A remarkable book. It changes everything.

Busy, Busy, Busy.

Mentioned strange times regarding work-load and productivity a few posts ago; my pipeline stuffed with unread bookmarks and unresolved references, and a to-do-list with at least seven dimensions of priorities to juggle, personally and professionally. Not exactly “treading water”, but difficult to discern progress going anywhere. Ironic that the immediately previous Wittgensteinian post (and comments) ends up focussed on what we mean by progress anyway.

Bridgehead Re-established

So for now, this is a bit of a housekeeping clear-out.

The topic I need to focus on in this Psybertron context is essentially the disfiguring effects of identity politics and political correctness on human rationality which in turn drive and/or limit the progress of humanity – working title “Good Fences” as I mentioned a couple of days ago. But obviously that also comes with a model of understanding what we (should) mean by rationality and progress. A normative ethical question, not a technical problem.

Lots of holding links in that post, but two others popped-up already today. The place of Cybernetics in my journey through this landscape since 2002, last summarised in 2012. That is itself linked in this Jan 2021 post where I was looking for a hero for this story – John Doyle in (human) systems thinking and Jay Rosen in journalism. Cybernetics and communications.

So those two paragraphs are essentially a placeholder for what I need to focus on – at least as far as my personal reading & writing priorities are concerned, ignoring other dimensions of my to-do list. What I need to clear out for now (even if eventually linked cogently into the above) is as follows:

Eco’s Library

I left my review of “The Murder of Professor Schlick” hanging at the mid-point, the peak of logical positivism in the Vienna Circle (the Ernst Mach Society). Suffice to say the fall of the Circle continues to be a great read, so David Edmonds book is highly recommended. I won’t however be adding to my brief review of it.

Schlick is however the last book I actually read.

As well as the backlog of bookmarks (see busy, above) I have a pile of unread and unreviewed books acquired during 2020, and several more arrived (still arriving) since. No more an untidy pile on the nightstand, but a whole temporary filing box on which the lid can no longer close. Out of courtesy, and as part of being organised, I should probably at least list them, but maybe not.

No photo description available.

No shame in a library of unread books says Umberto Eco; books acquired for good reasons, to have as references when the moments arise, but still valued as friends, given houseroom.

The Hidden Spring

Here one example for now, a review of an unread book, in fact a book I’ve not even read any other reviews of nor seen referenced by others. I bought Marks Solms’ “The Hidden Spring” on the strength of seeing him give an on-line talk mentioned here.

As usual I’ve been skimming the bibliography, index, references and endnotes and I find so many references I already consider my own primary sources, that I can in all conscience recommend it without reading it, for now.

Does he mention my hero Dennett? Yes he does, three times in the index, two of which are endnote references, and no specific bibliography references – not the three decades old Consciousness Explained!

Ashby to Zeman via Chalmers, Conway, Crick, Davies, Edelman, Ellis, England, Friston, Humphrey, Kurzweil, Markov, Nagel, Panksepp, Posner, Pribram, Rovelli, Shannon, Skinner, Sperry, Strawson & Tononi, including Damasio, Ramchandran & Sacks on abnormal brains and the “Free-Won’t” take on Libet – hooray. 100 pages of endnotes and index. All the ingredients are there.

One especially intriguing appendix entitled “Arousal and Information”

Quite a few of the usual illustrious suspects in the cover blurb recommendations including my favourite Brian Eno “A remarkable book. It changes everything.” I will no doubt read Solms one day, but can rest easy on other priorities for now, one of which is no doubt that memetically catchy appendix.


Those deleted bookmarks, in no particular order:

Joshua Rosenberg on the Grainger test of “belief”.
(In the context of the Maya Forstater employment tribunal appeal.)

Robin Hill on the Philosophy of Computer Science at the APA.

Philip Goff on improbability as non-evidence for any multiverse at SCIAM.

Goldenfeld, Biancalani & Jafarpour on universal biology and the statistical mechanics of early life at the Royal Society.

Ed Gibney on the atheists place in sacred naturalism at Patheos.

Jussi Jylkka on consciousness as a concrete physical phenomenon at Elsevier.

My own placeholder for a SubStack version of my future blog?

Bob Doyle as the “Information Philosopher” with a massive on-line resource of his information philosophy takes on philosophers, scientists and ideas – originally picked-up on his Frank Ramsey page.

Council planning materials on Ye Lower Ship pub in Reading acquired by Sam Smith in 1991 and never opened since! (Don’t ask).

Tim O’Connor’s web pages – following a YouTube link I can no longer find. (Interesting combination of Free Will, Emergence and Theism.)

What Three Words geolocation paradigm, where my question is how its 3m resolution handles the often much larger discrepancy (more than a kilometer (!)in some parts of the world) between the default Google Map and available Satellite images – basically what frame of reference is W3W fixed to – the default Google Map isn’t accurate to that resolution?

Deborah Soh on Gender Identity – a recurring “identity politics” topic here- prompted by recent reference by Mark Hammonds.

Leeds Skelton Lake new M1 motorway services – latest venture in the multi-billionaire Issa brothers retail empire – a fascination of mine.

Jonathan Rowson’s “Tasting the Pickle: Ten flavours of meta-crisis and the appetite for a new civilisation” (See progress in civilisation.)

Lise Eliot sticking to the PC Identity politics that male and female brains do not differ significantly at Conversation. (Tweeted response, but no takers, despite many retweets.)

Holman Jenkins in WSJ on our Epistemological Crisis re climate change after Obama, in book by his chief scientist Steve Koonin. (Separate but see also that fake climate change evidence that made it to our BBC screens daytime TV)

Jonathan Egid in New Humanist reviewing Tim Williamson’s “Doing Philosophy” – if philosophy isn’t science than what is it, implying it should be?

Michael Rosen on the word “Denier” also in New Humanist.

Randy Gallistel with a whacky suggestion on SubStack that some mysterious calculating stuff actually exists in neurons. Too whacky, but …

Patrick Casey piece on “Group Identity” in Discourse, shared on Teesside SitP Facebook page, to which I replied positively regarding my Good Fences “identity” agenda.

Piece by Ian Taylor and Jon Butterworth “bluffers guide” on the recent Fermilab story about a brand new force of nature. I remain sceptical, but Jon knows his stuff.

1993 piece by Roger Kimball in New Criterion on the “perversions of Foucault”

Hans Sluga blogged recent counter-story to suggestions Foucault was a paedophile. (Foucault useful to my agenda metaphysically, whatever misuse is made of his “queer theory” social agenda.)

Economist piece on China aims to change identity of groups – eg Christian or Uigyur groups. More Identity Politics.

Chris Beckett’s Fiction  – 2019 two-tribes story outline on day of its 2021 paperback publication. One to add to the book list.

Keith Frankish on why panpsychism is probably wrong in The Atlantic. (Interacted on Twitter)

Donald Hoffman on “Realism is False” at The Edge.

Bernado Kastrup on why materialists cannot deny consciousness from IAI

Friston et al in MPDI on Markovian Monism / Markov blanket, entropy and information theory?

Paul Murphy on Hacker vs Williamson on the Meta-Philosophy of Philosophy.

John Horgan in SCIAM on the Rise of Neo-Geocentrism. Anthropic perspective maybe?

Angela Saini in Nature on objectivity vs subjectivity in science. (Someone I’ve disagreed with before, could be interesting.)

Wanja Wiese on why consciousness simply needs a minimal unifying view.

Katsrup on the irony of Goff.

Robert Pepperell on Consciousness as the “organisation of energy” in Frontiers in Psychology. Like it.

Francois Vannucci on Einstein’s two mistakes in The Conversation. Includes that Flammarion 1888 woodcut where earth meets sky.

Philip Ball on the epidemiology of mis-information in Prospect. Sounds like memetics.

Briana Toole on Standpoint Epistemology at Cambridge. No knowledge is independent of human perspective?

Robin Varghese on what Hofstadter got wrong in 3 Quarks Daily. Intriguing.

Issabella Sarto-Jackson on evolutionary epistemology within EES

Chiara Marletto interviewed by Logan Chipkin on constructor theory at IAI.

Ray Monk on G E Moore – disappearance of most revered philosopher, in Prospect.

Uller and Laland on evolutionary causation at MIT – add to booklist.

Shelly Fan hyper on Koch empirical brain testing of two consciousness theories at Singularity Hub

Adam Frank on Minding Matter (one of my own constructions) at Aeon.

Ole Peters on Egodicity in Nature Physics.

Kevin Hartnett on Navier Stokes in Quanta (and many more at this link)

Dan Falk in Undark on failure of astronomy discoveries

Goldstein interviewed by Richard Marshall in  3:16am on Plato, Godel, Spinoza and Ahab

Ford Doolittle on Gaia for 21st C in Aeon

Peter Vickers is panpsychism pure speculation at IAI (Ew – “science-first philosopher”.)

The Raven – magazine of philosophy.

Phew – done.
Used top use a bookmarking tool for that – why did I stop?


Wittgenstein Today

Being Wittgenstein’s birthday, reminded me that, at the end of last week, I’d listened to a 2015 Royal Institute of Philosophy talk “Why Wittgenstein Matters” by Ian Ground.

Sadly audio only, even though the speaker uses a few slides that we don’t see, but a very interesting talk. Partly about the importance of Witt in terms of his distorting effect on philosophy generally, but also a good summary of what his most important thoughts actually were.

Main reason for posting the link now is that the reminders reminded me I’d noticed in the side-bar to the above another Witt “RIoP” lecture by Rupert Read of a similar vintage.

Now I am prejudiced against RR thanks to his extremist Extinction Rebellion / end-of-civilisation links, and one particular experience of his unpleasant interaction on an IAI “How The Light Gets In” panel. But I had noticed he was a Witt scholar, and in fact has a book out in 2021 “Wittgenstein’s Liberatory Philosophy”. So I guess I should listen to what he actually has to say bout Witt. (He has done more talks / interviews to support his book publication, but this predates that.)

He’s clearly already on his anti-technological-progress agenda. New technological innovation isn’t progress, economic growth or development isn’t progress – no arguments there. Scientism isn’t the solution to all our problems – the source of all progress – in the real world – agreed, absolutely.

Problem for me is he seems to be advocating the opposite – explicitly advocating against these. Justifying his anti-establishment, destructive, anarchic, rebellion. No argument we need more enlightened values of what progress could and should be. A proper conservative ecologism, as opposed to neo-libertarianism, as opposed to economic “sustainability”. Seems we may agree strategically (aims of conservative values) even if I’d disagree on destructive tactics. But it is indeed memetic – rescuing our minds from dominating, infectious ideologies that have become part of received wisdom. Anti-establishment in that sense. It is where Wittgenstein fits.

Flourishing, wisdom … what’s not to like.

I need to give Read more time and credence.

Identity and Logical Positivism

Convergence of every topic in every post is making it difficult to maintain coherence – understandability – in what I’m posting recently, and the main reason I need to take a step back and create a more coherent whole piece of writing. Individual posts either take too much for granted to be intelligible, or are so padded with background pre-amble and digression (like this one 🙂 ) that the actual point(s) is(are) lost.

Whatever the public, extrinsic topic, some form of identity politics / political correctness angle is in there, screwing with honest rational views, screwing with any wise balance between scientism and subjectivity, which in turn screws with humanity’s chances of sustainable progress, no less. (Our very rationality is at stake, as I’ve published before.)

[Cue – Good Fences needs to be written.]

Purely coincidentally – though obviously synchronicitously (?) – as well as noting several recent posts (sex, gender, race, whatever the neuro-atypical topic, say here and here and the Dawkins / AHA fiasco) I found myself reading this old post of mine from 2003 “Blinded by the Light #2.

In Rory Remer’s opening paragraph, both identity and logical positivism !(How little did I know then? – More recent / typical writings on those two topics here: identity politics and logical positivism.)

For a while 2001 to 2005 I was confused that my research was a set of overlapping ripples in ever increasing circles doomed to be inconclusive. Clearly sometime between 2003 and 2015-ish the convergence of ever decreasing circles became total and since then, to this day, I’ve been doing little but treading water. There is absolutely nothing new under the sun, ’twas ever thus.

“Just write something!” as the psychiatric therapist advised Robert Pirsig.

The Dreams that Stuff is Made of?

Found myself reading my first “published” paper from 2005.

“It’s Evolutionary Psychology, Stupid”

Whilst I cringe at its naiveté, it still remains remarkably coherent in terms of my evolving agenda, with most of the central concepts – underlying patterns – unchanged. So easy to map Whiteheadian and later neuro-pyschological and pan-psychist views into my kind of information-based pan-proto-psychic metaphysics.

Treading Water

Strange times – partly Covid-measures-related – but between professional engagements and buried in domestic projects for a few weeks, I have dozens of bookmarked pieces for thinking and writing. Many dozens.

Just very briefly caught-up on two – The CSI Effect” from Dave Trott and Corpus Callosum Disrupted in Autism” from Jessica Wright. The latter prompted by a link to a talk by Mark Solms, pointing out that consciousness – the self-other-awareness kind – arises much lower down the brain structure – much further back in evolutionary time – than the high-functioning human hemispheres which contribute most mass to the encephalization view of human advancement.

All related of course. The CSI effect is a kind of social autism – a group behaviour (jury) dependence on objective (forensic-scientific) evidence whilst failing to recognise the value of available (and relevant) subjective testimony. (Whilst ignoring the fact that the forensic evidence presented will be full of value judgements and opinion anyway, albeit expert.)

Related because the lower integrating components of the brain being more important than either cortex is clear in both consciousness itself and in balanced decision-making. McGilchrist points to permissive control in the corpus callosum mediating the extremes of left-over-right dominant decision-making behaviours. Solms shows that consciousness springs – stems 😉 – from even lower down in the brain stem itself. New to me was that explicit autism-spectrum link with Corpus Callosum behaviour, and several other papers on that also linked from the Wright article.

Understanding consciousness in all its glory – from basic self-other awareness to the products of wilful human creativity- demands a systems-thinking approach to relating brain functions (neuroscience) with human behaviour (psychology). Taking a simplistic view of objective determinism is seriously degenerate to our human enterprise. Memetic habits – learned from media inputs – render our juries autistic.

The technical term autism needs reclaiming from individual human well-being on the spectrum. The concept of normality also need rehabilitating – so much high-quality knowledge comes from studying “abnormal” brains. (More on this PC minefield in notes below.)

(And even the gaming effects in play in the CSI effect. It’s all there.)


Caveat Lector:
Some post notes on the autism / political correctness issues.

Autism (or autism spectrum disorder) is a feature seen these days as non-neurotypical or neuro-atypical. Typical is used here to avoid the normative & pejorative connotations of normal / abnormal, order / disorder. Even the word disorder is actually absent from most search returns on autism spectrum disorder. Spectrum is used to signify that the feature involves a range of properties, values and qualities, but there is no escaping that the distribution on that range is non-uniform. That “typical” does have some significance that atypical departs from a “normally expected” case.

A bit like any social spectra there need be no dogma asserting or demanding whole population conformance to normal cases, even (especially) where human rights for the atypical cases may deserve some special consideration or therapy to optimise their individual participation and contribution within wider human society. I say social / society, but like all such cases the psychological / behavioural patterns and spectra have some basis in the biological / physical layer, without necessarily being determined. There are learning and developmental dimensions as well as biological evolution. It’s complicated, and artificial simplicity distorts the true picture.

All individuals have the same human rights, but the value in atypical cases is in their departure from the typical, a typical that must exist in the population numbers. To use evolutionary language there can be no sustainable species if more than a few depart / mutate from the genetic norm to which most adhere most closely in most significant aspects. Exceptions being valued doesn’t mean more exceptions are necessarily more valuable. Archetypes are needed.

(Also related to binary classifications / good fences argument. Incredibly difficult to articulate sensitively – hence PC-ness. And hopefully obvious I could have written the whole of that around the sex & gender debate as much as the autism spectrum. Rules require exceptions, but not so many that there are effectively no rules.)

Try this: The population benefits from most members being closer to its norms. The population supports that individuals are free to depart from these (in physical & biological development or by psychological choice of will) in any number of dimensions. The population all benefits from those that depart from the norms – it’s where our evolutionary progress comes from. However the amount of population departure from norms in any given time period still requires that the mass of the population to remain close to these norms over multiple reproductive life-cycles. Too much mutation too fast is degenerate for the population.

Corollary, it’s why increasing speed of communication – memetic or genetic – is a problem for humanity.

Corollary, progress (without multi-generational population hindsight) is a value judgement. Individuals with power can make bad (eugenic / fascist) choices for the whole population unless value norms are conserved over multiple generations.

Science as the Pursuit of Knowledge

Part of my agenda is that “orthodox” science is constraining humanity’s understanding of the real world, particularly at two “boundaries”: its metaphysical foundation and its interface with subjective consciousness.

There is a need to clarify that “orthodox”. Any system – like science itself – will want to define itself as broadly as possible by including as many nuanced aspects within what it means to be scientific. But this is really an “identity” issue for science. (See embedded post note.)


And, being self-correcting by design … scientific arrogance / scientism

Logical Positivists – making philosophy scientific

Objective, empirical, physicalist … Objectively repeatable independent of subject, etc. Popperian falsification.

Kinda like Goff’s Galileo’s error – excluding the subjective, inner view.
As I say here – orthodox physical science para.

No says Ed Gibney


The Naturalistic Fallacy

I have been known to invoke “The Naturalistic Fallacy” – in fact did so most recently in my immediately previous post – but I need to clarify how I’m using it.

I’ve been following Ed Gibney for a while, and am discovering that important aspects of his evolutionary philosophy, and many of the sources he cites positively, coincide with many aspects of my own. Dennett, Pirsig, Dostoevsky to name but three. Also, intriguingly like myself (and Pirsig), his preferred aim is literary fiction that delivers philosophical knowledge, though so far in my case that remains a mere aspiration.

In that vein Gibney has an important 2015 piece published in AESBL Journal [a bit of a mouthful … the Journal of the Association for the Study of
(Ethical Behavior) & (Evolutionary Biology) in Literature] entitled “Bridging the Is-Ought Divide: Life is. Life ought to act to remain so.”

He spends significant part of that paper debunking the naturalistic fallacy and indeed opens with this quote from Oliver Curry:

“The naturalistic fallacy…seems to have become something of a superstition. It is dimly understood and widely feared, and its ritual incantation is an obligatory part of the apprenticeship of moral philosophers and biologists alike.”

Mea culpa.

My own evolutionary metaphysics, and the epistemological ontology built on that, is entirely naturalistic with zero supernatural content, so clearly all the ethical / ought aspects of our evolved and evolving reality are part of that. No fallacy there, certainly not the kind that excludes the good / ought from the natural / is. (Gibney’s definition of life involving the “ought” to persist itself is a good one, and a regular topic here in recent years, but I digress.)

The reason the naturalistic fallacy nevertheless remains a useful concept is because a large element of “natural” worldviews held by humanist / sceptic / green / woke / “follow-the-science” types involves a much narrower “scientistic” view of natural science. One which practically excludes subjective human will, leaving the caricature that natural equals good, where human intent equals bad if not merely illusory and misguided.

The everyday sense that natural is necessarily good is the modern equivalent of the naturalistic fallacy, even though that’s not the sense in which Hume originally coined it. Good and bad are both naturally evolved elements of reality to be understood as such.

[Anyway there’s a lot more in that paper worth reflecting on, and another interesting dialogue with Massimo Pigliucci arising from his “Plants Don’t Think” post to come back to. I’ve had this problem with Massimo before.]


[Post Note: This piece from Dan Ariely et al in Behavioral Scientist bemoans this same modern “Appeal to Nature Fallacy.]

Humanist Religion?

Christianity has a strong humanist core in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Much the same is true of Judaism and Islam and their prophets. And much of the specifics of that core are unoriginal / inherited / shared around many other social and religious traditions – love for fellow man, the golden rule n’all that. Origin stories and creation myths too.

In order to emphasise our natural atheistic distinction versus supernatural theistic nature of (most of) these religions, most of us humanists reject any suggestions of being a religion. God forbid. It establishes clear water between organised humanism and organised religions where the latter depend on rules associated with teachings of their prophets posthumously recorded in their great books. Rules which their organised churches may enforce as dogma, even if great debates and schisms continue on interpretations, and many adherents may accommodate with the pragmatics of everyday living.

Humanism however has some key worldview aspects – values – we share as humanists, whether signed-up as bona-fide members of any formal humanist organisation – such as Humanists UK in my case – or not. In my book, those views which bind us in that shared identity do make us a religion by definition – religiare – that which binds us. And some of those values are pretty axiomatic if not dogmatic.

One of those is the natural view – the rejection of any supernatural deity – philosophy as natural science and the ecology of humanity within that. A lot more is said about that in this Psybertron project.

The other is the human aspect itself. Essentially since 1948 stemming from the Universal UN Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent freedoms of thought and expression and shared responsibilities for the global ecosystem. With acknowledgements due, of course, to all the precursor thinkers and campaigners that led to these being adopted. Axioms which are not beyond being legally enforced, by socio-economic political pressures and by force of physical intervention. Axioms many of which are also enshrined and protected in national legal systems. Axiomatic by means of constitutional and revisable democratic arrangements, but not so democratic we wouldn’t all be outraged if a populist movement ignored or overturned them?

It is only ignorance of the naturalistic fallacy (the “appeal to nature” fallacy, in fact) that prevents most humanists accepting that these humanist axioms are not themselves natural, and depend on being maintained by collective human will. Humanism is the most widespread religion in all but accepted identity.