All posts for the month March, 2006

Aparently that’s my Robert Johnson song – one of my favourites, along with Dust My Broom, I remember being performed by Scarecrow, mid to late 70’s, after the Clapton version … [via Rivets]

Also from Rivets this link to high-rise skylines of the world. You’d have to like modern man-made skylines to appreciate it, but I’ve never seen Hong Kong, or Shanghai with such clear light and skies. Shenzen is truly surreal for a huge city you’ve maybe never heard of before you drive into it.

Not sure whether Melvyn Bragg’s recent book, describing 10 (or is it 12) books that changed the world prompted Sam’s recent post – but the list of most important books is a meme that comes around. Sam’s are a personally significant collection, Melvyn had some clear criteria for influencing the world. Anyway Brian Walden reviews his favourites in response to Melvyn’s, and in commending Melvyn’s list conlcudes with …

It can only help to see the role that logic plays in human development. How each new idea leads inexorably to the next one. But don’t neglect chaotic reading either. We can be sure that Melvyn does that too. Because it’s fun.

Memes evolve not by logic alone. Anyway, that’s how I come to be reading Ian McEwan’s “Enduring Love” – saw McEwan associated with the Dawkins “celebration”, and just happened to come across “Enduring Love” whilst packing away the family collection of books over the weekend. (Am I allowed to say spooky ? Alice ?)

Or even plain old post-autistic-rationality.

I keep using the “scientific” meme in scare quotes … the idea that being hyper-rational, fundamentally-objectivist … the meme of using entirely deterministic and reductionist scientific arguments and logical induction … cannot be the basis of a high quality explanation in all but the simplest “scientific” context. (Every debate of any kind in any domain including public-media, seems to have to follow these unwritten rules. At root it’s a problem with myths and metaphors about the very idea of causality. From a western scientific camp, I always quote David Deutsch as having his finger on this one, and I suspect David Chalmers may be there too, if I ever get to thoroughly understand his “supervenience” and other arguments, but of course a Buddhist slant gives us dependent-arising instead of “empty” causation – See Twelve Links for that one. )

I keep accusing Dawkins of this failing – despite him being the person who brought the idea of memes to the fore, and despite him being a great scientist and writer, ironically he seems almost totally blind to this one. Cast the meme out of thine own eyes Dawkins was a working title I’ve had for some time for an essay on the subject.

I picked up earlier on “autistic” as an adjective to describe this failing. So perhaps now we have as a working title :

“Post-Autistic-Memetics :
Cast the meme out of thine own eye Dawkins.”

And for the pointless binary polarisation issue – really just a corollary of the above – we have the working title :

“All or Nothing:
Looking for an Argument”

Loads of general media anecdotes there – where press seem to determined to find “conflict” in looking for an angle on the truth of any story – even if it’s just the cock-up vs conspiracy angle, or the classic “scientists discover revolutionary new ….” angle. Gary Richardson of BBC Radio 5 springs to mind, can he interview anyone without setting them up to bad-mouth someone else ? It’s just sport for chrissakes Gary.

Post Note :
As well as Sam pointing me at Asophic & Apathistic as alternatives to “Autism”, whilst checking up on the Dupuy quote on knowledge in literature, both in the Dawkins comment thread below, I found this quote from Dupuy I’d also recorded as significant, way back when … Listing many problematic dichotomies in “knowledge”, from his AI / Cybernetics historical perspective, as well as science vs literature , he lists the dichotomy :

between Hidebound Savants
and Cultured Ignorami (or Foggie Froggies)

Savants are commonly “Autistic” – see Kim Peak threads, and others …
Here of course Dupuy is alluding in the Foggie Froggies to the more “cultural relativist” post-modern French philosophers contrasted with those trapped (hidebound) in the logical-positivist “scientific” meme.

The convergent spiral tightens its screw.

I was about to post a link to Sue Blackmore’s piece about Albert Hofmann’s 100th birthday party, which she had published in the Times Higher Education Supplement, mainly to continue the ongoing psychedelics thread I have within Psybertron.

I did post the link of course, but in re-reading it, I noticed her final paragraph is a plea for “Wisdom”. A topical subject. I notice Sue is attending Unhooked Thinking, where many “Friends of Wisdom” look like congregating. And to bring it full circle – the main agenda of Unhooked Thinking is “addiction”.

To drugs ? Well yes, but primarily to bad memes,
like the one in psybertron’s manifesto above.

The “great convergence” spirals onwards and upwards.

[Post note : Link rot in the 10 years since this post means the link to UnhookedThinking programme on additction has been taken over by a spam aggregator.]

The proceedings of the Darwin Day Talks “The Selfish Gene 30 Years on.” at LSE last week 16th March are now on-line on The Edge web-site. (I was in the air over China at the moment the tickets went on release, and by the time I landed they were all gone, though by the sound of the press reports, they were very hard to come by anyway.)

The day was chaired by Melvin Bragg, and included Dan Dennett, John Krebs, Matt Ridley, Ian McEwan and Richard Dawkins himself.

The Edge site includes Brockman’s own intro, full transcripts, audio streaming and mp3 downloads, and selected press reports. The Edge is a “professional” operation. Ironically, Brockman chose to use Krebs’ quote of Dawkins’ “Plane load of cultural relativists at 30,000 feet” story to introduce the piece. One of the very quotes I singled out for criticism in my review of Dawkins’ “A Devil’s Chaplain“.

This will be an interesting read, we already know Dawkins doesn’t “get it”, but I happen to believe Dennett does. Back soon.

“You’re missing something Dawkins” has been a theme of mine for some time – see my 2003″Hyper-rationalism” review of “A Devil’s Chaplain”.

Here, via a link from Alan Rayner mentioned in the previous post, a review by Martin Lockley of Alister McGrath’s “Dawkins’ God”.

Dawkins’ postures, therefore, only revive rather trivial historical debates and create unnecessary polarisations which divert us from the main issues, which are how the rational and intuitive human mind probes the vast mysteries of the cosmos.

Spot on, great minds, etc.

The historical debates may have been “trivial”, but there’s no escaping that the damage caused by religious conflict is historically massive. The problem is conflict-in-general, not religion-in-general of course.

Binary dialectical arguments (unnecessary polarisations) necessarily lead to conflict, that’s what they’re for, to destroy hypotheses. The problem is the seduction of this “scientific” style of argumentation, justification and explanation. This is the problem meme. This is the raison d’etre of Psybertron.

The problem is how to avoid being branded a liberal pinko wimp, if you don’t subscribe to that macho meme. Wisdom has the appearance of naivite and weakness. That’s another take on the problem meme.

Post Note : And of course in the competitive world of memes, unlike genes, appearance is almost everything. Assuming Lockley’s review is a fair summary of McGrath’s thoughts, there is a lot wrong with McGrath’s overall story.

Attack in order to win an argument has all the usual pissing contest pitfalls – eg he says “although religious fanaticism historically has a lot to answer for so too does atheism, which is responsible for more atrocities than religion in the last century.” Zzzzz – so what ? Fighting nasty rhetoric with nasty rhetoric – a recipe for conflict.

He also, like Mary Midgley, misses the point with memes and assumes because Dawkins is misguided in his arguments that memes are therefore “wrong”. One of his dismissals is due to their recursive nature – a very poor basis for denial in my book. Recursion itelf is a good sign. The meme-ing mean-ing contrasting wordplay is catchy but an unfounded rhetorical metaphor.

He also seems to use the “nothing is proven in science” meme himself to cast the “Darwinism is only one theory” aspersions about. I doubt Feynman ever used the word “merely” about the concept of explanation. Pot and kettle spring to mind – whilst rightly warning Dawkins off religion, McGrath would do well to keep off the scientific agenda here. Having a science qualification doesn’t make him (or Dawkins) an expert on the philosophy of science.

McGrath himself falls foul of the “creating unnecessary polarisations” meme.