Meta (Really) is the Word

I remarked that at the turn of the 2nd millennium, when most of the world was focussed on the eponymous bug, that The Economist had declared “Meta is the Word” for start of the 3rd millennium. I’ve emphasised several times that Meta is a key aspect of my whole agenda, here a 2011 reference. It resonated with me back in Y2K because it had become clear in my business information modelling day job that we were really meta-modelling the architecture of such models – and further meta-meta-modelling those ad infinitum – meta is a dimension, a direction, not a single layer.

Jonathan Rowson referred to our “meta-crisis” in a post on his Perspectiva blog in which he coined his “Tasting the Pickle” metaphor (or meme maybe). Just a couple of days ago I recorded having bookmarked this piece (one of many bookmarks, below), I can see it’s important, but haven’t had enough attention time to read it closely enough to get my head around it, yet.

Last night and today Jacob Kishere reminded me when he tweeted a reference to the meta-crisis as a meta-meme, when I didn’t immediately recognise he was referring to the same “meme” until he posted a second Jonathan link to his Medium blog.

Ironically, Jacob’s tweet was to express frustration that Jonathan’s call to arms had inexplicably failed to gain traction. Anyway dots joined-up even if I’ve no more immediate bandwidth to pick up that traction. For now:

[Aside – rough thoughts based on skims so far:

I suspect I completely agree with Jonathan about the meta-dimension of our current “crisis” being epistemic, educational and even spiritual (in some subjective, not entirely objective, sense). This is true almost independent of the explicit content of the current specific “crisis” topic

I suspect I will be disagreeing about the “emergency” timescale implicit in it being a crisis. It runs very deep, so deep and all-pervasive it’s meta to every specific example issue, very significant in terms of the ultimate high stakes in play – “our very rationality is at stake” to quote myself. Critical in terms of importance and priorities and escalating exponentially in terms of the speed of communications cycles (viral, memetic)- but happening over decades and centuries in physical, terrestrial and human lifecycles. Importance and urgency are orthogonal. Meta-urgent because it is VERY important, not because of any “scientifically” predicted “last chance” or “emergency” timescales.

PS what do you guys make of Rupert Read’s “extinction rebellion” take?]

Classifying an Unread Book

Mentioned just a couple of days ago another addition to Eco’s library of unread books (Mark Solms’ “The Hidden Spring“).

Also picked-up today, because it was in stock at our local bookshop, Carlo Rovelli’s latest “Helgoland“.

I expected it to be in stock, as it’s gone straight onto the Time’s bestseller list, otherwise I wasn’t desperately seeking to read it amongst other immediate priorities. Since I’ve read everything Carlo has published in (English-translated) book form I feel I already share his metaphysics, and wasn’t sure I would get anything fundamentally new from (yet another) popular story of quantum physics, other than the fact he’s always a good read.

“Physics has found its poet”
John Banville.

Actually, my wife tried to pick it up for me a couple of days ago, but despite knowing they had it in stock, they couldn’t find it on the shelves. No-one in the shop was quite sure how they’d classified it.

Given my good fences agenda (the way we classify – discriminate between – things in the ontology of our world, based on our metaphysical understanding of reality) it tickled me that Carlo’s book was hard to classify. Whilst there obviously is a reality independent of us as individuals, the model, our knowledge of that reality is not independent of humans or our history.

Reading the free online copies of the introductory chapter we already know the story starts with Werner Heisenberg choosing to live on the island of Helgoland (aka Heligoland in English). Indeed, the cover blurb says as much, and there have been plenty of interviews accompanying publication – it’s no secret.

Full marks to The Guisborough Bookshop for classifying this popular science under biography. No physics – quantum or otherwise – without its human story.

Everyday Story of Caring Colleagues

I mentioned Line of Duty once before, when reviewing Unforgotten, and I don’t intend to add to the screeds written about the low key final episode of series 6. It was low-key, but it was nevertheless genius. Brilliant by Jed Mercurio and the team.

Fits my own story of what makes reality tick at several levels.

Firstly, clearly, though maybe less obviously than with Unforgotten, most of the story is about the interpersonal relationships within the team, crucially that they care for each other, even when no longer part of the actual team. With Unforgotten the main point is that the care extends to the “unforgotten” victims and the victims friends and family, no matter how cold the case. With Line of Duty the obvious focus is police corruption and involvement with organised crime – the point of AC10 – but even there we have the sense that some of those tangled-up in it are themselves victims, at least partially, with complex relationships to the crimes (and errors.) Also explains why so many viewers took to their hearts the “minor” characters in each series, like Chloe, the new team member in series 6 who did most of the leg-work in digging-up evidence and connections received as “good work” by Arnott, Fleming and Hastings. So care for, love of, fellow man is at the heart of it, saint or sinner.

Secondly there is the expectation of simplistic objective causality – it’s institutionalised in modern western rationality, well beyond any institution like the police force or government. Somehow a big crime drama needs a criminal mastermind conclusion with clear causal logic and motivation directing the institutional conspiracy. As ever most is cock-up and imperfect competence amidst institutional circumstance and inertia. The big crime is that “we” still deny this reality in wishfully directing blame. Our crime is in misguided expectations of rational reality.

We need “good fences“.

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[Post Notes:

Major meme circulating that Jimmy Nesbitt deserves a BAFTA for his role as the prime Mr Big suspect. A role which ironically consists of appearing as two photos and already as a corpse on a crime-scene video, with no speaking or acting part throughout the whole of series 6. Again brilliant by Mercurio. Obviously the BAFTA must go to Chloe (Shalom Brune-Franklin).

As to the apparently burning question of a series 7? Well life goes on, the future is open, anything with the realms of possibility is possible. Plenty of hooks left in the ending. Who needs a clearer answer?]

 

Free-Will – Returning a High-Class Tennis Serve

There are lots of unnecessary (*) myths about free-will, and I tend to espouse free-won’t variants in response to misleading interpretations of Libet. Some people use the repeatability of a golfer’s putt, I regularly use the thought experiment of imagining being able to return the serve from a high-class tennis player (after Daniel Wegner, just one example here.)

Well, forget the thought experiment, here’s the real thing

Knowing his opponent from previous battles (and no doubt studying others), Agassi has his strategy worked-out for predicting where he’s going to need to move to have any chance of returning Becker’s serve. All those previous calculations and stored memories are reduced to a “single most-significant bit” of information in the moment before his opponent unleashes. Leaving a moment in which to “tune” his response to a choice between a couple of pre-planned moves. The position of his tongue.

As well as this supervisory fine-tuning – the free-won’t model (mostly semi-automated feed-forward with inhibiting, guiding, permissive feed-back controls) –  there are also two very obvious aspects of game theory in there too. Firstly the repeated prior encounters, fundamental to evolving the strategy and the tactical choices. And the tuning of the bluff to disguise the existence of the strategy in order to limit the opponent learning from your response – and thereby reducing the value of that hard-won “bit” of information.

Lots of mind behaviour prior to motor action (including speech) involves anticipatory gaming of options and outcomes, but that’s a longer story about mind generally.

Also the left-right brain (McGilchrist, Master and Emissary) aspect in the fact that even that explicit return choice can be so well rehearsed it is also largely subconscious at the time, despite being overtly rational before and afterwards. The metaphor of the athlete like a well-oiled machine. The high-level consciousness can be looking out for the unexpected events or tricks from the opponent … or the crowd, or pigeons on the court or whatever.

Agassi’s own will is in total control of his best actions, even though there is absolutely no way all the intricacies can be “calculated” in the immediate decision to return the serve. And of course he could be further gaming us all in that ATP interview 😉

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[(*) unnecessary because conscious will is no mystery – IMHO.]

[Post Note: I did read the “Arousal and Information” appendix in Mark Solm’s book – previous post. Apart from obviously espousing an information-based model of mind and consciousness, this formally extends patterns of consciousness across the full  range of “arousal” from dead, dormant or comatose to fully present, alert and wilful. A recognition that conscious-ness is many different levels of behaviour, even simultaneously – no need to stumble over lack of agreement on a single definition. Will probably have to read the main chapters on the arousal axis.]

Prince, the Director’s Cut

Been sharing the YouTube video of the wonderful Prince performance with Tom Petty et al at the 2004 Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison, ever since I first came across it. As recently as 2018 I created a longer post linking this to videos of his SuperBowl gig (and more) – “Perfection in Performance” I called it.

Always been intrigued by him throwing-off the guitar over his head as the final act.

Well, as of this month there is a new director’s cut of the same recording with more focus on Prince himself – the body language, smiles and glances shared with the band are all there to see – TP and especially Dhani who is clearly loving the whole thing.

Still can’t see the join at the end,
who catches the guitar or where it ends up?

[Hat tip to Adam Jacob for Tweeting the new link.]

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[Post Note: It seems the “throwing-off” of the guitar is legendary. Kinda obvious he must be throwing it to his roadie / minder, but in the original video it seems just to go vertically up – can’t imagine where you’d have to be to catch it. More obvious in the director’s cut that it goes forward too, and he does casually look down to see it’s safe before sauntering off – I used to think he was just clicking off a foot-pedal. And in this video, once you know the story, you can see two guys in front of the stage joking with someone who could easily be Oprah being handed it in the front row.

Google is your friend as ever. Probably deliberate good editing that the mystery remains in the video(s).]

A remarkable book. It changes everything.

Busy, Busy, Busy.

Mentioned strange times regarding work-load and productivity a few posts ago; my pipeline stuffed with unread bookmarks and unresolved references, and a to-do-list with at least seven dimensions of priorities to juggle, personally and professionally. Not exactly “treading water”, but difficult to discern progress going anywhere. Ironic that the immediately previous Wittgensteinian post (and comments) ends up focussed on what we mean by progress anyway.

Bridgehead Re-established

So for now, this is a bit of a housekeeping clear-out.

The topic I need to focus on in this Psybertron context is essentially the disfiguring effects of identity politics and political correctness on human rationality which in turn drive and/or limit the progress of humanity – working title “Good Fences” as I mentioned a couple of days ago. But obviously that also comes with a model of understanding what we (should) mean by rationality and progress. A normative ethical question, not a technical problem.

Lots of holding links in that post, but two others popped-up already today. The place of Cybernetics in my journey through this landscape since 2002, last summarised in 2012. That is itself linked in this Jan 2021 post where I was looking for a hero for this story – John Doyle in (human) systems thinking and Jay Rosen in journalism. Cybernetics and communications.

So those two paragraphs are essentially a placeholder for what I need to focus on – at least as far as my personal reading & writing priorities are concerned, ignoring other dimensions of my to-do list. What I need to clear out for now (even if eventually linked cogently into the above) is as follows:

Eco’s Library

I left my review of “The Murder of Professor Schlick” hanging at the mid-point, the peak of logical positivism in the Vienna Circle (the Ernst Mach Society). Suffice to say the fall of the Circle continues to be a great read, so David Edmonds book is highly recommended. I won’t however be adding to my brief review of it.

Schlick is however the last book I actually read.

As well as the backlog of bookmarks (see busy, above) I have a pile of unread and unreviewed books acquired during 2020, and several more arrived (still arriving) since. No more an untidy pile on the nightstand, but a whole temporary filing box on which the lid can no longer close. Out of courtesy, and as part of being organised, I should probably at least list them, but maybe not.

No photo description available.

No shame in a library of unread books says Umberto Eco; books acquired for good reasons, to have as references when the moments arise, but still valued as friends, given houseroom.

The Hidden Spring

Here one example for now, a review of an unread book, in fact a book I’ve not even read any other reviews of nor seen referenced by others. I bought Marks Solms’ “The Hidden Spring” on the strength of seeing him give an on-line talk mentioned here.

As usual I’ve been skimming the bibliography, index, references and endnotes and I find so many references I already consider my own primary sources, that I can in all conscience recommend it without reading it, for now.

Does he mention my hero Dennett? Yes he does, three times in the index, two of which are endnote references, and no specific bibliography references – not the three decades old Consciousness Explained!

Ashby to Zeman via Chalmers, Conway, Crick, Davies, Edelman, Ellis, England, Friston, Humphrey, Kurzweil, Markov, Nagel, Panksepp, Posner, Pribram, Rovelli, Shannon, Skinner, Sperry, Strawson & Tononi, including Damasio, Ramchandran & Sacks on abnormal brains and the “Free-Won’t” take on Libet – hooray. 100 pages of endnotes and index. All the ingredients are there.

One especially intriguing appendix entitled “Arousal and Information”

Quite a few of the usual illustrious suspects in the cover blurb recommendations including my favourite Brian Eno “A remarkable book. It changes everything.” I will no doubt read Solms one day, but can rest easy on other priorities for now, one of which is no doubt that memetically catchy appendix.

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Those deleted bookmarks, in no particular order:

Joshua Rosenberg on the Grainger test of “belief”.
(In the context of the Maya Forstater employment tribunal appeal.)

Robin Hill on the Philosophy of Computer Science at the APA.

Philip Goff on improbability as non-evidence for any multiverse at SCIAM.

Goldenfeld, Biancalani & Jafarpour on universal biology and the statistical mechanics of early life at the Royal Society.

Ed Gibney on the atheists place in sacred naturalism at Patheos.

Jussi Jylkka on consciousness as a concrete physical phenomenon at Elsevier.

My own placeholder for a SubStack version of my future blog?

Bob Doyle as the “Information Philosopher” with a massive on-line resource of his information philosophy takes on philosophers, scientists and ideas – originally picked-up on his Frank Ramsey page.

Council planning materials on Ye Lower Ship pub in Reading acquired by Sam Smith in 1991 and never opened since! (Don’t ask).

Tim O’Connor’s web pages – following a YouTube link I can no longer find. (Interesting combination of Free Will, Emergence and Theism.)

What Three Words geolocation paradigm, where my question is how its 3m resolution handles the often much larger discrepancy (more than a kilometer (!)in some parts of the world) between the default Google Map and available Satellite images – basically what frame of reference is W3W fixed to – the default Google Map isn’t accurate to that resolution?

Deborah Soh on Gender Identity – a recurring “identity politics” topic here- prompted by recent reference by Mark Hammonds.

Leeds Skelton Lake new M1 motorway services – latest venture in the multi-billionaire Issa brothers retail empire – a fascination of mine.

Jonathan Rowson’s “Tasting the Pickle: Ten flavours of meta-crisis and the appetite for a new civilisation” (See progress in civilisation.)

Lise Eliot sticking to the PC Identity politics that male and female brains do not differ significantly at Conversation. (Tweeted response, but no takers, despite many retweets.)

Holman Jenkins in WSJ on our Epistemological Crisis re climate change after Obama, in book by his chief scientist Steve Koonin. (Separate but see also that fake climate change evidence that made it to our BBC screens daytime TV)

Jonathan Egid in New Humanist reviewing Tim Williamson’s “Doing Philosophy” – if philosophy isn’t science than what is it, implying it should be?

Michael Rosen on the word “Denier” also in New Humanist.

Randy Gallistel with a whacky suggestion on SubStack that some mysterious calculating stuff actually exists in neurons. Too whacky, but …

Patrick Casey piece on “Group Identity” in Discourse, shared on Teesside SitP Facebook page, to which I replied positively regarding my Good Fences “identity” agenda.

Piece by Ian Taylor and Jon Butterworth “bluffers guide” on the recent Fermilab story about a brand new force of nature. I remain sceptical, but Jon knows his stuff.

1993 piece by Roger Kimball in New Criterion on the “perversions of Foucault”

Hans Sluga blogged recent counter-story to suggestions Foucault was a paedophile. (Foucault useful to my agenda metaphysically, whatever misuse is made of his “queer theory” social agenda.)

Economist piece on China aims to change identity of groups – eg Christian or Uigyur groups. More Identity Politics.

Chris Beckett’s Fiction  – 2019 two-tribes story outline on day of its 2021 paperback publication. One to add to the book list.

Keith Frankish on why panpsychism is probably wrong in The Atlantic. (Interacted on Twitter)

Donald Hoffman on “Realism is False” at The Edge.

Bernado Kastrup on why materialists cannot deny consciousness from IAI

Friston et al in MPDI on Markovian Monism / Markov blanket, entropy and information theory?

Paul Murphy on Hacker vs Williamson on the Meta-Philosophy of Philosophy.

John Horgan in SCIAM on the Rise of Neo-Geocentrism. Anthropic perspective maybe?

Angela Saini in Nature on objectivity vs subjectivity in science. (Someone I’ve disagreed with before, could be interesting.)

Wanja Wiese on why consciousness simply needs a minimal unifying view.

Katsrup on the irony of Goff.

Robert Pepperell on Consciousness as the “organisation of energy” in Frontiers in Psychology. Like it.

Francois Vannucci on Einstein’s two mistakes in The Conversation. Includes that Flammarion 1888 woodcut where earth meets sky.

Philip Ball on the epidemiology of mis-information in Prospect. Sounds like memetics.

Briana Toole on Standpoint Epistemology at Cambridge. No knowledge is independent of human perspective?

Robin Varghese on what Hofstadter got wrong in 3 Quarks Daily. Intriguing.

Issabella Sarto-Jackson on evolutionary epistemology within EES

Chiara Marletto interviewed by Logan Chipkin on constructor theory at IAI.

Ray Monk on G E Moore – disappearance of most revered philosopher, in Prospect.

Uller and Laland on evolutionary causation at MIT – add to booklist.

Shelly Fan hyper on Koch empirical brain testing of two consciousness theories at Singularity Hub

Adam Frank on Minding Matter (one of my own constructions) at Aeon.

Ole Peters on Egodicity in Nature Physics.

Kevin Hartnett on Navier Stokes in Quanta (and many more at this link)

Dan Falk in Undark on failure of astronomy discoveries

Goldstein interviewed by Richard Marshall in  3:16am on Plato, Godel, Spinoza and Ahab

Ford Doolittle on Gaia for 21st C in Aeon

Peter Vickers is panpsychism pure speculation at IAI (Ew – “science-first philosopher”.)

The Raven – magazine of philosophy.

Phew – done.
Used top use a bookmarking tool for that – why did I stop?

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Wittgenstein Today

Being Wittgenstein’s birthday, reminded me that, at the end of last week, I’d listened to a 2015 Royal Institute of Philosophy talk “Why Wittgenstein Matters” by Ian Ground.

Sadly audio only, even though the speaker uses a few slides that we don’t see, but a very interesting talk. Partly about the importance of Witt in terms of his distorting effect on philosophy generally, but also a good summary of what his most important thoughts actually were.

Main reason for posting the link now is that the reminders reminded me I’d noticed in the side-bar to the above another Witt “RIoP” lecture by Rupert Read of a similar vintage.

Now I am prejudiced against RR thanks to his extremist Extinction Rebellion / end-of-civilisation links, and one particular experience of his unpleasant interaction on an IAI “How The Light Gets In” panel. But I had noticed he was a Witt scholar, and in fact has a book out in 2021 “Wittgenstein’s Liberatory Philosophy”. So I guess I should listen to what he actually has to say bout Witt. (He has done more talks / interviews to support his book publication, but this predates that.)

He’s clearly already on his anti-technological-progress agenda. New technological innovation isn’t progress, economic growth or development isn’t progress – no arguments there. Scientism isn’t the solution to all our problems – the source of all progress – in the real world – agreed, absolutely.

Problem for me is he seems to be advocating the opposite – explicitly advocating against these. Justifying his anti-establishment, destructive, anarchic, rebellion. No argument we need more enlightened values of what progress could and should be. A proper conservative ecologism, as opposed to neo-libertarianism, as opposed to economic “sustainability”. Seems we may agree strategically (aims of conservative values) even if I’d disagree on destructive tactics. But it is indeed memetic – rescuing our minds from dominating, infectious ideologies that have become part of received wisdom. Anti-establishment in that sense. It is where Wittgenstein fits.

Flourishing, wisdom … what’s not to like.

I need to give Read more time and credence.

Identity and Logical Positivism

Convergence of every topic in every post is making it difficult to maintain coherence – understandability – in what I’m posting recently, and the main reason I need to take a step back and create a more coherent whole piece of writing. Individual posts either take too much for granted to be intelligible, or are so padded with background pre-amble and digression (like this one 🙂 ) that the actual point(s) is(are) lost.

Whatever the public, extrinsic topic, some form of identity politics / political correctness angle is in there, screwing with honest rational views, screwing with any wise balance between scientism and subjectivity, which in turn screws with humanity’s chances of sustainable progress, no less. (Our very rationality is at stake, as I’ve published before.)

[Cue – Good Fences needs to be written.]

Purely coincidentally – though obviously synchronicitously (?) – as well as noting several recent posts (sex, gender, race, whatever the neuro-atypical topic, say here and here and the Dawkins / AHA fiasco) I found myself reading this old post of mine from 2003 “Blinded by the Light #2.

In Rory Remer’s opening paragraph, both identity and logical positivism !(How little did I know then? – More recent / typical writings on those two topics here: identity politics and logical positivism.)

For a while 2001 to 2005 I was confused that my research was a set of overlapping ripples in ever increasing circles doomed to be inconclusive. Clearly sometime between 2003 and 2015-ish the convergence of ever decreasing circles became total and since then, to this day, I’ve been doing little but treading water. There is absolutely nothing new under the sun, ’twas ever thus.

“Just write something!” as the psychiatric therapist advised Robert Pirsig.