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All posts for the month February, 2012

Just rough notes – wanted to dig out Philip Pullman’s Jesus vs Christ references.

Meaning of Life ? Meaning is about connections – to refer to, to call to mind … , and for humans this is about purpose – main purpose is increasing consciousness because we humans are fortunate to be the most advanced self-reflective conscious beings we know about – hence Humanism.

Stories and hence story-tellers are important part of our consciousness and increasing it. Parental respect, authority & guidance. Not so much identify with, but would like to befriend as ourselves. Morals in stories, not explicit, but by association with the characters, thoughts and actions. Real life fiction so much better than the fantastic – the effort in fantasy reduces the subtlety of morality tales possible – hence simplistic good-guy / bad-guy morals only – compare Voyage to Arcturus David Lindsay with “feeble / piffle” Lord of the Rings (and “detestable, stupendous wicked waste” Narnia) and set the tone to blame for a lot of imitation. (Tolkien catholic vs Lewis protestant.) George Eliot.

Pullman’s latest The Good Man Jesus, and the Scoundrel, Christ. (Must obtain & read.) Enough reality in Jesus, in how the key parables and phrases and lessons were reported – someone creative created them – and contrast in how reported in the gospels – adds to core of truth and mystical / mythical aspects thereof. Story telling. Much of bible is trash, but everyone should read the gospels.

And … Joe Campbell Hero with a Thousand Faces – “influential” but “Jungian”.
And … Proust hard but worth it. Kafka of course.

“What might have been ….
the biggest physics story of the past century
…. may instead be down to a faulty connection.”

When the idiots get their minds out of the interminable God vs Science wars, will they notice the state science is in these days. Maybe they do and the war is just flak to disguise the true state. But more likely more cock-up than conspiracy – business as usual.

My only knowledge of Richard “Handsome Dick Manitoba” Blum was as lead singer with New York proto-punks The Dictators (I have their Manifest Destiny album).

The death today of  MC5 bassist Michael Davis led me to notice Dick had also been singer with MC5 at some point, and that Dick is the owner of Jack Dempsey’s bar (now Manitoba’s) in Manhattan, and The Manitoba’s open for Guns & Roses in NYC tomorrow night … etc etc … anyway amazing collection of snaps of Dick with everyone UK and US punk and new wave from Kinks and NY Dolls, right up to a recent John Lydon (Bowie, Iggy, Ramones, Debbie Harry, Billy Bragg, … ). Dictators were the final act at CBGB’s too. Ongoing link with The Buzzcocks doing UK gigs with extended line up including Howard Devoto in May this year … And on Stevie van Zandt’s Underground Garage radio station:

“Best Satellite Radio DJ” by The Village Voice.
Manitoba truly is Mr. Manhattan.
Hear him take on anything and everybody, every weeknight.

Heard Julian Baggini in a debate on BBC R4 Sunday programme, discussing the recent militant secularism – the local council prayers and the latest baroness Warsi / Dawkins spat. I’ve previously always found Julian a little too non-committal, too wishy-washy, too willing to please …

But here he was taking a positive strong middle-ground stance against Dawkins and the militant secularists – yes recognising the positive values in tradition, even religious traditions a la Alain DeBotton – but pointing out the negative value of aggression in Dawkins cracked record agenda against all things religious. Simply having the agenda was damaging.

Other main point is that one’s fundamental beliefs can never be “left at the door” in politics, whatever the disestablishment relationship between religion and politics.

Good on yer Julian.

[Different angle from George Galloway.]

Sylvia and I often reply that bread is our favourite food if asked. Often we’d have a whole fresh bloomer (with nothing else) for lunch on a Saturday – and of course when paying attention to carbohydrate intake, that can be a problem.

James Corden on BBC R4 Desert Island Discs, after losing 6 stones – referred to bread as his nemesis – it’s personal. Before going on to introduce Erasure’s “A Little Respect” – great tune and great song.

I could have posted this the instant it occurred to me yesterday – but now after BBC R4 Today playing a clip of Devo and interviewing Gerry Casale this morning #Devo is UK trending all over twitter this morning.

I’ve posted before how Devo’s first UK gig at the Roundhouse Sunday 30th April 1978 was part of my best ever day of live music. I have Devo on vinyl and replaced as MP3 in the last couple of years, since they became active again recently – playing them now of course. Put Akron, Ohio on the map (after car tyres, and before Chrissie Hynde, that is).

Anyway, what I was going to post was a suggestion on devolution – Yes, let’s have better local government arrangements, let’s get more federal – let’s redraw the Scottish border at (say) Watford Gap so more of us benefit – or maybe draw it around the M25 and leave London inside as the UK’s “Capital Territory”. (And incidentally, as a government politician, Salmond knocks spots off the current shambles in Westminster. Win-Win.)

Now that would be “Devo Max”?

Jocko Homo – Are we not men?

They tell us that we can’t go free,
To control our own destiny.
I say it’s all  hypocrisy.
Are we not Scots? We’re Devo Max.
Are we not Welsh? D-E-Vo Max.

Surreal that “Jocko” fits the context 34 years after the fact. Also intriguing that the originally degenerate de-evolution of “Devo” could become aligned with devolution – a reversal of civilisation’s trend to bigger global / corporate to smaller local / human arrangements. Maybe it’s not humans that are devo, but society – in a positive way. Weird that a rhyming political sound-bite can “create” what lay latent. I swear I’ve had this thought before, but never thought to write it.

Back when this occurred – back in July 2010 – it was a bug with Facebook, that if you clicked on an item to see what was actually there, you were credited with a “Like” even if you were disgusted with what you found. I think it’s fixed.

Hopefully Sunderland City Councillor Florence Anderson or her defence has the nous. She’s already suspended. Bloody politics.

Great to hear the collaborative evolutionary aspect of “survival of the fittest” make prime time at last.

Interviewing D S Wilson on the BBC R4 Today programme this morning, Evan had to make a clumsy apologetic aside along the lines of “Dawkins is big around here” but the visiting American could see the battle lines drawn differently within the cognoscenti and the public political popular-science sound-bite arenas.

Darwin’s “fittest” has always referred to best fit with your environment (physical, biological, social, intellectual) , nothing exclusively to do with being fitter as in stronger, faster, better, than those you are competing against in your environment. Where group-selection occurs in the social environment, the best fit concerns mutual participation in the group and the group in the wider environment. As I’ve written many times before, the “selfish gene” title has a lot to answer for in public misunderstanding promulgated by the professor for public understanding of science.

Ironic then that the next news item, about Cameron visiting Salmond on Scottish home turf for their debate on the British union, was characterised as drawing-up “battle-lines”. Public learning is a very slow process, when there is a useless but victorious meme holding the tattered standard in the tournament arena. We should be feeding Dawkins to the lions.

Also fitting in hindsight was the earlier thought for the day (Das) … BBC links slow to update in the aftermath of the live programme – will come back and add links.

Picked-up on this BBC Magazine story from the memetic “fashion” angle, but the second quote is telling too.

“The fear of nuclear war has diminished partly because the risk has receded significantly with the end of the Cold War,” says Nick Bostrum, director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute. “But another factor might be simple changes in risk fashion – it becoming more popular recently to worry about global warming, for example.”

More immediate worries are terrorist attack, pandemic disease, and economic meltdown. Robert Harris in his recent novel The Fear Index examined the modern anxiety that fuses the threat of powerful technology with unbridled financial markets. The main character, who runs a hedge fund, remarks:

“Fear is driving the world as never before… The rise in market volatility, in our opinion, is a function of digitalisation, which is exaggerating human mood swings by the unprecedented dissemination of information via the internet.”

Another case of less is more when it comes to free communication.

I need to finish off my notes on Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” since I posted some criticisms before I’d read the concluding chapters.

Strange to read the explicit dualisms:

Two systems – Fast intuitive thinking and Slow considered thinking.
Two species – Humans (reasonable) and Econs  (entirely rational).
Two selves – Experiencing self and Remembering self.

As I commented before it’s almost trivial to conclude this is how humans do actually work, what was slightly scary was the implicit suggestion that human deviation from pure rationality was a problem to be corrected. Cognitive biases (vs rationality) are real, but they value more than rationality. In admitting a complex picture of values without prescriptive conclusions Kahneman uses masterful understatement to admit economic decision-making is more than maths:

“Philosophers could struggle with these questions for a long time.”

He makes a number of plain wrong statements along the lines that – the integral of pain experienced over time is somehow obviously more significant than remembered pain – doh ! But also a number of key positive conclusions:

“I have …. devoted many pages to errors of intuitive judgement and choice … However, the relative number of pages is a poor indicator of the balance between the marvels and the flaws of intuitive thinking. System 1 is indeed the origin of much of what we do wrong, but it is also the origin of most of what we do right – which is most of what we do. Our thoughts and actions are routinely guided by system 1 and are generally on the mark.”

“One of the marvels is the rich and detailed model of our world that is maintained in associative memory: it distinguishes surprises from normal events in a fraction of a second, immediately generates an idea of what had been expected instead of a surprise, and automatically searches for some causal interpretation of events as they take place.”

ie we’d do well not to assume system 1 is somehow inferior to pure rationality, to be corrected and brought under control of system 2 – which would be autistic.  [see McGilchrist - let's not forget who is master and who is emissary.]

Also, often talks of “laziness” in under-use of system 2, as If more use would lead to more (rationally) optimal decisions – but this is basic economy of effort – consideration costs are part of the optimisation. [Brunsson / Argyris  decision rationality is action irrationality, etc.]

Libertarian Paternalism – after Richard Thaler’s “Nudge” – we humans do actually need “help” with free choices, beyond free access to “information”. We need meta-information about different ways information should be considered and valued, and how presenting the same information different ways, might lead us to different considerations. Those entrusted with governance do (need to) know better than free popular choice would suggest. Their power to “nudge” us to given conclusions must be trusted, even if we baulk at their power to physically restrict our choice. And:

“Decision-makers are sometimes better able to imagine the voices of present gossipers and future critics, than to hear the hesitant voice of their own doubts. They will make better choices when they trust their critics to be sophisticated and fair, and when they can expect their decision to be judged by how it was made, not only by how it turned out.”

Governance, sophistication, values, fairness and trust – all in there.

Better able to imagine than to hear

Another case of less communication is more.
A little ignorance goes a long way.

All this recent negative stuff around football contrasts with the real thing seen as Barca visited Leverkusen last night.

Scrap handshakes ? That’s how to do it. Defenders laughing and congratulating Messi when he beats them. Messi continuing regardless as he is repeatedly mis-tackled, and coming back for more. Contrast the grace of Messi (again) with the graceless Ballack, fortunately dropped from Leverkusen’s squad for the game.

Interesting that Malcy MacKay actually suggested scrapping handshakes – to put the focus back on the game. Gentlemanly conduct is part of the game. Suarez could / should have been sent off before the kick-off – full marks to the ref for not doing so, so as to better manage the situation – and again at the end. Let’s hope the apologies are not hollow politics. The beautiful game needs grace.

[Though misery-guts German director of football Rudi Voller  wishes his players weren't quite so enthusiastic about their opponent ;-) ]

It’s customary to reckon Godfather III as the weakest of the trilogy; it happens to be my favourite, so I notice the fact. I also noticed this Simpson’s gag that reinforces the meme. Thanks to Jorn for the link.

“Moe Baby Blues,” Season 14 – Moe becomes Maggie’s caretaker, rescuing her from a standoff between Fat Tony’s crew and rival gangsters, moving them to tears with a paean to Maggie’s goodness.

“I ain’t cried like this since I paid to see Godfather III,”
Tony sobs.

Or does it ?

Ooh another fight. This one runs and runs – like any catchy black vs white meme. Of course militant secularism is a threat to religious faith – that’s its point by definition.

Sadly popular secularism has become a one-trick militant pony – whose sole purpose is to attack religion and/or faith in public. The professor for the public understanding of science would do well to focus on his job rather than shooting fish in a barrel – it sets such a poor example of what makes for quality science. It wouldn’t be an issue if science weren’t such a public shambles itself in these days of mass media, public funding and crass sound bites.

Roll on Alain deBotton. Or Zizek; taking sides in a battle to the death is never the best course.

[Post Note : From Zizek's "Empty Wheelbarrow" -

"... clearly perceived by GK Chesterton who - in the very last pages of his Orthodoxy, the ultimate Catholic propaganda piece - exposed the deadlock of the pseudo-revolutionary critics of religion: they start by denouncing religion as the force of oppression that threatens human freedom; but in fighting religion, they are compelled to forsake freedom itself, thus sacrificing precisely what they wanted to defend: the atheist radical universe, deprived of religious reference, is the grey universe of egalitarian terror. Today the same holds for advocates of religion themselves: how many fanatical defenders of religion started by ferociously attacking secular culture and ended up forsaking religion itself, losing any meaningful religious experience?"

And the "militant" BHA gets one thing right at last;
Andrew Copson quoted in response to Baroness Warsi;

"In an increasingly non-religious and, at the same time, diverse society, we need policies that will emphasise what we have in common as citizens rather than what divides us." 

Let's focus on the humanity, rather than picking fights. I'm a fully paid up atheist member of the BHA, I support what it's for - but not for being what it is against.]

Richard Price in TechCrunch (via David Gurteen).

The democratization of the web is good for the freedom, but not for the quality, of information. Of course if peer-review is too narrowly subject-matter focussed, the opposite “censoring” effect can distort and slow-down or even destroy the knowledge-evolution processes, but some level of editorial quality control (see Bruce Charlton) is needed to counter memetic spread of fashionable but dumb “reactionary” science.