All posts for the month November, 2006

Had an exchange with David Morey today on MoQ.Discuss, on non-simple mechanisms contributing to evolution, prompted by the recent “In Our Time” edition on “altruism” involving Dawkins and Dupre, and we got into Systems Engineering approaches to evolution …

By coincidence, stumbled across this interesting post from Matt Wyndham (who looks like he hasn’t posted for over a year) The link in the post (and the comment thread on that) and the “Previous Posts” links in Matt’s side-bar are full of good material. Also got a Gordon Pask hit on Cybernetics, after also mentioning Stafford Beer and “Requisite Variety”. The great convergence, Dawkins would dismiss.

Matt’s comment (or was it Ze’s ?) about “Every surgeon knows the quality of evolved functionality comes with lousy interfaces” reminds me this is a systems engineering dialogue. That is so relevant to the day job currently; If you’re planning for evolution of a complex system, ensure you have its interface specifications well defined before you let nature rip.

(BTW talking of blogs-long-time-no-post, I reviewed some of my 5 and 6 year old pages earlier and found 30% or 40% link-rot. Time to start stashing away important off-line links.)

Great little piece of Bad Language from Matthew Stibbe (via Matt Bartlett) with some useful and witty hints on writing to a deadline. I need all the help I can get.

Actualy Matt (Bartlett) has a great collection of links for November.

Spookily, Anecdote have a time management piece this month too. Draw’s on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, but includes some tips of their own, inlcuding the “cut yourself off occasionally from all communications channels” advice. 

And Anecdote have another piece on making use of del.ici.ous . How many times have I told myself I could really make use of that, but could never find the time.

Instead of reading David Morey’s novel (which I had with me on our trip to the Gulf Coast over the Thanksgiving holiday) I finished Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” and got about half-way through “Philosophical Investigations”.

The latter so far just seems to continue casting doubt on the science (logic) of natural language, and of course logic is something he already debunked philsophically in the Tractatus – “All philosophy is critique of language” (4.0031) - “All propositions of logic say the same thing. That is nothing” (5.43)

The lingusitic stuff doesn’t so far seem to say much more than I’ve already read in Quine’s “Word and Object” – Gavegai, etc (and in Foucault, Derrida and Dennett ?) but I’m only part-way through.

Tractatus was generally a disappointment, but there were surprises, in that whilst following a very methodical structuring of dependent logical assertions, he was actually undermining the value of logic in real world philosophy, and there are some great one-liner jokes to boot. Methinks he must have had a wicked sense of humour at Russell’s expense.

After several dense pages of formal logical notation in 5.5 he concludes “This shows that there is no such thing as the soul” in 5.5421 – Brilliant.

(He is also obsessed by “colour” – the reality of experiencing it vs “naming” or “describing” it … I note that this is something he has also written on elswehere. A recurring theme in “mind” philosophy generally … “Mary the colour scientist” etc.)

Must write more when I’ve fully digested Wittgenstein. Apart from making reference to his mentor Russell, and thence Frege, Witt doesn’t sully himself with analysing the thinking of others – an arrogance he shares with Pirsig, no ?

[Post Note : Read a fair bit "about" Wittgenstein one way or another, despite only recently reading him in the original. I was browsing his Wikipedia entry, partly because I'm still following the conversion to faith / intellectual elitism angle for some reason I'm not yet quite sure of, and sure enough found that point confirmed for future reference. I wasn't expecting to find this. Could I really have forgotten ? Yep, sure enough, there it is plenty about this in Edmunds and Eidinow. My copy is full of annotations I've never followed-up. When will I ever find the time ?]

Another interview promoting the re-publishing of Lila, pointed out by Ant and linked by Horse.

Actually a very sympathetic interview of the man by Tim Adams who recalls reading Zen and the Art at the age of 14. Lots of anecdotal recalls of biographical (and very personal) events behind the two books, including some worth adding to the timeline.

Even better, Ant has captured a copy of the
full transcript here.

Brian Eno speaking on BBC Radio 3, at Hope University, Liverpool Future City of Culture “Free Thinking” series. Nothing new in terms of this blog, but lots of good material, worth a listen.

Darwinian optimism. “Scenius” the genius of “the scene” – everyone is smarter than anyone. Emergence from simplicity. Art and politcs. Power of community. Flash-mobbing. Observer-participant collapse. Historical technology cycle drivers … new technology (eg TV & Vietnam) creates change, attracts control, technology evolution, etc. Internet built to be hard to control, by design, fast feedback loop crucial. Time-paradox, “the long now”. 10,000 year planning horizon (remember blogging before about a project to establish a construction that might last that long). Lagos traffic chaos “negotiation”. The Netherlands traffic experiment. Self-regulation. Art as the stylistic “don’t have to do” overlay on top of the necessary … very Maslow.

The whole “free thinking” series seems to have some good content. Links are only valid for 7 days after broadcast. Hope permanent links appear.

Anthony Graying too, on Radio 2 promoting a book; extolling the idea of teaching philosophy to schoolkids. Never been a better time to strudy philosophy, he says, employers should be snapping people who know how to think.

Meta-thinking methinks.

Can’t believe I let the Stern Report and the press response go by without comment. I guess I had the BBC links in my side-bar at all times, so I was following events there. This link at Know Your Place (via Sam) is as good an entry point as any.

The interesting thing, given agreement that this is the point where we all agree, “OK, so it’s real – it’s official” is that it doesn’t in itself answer the question “So what alternative world would we like instead”.

Some romantic return to “noble savagery” or utopian communist agrarian society (as one commenter suggests) is not only highly unlikely (positively impossible, given all the “interests” already involved) but almost certainly not the sensible thing to aim for anyway.

The fun has only just begun. Cool heads needed as I mentioned most recently here.

Excellent edition of The Edge NEwsletter, includes not only Dan Dennett, recovering from an acute heart condition, and Evolutionary Morality from Nick Wade of the NYT, but also last weekend’s Observer piece by their religious correspondent Jamie Doward, reviewing the three popular science books lined up against God in the best seller charts as we run up to Christmas.

Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion
Dan Dennett – Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Sam Harris – The End of Faith / Letter to a Christian Nation

Not yet read any of the three. As a big fan of Dennett, I will almost certainly obtain and read that. Dawkins, I’ve said enough about, what he seems unable to see is that being “scientifically right” is hardly a convincing argument. Sam Harris was recommended by Sue Blackmore on “A Good Read” recently, so I may give it a try, though Sam seems to shoot the atheist cause in the foot with a “Nuke the Bastards” suggestion if reason fails to impress not just religious extremists, but masses of religious moderates. (See previous piece on moderate but sophisticated theological issues here.)

The “final solution” outburst from Harris is interesting though. A sign of the seriousness of the issue under debate here. As the footnote to every page of my blog has said since 9/11 “The phrase ‘Creative Destruction’ can never again be used lightly.” Cool heads needed like never before.

Not heard this one before, but as an engineer in the s/w business it rings true.

“If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.”

- Weinberg’s Second Law

Via TCL via Rivets. Guessing Steve Weinberg, but I don’t know, must check.
(Gerry (Gerald) Weinberg apparently. Hat tip to Dermot and EDinCT for the comments)

And talking of software and engineering, after Napster and I-Tunes along came, no not YouTube, but the phonograph. Fascinating actually (Rivets never fails to find ‘em)

Interesting post from Anecdote about peer pressure influencing moral decisions. I first noted this 15 years go when I read DeLorean’s (auto)-biography. The paraphrased quote of his I keep dredging up is “Committees of moral men make immoral decisions”.

Nils Brunsson has this well documented as “Management Hypocrisy”

Interstingly another recurring memory on that score, comes from an early management training course I did, with a role-playing exercise, where we were each given different briefings. The point was that noticing the smell of something not quite right is one thing, diagnosing the problem is another. The situation involved some “falling out” between groups of colleagues that was interfering with harmonious working, in fact every role involved had some hidden issues, weird-religious-interest, domestic-upset, office-stationary-pilfering, promotion-rivalries, fiddling-expenses, stealing-work-time, office-romance-jealousy / infidelity, you name it – all human life was there. In fact the greatest cause of the friction was not the least moral actions – eg the “stealing”, but the least “congruent” – the religious odd-ball. A salutory lesson.

I’ll keep that link for a rainy day on MoQ.Discuss. ;-)

Just a snippet to store away, since I’m not really up on Hume yet.

Hume’s metaethics … his emotivist stance on the nature of moral judgment and … the assertion of rationality as part of that process is only an ad hoc attempt to somehow “independently” justify the moral conclusions we’ve already reached.

A recurring theme, but the context is a spoof Tim McSweeney monologue linked by Matt Kundert.

As a confirmed atheist, I was about to do some research on the coincidences of atheist philosophers converting to catholicism in later life (Wittgenstein ? McLuhan ? and a couple of others ?), basically wondering if there was an intellectual elitst attraction with the hierarchy in said church. That’ll have to wait.

I stumbled across the BBC’s John Humphrys’ “In Search of God“, in an extended discussion with Anglican Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams.

Apparently Humphrys was a believer, but lost the faith in recent years. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Beslan schoolchildren’s massacre. He is challenging multi-denominational faith leaders to re-convert him.

I’m no great fan of Humphrys, but I’ve noted before that the Archbishop does seem to speak sense in public life.

Williams was painfully honest in trying to address questions, about what is the God he believes in and why. I made a lot of notes, but here are just a few.

He believes in a God, which at some level of abstraction is the root of causality, first cause, but not in any literal direct (interventional) cause of any specific events. The setter of the framework of the processes in the physical world, the only set of processes the world can have, even a god created world. God’s “omnipotence” limited by that physical framework “he” created. Ditto prayer, “somehow” a channel of “hope” for such influence, but no identifiable or explicable causal effect. He pretty freely used love and bliss as almost synomyms for God.

Since the true nature of that abstract God is unknowable, crude anthropomorphic metaphors – the bearded wise omnipotent old man – were actually preferable to any more sophisticated abstractions, because they may have the illusion of being closer to a real picture of God, whereas they cannot really be. At least with the crude metaphor, you are unlikely to forget “he’s” only a metaphor.

(A fair bit of stuff about “free-will” and “eternal afterlife”.)

Here is the main point, if I can articulate it. “Faith” in that God, and that description of the divine creation, underlies a belief in the observable facts that the world (governed by “his” physical framework) comprises uncertainty, contingency, complexity, risk & probability and arising (emergence) of unwillable outcomes, unwillable even by God.

Significantly, the Archbishop didn’t draw on any arguments of authority, biblical quotations, or historical weight of numbers to support any of his answers. (Compare the christian non-theologian response to Sue Blackmore on “A Good Read”

Ultimately he appeared to see faith as “sense-making intellect”, and god as that “sense” ? Some significant silences, in trying to distinguish mysticism from theistic faith. Apart from “historical doctrine” only “holistic consistency” distinguished religious faith.

Even Dawkins might struggle to find anything to disagree with there, if he could get past the choice of word and metaphor.