Speakeasy – Dialogue is Dirty Work

Two topics came together over the weekend. I’ve been reviewing the recent UK Human Rights Commission guidelines on freedom of expression (FoE) in higher education, and this morning I picked-up on a piece by Jacob Kishere reviewing his Rise of the Intellectual Dark Web a year on. Coincidentally the latter edited by Angelos Sofocleous who himself “fell foul” of use of free-speech recently and has been talking on the topic.

I’ll come later to some specifics in the Human Rights guidance. But for now, I welcome it, if only for the fact it turns out to be a quite large and complex document – 54 pages as a PDF. It’s consistent with the fact that the comments I’ve seen from the free-speech zealots complaining that it’s unclear, despite all the verbiage, when it comes to detailed rules beyond the basic freedom. But this is my recurring point, that the rule may be simple, but the exceptions are neither simple nor objective. No amount of logically objective detail resolves the fact and that makes the exceptions more important to understand than the basic rule. Rules are for guidance of the wise, not for application by logicians 😉 So as I’ve said, that’s promising.

As well as the subjectively indeterminate complexity of valid limitations to free speech – of which I’ve written much more – the key problem boils down to “offense”. No-one has the right not to be offended, and anyone may offend by their free-speech, but there is no open-ended obligation-free right to offend. Apart from the enormous upsides of communication of and about any and all ideas, the negative aspects boil down to this issue, and the fact it can never be definitively defined.

When causing offense, you need to be seen to care about the offended, and you inherit a duty to resolve any offence. Which is where, however self-aggrandising the name, IDW comes in. Life’s too short to conduct every dialogue in public, with the maximum potential for uninvolved bystander offence – or misunderstanding – to be clarified, justified and resolved. Sometimes you have to be able to “speak-easy” with people who already understand the context of, and have skin in the game of making progress in, the particular discussion being had. This way progressive dialogue is possible. Conducting dialogue in controlled circumstances is caring about those potentially affected by it. Reassuringly Jacob’s latest piece is entitled “IDW – A Prelude to the Future of Dialogue” and right from the off is identifying the lack “willingness to do the dirty work of dialogue” amongst those who lament limitations to progress in their SJW agendas.

Pretty much everything I’ve written under my “Rules of Engagement” banner is about achieving constructive dialogue. Anyone providing a platform or a “safe space” for conversation has the right – an obligation – to enforce such rules, though as ever, every decision to enforce is balance of values between the upside and the potential offense and limitations. No matter how much we emphasise the upside, it never gets any easier than that. Totally open and transparent platforms – like social media – are distorted by no end of psychological games, bubbles and biases, as Kishere notes.

Reading the whole of the FoE Guidance, I find only mild disagreements of emphasis. One quirk, for example, is that for the overarching principle it refers to the European Court of Human Rights, where I would have though the UN Declaration would have carried more universal weight and less irrelevant European distraction.

Whilst it correctly and repeatedly identifies the values of respect and tolerance at the root of handling exceptions, all the explicit guidance on limitations are legal references. In a sense, I guess they would have been criticised as overstepping their authority if they weren’t, but these legal instruments arose from cases being set by judgement. Since the rules (laws) covering exceptions can never be definitive, it is important that the principles are understood. All future cases will depend on judgement and meta-judgement – judging whether judgment had been applied by organisers, speakers and participants.

Dialogue is dirty work and we need people prepared to do it. It comes with rules that require effort to understand and apply. Opinions are ten-a-penny, but progressive dialogue is a precious commodity.

Consciousness – a Conversation

Started a short conversation with Steve Turnbull after I responded positively to a tweeted question from Martin Robinson on whether mind could be explained by “materialism”. (The conversation follows in the embedded twitter thread below:)

I’m not one for “isms” but definitions aside, it remains clear that mind is a naturally evolved part of the physical world – its not supernatural or in any way “independent” of physical nature. There are plenty of modern (ie 21st C) thinkers who support that and I’ve explored them at length here in forming my “res informatica” view – a (kinda) pan-proto-psychism, a dual-aspect-monism or a trialism. Anyway Steve pointed to a short essay he’d done.

After the all usual arguments referring to all the usual suspects – [including my pet hate, a 30 year old (!!!) reference to Dennett’s “Consciousness (not) Explained”, the height of ignorance IMHO for not having read his later “B2BnB” – he’s a living philosopher FFS!] – we get to his conclusions. Let’s focus on some wishful aims we can agree on, rather than the – difficult – rational arguments:

“[I] sense that consciousness may be the bridge between science and the kind of ‘post-religious’ spirituality envisioned by Einstein through which we are able to experience a deep sense of interconnectedness between ourselves and the wider universe, the space remains open to build this. But if we think we can do so on the ‘sure’ ground of materialism I suspect we may have to think again.”

Steve Turnbull

Me too. I agree. Absolutely.
And I have thought, again (and again)(and again).

After much deep consideration I do consider the hard-problem to be a non-existent pseudo-problem and that natural explanations do exist. The hard part remains getting more people to see that. And the reason for that is a kind of prejudiced expectation about the “materialist” (empirical) nature of the explanation. The physical (material) has exactly the same relationship with the metaphysical as does the mental (spiritual); neither is privileged. EXCEPT we experience subjectively. We obviously experience BOTH subjectively however, with the material, we – deliberately – discount our subjective experience in the model we’ve constructed – called physics. For the mental …. we don’t …. there’s no reason to, we already experience it as it is.

The ground of materialism is no more (or less) sure than the ground of the spiritual. They’re equally sure. Equally grounded. Thereafter they have co-evolved and are causally intertwined. Where’s the mystery? Where’s the conundrum?

That gap being bridged, I tend to call the “humanity of the gaps”. It’s humanity that has created the empirical discount between the world and our experience of the world. Thereafter it is simply become widely accepted received wisdom to focus on the physical model of the world as if it were the world. No mystery. The conundrum lies with regular good-old-fashioned materialists.

[More reference links to be added, if the conversation progresses? Need also to finish and publish my draft on idealism-materialism-panpsychism following Mumford on Russell’s metaphysics. Include Kastrup refs if it helps?]

[PS – also listened to the Nous podcast of Ilan Goodman interviewing Ray Tallis, suggested by Martin. Also falls into the “more of the same old arguments by the same old suspects” for me, sorry. Not remotely “leading edge”.]

Housekeeping Progress 2019

I rather grandly announced some housekeeping on my on-line activities back in September 2018, partly to clear some space for some new commitments, and partly because I had escalating ongoing costs for all sorts of things I’d set-up for various projects over the years, now in various states of redundancy.

It’s been quite painful disentangling dependencies between different server and domain, contents and functionality, particularly since the Psybertron content represents something very important to me and I needed to proceed very cautiously so as not to accidentally do something I couldn’t fully restore from.

Quite a lot of the housekeeping has been at pretty high-level, disentangling dependencies and synchronisations between Google and Windows systems, email, apps and desktops, all of which incur costs. That is almost complete.

So far so good at lower levels too. Last night I migrated all(!) mySQL databases to a cloud-shared server space – and it looks like functionality and performance have been maintained. Tonight I will be migrating all other blog, mail, archive and static content on all domains – which use those databases to navigate and manage – to a single new more compact virtual server. I’ve taken back-ups, obviously, but fingers-crossed for a smooth transition.

Mentioned before that I remain sold on WordPress for content management even if for primary blog-posting I may switch to something like Medium for their enlightened rewards model. (So far I’ve never made or sought to make any income out of my writing, I should add.)

Anyway, big shout out to Dreamhost who continue to provide absolutely top-notch service for my mix of main publishing and assorted prototyping projects, from mainstream dashboard functionality of WordPress and Dreamhost to my uncertain dabblings at PHP, MySQL, FTP and BASH command-line admin levels. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I’ve been running servers at Dreamhost for 13 years and, whether through their ticketing or chat systems, they have never let me down. I’ve even set up and managed additional servers and users for third-party projects in that time. Any actual outages of their systems affected me maybe 2 or 3 times in that period but there’s never been a problem they couldn’t help me solve inside half-a-day. In almost all cases issues have been software conflicts at the WordPress Plugin level or my own uncertainties at lower system levels. No problem too small, no question too dumb. 10/10 top notch service as I say.

Check-out Dreamhost and wish me luck for tonight’s migration.

[UPDATE 31 Jan 2019: Success. All running smoothly on a new slimmed-down server arrangement. Not without a major scare along the way.

I have 8 or 10 domains of which psybertron.org is the largest, most active and most important to me content-wise. After migrating all my content, all domains, all directories, it takes a while for the updated DNS (web addressing) to propagate out across the internet but all domains except psybertron seemed to up and running within half an hour. Was the larger domain with the most global web links simply taking longer? No, it was simply that one helpful tech had renamed the main psybertron directory whilst diagnosing why I was getting server errors. The original directory was itself entirely empty – 18 years of investment in content nowhere to be seen! Heart attack averted by simply renaming the directory where the content – hundreds of thousands of files and sub-directories – was in fact safe. Phew!]

Dan Brown Origin Plot Spoiler

I wrote many different posts on the significance of Dan Brown’s 2017 “Origin”. (Probably the simplest summary here.)

However I kept forgetting where I’d captured the key plot twist that many who claim to have read it appear to have missed (in fact it is embedded in this post) so I thought I’d cut, paste and reformat it here with an explicit “Plot Spoiler” heading:

The thriller plot suspense clearly hangs on the assumption of a church plot to suppress a triumph of science over god, but that’s the point of it being a thriller, it’s absolutely not what happens. The plot in fact rests on information scientist Edmund Kirsch and his AI “Winston” providing a natural explanation of a god-like driver in the trajectory of human evolution in the cosmos.

The only conspiracy is a publicity stunt by the scientists to frame the dark religious cult of the Palmarian Church for the assassination of the Kirsch, who is already dying and planning his own suicide. The assassination is a suicide set-up well telegraphed to the reader before the event. Pre-announcement of the alternative “science proves there is no god” conclusion directly to wider church leaders provides a credible but mis-directed premise for the highly public assassination some days before publishing the actual enlightened ending.

The apparent assassination of a scientist and the apparent suppression of anti-religious scientific publication are plot devices. The real conclusion is pure Blake:

“The dark religions are departed & sweet science remains.”

Science can banish the irrational dogmatic religion so that enlightened [science & religion] can flourish.

Psybertron on the Jeremy England Smackdown

NoBrexit End-Game

I posted my take on the “inevitable” Brexit end-game early-December last year, and so far it’s still going exactly to plan (aka the “cunning plan”) as far as I can see. The enormous defeat of May’s deal in the house is the defeat intended. Put simply, the best Brexit deal isn’t acceptable to anyone of any party-political colour or EU sentiment. May’s efforts have successfully proven this beyond doubt. The bigger the margin the clearer that is – not even any (many?) abstentions.

So what is the cunning plan? Parliament (only) to take action:

  1. Suspend or temporarily revoke Article 50 for (say) 3 to 5 years. (To give us all cross-party space for anything else we need to do.)
  2. Create a standing Constitutional (aka peoples) Assembly (CA) to take load off parliament.
  3. Allow parliament and government to focus on ongoing non-Brexit operational policy priorities. Health, Education, Eco-sustainability, Foreign policy, upcoming EU elections (!), etc. Business as usual.
  4. Brief for CA.
    1. Evolve it’s own constitution, processes and funding (voluntary service initially, mix of appointment & election, civil-services expenses) BUT key constraint is that however it functions / delegates / researches / debates, it can only recommend proposed plans to parliament – via normal party, committee, lobby processes – but “worked out” in sufficient detail and consensus in advance by the CA. CA has zero executive or legislative voting powers.
    2. Priority issues to address. “Proper-PR” electoral and government constitutional arrangements at all local, regional, national and international levels including EU relationship reforms not limited to all possible Brexit options, additional referenda (god-forbid) , whatever.
    3. EU / Brexit recommendations must be delivered to parliament in time for end of A50 suspension.

Take it away. You’re welcome.

Truth at Any Cost?

[Holding Draft – in progress. Links and arguments incomplete.]

When people cling to the idea of truth at any cost, I often find they are either misguided or have a hidden agenda. Misguided as to what truth actually is, or in their applying it in support of a specific agenda only. Often the misguidance is merely in the irrelevance of an un-contentious non-fact to the priority issue at hand. Politics is pragmatism. Many so-called lies are selective interpretations of historical intent, or description of future events beyond easy control, for wishful or fearful reasons. Real life is rhetorical.

I have three (five, many) discussions on the go that stall at this point.

Mike Sutton wishing to pronounce Darwin was a liar. To which I ask why would you want to say that? And his response is to continue bang on about the evidence for why it’s a fact. Missing the point of the question.

Steven Knight (GS – Godless Spellchecker) arguing with a conspiracy theorist about the facts of a cause of death, to which I tried to point out that the specific “cause” of death was irrelevant to the guilt of the murderer and irrelevant to that fact that he was indeed a conspiracy theorist. Arguing with a conspiracy theorist about facts promotes the conspiracy theorist. Again GS continues to argue with me on the truth or falsity of one phrase I used – quoting the conspiracy theorist (on that one point, not the cover-up conspiracy) in order to make the point that it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not. Missing the point.

Sputnik Steve wanting to damn an open ended list of teaching methods as entirely useless and reacting to my suggestion that some had some value – but were commonly misunderstood and misapplied to prescriptively.

And, beyond the three I had in mind when I started this draft there’s more:

@AOC making exactly my point that some focus too much on facts at the expense of the bigger picture. (To which opinion Mike Sutton responded ad-hominem and mis-construing my point, resulting in my blocking him.)

This Jamie Bartlett thread:

And finally adding to the “why call someone who tells an untruth a liar?”


[ Post Notes: More on the significance of lies and understanding the difference between “Rhetorical ‘lying’ in well-informed good-faith” and “‘careless’ bullshit”. Significant to this story particularly because Sutton avove invoked Harry Frankfurt’s definition of lying, without getting the point, unlike Kenan Malik and Jamie Bartlett (and @afneil ) who clearly do.


…. End, for now.]

Memetics – The Objectification Objection

I use memes / memetics as everyday language that fits with everyday social-mediated comms these days. How much #Brexit debate for example is about snappy branding of alternative solutions to the mess we’re in whether they are Unicorns or Norway models? How much smear or rhetorical marketing is involved in alt-naming of just about anything, January included? I’m so comfortable with “memetics” I tend to forget it’s an idea I’ve bought into that many still doubt or dismiss.

The meta-idea that ideas spread as part of cultural evolution is not contentious in itself and neither is the suggestion that much (most, if not all?) human evolution in the period we call “history” has been of this kind. The idea that naming – rhetorical choice of words – is part of that communication is hopefully equally non-contentious.

The contention seems to be two things. Firstly that, expressed in the common sense way above, the word “meme” doesn’t really add anything to the idea of an idea, so maybe it’s an unnecessary distraction to adopt the neologism. For me the only necessary response to that criticism is that it does give us (me) the shorthand of “memetics”

Memetics (abstract noun): the whole subject – content and processes – by which ideas evolve, are spread and adopted in use, in human culture.

(my working definition)

Can there be any more important topic? Brexit is a good idea, for example. I’d happily use an alternative term, but idealism or maybe just cultural-studies already seems to hold that field hostage? Personally I find the term “memetics” far more important to justify than “meme” itself, where “idea” is probably good enough.

Secondly, what really is in a name? More subtly, is the suggestion, that meme attempts to objectify what is essentially subjective. Ideas held in and communicated between human minds.

Part of the revulsion is the parallel with genes in biological evolution – surely physical and mental evolution must be different for these objective-subjective differences. Furthermore those “scientistic” people pushing genetic evolution and development as physical explanations for almost anything and everything are surely misguided in overlooking humanity in cultural evolution. Guilt by association? This really is just more of the mind-matter-stuff debate, but before we go there, let’s just stick to the objectivity – objects well-defined independently of human minds.

All I would say is that genes themselves are not as well defined objects as many suppose, independent of human conventions and purposes. There may be only four DNA bases, but the permutations of patterns is manifold on many levels. Exactly what defines the boundary of one thing we call a gene and another is moot and, like species themselves(!), a matter of human convention. This is a more general problem with identity and taxonomy within world ontologies which I call “Good Fences” – boundaries between objects of interest, defining those objects and classes of objects. They are NEVER independent of human purpose yet they remain invaluable, practically essential, to all human discourse about the real world (including humans as part of it). It might be considered unprofessional (unscientific / irrational / insane) in any field to talk without well defined objects of logic and argument.

The second part of the objectification objection is the sense in which memes are independent of humans when it comes to free-will / volition of thought and action. Dawkins selfish-gene (regrettable metaphor) extrapolated to selfish-meme by Sue Blackmore and adopted whole-heartedly by Dan Dennett and more. The metaphorical selfishness of a gene is harder to accept when the metaphor of self interest runs into the interests of our selves, both now at the mental level. As predicted, whether we give ideas the objective credibility of naming them memes OR NOT we run immediately into the physical-mental mind-matter, res-extensa / res-cogitans minefield and how much we want to argue these are distinct and/or related. (See dual-aspect-monism and res-informatica.)

The irony is that Dennett is using the independence of ideas (the physically-disembodied information-content of memes) as his explanation of how real consciousness and free-will arise in real human minds. He’s providing a natural evolutionary explanation of mind. He is using memes as independent objects in the process description of how thinking itself evolves. Memes no more have independent volition than electrons think. It doesn’t stop us talking about electrons. It shouldn’t stop us talking about memes as part of the processes of everyday, common-sense reality of our minds. They are as objective as any other terms we use for objects we deal with.

It’s not the first time I’ve paused to round-up my thoughts on memetics. This occasion was prompted by this thread of exchanges following this post from Martin Robinson:

Last time I tried a significant memetics round-up was in this review of Dennett “From Bacteria to Bach and Back, also published in New Humanist. Really must publish a definitive version of the Good Fences thesis.