All posts for the year 2012

Interesting collection. Much of the predictable “singularity” stuff, starting with Ray Kurzweil, and going through all the apps and devices taking over our lives, but some good stuff in there.

A few for me …

  • The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public Lynn Stout
  • The Social Conquest of EarthE.O. Wilson
  • Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the HumanitiesMartha Nussbaum

And ironic, posting yesterday, with today’s BBC story about the Cornish school about boys learning good old fashioned manners and etiquette:

  • Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct — P.M. Forni

And a completely unconnected school story … philosophy for reception class education at a Harrow primary school – Socratic dialogue, and league tables that make no odds.

BBC R4′s In Our Time today, another fine example of something about which I knew nothing before the programme. The ancient Shahnameh or Persian Book of Kings – a single continuous poem of rhyming couplets, longer than the Odyssey and Iliad together – written by Ferdowski.

Interesting after commenting on the Seven Pillars of Wisdom documentary only the day before, to think of the importance of old culture-bearing books to modern affairs. This time not the US in Iraq, but the Iranians when at war with Iraq, finding their culture under threat, preserved in its verses, repeating what had been done when the Mongols invaded and expelled the Arabs.

Anyway, a fascinating work and an excellent programme on so many levels, where the contributors’ knowledge and enthusiasm take over the whole flow. Melvyn happy to have screeds of ancient Persian read out on air, for their poetic value, notwithstanding the cultural, philosophical and historical value of their content. One for the common “Aryan” heritage pile (in the original rather than perverted sense of the word).

On another level, even academic experts are humans with their own interests and hopes, and all the better for it. I could go on.

Interesting listening to the excellent BBC R4 documentary “Lawrence of Arabia – Man and Myth by Allan Little. I’m a long time fan of TEL as a humanist moral philosopher and poet, but amazing to hear that his opus Seven Pillars of Wisdom was regularly used by the Americans in Iraq, Gen Petraeus no less, “virtually every briefing meeting” even. Wow.

Good to see the significance of TEL being realized at many levels in modern middle-east geo-politics. (And an excellent documentary, BTW.)


Many interesting points, re Armenians, Kurds, Arabs and Iraqis, but one in particular. Palestine as envisaged by TEL was to be for the Palestinian Arabs. Yes, he knew there were plans to grant a zone for Jewish settlement rights – a “homeland” – but the (explicit) point was for Jews to integrate with the natives in their state, not create an independent Israeli state with a Jewish majority dominating and/or excluding the locals. Effing Balfour!

Plausible analysis of why Angry Birds is an engaging user experience. No idea how “scientific” the fact gathering actually was or how the hypotheses / conclusions were actually tested – but plausible and interesting. Might be worth sharing on current project – using response (waiting) times to provide user with opportunity to enlarge their “schema” of knowledge of future use possibilities ?

[via BifRiv]

The side-kick to Robert Pirsig on the 1968 road trip that was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Quite a character by all accounts; I met him just once in 2008 at the old Pirsig house in St.Paul where he regaled us with stories of bike rides and musical parties in the 60′s. Sad to hear of his passing Sunday 18th November 2012 after failing to recover from an earlier stroke. A character undoubtedly missed, but immortalized for many in ZMM.


Example story:

The Pirsig’s were the first people in the neighbourhood to get a copy of the Beatle’s White album, and also had a serious HiFi sound system, enough to broadcast into the street, so parties were a frequent and popular focal point for local musos and artists.

I see the side-bar archive links have all failed … no plug-in update seems to fix it, been unable to find alternative plug-in which gives me both the yearly and monthly collapsability with individual posts visible at the monthly level. Still can’t. Also need to sort out recent post / recent comment links. Still Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn integration via all seem to work fine, and Clicky seems to be a success, so I’ll drop the failed SiteMeter I guess – still counts, but no longer gives reports.

Ho hum. I guess I need to find a new all-singing all-dancing theme with all the necessary widgets built-in. That’ll be a weekend to set aside one day soon.

Interesting link from Sam (at Elizaphanian) by Judith Curry “Climate Change – no consensus on consensus“.

The issue is to escape the denial, and simply recognize the big science decisions – to agree or criticize with “findings” are not scientific, they are political, tactical, strategic, etc … value-based.

The key IPCC consensus finding from its latest assessment report is this statement:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

The IPCC consensus findings on attribution have been echoed in position statements made by many scientific organizations. The IPCC consensus is portrayed as nearly total among scientists with expertise and prominence in the field of climate science. The idea of a scientific consensus surrounding climate change attribution has been questioned by a number of people, including scientists and politicians. Much effort has been undertaken by those that support the IPCC consensus to discredit skeptical voices, essentially dismissing them as cranks or at best rebels, or even politically motivated ‘deniers’.

That is, both sides need to recognize that they are politically motivated. It discredits science when scientists claim to be being scientific when they are clearly (and quite rightly) not.

How to reason about uncertainties in the complex climate system and its computer simulations is neither simple nor obvious. Scientific debates involve controversies over the value and importance of particular classes of evidence as well as disagreement about the appropriate logical framework for linking and assessing the evidence. The IPCC faces a daunting challenge with regards to characterizing and reasoning about uncertainty, assessing the quality of evidence, linking the evidence into arguments, identifying areas of ignorance and assessing confidence levels.  An overarching concern is how the issue of climate change is framed scientifically and how judgements about confidence in complex scientific arguments are made in view of the cascade of uncertainties.

Given the complexity of the climate problem, ‘expert judgements’ about uncertainty and confidence levels are made by the IPCC on issues that are dominated by unquantifiable uncertainties. It is difficult to avoid concluding that the IPCC consensus is manufactured and that the existence of this consensus does not lend intellectual substance to their conclusions.

No, but it’s practically useful trust and authority they are meant to create, not “intellectual substance”.

So, ultimately, I don’t actually agree with the conclusions of the paper, that somehow because the IPCC consensus on climate change was “manufactured” and had unintended “denial” consequences, the consensus creation was therefore wrong. No, what is wrong is the expectation that consensus (on “wicked” as opposed to “linear” or “tame” questions) is anything other than manufactured. It is always about establishing some political authority on practical decision-making. Only the weak-minded confuse that with imposing “dogma” on science. The science goes on.

As with any politics its about trusting those you entrust with authority and the checks and balances your system has. There is no “solid evidence” to back judgements, however much the scientistic fundamentalists demand evidence-based policy.

That’s some hiatus, due mainly to travel and work pressures. New York, San Diego, Washington, now Brisbane and next Perth … Out on the streets, in a bar, seeing a band on only one night in the whole – PiL at the Hammerstein NYC.

Been reading a lot in travel time – though not as much as usual.

Finished Salman Rushdie’s autobiography Joseph Anton. Actually did blog a mention earlier, but no detailed review so far. See Nigella Lawson in a different light.

Since reading Kauffman (previous post) I have read Stanley Hauerwas Hannah’s Child – A Theologian’s Memoir. Fascinating. Big fan of Wittgenstein and MacIntyre, even Zizek – wow. Sophisticated theologians and sophisticated atheists are not far apart. Detailed review needed. (I came across a review of this book a couple of years ago, and blogged a reference or two – pre-ordered but forgot to actually buy it until recently. Theologians talking sense, here and here.)

Mentioned earlier I was reading Stuart Kauffman, and was impressed by his extending the story of life beyond the ubiquitous focus on DNA and genes. After that it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster, as this biologist covers psychology, philosophy and fundamental physics in his quest of Reinventing the Sacred – a common fault I find. Someone with “my theory” out to prove anyone else’s theory  is wrong by comparing the narrowest definitions of theirs with the broadest of his own. Cultured human nature these days in this world that focusses on disproof by criticism and fault-finding. Winning arguments by defeating the other. So sad.

Anyway, despite that stylistic complaint, the story does take a turn for the better – I’m about 3/4 through. Essentially he admits after a superficial review of everyone else’s theories – (and how more or less possible these seem to him – he’s betting on some quantum decoherence mechanism in brain functioning, for example) – that in fact most of these are immaterial to his main thesis, that continuing in the direction of physical reductionism is fundamentally misguided.

Evolution is not causally described, defined or determined by physics, not biological evolution, not conscious-mind evolution, not human intellectual-social-cultural-economic evolution. None of it. End of.

Evolution is essentially co-creative non-predictable natural-emergence process involving both upward (reductionist, Weinbergian) and downward (emergent, god-like) causation. There are no scientific laws where if X then Y will be the outcome in real human life.

(There is of course of good deal of mind-matter duality discussed in the middle-part of the book, and whilst Kauffman does buy free-will and self-conscious aspects as real and emergent in the way described (as I do), whatever the underlying levels of classical or quantum mechanisms involved, he does still seem to baulk at qualia remaining mysterious and undefined – the “how and what is the me doing the experiencing” aspect. Dennett is acknowledged in the foreword, but there are no actual references. Odd that he doesn’t buy the line that “reductionism is OK in moderation, but not too greedy it’s not the whole story” or the other Dennett view that “we are our memes”  …. yet …. reading on.)

(Also, he is very anti-algorithm and anti-game theory too – but in very narrow senses – wonder what he’d make of Hofstadter’s creativity too. Games where despite very small apparently reductionist algorithms, creative behaviour really does emerge. Unpredictable pre-adaptation is Kauffman’s main clinching argument, but this is identical to Hofstadter’s “Tabletop.)

BTW – to state the obvious. The “sacred” is that mysterious god-like emergent creative self-organization of complex reality, not explained by scientific laws and causal logic (nor less by an actual personal agency god) but nevertheless real, reasonable and rational in the broad sense. The same “gift/master” ignored by the “servant/emissary”, to use McGilchrist quoting Einstein and Nietzsche.

[Post Note to Self - really must get to grips with how Supervenience differs from Emergence. Post post note : If Wikipedia is to be believed then Supervenience is in fact just the technical term for reductive (Weinbergian) causality - where all properties in a higher level of existence are determined causally by the state of properties in a lower level. Doh! I'm sure others - including Chalmers for example - had more subtle intentions. Anyway - this physical state view of ontology totally ignores any process view - the history of how something emergent at a higher level depends not only on the state of lower levels, but also on the process path it was arrived at. The key point being that that history in any one level can be influenced by higher level events as well as lower level states. Causality is two way - positive-feedback, auto-catalytic, physics-envious, etc .... see Ulanovicz after reading Kauffman .... why do the scientistic miss such common sense ? New post soon. Interestingly - close to finishing Ulanovicz - he says Supervenience has become so overloaded it is very confusing what people actually mean by it - he coins Suprafacience - more later. Also ultimately positive about Dennett's, cranes upon cranes without Skyhooks, though he prefers his own less mechanical, more organic Vine analogy. History allows you to pull up the ladder, once you've made the new level stable and sustaining - looking back, archaeologists would struggle to find evidence of how you got there.]