Wokeism and Critical Theory

For me, for decades, the idea that (even scientific) truths always have a political dimension has been central to my epistemic agenda. Not that science was my specific target, more the general orthodoxy that logically-positive objective-determinism presumes to fully explain the truths of real-world causation. And I’ve said so from my perspective of a science-educated geek, with my heroes in science and a long career in physical engineering and management systems.

The cause celebre when I first took to seriously researching the nature of the problem was the post-9/11 2001 “God vs Science” wars of the New Atheist movement. I was instinctively against that movement and its four horsemen from the start (even as a fan of Dan Dennett’s philosophical thinking), which lost me a few friends, but my agenda hasn’t changed. That “too easy” communications of electronic media generally, short-circuits systemic complexity and reduces all topics to simplistic false-binary choices within the first few exchanges. So binary that having chosen sides the other is simply denied or cancelled, and that the narratives-in-mind are so entrenched and reinforced, change cannot even be countenanced.

The antithesis of reasonable discourse and the enemy of any kind of truth, objective or otherwise.

Since 2015, from my UK perspective, the exemplary case became the Gender-wars, and still is for me but with a growing background of DEI and BLM, critical-theory-supported positive discriminations not just in favour of perceived victimised minorities, but positively demonising their respective majorities, even where prejudiced discriminations may be as much historical as current or institutionalised. There’s always been a name for this – “tyranny of the minority” – it’s just that wokeness is forever discovering new minority interests to champion tyrannically.

Two things happened yesterday and today to prompt that musing.

The first was a strange Twitter thread from Peter Boghossian that anti-woke was now some kind of bandwagon attracting newcomers that had failed to take it seriously, now that it was somehow risk-free to do so? Boghossian was previously involved on two different sides of this from my perspective. With his Street Epistemology in the original god vs rationality wars and as part of the University of Austin anti-woke academic venture. And whilst there have been encouraging signs of progress, there are also active cases of livelihood-threatening “cancellation” in academia and in employment happening right now. Far from risk free. Boghossian represents the polarising anti-woke side to the woke problem. Still “part of the problem” for me. A pox on both their houses.

The second was the incredibly moving documentary about the George Floyd case that created the BLM and Defund-Institutions poisonous streak in the whole woke cultural tragedy. Firstly this interview with John McWhorter of Columbia University and New York Times talking about the documentary, followed by the film itself.

As McWhorter comments, whatever the selective biases in the legal and documentary-making processes, you can’t fail to be moved by the humanity of those branded by the woke as the bad guys.

And finally, as a reminder, so many of these woke fallacies are couched in the language of rights of oppressed minorities in complete disregard of the rights of the rest of us, let’s remember that today is Universal Human Rights day. Many people sharing this image of Eleanor Roosevelt – who was “cancelled” as too radical, from speaking at Montana State University when Robert Pirsig was teaching there:

What goes around comes around.
There is very little new under the sun.


Previously on Psybertron:



Opportunity for a Visual Programmer?

If you are a visual programmer, I would fund your creation of a visual modelling tool. Working title – “The Whole World on One Page”. Outline as follows:

      • Functionallya bit like a “Mind Mapping” or “Network Visualisation” tools – visually navigating links between content objects-in-focus page views.
      • Architecturally – supporting the basic principles of the IDEF0 (old) diagramming language, with navigation behaviour between content views according to the semantics of different content link types.
      • Approach – extension using Open API’s to any existing Mind-Mapping products (many out there) and/or IDEF0 tools (like MS-Visio, Archimate or similar). Terms – Open Software (or alternatives considered). App or Browser based
      • Specification – scope and function described in pseudo-code natural language. No use-cases. Select Templates, Create / Edit / Save and View / Navigate modes.

Contact for elaboration / written specification.
Share on any appropriate developer channels.



The Shadow of Knowledge

Johnnie Moore is someone I’ve followed as long as I’ve been blogging – in the original “blogroll” over 20 years ago, though to my shame I’ve very rarely mentioned him, and I think I’ve attended a session with him only once – way back when. More than once in a previous life I’ve been close to recommending him as an alternative “creative facilitator” after decades of same-old, same-old “workshops” – whether team-building or problem solving. More recently his less-is-more style under the “unhurried” banner.

Even more minimalist recently he’s been doing ~2 minute “unpolished” videos – each with one simple but often counter-intuitive message. Prompted to share this one.

Knowledge Overwhelm
– Are you aware of the shadow your knowledge casts on people around you?

I recognise the problem. On top of 30 plus years of regular experience and 20 plus years of intense research, almost every piece of writing is connected to every other, it’s always possible to say more, even when asked what appears to be a simple question person to person. Equally obviously, even recognising the keep it simple adage, focussing on one point at a time, the tendency is to coin very dense summaries of the wider complex whole, but then the language itself begs to be explained, assuming the listener / reader hasn’t already moved on.

[aim] to create a more emotional connection …
and not to lean over much into explanation.

we get more of our insights …
in these small exchanges

I think he’s right.

I know I am going to have to write “my thesis” out in full, but that’s nothing to do with expecting it to be communicated by being read and understood. No that’s a more selfish act of clarifying what it is I’m trying to say for myself.

Communication – as suggested by Bruce McNaughton in a recent post – is closer to a “handshake“.



The Way of Systems

“The Way of Systems” is maybe not a phrase I would choose. Religious connotations of “the way” (Christian as well as Buddhist) seem unnecessary baggage to lead with, even though I clearly see universal value in systems thinking.

But nevertheless, whenever one is looking to improve on the “orthodox scientism” of western rationality all roads have led back to eastern (oriental or aboriginal) world views ever since the pre-Socratics. Take Pythagoras for example, despite our lasting association with his maths and geometry. Talk about “footnotes to Plato”. Nothing new under the sun, so I won’t attempt a summary of every reference since. Suffice to say, even the fundamental physicists of the Schrödinger and Heisenberg vintage had a lot to say about eastern perspectives. If we skip across the whole post-modern dive into the occult and our balanced PoPoMo recovery from that, I’ll mention just two more recent. Pirsig and his 1974 “Zen and the Art …” is an obvious milestone on my own thought journey (though not until 2002 in my case, after his 1991 “Lila”) and Iain McGilchrist’s “The Matter With Things” most recently. Similarly now in our PoPoMo times, “mindful” practice has become respectable having been seen as “alternative lifestyle” material during the PoMo trough.

It’s about recognising the value of embodied and directly experienced “knowledge” alongside and integrated with more formal language models of which science is the pre-eminent example. Essentially “The Way” as the Tao of Zen Buddhism – the journey is the reality that happens to us if we pay attention, whereas the destination, the objective reality, is never fully attained even as a symbolic best-approximation intellectual model. The way is also very much aligned with a process view of the world rather than things in the world.

I say all this because of another name I came across only yesterday in the dialogue I mentioned with Bruce McNaughton – fellow-traveller  systems-thinker. That person is Gene Bellinger, who I know no more about than his web-page. Like Bruce’s and early versions of mine, Gene’s old-school hand-crafted html with links to Powerpoint and Word PDF’s. (In fact he and Russell Ackoff have a number of old YouTube recordings too.)

Gene Bellinger - YouTube

Gene’s work is “The Way of Systems and indeed his archetypes of different (sub)-system types within his Systems of Systems (SoS) model are The Way of … each topic. In fact his use of archetypes is something I’ve been driving at before. I’m very much staying in my own lane in abstract space, so I’m always at a conceptual level or several levels removed from real individual systems or things. Within that network of multiple overlapping hierarchical and heterarchical typing (and typing-by-association) relations, there are some nodes – types – of special significance independent of the many detailed relations and features of the specific real-world individuals. Archetypes.

The East-West meme above is itself an archetype, for any number of detailed classification divisions (which are all individually binary #GoodFences). Of significant value even though not a specific – definitive – thing in the real world.


[Post Notes:

Gene Bellinger’s latest consolidated work is available here, presented as a “Brain” mind-map.

And, that “Stealth Modelling” node looks fascinatingly close to my diagramming interests, with a side order of the shadow of knowledge?

And, see AJ’s comment below. The Archetypes may be closely related to the sacred, the “Ur Nodes” as in Sacred Naturalism. I love it when a plan comes together.]


Attention as a Moral Act

Progress on Priorities

A strangely productive week since my previous “Resolution” post – I’m obviously focussed on the right priorities at last.

Namely getting my “technical content” better organised for review. Started using free versions of Academia.edu and Orcid.org – posting some of my key (older and/or half-drafted pages and pdf’s – mostly just testing it out so far). Not a matter of being at no cost, but free from any required prior-association with an academic journal or academic institution (yet) – see Resolution above.

Already on the next step of targeting sets of key posts to be turned into more formal papers, properly referenced and referenceable. Onward and upward.

Nevertheless, Productive Distractions

Despite the above, also some admin & distractions, although they’re all grist to my mill. Dialogues with fellow travellers are always welcome for clarifying trains of thought, mine and hopefully theirs. I already mentioned Anatoly Levenchuk recently – in that Resolution post in fact – but also:

Bruce McNaughton of ISSS on distinctions between my meta-language / architectural-abstraction view of a “systems thinking ecosystem” and his deeply researched ontology for a generic systems thinking model. We have similar but different histories and have read similar but different sources and at different times / in a different order in our thought journeys. My focus is to abstract the essence as an intellectual model, his is to define the best working model. Fascinating on so many dimensions. Not least that even where we’ve not read the same people on a topic – say Antonio Damasio and Fritjof Capra vs Iain McGilchrist and Mark Solms – they / we have so many of the same underlying sources both proximal and original. Same stuff different words. (See “language”!)

We both have a strong focus on “information interfaces” at system boundaries, but Bruce’s ontology has an interesting take on communication as “social coordination” – more than one-way transmission of data – commune (verb and noun) and community (abstract and concrete noun) about the interaction and “coordination”. That intersubjective process is pretty much the root of process-based metaphysics. (Two-way like a “handshake” establishing both syntactic and semantic shared understanding of the – quality – communication event.)

And, for example – Bertalanffy’s seminal (1986) “General Systems Theory” (GST) I’d not previously noticed that Chapter 10 refers extensively to Benjamin Whorf (1925-1940) “Language, Thought and Reality” – someone I have referred to positively before. And in that same context, in the post by Ted Lumley, Ernst Mach recurred – his “principle” that is. He understood the “Habitat-Dynamic” – the two-way causal processes between organism and ecosystem – co-evolving. And despite our common association of Mach with physical engineering “mechanics”, he wasn’t talking about just mechanical systems, he meant the psychical (thinking) habitat too – so I’m now reading “The Analysis of Sensations – and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical” (Ernst Mach, originally 1885, 5th Ed translated and extended by Williams and Waterlow, 1914). Mindblowing. Gotta stop reading!

Whorf and Mach, like Pirsig and McGilchrist since, understood the relationship between language and our experience of the world. Those “aboriginal” societies who paid direct attention to the world they experienced not only had quite different languages (architectural form as well as content-wise) they had, and because they had, quite different world-views in mind. Such shared world-views form our thinking and communicating ecosystems. Quite different to our “western” intellectual symbolic models. [Note my title “Attention as a Moral Act” comes from the McGilchrist stable, and Morals / Values are fundamental to Pirsig’s Quality Metaphysics.]

And so many other connections / associations. “Strangely” in the title of Damasio’s latest, doesn’t include Doug Hofstadter – what’s that about? Habitat (English) = Cynefin (Welsh). Lila (published) = “Them Pesky Redskins” (non-PC working title).

Mach’s references (in just the first few prefatory and introductory pages) =  Alfred Binet, W K Clifford, Wolfgang Pauli, David Hume, Rudolf Willy,  Immanuel Kant, Baruch Spinoza, Johann Goethe and many more. Mach was no slouch! Ernst Mach Society = Vienna Circle, would have had Mach turning in his grave at their (orthodox, objective, determinist) “scientism”, like Wittgenstein, only he wasn’t dead yet. Ask Hofstadter!

Nothing new under the sun, yet again.
Dysmemics has been around long before electronic comms.
Attention as a moral act.

Anyway, to conclude, also a very brief (Facebook) chat with Mark Hammonds – noticing Jacob Bronowski’s “Ascent of Man” re-available this year on BBC iPlayer. A hero of mine much referenced here, led me to retrace some of his many links, including those to “Systems Thinking” and shared with fellow traveller David Deutsch. Some pretty good stuff – if I say so myself – I should be writing-up formally, per resolved priorities above, not least by way of example: “An Injection of Optimism“.

Stay in Touch?

And finally, good news – dlvr.it now has access to the BlueSky API, so as of today, all my Psybertron posts are shared directly on Twitter/X, Mastodon, Discord and BlueSky. (dlvr.it is a fantastic service and still free for one personal source with up to ten feeds) Nobody even opens emails these days(!), and relatively few enthusiasts use WordPress account notifications, so follow @psybertron on any of these.



Inevitably some immediate post-notes:

Topical today two social-media items questioning the linguistic science confusion. Science is a language, but linguistics is (maybe) not science.

Anita Leirfall sharing What is the Science of Linguistics a Science of?
by Ermanno Bencivenga in Epoch Magazine – starting from from Thomas G. Bever’s “The Cognitive Basis for Linguistic Structures” and quite independently:

A J Owens sharing this in his latest “oblique review” blog

“Human beings do not live in the objective world alone. . . but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.”
Edward Sapir, “The Status of Linguistics as a Science”

So on message that quote! [Countering the (solely) objective world (alone) but therefore overstates the “at the mercy of” on the other side – these things co-evolve with two-way causation – but the basic point holds. As a PoPoMo, the common sense of post-modernism without the extremes. After the comment from AJ below (and my comment on his) I need to follow-up with Tina Lee Forsee at “Diotima’s Ladder” I guess.]


[For any word I use] meaning is amenable to reasonable guesses; and for the most part, these guesses will not be far off the mark.

That we understand one another by making reasonable guesses is a claim at the heart of the book. The main author, Neal Weiner, calls this “the principle of generosity,” extrapolating slightly from the noted philosopher Donald Davidson’s “principle of charity.”

Absolutely – I use that principle of charity (see Rules of Engagement) and yes, like Dennett [and Levenchuk] I say “hold your definitions” – use words like they’re natural language and make progress in your discourse – only worry about definitions when (and if) you need to create some objective record of agreements.

And more on different world-views giving us different ways of thinking, Nigel McGilchrist, brother of Iain, talking on:

The Mind of Pythagoras: A First Bridge Between East and West – How did we come to think the way we do?

And finally for now, not so obviously on topic, but Philip Ball writing “Is AI leading to a reproducibility crisis in science?” in Nature Magazine – Scientists worry that ill-informed use of artificial intelligence is driving a deluge of unreliable or useless research. On topic because these AI’s are merely LLM’s. (No A-Life, no A-Intelligence, I say.)

“As with any powerful new statistical technique, AI systems can make it easy for researchers looking for a particular result to fool themselves…”


And some post-post-notes:

Mentioned some different reads / same sources in the dialogue with Bruce above.

Fritjof Capra – I read “Tao of Physics”, “Turning Point” and “Hidden Connections” – but never read his latest “Systems View of Life”. Basically I saw him as catching up with the rest of us systems-thinking-wise, though obviously he already had a long-standing Zen-Buddhist alternative to orthodox “western” angle. (Turns out Bruce helped Capra with his glossary for training purposes.)

Antonio Damasio – I’ve read and listened to and he’s massively referenced by both Iain McGilchrist and Mark Solms – a well established part of the Austin-to-Zeman “lesion literature”. Big in the “Homeostasis” space too, but until recently resistant to “systems thinking” talk as too mechanical. Sounds like he too has caught up with systems thinkers in his latest “The Strange Order Of Things: Life, Feeling and the Making of Cultures” and like McGilchrist is now joining individual person processes to the cultural level. And like Solms latching on to feeling as the true measure of consciousness, it’s affect all the way down. I have a kindle copy – all the usual sources – so I may review briefly.



Struggling with motivations for and concentration on several large tasks / projects in my lap:

      • The Robert Pirsig Association – with 2024 being the 50th Anniversary of his seminal work in ZMM – “we” have only recently created the RPA and plans for #ZMM50th – “P”.
      • Writing The Book(s) – two in fact – Book “F” a fictional (historical & fantasy) narrative and Book “T” a systems-thinking philosophical text. “T” first with key aspects then worked into the “chautauqua” inside “F”. Both have significant outlines and section drafts. Both a long way from finished.
      • Doctoral Research – I have “D” the “Systems Thinking (Mental – Personal and Cultural) Ecosystem” doctoral research proposal and personal statement created and already shared with interested systems and management, practitioners and academics. Remaining problem is tailoring the scope to academics who are not only interested but have the understanding and bandwidth to be doctoral supervisors at their academic institution. (Oh, and then actually achieving it.)

They’re not unconnected of course.

Pirsig informs my intellectual journey (but see *) and some aspects of his thesis are explicitly developed in mine, both books and the research. Obviously the chautauqua within the novel is a model inspired explicitly by Pirsig as well as implicitly by many other writers of philosophical novels. Similarly the systems thinking shapes (architects) the whole as well as being the important subject matter – Pirsig was a systems thinker. The doctoral research lends credibility to the wider writing, and so on.

I was prompted to summarise the state of play following a chat yesterday with Anatoly Levenchuk and Victor Agroskin – two Russian colleagues I’ve previously referred to as the smartest guys I’ve ever met. Not simply reinforced but positively inspired by two aspects: firstly by the fact that the connections above were immediately evident in just a brief chat and already noted almost two years earlier in the chat history, and secondly that, in that same time Anatoly has created a tremendous amount of relevant material.

Too many to list but here a few examples

Book “The Intellectual Stack”

Book “Personal Engineering”

Now I have
— Modeling and attention management
(by Medvedeva and Lubenchenko, not by me. This is informal ontology course.)
— Systems Thinking
— Methodology
— Systems Engineering
— Personal Engineering
— Systems Management (=organizational engineering)
— Intellectual Stack

All of it share the same ontology based on 3rd generation of systems thinking. Here is the text in English of short description of 3rd generation systems thinking literature: https://arxiv.org/abs/2310.11524

Even personal productivity and attention management in there 🙂

(*) Of course the thought journey and subject matter these past 20+ years has been a lot more than Pirsig, so much so that until the RPA / #ZMM50th idea took off I had effectively left explicit Pirsig considerations behind: Cybernetics to 3rd Generation “Systems Thinking”; Human individual and collective, thinking and agency, physio-biological and cultural; From system ontologies to fundamental (metaphysical) realities of existence – process and informational / epistemological “ontologies”. Not to mention the 30 years of full-lifecycle real-life systems working experience, physical facilities, management systems, technology systems and information models. (Austin to Zeman by way of … too many to name drop here.)

Anatoly and I have quite different motivations despite deep alignment on the subject matter. He is very much focussed on the applied and the mechanistic, on methodologies and textbooks – a practical resource. I am much more focussed on the philosophical foundations and architecture of the whole systems thinking ecosystem – an intellectual resource.

The Resolution: to prioritise my own deliverables. Maybe the priority is “T” (The Technical Text) which may contribute not only to “F” (The Fictional Narrative) but years of prior research and writing into a potentially shorter version of “D” (The Doctoral Thesis)? My involvement in “P” (The Robert Pirsig Association) can only be short-term / part-time.


Post Notes:

24 Nov – Obviously these priorities are bound around by all the usual domestic priorities, and (aaaggghhh!!!) by yet another new “freethought” project just arrived Thursday evening – still early draft / confidential. I support, but so far said no to active participation, until “T” is done, anyway.

1 Dec – Until I create “T” my Research Proposal and accompanying Personal Statement are probably the best outline for both “T” and “D”.


QOTSA – Theatre, Set and Match.

Saw Queens of the Stone Age at Stockton Globe Theatre last night. Proper sweaty moshing affair and a great gig on many levels.

Two supports. First-up Deep Tan. Female 3 piece. Pretty weak unfortunately. Too thin on content, technique and sound and no variation in their 6 song set. Had they been younger I might have said they could do with more practice in front of a crowd, and a bit of production / arrangement, but nah. The bassist seemed to know how to do it. Sadly, the roadies and techs checking and tuning the gear for the next act got a bigger response.

The Chats, 3 no-nonsense lads on a tour from Australia’s sunshine coast had their one off shot supporting QOTSA and smashed it. Quite a few knowing their songs made for a good rapport with the crowd and full of energy and dynamic range despite the pretty standard fast and shouty 3 piece “garage rock” material. The lead bassist fella – contrary to his pasty-ginger-in-beach-shorts persona – and the whole heavy sound, put me in mind of Brisbane’s legendary dark and low-slung F111s, but I can find no link. Worth another listen.

QOTSA brought their own elaborate set and lighting to this old provincial theatre. Beautifully renovated it has to be said, overlooking the budget and schedule scandals from a couple of years ago. In fact the two worked well together. In total control of the lights from pitch-black to blazing white-out, the whole space was part of the set. Josh remarked on it a couple of times amidst his trademark rambling commentary on life. And in fact being a fan of QOTSA on sound alone it was interesting attention to detail in the lighting tone to support their range, not just dynamic range in volume, but in tone, pace and rhythm too. Loud, obviously, but what makes Josh such a great front man is that he’s not shouty – a proper communicator and people person. Professional job and very effective all round.

And then there was the crowd. So many familiar riffs and lyrics, the packed floor was bouncing and singing along from the first bar of most of them. A long time since I’ve been in such a boisterous crowd, moshing and crowd surfing. A good work-out standing your ground against toppling over those smaller / frailer folk in front. Dealing with too many of the most mobile thugs, too pissed to control themselves or where they and their drinks crash landed anyway. Chaos is fun, but know your limits?

A night to remember.


Failed to get tickets for Halifax Piece Hall this summer and, can it really be true, 18 years since I last saw them? In Australia (Perth) coincidentally. And the F111’s at “The Globe Theatre” coincidentally too – in Brisbane. It’s all connected.


Determinist Reductionism Sucks – Yet Again

I may have posted this before (from Aug 2022) but was prompted to read and share it today since Kevin Mitchell re-tweeted it.

Like the original Twitterstorm the prompt was a heated dialogue involving Sabine Hossenfelder, this time with Philip Goff (all publicity is good publicity if you’re selling a book I guess) – but a lot of the usual “scientists don’t need / don’t understand philosophers” garbage. Lots of people posting the Dennett meme – no metaphysics-free science, just scientists ignorant of their metaphysical presumptions.

Like Kevin I avoided interjecting until he re-posted this.

“Getting to the bottom of reductionism
– is it all just physics in the end?”

To which several wags responded “Yes”.
But I responded:

I like it. My short version.
Nothing is “just” anything (other than itself).

Emergent complex stuff depends on – supervenes on, emerges from – simpler foundation layers, but is not “reduced to” or “determined by” (only) the laws, states and histories of those simpler layers.

He uses “historicity” half a dozen times. I tend to use ergodicity, a more formal “system-states” version of the same idea. In emergent layers, history matters, not just current states of lower layers.

Anyway, really just posted to ensure I have a searchable link to it for future writing. Has lots of references to others I’ve used.

The “just” qualifier – disguises some debate about what fundamental physics is anyway – dynamic information patterns rather than matter and energy anyone? Also disguises individual < class < class-of-class ambiguities. (Scientists conflating concepts with empirical realities. Theorising vs ontological commitment when the rubber hits the road.)


And, coincidentally during the same ongoing on-line debate, Kevin Mitchell was lined-up to speak with Robert Sapolsky, infamous for his new book “Determined: Life Without Free Will”. (I’ve tried to avoid the latter, but it might be interesting to see how the dialogue went?)

(Interesting that Sapolsky opens with admitting he takes “an extreme position”. Trolling? – not convinced so far that his story on physical brain manifestations of our developmental life history – and cultural influence on those – actually says anything about our free-will? All obviously influence and constrain how we work without determining it. Continuing. Listening to all of it – the recurring point of Kevin’s in response to Sapolski – examples of the negative cases don’t negate the positive case. It’s not a binary all freedom-and-conscious-will or none. Personally – after Dennett – there is probably less than 0.001% free will in world activities – the kind of free-will worth having is no surprise? Supervisory free-won’t. All the slippery slope of moral relativism stuff is irrelevant, a separate topic. Hypocrisy too – is an evolved “skill”.)