most of science for that matter.

Interesting. Posted several times and exchanged comments with Georganna, that Google is truly amazing in indexing seemingly insignificant little blogs like ours, totally in minutes flat, 24, 7, like amazing, however you look at it.

Matt Mower seems to have dropped off their radar. I wonder how that happens. Is there a blacklist ;-) Conspiracy theorists need not apply.