All posts by Psybertron

Management is Much More Than a Science – is the title of the HBR piece tweeted by Tom Peters.

The 2001 version of my own Manifesto here on Psybertron contained this passage:

Real human enterprises succeed or fail through subjective, chaotic and seemingly irrational behaviour. Management gurus have been emphasising this whilst proclaiming revolution, paradigm shifts and the like, ever since management mistook itself for a science. Enterprise information models, which continue to rely solely on positivist objective rationale and logic of mis-applied science, conspire to misinform.

Doubly interesting is the fact that TP shares it with his own urging “Why Management Needs Philosophers” – which is where I had got to within a year of starting out on this (originally business-focussed) research project. There is a lot to be learned from philosophy and philosophical fiction. Scientism – reducing all rational considerations to science – expecting all problems and decisions to be best addressed by applying more logic to more factual data is so misguided. So-called Management Science – eg Taylorism – is just one small part of management.

And particularly coincidental to me is that TP’s seminal “In Search of Excellence” was the first place I was aware of a reference to one of my original forays into philosophy: Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“. What goes round comes around. My Pirsig conference paper contains:

“ZMM turned up [in 1988!] (and remained un-read) as a quality management reference on a reading list, and indirectly in books by fashionable management “airport bookstall” writers, and others like Charles Handy and Tom Peters.”

Sad however is that TP’s glowing must-read in 2017 is set against the fact that I was already referring to this lesson being given (and learned by me) in the past tense in 2001.

Despite being a big fan of Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism, selective Marxism and all, I’ve found myself having to keep his revolutionary-style participation in the New-Old-Labour politics at arm’s length. I was moved to revisit my own take on PostCapitalism by this tweet:

Tyfield’s extended review is here:

On PostCapitalism #1 – Overview.
A very positive and enthusiastic summary. Me too.

On PostCapitalism #2 – The Possibility of Information Capitalism
A detailed look at some of the challenges and criticisms, concluding that there really is something new and worthwhile here. My conclusion also.

On PostCapitalism #3 – The Non-Stalled Kondratiev Wave
The broken periodicity is something that has nagged at me too. Despite still holding up the natural Kuhnian / Kondratiev cycles of economic development paradigms to many others frustrated with expectations of plain-sailing progress, it has been clear that the information age is not simply another 80 year / 3 human generations cycle, but more like a relentless series of chaotically interdependent sub-cycles. Which legitimately leads us to think of a new and different set of economic cycles as something genuinely beyond capitalism rather than just another cycle of the same old same old. Good thinking.

My own take has been – around ubiquitous social-media comms – that the new problem we are dealing with is that the pace of information evolution (content and applications) has overtaken our collective mental (cultural) capacity to learn how to use it for human benefit, hence some of the problematic concerns and degenerate consequences. We really are dealing with a different model. It’s also why some are hyping (pale imitations of) AI and jumping straight to accelerationism, leaving human moderation behind, and giving me the uncomfortable feeling this is the wrong take. Right problem, wrong response. Tyfield’s looks like a better take.

So imagine my additional delight to find that Tyfield’s own book has this title:


Including the blurb:

[T]he pivotal location of a rising China, this book describes the global systemic crisis of a neoliberal world order and the embryonic emergence of an alternative global power regime of a ‘liberalism 2.0’.

This augurs both a web 2.0-based revitalization of the classical liberalism of the nineteenth century and new Dickensian inequalities and injustices …. Against hopes that the present is a ‘revolutionary’ moment, therefore, political engagement with this emerging power regime is thus presented as the most productive strategy for a progressive twenty-first century politics.

As well as generally well-travelled international experience of my own, I’ve had particular good fortune in the last decade and more to work with (Russian &) Chinese customers and collaborators and extended visits to multiple locations in both countries. The difference is staggering. Both have enormous disparities of wealth and power (and information freedoms) but nevertheless appear to be going in opposite directions. I already felt that China is doing something right that we can learn from and Tyfield is suggesting we might even throw in our lot.

Looks like a must read.

There is a snappy Arthur Koestler quote doing the rounds. It’s worth seeing the entire paragraph:

The tragedy is that only those realize what oxygen means who know the torture of suffocation; only those who have shared the life of the ordinary native in nazi Germany or Stalinite Russia for at least a year know that disintegration of the human substance which befalls people deprived of their basic liberties. But how many of us are capable of drawing comparisons? The English dock yard worker has not experienced the difference between risking, for the same negligence, a cut in pay or death as a saboteur. The English journalist does not know the difference between a limited freedom of expression and the status of a human teleprinter. The English highbrow, fed up with a statesman’s cigar or a general’s photo-mania, has no idea the abject idiocy of regimented Byzantine leader worship. The English public, disgruntled but secure within the law, does not know the shivering insecurity, the naked horror of an autocratic police-state. They only know their own frustrations. The atmosphere of democracy has become a stale fog, and those who breathe it cannot be expected to be grateful for the air which it contains.

The predicament of western civilization is that it has ceased to be aware of the values which it is in peril of losing.

Arthur Koestler “The End of an Illusion” 1944.

My summary would be the preceding sentences:

The public know only their own frustrations
and cannot be expected to be grateful
for the air which [their democracy] contains.

So true. Memetic understanding of democratic freedoms is so far wide of reality, even more so in our social media-connected world. Koestler often expressed unpopular opinions, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a shrewd commentator on the facts of life.

The perennial argument for (c)onservatism – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

The Ken Burns & Lynn Novick directed Vietnam documentary originally aired in the US on PBS last month is now showing on BBC Four TV. I’ve seen 6 of 10 so far, (though there is some confusion as to whether the BBC edit is the full version?)

The origins in 19th C French colonialism are well known, but Ho Chi Minh has an interesting background that I hadn’t known. Committed communist (obviously!) and well travelled in the 1940’s & 50’s (NY, Boston, London & Paris), it seems he was inspired by T E Lawrence (!) in the possibilities of guerilla war against an imperial army, and was really looking to the US to support his efforts for a peaceful transition to autonomy. Who knew how things would turn out. After the fall of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and another (!) temporary artificial partition, JFK and Nixon both involved on the ground in Trueman’s time, after the Soviet threat was amplified by revelation of their H-Bomb in 1959. From then on it was all about the cold war, local interests and promises were forgotten, a strategic chessboard with no prior understanding of the land …. and the rest is history.

[The numbskull Westmoreland. Mind-numbing shit happened. Excellent Geoffrey C. Ward scripted narration.]

For me personally, the despair in the summer of 1968 – when I was 12 – just one year on from the summer of love, black rights, the assassinations of MLK and Bobby Kennedy, the musical backdrop – all too easily brought to mind over that distance of 50 years. Both gripping and deeply affecting. How could it ever end well.

“The series is a masterpiece, an example of how to calmly assess episodes fraught with passion and sorrow.”

“The combat films are extraordinary; the recollections and reflections of combatants and others on both sides are even more so, featuring photos of them then and interviews with many of them now.”

George Will, Washington Post.


[Post Note:
Obviously examples of atrocities on both sides, despite equally obvious honourable intentions of most individuals involved, it seems worth sharing this link from last year. Mostly about WWII and Dresden, but “war dehumanises everyone it touches” (hat tip to Anita Leirfall). In fact more than one interviewee in Vietnam, then and now, expresses the real sense that they needed to dehumanise their enemy – even neutral, sympathetic civilians – in order to be able to act. ]

Can’t help feeling a take on the current stalemate is being missed.

(I’m a strong remainer, and see continuing with #Brexit as a damage-limitation / opportunity-maximisation exercise. Referenda? Don’t get me started. But rather than be that bystander wanting to start from somewhere else, surely the best route out of this mess is obvious:)

That is, obviously we have no real knowledge of the actual quality of negotiation dialogues between UK and EU teams, it would be mad to expect the public reporting to reflect to reality or totality of what’s going on – that’s the nature of any negotiation.

The question of whose court the ball is in is irrelevant too, as is the idea that “no deal” is some take-it-or-leave-it walk-away option. So, how about this:

Whatever the content of the proposals (offers) we’ve made so far to the EU, there will ALWAYS be the devil in more detail not yet tabled explicitly. All we need to know is if the EU rejects or disagrees with anything – at the level of detail – we’ve so far proposed. “No comment” is no disagreement; “Ah, but what about detail xyz” is no disagreement. The ball is always in our court unless we receive counter proposals.

Pretty sure all the existing agreements we need to honour or change – content and financial – will be the problem of many separate UK institutions and organisations, not just central government and its ministries. That’s where the detail will be resolved. The less detail agreed by the central UK team the better surely? Even the legal standards and court-jurisdiction stuff.

Obviously – as I’ve said since Cameron first announced the mad idea – the whole thing has always been a waste of time and effort and risk to good-will and good-order, but the worst use of that effort would be to have a central team attempt to commit to badly negotiated details on a 52/48 mandate.

A collection of interesting links I’ve had bookmarked for a while:

Yaïr Pinto in Aeon: When you split the brain, do you split the person?
The Divided Brain is an important topic to understand better, too easily dismissed amid misunderstood myths.

Ben Medlock in Aeon: The body is the missing link for truly intelligent machines.
Agreed. Too much talk of “AI” is simply hype for machine automation, whereas conscious intelligence is unlikely to evolve without life. Part of the hype downplaying sentience.

Chris Frith in Aeon: Our illusory sense of agency has a deeply important social purpose.
Again, part of the mad campaign to downplay sentient agency or free-will as illusory.

Bret Stephens in NYT: The Dying Art of Disagreement.
Another regular topic here on Psybertron.

Daily Nous piece: Scientism’s Threat to Philosophy.
And another one.

Robby Berman in The Big Think: We Survive Because Reality May Be Nothing Like We Think It Is
The because is a novelty, but reality-as-mental-construction is true but misinterpreted-as-therefore-being-unreal.

Andrew Masterson in Cosmos (originally linked and shared at the Grauniad): Physicists find we’re not living in a computer simulationThe Matrix myth debunked again too. Reality IS a computation, there is no programme between us and it.

Sabine Hossenfelder’s Starts with a Bang in Forbes: Is The Inflationary Universe A Scientific Theory? Not Anymore.
Good to see the inflationary fudge debunked. The fudge being caused and persisted by science’s denial of the significance of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

Philip Ball in Quanta Magazine: Quantum Theory Rebuilt From Simple Physical Principles.
Reconstructing quantum physics from simpler principles that make it possible to understand the weirdness including several information-based reconstructions.

David Lucas in Quillette: E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One.
Why hypocrisy is vital. Wisdom being the ability to hold conflicting ideas, and find integration in their whole rather than choice between them. Lucas uses art to illustrate this wisdom.  [Etymology … Art > “rt” > arete & craft ]

Hedda Hassel Mørch in Nautilus: Is Matter Conscious? –  Why the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics.
I’ve had a draft post in progress for some time, but still unpublished. Reacted to the click-bait headline in the title question, but was obviously drawn to implicit truth of the sub-title.

And, slightly off the general umbrella topic, but interesting none-the-less:
Kevin Hartnett in Quanta Magazine: A Unified Theory of Randomness
But, underlying the evolution of all others.

Had this Grauniad piece bookmarked for a couple of weeks:

Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in.

As usual the headline is misleading click-bait. Anyone could have predicted that ubiquitous speed-of-light comms was going to “accelerate” things in general – Kondratiev, Kuhn and many more already did. In fact my whole agenda has been about understanding and dealing with the fact the acceleration in comms continues to exacerbate long-standing problems with humans evolving fast enough to keep ahead of the technology curve. Simple fact is our problems – in acting best on what we know – are made worse faster than solutions can be made better.

The piece is about more than predicting the situation, more than the headline.
This paragraph seems a pretty honest statement of what Accelerationism really is:

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

Obviously I’d agree there is no point resisting performance acceleration in every computer-aided application. The only moderating test should be appropriateness; recognising effectiveness (and unintended consequences) as well as basic efficiency. Narrowly defined efficiency isn’t everything.

Where I part company with the accelerationists is in the idea that the whole trend should be encouraged to accelerate as fast as possible. Sure we should embrace opportunities for “fast failures” wherever we can, they are the best learning opportunities provided people are actually listening, understanding and reflecting.

But these fast learning opportunities have to be in the context of a (relatively) stable background. This is basic evolutionary theory – that mutation at the genetic / epigenetic level can only ever be constructive in a phenotypic population of high “fecundity and fidelity”. That is conservatism (with a small c) – most things in life most often need to follow established patterns. Once the rate of mutation is too great – most mutations are degenerate – there ceases to be a reproducing population.

All change and no stability is chaotic anarchy, a useful precursor to revolution, but not conducive to progressive evolution. Not surprisingly accelerationists are explicitly quite happy to smash the establishment system(s) – it is their primary intention.

Upheaval has value – value in learning to better make better changes faster – but the upheaval is not an end in itself, except to the anarchist. All opportunity and no establishment. What we should be doing is getting to grips with learning and understanding what is happening and how to achieve the right balance between change and stability, and the mechanisms to best moderate the processes in free-democratic societies.

What we are agreed on is that, right now, the speed of communication is faster than humanity’s ability to learn. The last thing we need is to treat the whole of humanity as one enormous opportunity for a fast failure. We are not a repeatable experiment.


Interestingly whilst the above link was sat on my desktop, Taleb posted this last weekend:

Worrying trend at #Lab2017.

Reported on Newsnight last night and Angela Rayner interviewed on @BBCR4Today this morning. Corbyn / McDonnell emphasising – and McCluskey reinforcing – succession-planning in their government strategy, citing the younger female appointees to the shadow front-bench as part of that strategy. Rebecca Long-Bailey, Dawn Butler and Angela Rayner for example. So far so good. I’m better than good with that. Good with them as individuals too, from what little I know them.

What I’m not good with is the spin – the meme – “look at this uneducated girl from working-class background succeeding in making it to the front bench“. Not good with Rayner’s grasp of the English language either, given her education brief, but hey, she wasn’t my reaction to the original spin.

  • Great for hope, and hope has value – part of the anybody can achieve anything fallacy – but still spurious. They “succeeded” because of the political choice.
  • Great for gender balance – no buts.
  • Not great for the cult of youth. A balance is good, as is the “blooding” of succession-planning-exposure, but wisdom comes from living.
  • Not great for the “proud to be thick – I failed my Maths O-level” brigade. If education is just about qualifications for a job, who needs education if you’ve got a (good) job? And, if experts know no better, who needs education? Education and experience, knowledge and wisdom are to be valued.

Uneducated and inexperienced youth is another populist gimmick. Another on top of the whole Momentum-youth-and-personality-cult of Corbynism generally. Populism stinks in grown-ups.