Continuing in the same meta-vein as the previous post from behind the great firewall, another tweeted link I had cached before I travelled to China.

This time it’s cosmologists talking about time, with a little help from a few philosophers. Dan Falk reporting from the recent Time in Cosmology conference in Waterloo, Canada.

You sense the real difference between the two camps. Those scientistic types who accept the so-called block model of space-time, where time is simply part of the physically symmetric whole, and any ideas of distinct past, now and future being merely our subjective illusions, and the rest. Those of us who accept the reality of time and causation – albeit a somewhat weird fit, given the otherwise incomplete but widely accepted standard models of physics. It’s the accepted standard models of cosmological inflation and particle physics that are unreal – they’re the models. Time is reality.

How people who believe in ethics and evolution or even history can claim with a straight face, that the progress of time is an illusion, beats me.

Good to see Unger & Smolin in there on the right side of the argument. No surprise either, to see Sean Carroll’s position being confused. But still too many relying on “but the maths works“. God help us. Hopefully someone learned something at the conference.

One thing I learned from the article is the alternative to entropy defining the direction of time’s arrow, is the idea that it’s defined by the progress towards increasing complexity – a real telos.

“defining an arrow of time that aligns itself with growth of complexity”
said Tim Koslowski

Something I recall Rick Ryals suggesting (?) in how the most efficient progress towards global entropic chaos and disorder was local pockets of increasingly complex and concentrated order.

An interesting must-read report. Recommended.

Blogging today as I am, from behind the great firewall of China without any functioning VPN, my reading and linking has been limited to links already cached in my phone and tablet, without any new materials through Google, Gmail, Medium, Twitter or Facebook …. that’s very cramped for my habitual style.

Someone tweeted this Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” Electric Agora link a couple of weeks ago and it’s been sat in my must-read list of open browsers since then: The post itself, from 2015 by Daniel Kaufman, and its fascinating comment thread below.

As a fan of both Wittgenstein and Dennett, I’ve also made a point of reading Quine, hence my ready interest.

There is one set of meta-comments about style, where Kaufman begs to differ, that Quine has an elitist air. One which Kaufman clearly shares even if he doesn’t agree.

Sure, no (useful) language can be a closed (logically complete and consistent) system; context is everything, etc. I won’t repeat all the rehearsed batchelor-style arguments here. I agree already. It’s a large part of my position generally in the proper place (or otherwise) of scientific thinking in the pragmatic reality of politics and ethics – much misunderstood by the scientistic.

I particularly loved the thread debating synonymy against definition. I suspect Quine, and certainly Kaufman, does conflate the two, or at least fail to recognise the significance of their different kinds.

Sure as Kaufman says, everyday dictionaries do often list near synomyms (with contexts) as part of their definitions. These are by way of example and archetype more than definition.

But formal (attempts at) definitions must also end up expressing criteria for class membership as logically constrained relationships to other (presumed known) classes; classes whose nearness as synonyms will be increasingly remote and typically distinct as supertypes and/or Ur-classes. That web of knowledge – hence the not-really-closed tautological problem at the core of the debate.

It’s no coincidence that my hero Dennett, a student of Quine, warns any would-be analytic-scientistic-type who’ll listen to defer their obsession with definitions. One fetish infecting the meme of scientistic addiction. All definitions are (by definition) working definitions, but reify too quickly and problematically if not allowed to evolve and emerge with pragmatic acceptance in the real world. Definitions are not objectively true or real outside a closed and managed context. The working context in which the working definitions are deemed to hold, by agreement both inter-subjective and empirical.

Getting a bit tired of the casual sarcasm and cynicism in many responses to “islamist terrorist”news stories these days.

The westernised names adopted by foreign migrants in their adopted lands. The politically-correct caution in mainstream journalism, particularly the BBC, in reporting initial facts of what, who and why. How much additional “information” circulating instantly on social media and single-issue channels isn’t reported in MSM whilst authorities deal with legal evidence and security action. Whether an Islamist is by any stretch a good (or even a bad) muslim, or simply a murderous maniac with a grudge against any symbols of western “decadence”, adopting Islamism as a badge of legitimisation of fascist intent, accompanied (or not) by the cry of “allahu akhbar”, with or without explicit “links” to extremist groups or an active conspiracy, you name it. Whether the maniac is a rationally calculating maniac or otherwise mentally ill maniac they’re still madmen. Whether the immediate target is political against western secular freedoms and economic interests, or ideological against cultural acceptance of gender & LGBTI and other social freedoms on beaches, in bars, at musical & sporting events. Whether the terrorist acts are actual weaponised mayhem or insidious threat and coercion.

None of this spectrum of details changes the facts of islamist terrorism, and apart from displaying cynical attempts at gallows humour, really not sure how making our media, our authorities, our politicians into the (immediate) story does anything to address the actual issues and causes.

With so much mainstream partisan politics in disarray both sides of the pond, and so many public policy issues in play at once over rights, freedoms and securities, there is no shortage of issue-groups with which to be associated as an activist or supporter. And so much easier to throw in your lot with a single issue party, when it is clear what it’s for and/or what it’s against, and thereby avoid the messier politics of a broader mainstream party. One reason why a strong “single-issue” agenda for me is proper proportional representation in as many contexts as possible, where rights and responsibilities can be shared and balanced, but I digress.

So consider for example, that LGBTI rights and freedoms figure large in many other contexts, whether it be religious extremisms (and not so extremes), or day to day politics and government, and all points between. Alice Dreger has been a “justice warrior” in the “TI” subset of LGBTI for some time – a pretty narrow single set of issues you might think. That is unless you’ve read her Galileo’s Middle Finger, where you discover how the real issue is one of fundamental academic freedoms and their dependence on the enlightenment principles shared – no coincidence – by both politics and science.

Julian Baggini writing on “animal rights” in the vegetarian vs meat-eating debate, notes that even that issue can have no simple objective ethical solution but is rather part of the bigger ethical debate on the place of humanity as part of the natural world. He concludes that the fact that the issue remains problematic – making us feel uncomfortable yet unable to find a neat solution – is in fact a virtue. It’s maybe a reason not to reject out of hand those non-secular taboos and rituals around meat slaugher and eating that have evolved culturally and been enshrined in religious practice. Disagreeing is one thing; denying their value is another.

Jonathan Sacks speaking on how we have “outsourced” much ethical decision-making, to the market of objective things we can trade for numbers, risks losing the natural “entropy-reversal” corrective of humanity’s internalised moral compass. The telos that comes with that is more than simply history as the collected memory of apparently objective facts.

“Cultures [that have an inner moral voice] stay young. They defeat the entropy, the loss of energy, that has spelled the decline and fall of every other empire and superpower in history. But the West … has externalised what it once internalised. It has outsourced responsibility. It has reduced ethics to economics and politics.”

Justice as ethical good must of course be closely connected to truth as objective fact, but there can never be a simple relationship that reduces the one to the other. Whatever a single ethical issue, it’s answer can never be a single academic or scientific fact. As Alice Dreger suggests here, the relationship between (factual) truth and (ethical) justice must remain uncomfortable, for good reason.

And, as she concludes, however good it is to espouse a single issue policy, how else would we progress change if people didn’t do so, it is equally if not more important to value the dissenters and the freedom of their arguments. Which is not an argument for absolute freedom of expresssion. However, truth will learn from differences over justice, expressed differences over right and wrong, not by being constrained by a single policy on justice, in the complementary way that justice will benefit from knowing new improved truth.

There is no easy relationship between truth and justice that can be simplified by adopting a single issue policy any more than ethics and justice can be reduced to objective truth.

Hat tip to Anne McCrossan on Facebook:

“I always say that behind any critical judgement is an idea that’s not yet fully formed. That’s the positive version. It gives people the option to get there with their ideas.”

There is a noddy version of critical thinking which says it’s smart to find fault with anyone else’s expressed idea, because somehow that’s how “science” is self-correcting on it’s course to pure knowledge. Anything that passes destructive testing is seen as successful and therefore good. Scientism.

However, as I keep pointing out, that rush to judgement tramples on many good ideas because they’re not (yet) well formed, and/or (very often) not easily recognisable within the recipient’s prevailing “memeplex”. When the problem is the memeplex itself, that’s a double-bind, my Catch-22 drag on any progress.

“Behind any critical judgement is an idea that’s not yet fully formed.” is a good simple statement of the better – positive – starting point. Much more important to treat an unexpected idea as at least interesting, worth a constructive conversation, not just for the formation of the idea itself, but for it’s place in existing ideas already held.


[Post note – and a positive “critique” from Jonathan Haidt.]

Interesting collection of … things … quite different things, mental models, methods, metaphors that might be useful in analysing or describing any number of problems or arguments.

A good and comprehensive resource by Gabriel Weinberg useful and pretty comprehensive, (eg no Halo Effect and only Prisoners’ Dilemma example from Game Theory). And comes with some important guidance and caveats on using them.

(Hat tip to Johnnie Moore and Dave Snowden on Facebook.)

My rate of posting (well considered and edited) blog posts has fallen off since so much of the “conversation” takes place on Twitter & Facebook. Often the posts I do make are collections of references to links in tweets and FB posts – where the thread of any argument is heavily compromised by the short snippet language of the conversational contributions. Time as always is the scarce resource in good writing.

I need two separate apps. Blogging as it is in WordPress and Medium, and a “BookMarking” app that clicks on links found in any browser or social media and “logs” them in a single post (say by day or by tag) – published to a different blog channel from the main blog writing project. These become resources, inputs, references for other posts but do not take up valuable time in collecting annotating and organising so they can be found later.

Is this del.ici.ous ? Or is there a newer tool that integrates better with other social media and blogging tools? Storify works for tweets where you can predict (and use) a tag in advance but manual chore if not, and anyway Twitter hash-tagging should be better automated – especially in a thread that already has a tag? A cross-platform tagging and bookmarking tool that collects all such tagged bookmarks into one object.

(Also need to streamline how WordPress and Medium work together. Integration is a little primitive so far – publish once / no auto-updates. Good for proper edited “essays” but messy for more interactive conversational stuff. Can be addressed once the bookmarking is sorted.)

[Update – delicious.com is in a state of re-building since its acquisition.]


[Post Notes – After @CliveAndrews suggested I look at IFTT (If This Then  That) channel / event / routing tool, possibilities look very interesting, though not quite the “in-browser bookmarking” metaphor I was originally looking for.

As well as having experimented with Delicious, and using RSS with feedreaders and WordPress plug-ins to communicate with Medium, I have made extensive use of dlvr.it to connect channels before. In fact I use it continuously and invisibly to connect my WordPress post-and-update-and-comment interaction to Twitter and Facebook, although I have most of the filtered-automation currently switched-off except new WP posts to TW. Too much noise but very powerful.

IFTTT looks very like dlvr.it, but like WP it has user community open-source “recipes” switching between hundreds of events and channels. (How do they stop interminable loops? That was always my prediction for web overload. Post to Facebook auto-posts to Twitter auto-posts to Facebook auto-posts … etc.)

Particularly neat – for a simple geek like me – is it can simply send any transaction to a Google Spreadsheet …. Not the worlds most sophisticated web database, but at least everything and anything is bookmarked and available for searching and sorting any way you like, and bulk tagging actions using the spreadsheet functionality, all in a transparently accessible file. Wonder if it can round trip – always a telling test of integration? Import into spreadsheet, manipulate, and re-export to a blog or social media micro-blog. That might be the killer app for my needs?]