The Hypocrisy of Debate

Reading on in Cheryl Misak’s biography of Frank Ramsey, we’re into his early undergrad life at Trinity Cambridge. Trying out the various college and university debating societies including the still legendary Cambridge Union.

A recurring topic of mine is the value of dialogue in contrast to the artificial win-lose aims of debating a motion. Inescapably and imperfect binary decision-making component of choice by voting in a democracy, but far from advancing truth and knowledge. Rather the contrary. An evolutionary degeneration  towards a world of binary opposites, as I’ve characterised it many times in the last two decades.

After giving up on debating societies Ramsey records
(my [paraphrasing] Misak, quoting Ramsey):

He loathed the perverted ambition of debating … [playing to the gallery]

He found [it better] in less formal settings … [like being invited to tea to debate with individuals]

Obvious risks in identifying with the greatest genius that ever lived, but I do … also in his impression of mixed gender settings moderating the “silliness” of debate. And how about (with my day-job information management hat on) a woman’s intuition (Dora Black) after wading through an archetypal (C.K.Ogden) tutor’s office buried under cluttered piles of books and papers …

… a method of filing which would commend itself to anyone who knows that, once a thing has gotten into a folder of a filing cabinet, it will never be found again …

Too true. The hypocrisy of formally imposed structure.

Reading on.

Ramsey, Wittgenstein, Gödel and the rest.

Cheryl Misak’s biography of “Frank Ramsey – A Sheer Excess of Powers” is proving to be an excellent read. It’s a 500 page tome and is a beautifully presented academic reference work in terms of front and end materials. The main narrative is broken only by occasional elaboration in text box asides, contributed by recognised experts in each subject.

For anyone interested in the limitations of logical positivism as I am, Ramsey’s key touch points with the other main players of early 20th century philosophy, logic, mathematics and economics – Cambridge and the Bloomsbury set – are already legendary. A legend of genius sealed by his untimely death in his prime, aged only 27 in January 1930.

Part of that interest is in the Vienna Circle and its relationships with the other players, so another book I have lined-up to read after Misak is David Edmonds “The Murder of Professor Schlick”. (Schlick being the “leader” of the Vienna Circle and the murder it seems being literal not rhetorical.)

But I’m only 70 pages into Misak’s Ramsey as I write this. After the Cambridge childhood and Winchester schooldays, Chapter 3 has set the stage for the the main players who “[really lived] in a great time for thinking” and with whom Ramsey was already interacting.  Keynes, Moore, Russell and Wittgenstein.

At this remove, it’s hard to understate the importance of the world-in-crisis in the first three decades of the 20th century and the search for better models for understanding and living together in the world. Misak conveys the import. An import we surely face again as we enter the third decade of the 21st. Politics or economics, philosophies or logics, Ramsey had already discovered, before going up to Trinity Cambridge aged 17 in March 1920, as I have (now aged 65 next month in 2021), that metaphysical questions are unavoidable in these otherwise worldly topics. “PPE” depends on metaphysics to this day.

Russell’s mentor Whitehead had understood. Wittgenstein clearly had too. His WW1 (Austro-German) isolation evolved the written Tractatus to the point he was apoplectic at the empty tautology of “Russellian orthodoxy” misunderstanding his seeming “completion” of logic. Looking ahead in the index it is gratifying to see that the “speculation” of how different things might have been had Ramsey, Wittgenstein and Gödel had time to work together in educating the logical positivists in the errors of their orthodoxy. Another fascination of mine.

400 pages to go. I’m all in.

Dante. 2021 is Looking Up

Who knew 2021 was a year of celebration for Dante’s Comedia? Dante 2021 starts on BBC R4 tomorrow 1th Jan with an introduction from Katya Adler broadcast last week. Apparently there are many events planned in Florence and beyond in 2021, the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, having only just completed his magnum opus the previous year. I didn’t know any of that when I started a serious attempt to read it the weekend before Christmas 2020.

It’s a read that’s been on my list for most of the last two decades and probably 15 years since I acquired the Everyman Library translation by Allen Mandelbaum. I can even remember buying it, at Barnes & Noble on University Drive in Huntsville Alabama. The first of many false starts to actually reading it, prompted invariably by intriguing references in other works.

The next significant milestone was acquiring the Clive James translation in 2013. It looked more promising language but in fact proved another false dawn. But James’ notes did provide an important piece of information. As a read, it’s written backwards. With all the action in part 1 Inferno, and the dry philosophical theses in parts 2 and 3 Purgatorio and Paradiso. BBC Radio4 serialised the whole thing in 2014 and it’s being rebroadcast from tomorrow on BBC Radio4 Extra.

There was hope in early 2020 when I discovered Mark Vernon, active on my Twitter timeline, was a Dante scholar. But we know what happened to 2020! The tipping point to the latest attempt was reading the many references to Dante in Carlo Rovelli’s There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness a collection of his essays published in Italian media in recent years. As a big fan of Rovelli in my wider agenda concerning the metaphysical boundaries of physics and consciousness, that read was ultimately disappointing (a longer story) but I posted references to 6 or 7 really wonderful pieces in the first half.

I can confirm having completed Inferno and Purgatorio – skim-reading towards the end of the latter, and now thinking hard about embarking into Paradiso – that Mark, like Clive James, is right. Parts 2 (and 3) much tougher going than part 1. (After trying both versions – quite different in style – I did find the traditional translation easier, feeling closer to Dante himself.)

Though even in Purgatorio there is the recurring “virtual reality” of the physical geometry / topology of Dante’s world being somehow other than our orthodox 3D.

Anyway obviously I’m not writing “a review” of Dante, but I can say I’m really glad I shared Inferno and Purgatorio with him, even if I never venture into Paradiso. I am of course going to have to revisit the first two to pick out the metaphysical links – it’s not the kind of read you can really annotate as you read. The rhythm demands attention. Wonderful stuff, as many greater than I have commented previously.

Loved our visit to Florence and Pisa in 2018, focussing on Galilean connections. I can see future Dantean visits are on the cards, but maybe 2021 will enforce other priorities.


(Aside. One linguistic observation, the occupants in translation are referred to as “shades” – is that ghosts of souls?)

We Can Be Heroes in 2021

It’s fair to say 2020 wasn’t the year most of us were expecting, and it’s not over yet. It’s a long 2020.

As well as the culmination of the self-inflicted BoJo/Brexit/Trump insanities that meant UK and US were distracted from what really needed attention in the world at large (Chinese Uyghurs anyone?) Covid took over any remaining attention-spans we had left.

The effect was compounded for me personally, because towards the end of 2019, after a decade of mostly home working – visiting colleagues and clients in person as and when necessary – I’d just committed myself to near-full-time working at offices ~120 miles from home. Back to a previous life on the road and mostly in hotels a couple of nights a week. The particular job was (is) complicated enough in scale and complexity of partners and stakeholders, that the switch to enforced total homeworking has been a hammer blow.

Mostly home working as-and-when is a flexibility. Enforced total home working is a millstone to progressing shared understandings of a novel approach to information architectures for digital transformation – to use the jargon of my current day-job. Remote working works well with people with whom you have significant shared understanding and trust, but not when you’re still trying to get on the same page under complex work pressures. That requires human dialogue and contact beyond the formal transactions.

Anyway, this isn’t about me and my day job, it’s about the relevance of information & communication architectures to the full context. The information environment and decisions made by us and for us about Brexit, Trump, Covid etc. Decisions which are themselves reflected in everyday life and day-job choices. Follow-the-science & official advice vs fake-news & conspiracy-theories at its most stark.

Since the 1940’s – before electronic computers – that’s been known as Cybernetics. These days it’s called Systems Engineering – human systems to manage the organisation & governance of human affairs – biological, social, business, political – you name it. In my day-job it’s primarily about business systems and operations, but all human life is here in any complex business.

Just before I committed to that job in Sept 2019 I posted about identifying a new potential hero in terms of systems architectures, systems which go right back to biological evolution of our sentient and purposeful selves. Our human architecture. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last night was the US day-after the Trump rabble(*) insurrection of 6th Jan 2021 and social media was full of “takes” and updates. That whole melee of information, official & individual, fact & opinion, real &”fake”. One thing’s clear, a large part of the Trump mob angle comes from the QAnon all-purpose anti-establishment conspiracy-theories end of that spectrum, whether it’s rigged-elections, anti-vaxxers, white-supremacy vs antifa or whatever.

(* I say “rabble” – but with the actual intent and planning, and a little different chances on the day, it was close to being a mob bloodbath.)

Deciding – or simply having an opinion about – the best thing to do with or about Trump and his mob is tricky to say the least at many levels across many timescales. Obviously for most of us there’s a general bias towards justice, but that still leaves many options. And none of the choices is independent, eventually they’re integrated into an objective reality and a collection of perceptions we have to live with. In my previous post I started to bring in journalists that get the significance of the information communication architecture – how the information flows affect the actual knowledge content, when the consumers are democratically (individually) controlling them, as we are in social-media environments. (It’s an idea as old as McLuhan, but …) Transparency that bypasses the idea of professional media is ultimately and inevitably degenerate. (Read the Jay Rosen 24-tweet thread linked in that post.) All issues degenerate to binary / unstable extremes, with all stable / nuanced options crowded out.

Last night – in a pause from the Trump traffic – I happened to watch the lecture by the potential hero I’d blogged about in Sept 2019. John C Doyle. Apart from capturing the link and my reasons for doing so, I’d completely forgotten I’d watched it before last night. Looking at my on-line activity, it seems entirely random that I did.

System architectures for massively enhanced evolvability” is spookily close to my day-job agenda, but that’s a story for another day. The game changer for us humans more generally is this:

Human systems architectures are well evolved
to deal with bio-genetic viruses. (And deal with mountain-biking down steep rocky paths.)

Human systems architectures are not well evolved
to deal with info-memetic viruses.

The latter is our bigger problem right now.
Has been (my main agenda) for two decades.

It’s been apparent since the rise of personal email, compounded in the days of bulletin boards and email exploders, and gone nuclear thanks to real-time “unmoderated” social-media. The human system can’t handle it for in-built design reasons. The information  channels are too fast for our internal system dynamics and instability is inevitable.

Breivik#2 – The Nashville Bomber – Tip of an Iceberg.

Different collection of conspiracy theories, different anti-establishment target … but

Spent over a year building the bomb in the RV in his back yard – trespass warnings on gate and front door – reported by a girlfriend back in 2019.

Mailed his “manifesto” to conspiracy mates, used his dog’s name Julio as his on-line ID, and took the dog with him in the suicide bombing – Breivik planned for the legal martyrdom rather than suicide.

Warner targetted AT&T assets and went for minimal human targets, early morning Christmas day, whereas Breivik targetted people that represented the left-right conspiracy extremes. (Destruction of the old downtown buildings and businesses particularly on the east-side of 2nd Ave will be long term damage to a great city. The west side already had modern office buildings.)

Supremacists or Antifa – all the same, extremist nutters at both ends of the “fascist” spectrum – and Trump has a lot to answer for. The AT&T / 5G / chips-in-brains conspiracists were welcomed to a White House meeting in the past year.

This CBS report will do for now, but will add detail and more links when the content of his packages are made public. (And this Tennessean story with some details a day earlier. More from ABC News overnight 2nd/3rd Jan.)



(And yes, Tim McVeigh preceded Anders Breivik.)

(Not becoming a “big story” amidst all the other Covid and Trump stories – mainly it seems because he killed no-one other than himself and his dog – by design. Doesn’t change the scale of the conspiracy-ideology-motivated action? It only leads if it bleeds! But just as dangerous to humanity.)

(And – the antivaxxer angle – different case – the Wisconsin pharmacist sabotaging Covid vaccines. We need to address not just countering the content of conspiracy theories – which generates more for-against traffic on the content. We need to address moderation the “environment” that supports the traffic – that reinforces the ideological conspiracies to action in the first place. See Jay Rosen at foot of the threads below.)

(And – the Trump-led 6th Jan insurrection – need I say more. Q it is.)


Why do I care?

Thing is, conspiracy theories are an easy “intentional” take on what is a natural memetic evolutionary problem with reasoning degenerating to simplistic polarised extremes in our times of maximum information communication – it’s why I’m here these two decades.

We need “moderation” – proper journalism – unfettered communications are dangerously degenerate.

Seemingly unconnected?
(Each link is part of a Twitter thread …)

The connection ? … is mass communications – in fact it’s the mass interconnectivity of the communications that allow “like ideas” to connect with and reinforce each other – and drive to polarised extremes crowding out subtle variation and nuance.

This whole thread – the rejection of “journalism” by internet processes – Jay Rosen and Alice Dreger – two journalists that “get it”.

“Information is downstream from identity”.

Remember that phrase!

Me and Roy Harper

Pretty sure I first heard Roy Harper 1972/73 ish, probably in a John Peel Sounds of the 70’s session. The first thing of his I bought was the 1973 Lifemask album, his sixth, quickly followed by Flashes (from the archives of oblivion) his 1974 live-album. The Zeppelin, Jimmy Page & Keith Moon connection was already there in those live shows.

Between then and a year after uni in 1978, we must have seen him live a couple of dozen times; some particularly memorable gigs at Middlesbrough Town Hall, Colchester Essex Uni, London LSE and (alma mater) Imperial. Hazy student debates were often Harper vs Dylan (a la Oasis vs Blur in its time) and the fact Dylan had “gone electric” a decade earlier. In that same time I collected and played to death most of his back catalogue.

Sophisticated Beggar (67), Folkjokeopus (69), Flat Baroque and Berserk (70), Stormcock (71). As well as Lifemask (73) that period included HQ (75) – an electric album including Chris Spedding (*). I was obsessed with Me and My Woman from Stormcock and Twelve Hours of Sunset (off the live album (I never did buy Valentine for some reason?)

Most people – apart from the Zeppelin Hats Off to Harper and Pink Floyd Have a Cigar connections – heard Harper as a result of his HQ album, thanks to The Old Cricketer single. The “epic” on that album was The Game Pt’s 1 to 5 which we Harper aficionados knew to be the (then) culmination of a series of epic political humanity works spanning the previous 6 albums.

In fact, mention of cricketer by Jon Butterworth was the reason I’ve tweeted about Harper a couple of times recently, and why my “Harper Epics” playlist has been boosted in my media collection:

Harper has of course gigged and recorded since then (I have Bullinamingvase and Man & Myth) but let’s stick to the early body of work here. You’ll find him in De Barras Folk Club, Clonakilty, Ireland these days, if live venues ever re-open.

Apart from my infatuation with Me and My Woman, the resonance of Twelve Hours of Sunset was the same for me as it had been for his originally creating it. I found myself in one period of my life on many west-bound transatlantic flights, and home-bound from Asia, and even a few circumnavigation trips, reading books and listening to music in headphones.

Anyway, in recent years I’ve acquired the remastered electronic copies of the record collection and built the playlist. To my mind, these days, The Lord’s Prayer from Lifemask is the definitive track, but I have that playlist on shuffle / repeat.

Except that in the last few days I re-watched the I’m Your Man documentary about Leonard Cohen and have Anthem, Hallelujah and Tower of Song  currently on repeat. That’s a much shorter story since I never really became aware of Cohen until the last 10 years or so, but mentioning that on Twitter was what prompted this post, today.

Harper vs Dylan? Oasis vs Blur? Cohen vs Harper?

It’s a tower of song either way.


(*) Oh, and by the way, Chris Spedding is in the band playing tribute to Leonard Cohen along with the Wainwrights, the MacGarrigles, U2 and others in I’m Your Man. A man of taste, ask Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols. What goes around comes around. Loudon’s Dead Skunk and Hollywood Hopeful were in the mix back in ’75. John Martyn in there too, gig at Imperial in those same days, with Paul Kossoff on guitar, and later Dave Gilmour … on John Wayne. The connections are endless, which is the point of the Twelve Hours reference linked above ….

Brian Josephson at Nobel Lindau 2019

Just a holding post to capture this recent (2019) link to Brian Josephson’s Nobel Laureate talk to young scientists at the 2019 Lindau meeting.

Brian was one of the first physical scientists I came across (back in 2002) that gave serious consideration of the relevance to physics of living and conscious models. I’ve seen him speak and linked to other lectures of his, and it’s fair to say his written thought is better than his presentation skills, but his thinking is still worth close consideration.

Matter thinks, feels and converses” in Karan Barad’s words he was tempted not to quote.

Much about the limitations of mathematics to represent physics. Our choice of mathematics (languages) greatly influences the models we arrive at
(Reminded me of @katoi and Peter Rowlands)

Lots of good links in his entirely textual slides, pan-psychists and universal-lifeists take note. (Mentioning no names Philip Goff and Tim Bollands).

A lot of the content of the talk is in this paper “The Physics of Mind and Thought“. And consistent with my original and enduring cybernetic interest, it has a strong information processing and game theory thread. A physical scientist quoting Foucault, Wittgenstein and ABBA’s Name of the Game! Excellent.

[As recently as here, quoting the paired concepts that to start playing a game you have to know (some of) the rules, but the playing of the game evolves and creates new rules and objects between the players, even if the formal (constraining) rules are fixed. I think that “stepping stone” model is basically “your move” in Hofstadter’s “Tabletop” game.]

Oh my:

“This is what conversation is about; individuals develop tools for creating a synthetic reality on the basis of their past experience (compare this with building real objects with a construction kit, on the basis of descriptions in language) and can cooperate in their use.”

… and …

“[T]here may be no other way to advance beyond the unavoidable limitations associated with the outdated idea that the complexities of reality can be reduced to a formula.”

I’m Not Wrong, Erik.

Had one of those pet-hate Twitter-threads where someone makes a negative comment @me and dozens of others pile-on with “like” (and more) without any attempt to engage with the original point. (I used to have a pinned Tweet that said I routinely blocked such people.)

Firstly, I’m not wrong.

Secondly, it’s a statement in support of Erik Verlinde whose work as a theoretical physicist is well known to me – very close to the core of my work – with information as the complement of entropy at a fundamental level. I’ve written a lot about him in this context. I’ve travelled and paid to hear him speak and asked him direct questions at conferences.

I suspect it got the negative reaction because:

      • the “IF” wasn’t noted, what I said was conditional. Objectively it clearly wasn’t wrong.
      • the “YOU” operating as the English “ONE” in “IF YOU” was presumed aimed at Erik who felt the need to defend himself, when clearly it was aimed at experimental scientists meeting that conditional investment criterion.
      • and anyway, I already made it clear I wasn’t suggesting a direct motivation, I was agreeing with Sabine’s point (which she has gone on to further elaborate this morning). See blind-siding below.

And yes,

… in response to those suggesting I was some kind of idiot that didn’t get theoretical physics and/or that I didn’t appreciate the black-hole horizon information density was theoretical and not directly amenable to empirical test …

the point, as Sabine has elaborated, is that it’s not a surprise finding or any kind of paradox to those already interested in theoretical physics at this fundamental / metaphysical boundary. People like Erik have already “solved” it. It’s only a paradox to those already invested in the standard model behind high-energy experimental collider physics. The targets of Sabine’s comment, and mine.

Generally, no professional scientist is directly motivated not to publish significant results. But where people look for findings in their expensive experimental kit is blindsided by assumptions in that investment, and the need to retrospectively justify that in support of further future investment. Blind-sided to seeing the significance of a theoretical finding elsewhere.

What we’re doing is trying to redirect more funding to theoretical physicists exactly like Erik.

Jeez. Rant over.

(Now, how to cc all those in the individual-like pile-on?)


[Post Note: Made the general link above about many references to Verlinde in the Psybertron blog, but this 2018 conference summary is quite apposite considering @Katoi has now also joined the fray here:

Two theoretical physicists with concerns for epistemological boundaries of their art are Sabine Hossenfelder and Erik Verlinde. Both might agree that science has been “fucked-up” by humans.

You’d think that experimental physicists have little to fear from the theorists? Except of course that enormous investments in their very large kit may have been justified to look for the wrong things. They need to hope that null and surprise results from already justified experiments still add to our new models and body of knowledge.

And so it goes.]