ZMM – The Book that Changed my Life

Author Michael Lewis lists “the books that made me” including:

The book that changed my life
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Interesting selection …

I did fully read both Cervantes and Tolstoy. With me it was Anna Karenina that gave me many false starts until I read beyond the Anna / Vronsky relationship and understood the book was really about Levin (Tolstoy) and his relationship with God and the cosmos in general. But, rather than ghosts, I didn’t believe in (American) Gods until I read Neil Gaiman either.

However, like Lewis, for me Pirsig’s ZMM was seminal – hence the dedicated “Pirsig Pages” here – as far as my metaphysical thought journey is concerned.

Thanks to @iramey for sharing this Tweet from Silvio Oscar Funtowicz at Bergen Uni:

Deming and the industrial “Total Quality” and Excellence movements generally part of my journey too, but “Post-Normal Science” also sounds intriguing. Must follow-up.

In my case it was very personal experience of Fred Lennon that inspired my interest in quality to new levels in that industrial context before I ever saw the metaphysical connections or the philosophical interests.

Our Covid Bind

If not now when? is the right question. Too many issues raging as England / UK passes “Freedom Day” and removal of legal restrictions on anti-Covid behaviour. The bind is we’ve got into a naïve “science-led” mindset against which disagreement is anathema.

A bit of a rant … should be busy with other things right now.

The Cummings / Kuenssberg interview! Where to start. The more I hear from the little toad, the more I side with Boris. And with Sumption, as ever. The Cummings interview being heavily promoted by the Beeb, no doubt in justification of his “fee”. The Amol Rajan / Sumption interview being panned by radical-liberals at large. The rational naivety is scary.

    • Vaccination Freedom? OK, so vaccination isn’t legally mandated, not compulsory in that sense, but social pressure and pragmatic business arrangements should quite rightly make life very inconvenient for those that fail to vaccinate  without good cause. Any age, we’re all part of the same population. Just a question of timing and resource priorities, UK vs rest of the world. And their dumb choices certainly must not limit the lives of those who have done the sensible thing(s). It’s only psychological tactics that should drive these decisions – even “nudge” god forbid.
    • Protecting the NHS from overload? Yes, this was a credible and appropriate tactic for setting early measures – though as I always pointed out, resource limitations of an NHS now are simply the result funding decisions earlier. Not science-led, but pure politics. But I too believe, from own eyes and anecdotal evidence, that serious Covid illness is back to being a pretty small part of the NHS workload around which operations have been organised.
    • The “Over-80’s” Body Count? Covered this at length early in the pandemic. Rising cases no doubt to do with rising testing and the “delta” variant, in younger unvaccinated people etc, but … the real question is about causes of inevitable death and serious illness and about life & quality-of-life expectancy. It’s certainly not about arithmetic. It’s about value judgements. It’s about earlier death with Covid not necessarily primarily from Covid and avoiding earlier death due to flu and other respiratory diseases. Yes, other things being equal, when prioritising resources, an over-80 life is worth less than the quality of an under-80 life. Don’t take my word for it, ask my 92 year old mother. And what about the quality of those over-80 lives, as several have commented publicly, locking down a year or two of a remaining four or five year life expectancy halves the value of that over-80 life anyway. Every death is a tragedy individually, but population-statistically we have life-expectancy & death rates, neither is infinite nor zero. McNamara anyone?

Time to live rather than further prolong life. Prediction – with hindsight, like all real science – we will look back on a sharp drop in all-causes death rates over the 2020/2022 period. (Caveat – provide the anti-vax-youth warriors are not allowed to win. My biggest concern now is a 2021/22 winter flu seasonal variant, and as I said before the west could adopt sensible eastern public-health habits for seasonal SARS infections anyway.)

Personally, I wish the conversation would move on to what are rational aspirations and reasons for increasing human life expectancy, quite independent of Covid or the next natural disaster. Population statistics are not about how much we love our parents and grandparents, that’s a given, but about how much we care about younger and future generations. That’s a value judgement, not arithmetic. If I learned anything about statistics, it’s that which criteria we choose to apply to our calculations are not calculations in themselves. It’s about recognising the real issue.

Grist to the #GoodFences Mill

It goes on. The TERF wars continue to rage as the main game in Twitter-town when it comes to objective science and human classes talking past each other.

Firstly, Angela Saini writing “What is a Woman?” in Prospect Magazine.  I’ve had problems with Saini before, being too conservative in minimising sex/gender and race differences – a lack of definitive objective evidence – to acknowledge their reality in the context of social constructions. She’s taken a lot of flak today and I’m not here to defend her, but to point out there are entangled issues not to be conflated. Even if “sex” is a scientifically binary property, the sex/gender “war” cannot be reduced to a binary fight. When it comes to rights – conflicting rights – social (cultural) aspects do matter, even if a binary opposite Post-Modern stance is just as bonkers as the radical scientistic stance.

Secondly, same war different battle, Rebecca Myers writing “Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard in eye of the storm at Tokyo Olympics” in The Times. “Following the rules” comes under scrutiny. I say, where do rules come from anyway and what are they worth without good faith?

Andy Lewis (Quackometer.Net / @LeCanardNoir) posted a 36 Tweet “takedown” of Saini which I’ve not seen as a continuous text yet(*), but it is very interesting from the orthodox science perspective.

Starts here:

And ends here:

Classic “pointing out the errors” kind of critical thinking, but it’s not necessary to accuse Saini of dastardly deceit. Deracinate is a strong word, but sex has biological roots and social context. Sex and associated gender rights are firmly planted in both. Rhetoric is surely involved, but it’s no pejorative trick, it’s a tricky part of reality. What’s needed is getting on the same page. A dialogue.

Andy Lewis has written on this before “The Ontology and Epistemology of Sex” at his Quackometer.Net. This is reassuringly close to my #GoodFences take that I’m pretty sure it’s possible to get on the same page.

[(*) Andy Lewis has written up his “Deracination” thread the same-day in his quackometer blog.]

I should add for context, this is the same day JKR responded in style to the ludicrous “pipe bomb” threat.

I’ll be back.

Threatening to Podcast

I kept threatening to podcast my stuff since dynamic-visual beats written words for on-line attention. Early attempts suffered production quality, but more importantly made it obvious I wasn’t the most photogenic presenter. At that time, 4 or 5 years ago, I let myself conclude that podcasting was already old-hat anyway.

Anyway this new Anchor tool from Spotify has me threatening again.

Good Fences Maybe?

I’ve been threatening to finally edit and publish my Good Fences article for a while now, but keep coming across other published pieces that could almost be the same thing in different words, or the same words in a different order, maybe. The latest I’ve had bookmarked for a week or two is this:

There Is Nothing More Philosophical Than Diversity
by Simon Fokt in TPM 29th May 2021.

[Incidentally TPM seems refreshed anew in recent months … and this piece is an introduction to their new “Diversity Reading List” – intriguing.]

Simply parsing the title – I’m just about to read it – I already see:

    • Most Philosophical – something fundamental, general, at the metaphysical underpinnings of the whole of reality?
    • Difference – information – being that most fundamental element?

I agree already. And yet whilst being meta/physically fundamental, diversity is at the root of so much current, real-life bio- and neuro-atypical identity politics? That’s why it’s quite scary, important to get right.

[Damn. Where’s that kindred quote about the most important thing being the hardest thing I’ve failed to communicate?]

[I’ll be back when I’ve actually read it.]

Galen Strawson – Mistaken Identity

Somewhere in my recent past, since this 2011 post, I have conflated Ray Tallis with Galen Strawson in my mind, not having read the original work of either other than their reviews / opinions of others. Doubly weirdly, I’d completely forgotten Jack Klaff had been the host / chair, someone I follow closely on Twitter these days, and probably conflation of Wolpert (in the audience) with Tallis (on the stage) that led to the original confusion.

I’ve been correcting my mistaken impression of Strawson recently – in his sympathy for pan-psychist views – and notice his book “Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism?” was published as long ago as before the 2006 paperback. And I realise now my poor impression of Strawson was tangled up in the negative response of MoQ’ers to his negative review of Pirsig’s “Lila” – calling the Subject-Object view a straw-man – also back in 2006. (The negative impression of Strawson no doubt further conflated with that of rhyming with “Struan”, a different beast altogether in the Pirsig/MoQ context. Word association memes are dangerous.)

Part of properly connecting with Strawson was to find an early 2011 reference to his appearance on In Our Time on Free Will, my first blogged reference to him in fact, an episode I re-listened to again recently for quite unconnected reasons. Anyway apart from the book reference, as I noted in a recent link dump, I have some Strawson / Panpsychism articles bookmarked:

Managed not to notice his association with UoT at Austin, Tx – somewhere I’ve crossed paths more than once in person. Weird. Anyway impressions corrected.

Sensible Mask Wearing?

There’s really no mystery about mask-wearing sense. Mask wearing is not about you it’s about the population, so the question is:

Q – Is it selfish not to wear a mask?
A – It depends:


We should adopt (in fact were gradually adopting before the Covid pandemic in my experience) the Eastern SARS / respiratory infection mentality.

If you know you have a relevant infection, you should self-isolate for the benefit of others. The main downside to this is people whose income and job-security suffers from missing attendance at work, and that should be addressed directly.

If you must attend workplace and/or public transport / spaces when you know you are infected, you should (at least) wear a mask and “socially distance” so far as possible to (a) minimise infection of others and (b) signal to others that you are a risk, so they can socially-distance too.

If you don’t know you’re infected but suspect the risk of infection – eg you’re out at work or in public and detect that you’re maybe  “coming down with” something, as you do, or you recognise a risky context – in crowded sweaty, poorly ventilated public transport or event with infection being notably prevalent in public – you should take steps to isolate and/or mask-up. Even visible improvised efforts have value in signalling to others at risk.


f your workplace involves vulnerable people or makes you more vulnerable, it doesn’t change these rules, just makes the risks and the rules more important to respect. Specific additional, detailed occupational rules may apply.

Everyone should avail themselves of public-health-provided vaccines unless they have good reasons of personal risk – including minors if practical & available. We shouldn’t be obsessed with exactly who has or hasn’t been vaccinated provided high adult population numbers are achieved. Minors – schoolkids – are not generally vulnerable to illness from SARS infections.

And note, wearing a mask is not about you it’s about others. Even if you think you’re wearing it to reduce catching the infection yourself, you’re doing so in order to avoid the spread.

Travelling between different public-health jurisdictions is a separate matter. The suspected risk end of the above common sense should apply until such time as both jurisdictions have agreed the same steady-state context.

The default should not be to wear a mask outside such risk-based contexts. The human face is a large part of social communication, and our freedoms are restricted physically and psychologically by the wearing. No surprise that idiot activists choose masks and hoods to disguise (or is that signal) their true anti-social-establishment motives.

Other things like hand-washing between contexts or capturing sneezes and coughs, even in a non-infectious context, are just basic good manners.

How hard can it be to be “sensible”?


[Aside: I am constantly amazed how moronic Jeremy Vine is – whether it’s Eggheads or his Radio 2 show, but I sometimes I listen in hope of detecting it’s some kind of double-bluff journalistic “act”: something like: – when it comes to asking questions, there’s no such thing as a dumb question – but man! his inane comments just give him away. As public morons go, he is a fascinating case study.]

The Architecture of the Brain

I’m reading Adam Zeman’s “A Portrait of the Brain” (2008).

I’ve previously read his “Consciousness: A Users Guide” (2002) after seeing him give a talk in Cambridge in 2003. He’s become short-hand for me as the “Z” in from Austin to Zeman in listing all the various neuroscientists who have investigated “abnormal” behaviours in real individual patients with brain “defects” – all the way from the over-used Phineas Gage example from 1848 to the late 20th C “Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”.

[Aside – I notice in that reference to hearing Zeman talk in 2003 it was organised in conjunction with Cambridge Centre for Quantum Computing. A connection I’ve made in spades since, but not sure I noticed the significance at the time.]

Mark Solms, who I’m also reading at the moment and is added to that list, points out that sceptical colleagues referred unkindly to Oliver Sacks as “The Man who Mistook Science for a Literary Career”. I’d not heard of Solms before the link above, and I’d not seen anyone else cite Zeman since I originally came across him above. Solms also credits much collaboration with Damasio. These people are a fantastic resource of content and thinking on empirical brain-mind studies. (Roughly – Austin, Damasio, Gazzaniga, McGilchrist, Sperry, Sacks, Ramchandran, Solms, Zeman – from memory.)

Having obtained Zeman’s later work whilst reading Solms, I diverted to reading the former because of the index of contents:

It screams out a layered architecture from the fundamental physical to the highest consciousness. Like Solms book, Zeman’s content is mostly familiar to me in kind, popular science explanations, but is constructed and presented in a wonderfully transparent way. [All we’re missing is some brain topology diagrams that can show the whole story – with science expanding fast in this area in the 21st C, there are so many variations on a theme as new information is “added” to different pictures … a job to be done.]