Humanist Religion?

Christianity has a strong humanist core in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Much the same is true of Judaism and Islam and their prophets. And much of the specifics of that core are unoriginal / inherited / shared around many other social and religious traditions – love for fellow man, the golden rule n’all that. Origin stories and creation myths too.

In order to emphasise our natural atheistic distinction versus supernatural theistic nature of (most of) these religions, most of us humanists reject any suggestions of being a religion. God forbid. It establishes clear water between organised humanism and organised religions where the latter depend on rules associated with teachings of their prophets posthumously recorded in their great books. Rules which their organised churches may enforce as dogma, even if great debates and schisms continue on interpretations, and many adherents may accommodate with the pragmatics of everyday living.

Humanism however has some key worldview aspects – values – we share as humanists, whether signed-up as bona-fide members of any formal humanist organisation – such as Humanists UK in my case – or not. In my book, those views which bind us in that shared identity do make us a religion by definition – religiare – that which binds us. And some of those values are pretty axiomatic if not dogmatic.

One of those is the natural view – the rejection of any supernatural deity – philosophy as natural science and the ecology of humanity within that. A lot more is said about that in this Psybertron project.

The other is the human aspect itself. Essentially since 1948 stemming from the Universal UN Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent freedoms of thought and expression and shared responsibilities for the global ecosystem. With acknowledgements due, of course, to all the precursor thinkers and campaigners that led to these being adopted. Axioms which are not beyond being legally enforced, by socio-economic political pressures and by force of physical intervention. Axioms many of which are also enshrined and protected in national legal systems. Axiomatic by means of constitutional and revisable democratic arrangements, but not so democratic we wouldn’t all be outraged if a populist movement ignored or overturned them?

It is only ignorance of the naturalistic fallacy that prevents most humanists accepting that these humanist axioms are not themselves natural, and depend on being maintained by collective human will. Humanism is the most widespread religion in all but accepted identity.

Schlick and the Vienna Circle

As promised when I finished Misak’s wonderful biography of Frank Ramsey, I’m now reading David Edmonds “The Murder of Professor Schlick – The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle“.

Most interesting chapter so far concerns the different factions of Jews and anti-semites in Vienna as we approach the 1930’s – and the consequences for the academic lives of the circle and their associates. Sobering.

That said, almost everything reinforces my prejudiced position concerning the circle themselves. Idiots to a man. Neurath being the archetype and Schlick the facilitator. Despite their modernist free-thinking aspirations, a totalitarian attitude to denigrating anything remotely fuzzy and replacing it with the presumed certainty of logic. And an explicitly left-wing utopian political agenda to the core. What were they thinking?

Left or right, this stuff stinks. Pretty much my 21st C agenda. Political correctness, driven by orthodox scientism, is destroying sane – humane – public discourse and everything else with it. Sadly now, the whole process is turbocharged by wall-to-wall electronic media. The rise of the right being simply a reaction to the insanity of the left. A pox on both their houses.

[Brexit, Trump, anti-Covid, Q-Anon, LGBTI+ Gender Wars, you name it.]

Can’t help thinking what might have been, had they noticed Gödel at their 7th October 1930 conference in Königsberg, and had Wittgenstein attended and met him, or had Ramsey lived to participate, or … ? Mach would have been turning in his grave – The Vienna Circle being the informal name of what had actually been the Ernst Mach Society.

[Also noticeable that Edmonds makes no qualification for Gödel’s thesis being limited to number theory only, quite explicitly the logic of mathematics generally.]

Reproduction Can Lead to Lower Complexity?

HTLGI (How The Light Gets In) had a remote event – their “Winter Revel” – this past weekend, similar format to their twice-yearly Hay-on-Wye and London events, but hosted remotely on-line (*). I’m a big supporter of IAI/HTLGI, attending events over several years and reporting many excellent sessions and experiences here, as well as many earlier individual IAI events in my time living in London.

Main focus for me was a session with Dan Dennett (legend – oft referenced here), Sara Walker (ASU & SFI) and Nick Lane (UCL) with the rather crass title “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?” Fortunately all three disposed of that in their opening sentences and ensured the actual topic was life and its origins, a topic which invariably includes intelligent life and consciousness.

(Had joined an earlier lounge discussion session with Philip Goff and Bernardo Kastrup on their panpsychism / idealism agendas. After the above session also joined the ongoing lounge discussion with Dan, Sara & Nick. Then listened to Sara give her own talk and joined the excellent lounge discussion following that – the main reason for this post. Dropped in on a couple of Lee Smolin presentations and discussion sessions – disappointing style. Listened to a large part of the “Anti-Matter” session with Sabine Hossenfelder, Lee Smolin, Tara Shears and HTLGI host Hillary Lawson – also sadly disappointing. Had intended to listen also to Nick Lane’s talk and lounge-discussion, but somehow missed it – will have to await HTLGI uploading the recording.)

Sara Walker’s excellent talk and post-talk lounge discussion covered a few of my own questions, this one was particularly interesting to me.

Life as Reproduction: If we take “reproduction of reproducible individuals” to be the primary / fundamental definition of life, and all the other optional properties (eating, excreting, evading / resisting destructive danger etc) as means to that end, Sara’s suggestion is that this can lead to lower complexity – fewer functional options for surviving to reproduce. (An RNA explanation?) Agreeing that reproduction is about copying substrate-independent information patterns. More intelligent, more functional organisms – more complexity – surely evolves more opportunities for reproductive survival? (Obviously more risk & responsibility downsides come with the longer-term possibilities.) Not actually convinced by the reducing complexity argument – I still see an efficient drive to entropy (higher local order maximises overall 2nd law entropy) – so may need to see this explanation / evidence?

Aside – Sara referred to (Lee Cronin) Assembly Theory several times and confirmed it is related to (David Deutsch & Chiara Marletto) Constructor Theory – more questions on this too? (Seems Sara and Chiara have crossed paths several times.)

Aside – Also Sara’s tie-up with Santa-Fe Institute on complexity and entropy –  another interesting thread. (Jessica Flack at SFI  an important source for me on fundamental computation. And of course SFI <> Stuart Kaufman, see next aside.)

Aside – As well as the information <> entropic arguments for evolution of the possible in design space, Dan, Nick & Sara all acknowledged the energy arguments for actually histories. Led to some interesting points on teleology (inevitability in my terms) and ergodicity (relative importance of physical states <> paths through design space). Lots of discussion of the timescales for the physical and pre-biotic chemical lifecycles. (Also notice that Sara mentioned Stuart Kaufmann a couple of times as a reference – my main source of non-ergodic phenomena.)

Aside – didn’t Sara also say her supervisor had been Paul Davies, also associated with ASU and SFI of course.

Aside – Also “met” Tim Bollands (Natural Philosopher / Universal Life-ist) eye-to-eye for the first time, in a couple of the above sessions. (He and I share an original home town as well a an interest in the origins of intelligent life & consciousness.)

A rich seam provided by Sara Walker. One to watch.


[Here an earlier version of more or less the same talk by Sara, starts ~15min.]

[(*) Meta – “Winter Revel” a bit clunky moving between on-line sessions, a bit of disruptive gate-crashing between sessions, especially between the one-way presentation & panel talk sessions and the interactive lounge discussion sessions. Not clear how to get questions into the presentation & panel talk sessions when chat was not active? Also missed the fact that some popular interactive sessions involved booking and payment above the main registration ticket – missed a “sold-out” Dan & Nick session. But, like the physical events, impossible to see everything of interest. Worth it again, for the sessions I did see.]

[More wonderful stuff from SFI – Eric Smith on the inevitability of life. And a better, later version of the same content. Some great quotes to dig out (still to do), but there is a deep aspect of Eric’s that Sara pointed out – that life and living things are not the same. Eric is very much about life being ecological and living things are the things taking part in those eco processes, however much “the individual” is individually alive. Universal life Tim Bollands? Anyway noticed I already made this distinction earlier myself in a comment on one of my own posts a couple of years ago – where did I get that?]

[Paul Davies most controversially wrote his article on axiomatic science parallels with Christian theology – “Taking Science on Faith“. There is a fair amount of Templeton funding in this enlightened theology space. Interesting, because dogmatic scientism is my most fundamental underlying agenda – the reason for my interest in the boundaries between fundamental physics and metaphysics.]

Cosmic Clickbait

Just watched and listened to a whole 2 hours plus interview of Avi Loeb by Michael Schermer, about a book I’ve not read: “Extraterrestrial

As a dialogue it’s not good, particularly in the 20 to 40 minute period, where Loeb is frustrated at Schermer’s line and talks over his new questions. Sabine Hossenfelder drew it to Twitter’s attention. In fact the latter hour is much better dialogue – did you watch the whole Sabine?

I happen to agree with Loeb on the strength of this interview alone, that it does not require extraordinary evidence to demand (funding for) more evidence. Pure hi-res photographic observation, that would provide evidence for any number of phenomena and/or theories, by simply observing interstellar debris passing locally to our solar system.

The problem being discussed (by Schermer) is two-fold:

      • One – the Galilean psychological point that observation fits existing world-views in mind. Absolutely. In fact it is part of Loeb’s position that extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) is taboo – ridiculed – as a potential explanation. A prejudice of humans to fit patterns to incomplete evidence – human faces and bodies in fuzzy images, etc. A given by all parties here. Also – anthropic perspectives, another taboo – the Tim Minchin song / the Anthony Hopkins story – on statistical outcomes, survivor prejudice, etc. Schermer is too naïve in citing this stuff as if sophisticated intellects don’t already get this – quite insulting to Loeb (and me).
      • Two – the real problem – the memetics of popular science book and media publishing. The book has a click-bait subtitle suggesting “evidence for” the existence of ETI, and Schermer accuses Loeb of too strongly implying that in the book – cue the media frenzy for or against such possibilities driving book sales. Loeb backs off on this, naturally, sticking to his main claim. That observation is worth funding – especially simple discriminatory hi-res visual observation, built on zero doubtful theory. If we look, we will see what we find. That doesn’t require extraordinary evidence, even if drawing potential conclusions from the eventual imperfect evidence might. The claim is a demand for more evidence.

The real issue with the second bullet is the taboo created by the first bullet that degenerately skews the search for and the interest in new science.

And, lots more whataboutery from Schermer … about convergent evolution and long-run explanations of god-like intelligence and multiverses. Too smug and self-promoting for me. Exactly as with the anthropic / teleological inevitability / pan-psychist taboos. This is my main agenda – science leading itself (and the rest of the science-led world) astray by an orthodox scientism.

I’m with Loeb. I’d fund visual observation illuminated by our solar system on a par with whacky theoretical-based endeavours like dark matter and dark energy searches. The theory of visual observation is pretty sound, without extraordinary evidence. (And I would share Loeb’s impatience with Schermer’s attempt at misdirecting the interview agenda early on.)

Sounds like intelligent readers are on-side. Here is the review from The New Statesman:

“The book is not so much a claim for one object as an argument for a more open-minded approach to science – a combination of humility and wonder”

It’s almost as if Schermer is deliberately interpreting “interstellar visitor” to necessarily be, or be a product of, an extraterrestrial intelligent being. Whereas, Loeb’s point is wouldn’t it be cool if it was, and anyway it would be really easy to observe future “visitors”, so we should. Anyone open-minded would agree.

(Sounds like an interesting autobiographical memoir included in the book, Spinozan theology and more. Might be worth a read for meta-reasons.)


[Post Note: The object Oumuamua is the subject of the original extraterrestrial speculation.]

[And click-bait closer to home:

And from the generally considered slow-news channel Tortoise.]

Wittgenstein’s Bath Mat

Mopping up a few notes from my reading of Cheryl Misak’s biography of Frank Ramsey … and came across one gem that should rival Wittgenstein’s Poker.

She gives us Wittgenstein’s Bath Mat.

Others, including Anthony Gottlieb’s review in the New Yorker, also highlight this little story:

“Lettice [Frank’s widow] and Wittgenstein stayed on friendly terms after Ramsey died, until one day she threw out his old bathmat and, outraged, he cut her off. As she remarked, he made ‘a moral issue out of absolutely everything.'”

(Actually, a bloody good review that, from Gottlieb,
as you’d expect. Worth reading in its own right

Only Love is Unforgotten

Must be getting sentimental in my old age, but I’ve just watched Seasons 1 & 2 of “Unforgotten” (6 Ep’s each) over two long evenings this weekend on Netflix. Not sure how we missed them when first broadcast back in 2015, but I guess we don’t watch that much ITV. (See post note re Seasons 3 & 4)

Lots of reasons it’s a genre we like in TV crime dramas, probably going back to the Nordic Noirs  (The Killing we watched in the original Norwegian in Norway) and peaking in the likes of Line of Duty (and culminating most recently in the Icelandic Valhalla Murders) but Unforgotten is pretty special. Pretty obviously convoluted multi-threaded whodunnit’s at root, as old as Agatha Christie – more gruesome crimes, victims, suspects, motives and opportunities than you can shake a stick at. Yet, full of love.

Unforgotten has some obvious attractions for me and as a UK drama generally. Lots of 70’s and 80’s London cultural locations today and, thanks to the passage of time since the original crimes, lots of picture postcard drone shots of wider UK locations – Southend, Cambridge, Brighton, Salisbury, etc so far. They had me at the pub venues.

Seasons 1 and 2 had deep social issues (racism and homophobia in S1 and child-abuse in S2) behind the historical crimes. (I was at the anti-nazi-league rallies in London in the mid to late 70’s – got me again – the daily IRA threat in London, Vine Street and the “Old Main Drag” experienced only through the Shane MacGowan lyric – there but for the grace.)

And through all of that, the really striking aspect of Unforgotten is the people. The stories, the scripts, the actors – the A-list casts – and their acting. Police caring for each other in the office day job really stands out; caring for the victims and the criminals as victims; the victims and criminals as family members. Everyone is someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, partner, brother, sister. No-one is exempt from dealing with a problem from a difficult past.

The forensic aspects of decades old cold-cases are an obvious – but light-touch – element. The thing that cements Unforgotten into a coherent whole is the humanity, the care, the love. Need to make space for seasons 3 and 4.


Post Note:

Season 3 (6 Eps) – not quite as good, slight wobble in the believability of the police incompetence story line as Cassie makes a blunder that leads to a death (and doesn’t get suspended)? And her “overworked & married to the job” personal life gets a bit cliched? Though even her blunder fits the “positive” non-cynical overall vibe – a genuine mistake, not punished. But, generally still very good in terms of cast, script, acting and the atmosphere of love – despite the twist of real evil in this one – to the very end. (The high drone shots around the victim’s grave becoming a bit of a signature meme.)

(Season 4 (6 Eps) – will watch in 2 blocks of 3 once broadcast. No spoilers please.)

Misak on Ramsey – the Best Consequences of a Life Lived

Having finished “Frank Ramsey – A Sheer Excess of Powers” by Cheryl Misak (2020) this is a round-up review. I have a particular interest in the topic, in my Ramseyian take on Wittgenstein, which made it an especially satisfying read for me, but as a read I cannot rate it highly enough.

The evocation of the times and the players living in the 1920’s Cambridge-Bloomsbury-Vienna triangle is a joy throughout. Apart from the chapters on his childhood and earlier schooldays prior to Winchester, and the final chapter on the expressions of grief and the consequences of his sudden and early death, the book is packed with discussion of Ramsey’s ideas in mathematics, economics and philosophy and their interplay with the other intellectual giants of his all too short days.

I’ve already blogged several posts in the course of reading, and already indicated that, even as a biography, it really serves as a reference work / textbook to be read and referenced many more times. Previously:

Ramseyian Pragmatism”.
A Vienna Interlude“.
The Hypocrisy of Debate“.
Ramsey, Wittgenstein, Gödel and the rest”.

I don’t intend to add a lot more here …

Ramsey’s worldview serves as an excellent obituary from my perspective. Misak provides her own obituary for Ramsey, concluding the final chapter of the biography with a selection of his own words, but on the preceding page we find her own summary:

“His own approach [to the meaning of life] was in line with the rest of his philosophy. We can evaluate the best of the various outlooks on life and see which have the best consequences. In his assessment, the key to meaning in life is to be optimistic, thrilled, and actively try to improve conditions for people now and in the future. Live as fully and ethically as you can, was his conclusion. Ramsey understood that [for most people] inequalities get in the way of being thrilled by life. He put much effort into making the world a fairer place.”

I’m still left with wondering what represents the best collected Ramsey works for the 21st C. Clearly Braithwaite did the most in 1930 & 31 but as Misak points out he frequently made his own interpretations that missed Ramsey’s true trajectory in a world distracted by Wittgenstein and The Vienna Circle. Mellor published more in the 1978 & 1990. Equally clearly Misak has done the most to elucidate Ramsey’s legacy since her 2016 “Cambridge Pragmatism – from Peirce & James to Ramsey & Wittgenstein“. As a careful academic work Misak (2020) has an excellent bibliography, but I wonder if there is a Ramsey Reader in the pipeline?

Such an excellent read I’m left wanting more.


Next up – another fix of 1920’s/30’s philosophical intrigue:

David Edmonds (2020)
“The Murder of Professor Schlick
– The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle”