Sunday, October 01, 2017

Trapped Comments Released from Moderation

Blogspot hasn't been emailing me about pending Quantum Non-Linearity comments that are automatically put into the moderation. Labouring under the wrong assumption that blogspot would email me about these I haven't been looking at the moderation queue. Consequence: Comments added months ago haven't been seen by me or responded to. But I've now responded to the comments in the following posts::

Nuclear Enabled Cranks: Comment by dimwoo

Dualism,Theology and Cognition   Comment by Jonathan Kopel

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Free Marketeer, but with a 'but'.....

Yes, free market economics is a feedback system! If there's a non-linear 
coupling here then we have all the potential for chaos!

I've been talking to James Knight on his Facebook discussion group about economics. He has, in the past, called himself a "libertarian" and he writes for the Adam Smith institute. Nowadays, however, "libertarian" just isn't a good label - it is term which has become blighted by association with the anti-establishment right-wing market protectionists and hyper-patriots in the US. In this context "libertarian" is a term giving pretext and plausible cover to a movement that in the final analysis, I submit, would ultimately prove to be anti-free market; after all, the anti-establishment disaffection we find in the US is in part the outcome of global trade changes, changes which, ironically, are to be expected as the free market works out its global logic. The reaction of the hyper-patriots to this global situation is to feel the draw of a consolidated nationalism (sometimes bordering on fascism and race supremacy) and  this encourages trade protectionism. These hyper-patriots are also fertile ground for a paranoid conspiracy theorism which imagines established government to be the seat of manipulative Machiavellian players. Let us remember that Hitler himself was an excellent exploiter of inter-cultural distrust and fear and populated the dark crevices of government with demons from his imagination.

Extreme libertarianism is anarchistic in sentiment and this, ironically, echoes the Marxist concept of the government-less commune, an idealistic state of society thought to be achievable via the pro tempore arrangements of the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat.  But given the self-deceits of human nature I have little doubt that the uncompromising idealism of the extremes of left and right, extremes which seek to do away with established (democratic) government, hide an all too human logic which ultimately results in the setting up of dictatorships, dictatorships which are anything but free-market friendly: Economic-hands-off tends to go hand in glove with intellectual-hands-off. Dictatorships feel threatened by this because it entails the distributed ferment of ideas which necessarily drive markets. Dictators (who sometimes have mental health issues) have a tendency to view the society they seek to dominate as an extension of their personality. But free markets do not usually thrive under the idiosyncrasies of dictators.

Over ten years ago I did a series on this blog called Mathematical Politics. This series briefly considered the question of centralized control verses decentralized free market control. The series ran into ten posts: Viz:

After 10 parts I got bored with the subject, abandoned it and returned to the physical sciences which I much prefer. But my recent involvement with James' Facebook group has meant I've had to blow the dust off this series. The last part finished with this:

It is ironic that both laissez faire capitalists and Marxists have faith in the power of a kind of “emergence” to work its magic. Both believe that once certain antecedent conditions are realized we are then on the road to a quasi-social paradisr. For the laissez faire capitalist the essential precursor is a free economy. For the Marxist the overthrow of the owning classes is the required precursor that once achieved will allow all else to fall into place. There is a parallel here with the school of artificial intelligence which believes consciousness is just a matter of getting the formal structures of cognition right: Once you do this, it is claimed, regardless of the medium on which those formal structures are reified, conscious cognition will just “emerge”. Get the precursors right and the rest will just happen, and you needn’t even think about it; the thing you are looking for will just ‘emerge’.


In other words I was deeply suspicious of any "panacea" prescriptions from both the left and right. However, in spite of that I still thought of myself as basically a person who was enthusiastic about the free market, although with a 'but'. For example, I finished part 4 with this paragraph:

So, the argument goes, for the successful creation and distribution of wealth the centralised planning of a command economy is likely to be less efficient a decision making process than that afforded by the immense decisional power latent in populations of people who are competent in identifying and acting own their own needs and desires. In particular, technological innovation is very much bound up with the entrepreneurial spirit that amalgamates the skills of marketeers and innovators who spot profit opportunities that can be exploited by new technology. Hence, free market capitalism goes hand in hand with progress. Such activity seems well beyond the power of some unimaginative central planner. It has to be admitted that there is robustness in this argument; Centralised planners don’t have the motivation, the knowledge and the processing power of the immense distributed intelligence found in populations of freely choosing agents.

But there is always a but.....

Always acutely aware that one must never be dogmatic about one's views, views which are best submitted to one's doubts and criticism, I then went on to consider conditions where the free market philosophy might need a bit of qualification.

But with today's partisan politics, in part a reaction to the economic instabilities caused by market globalization, there has been an increasing trend for the debate to polarize between left and right. The upshot of this is that there is a tendency to put people in either one of two camps: "If you are not with us you are against us!".  Given this context I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when James focused on my 'buts' rather than identify me as a fellow free market proponent even after months of discussion. As I've already said my acceptance of the market system necessarily, repeat necessarily, comes with a fair measure self-criticism, qualifications and 'buts' (an essential part of my epistemic method as far as I'm concerned). I think James saw this self criticism as a failure of faith and a failure to "convert".  Here's a sample of the response he gave me: 

When we meet I'm going to try to see that you get to grips with how much you may be underestimating just how much trade has done for humanity, and by equal measure how much you may be underestimating the harm done to humanity by all the things I regularly criticise

Markets work for all the people that partake in them, because markets are cooperation through and through.

Where people suffer is when they have barriers to enjoying the market benefits - such as through state meddling, corruption, cronyism, war, etc.

I think you're still learning about the power of markets, Tim - you're still in the early days.

I know he's far from perfect, but I'd recommend reading Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist - it's a fabulous intro to the development of markets and all the ways in which they benefit humankind.

This conjures up the image of me still loitering in the foothills of economic enlightenment, failing to tread the straight and narrow road to riches and therefore in need of full conversion! My "conversion" to "libertarianism" will never happen of course, because that would be contrary to my epistemic sentiments. I do all I can to avoid partisan contentions so assimilating my intellect that they become part of my personality; that would be to succumb to a kind of intellectual hegemony and commit intellectual suicide. So, rather than allowing some intellectual position to assimilate me, I instead endeavor to assimilate itThis means that wherever possible I maintain a studied detachment towards a subject, thereby avoiding becoming an enslaved "fan" to anything less worthy than the very meaning of life. Therefore I could not argue for the free market as a polemicist as does James; that's where we differ I think. 

In thinking about James reference to still learning about the power of markets  and underestimating just how much trade has done for humanity we find a huge irony. Marx himself seemed to be fully aware of the power of the markets. In fact in my copy of the book "Marx on Economics" edited by Robert Freedman, Freedman quotes Marx as saying in 1848:

The bourgeoisie during its rule of scarce one hundred years has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than all of the proceding generations together. Subjection of nature's forces to man, machinery, applications of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground - what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?

And here we are today well over 150 years on with progress that makes even 1848 look like a primitive world! Freedman comments on Marx' statement as follows:

Written more than a century ago, this is certainly one of the most eloquent testimonials ever written to capitalist achievements. One looks in vain to modern communist theoreticians for similar generous recognition of capitalism's contemporary achievements. 

The power of the markets is old news and therefore not news. I certainly feel that I've long since moved on from this realisation. Like Marx you may understand the power of markets but that doesn't mean to say you don't have reservations and 'buts' about a market driven economy, as did Marx himself, of course.  But your particular 'but' may not be the same as someone else's 'but'. In fact it's all a bit like one's attitude to cars. Cars are a convenient, comfortable and fun way for getting from A to B....but....perhaps you are a new ager who detests promethium technology, especially cars and would prefer them all to be scrapped just as the extreme Marxists want to throw capitalism in the dustbin of history. Or perhaps you like cars but think you can improve their performance by tinkering around with their mechanics; trouble is, if you don't understand the mechanics you may well end up wrecking a cars performance envelope. Or perhaps you love the benefits of motorized travel but you drive around with reckless abandon and without consideration for other road users or the environment. 


The self-maintaining organised systems we are familiar with. e.g. biological organisms, societal systems and religious cults, are mixtures of both distributed information & control and centralized information & control (I&C for short). Distributed  I&C circuits* react to local conditions and control the local response whereas centralized I&C circuits react to global conditions and coordinate a global response. In the societal case good communications technology allows  humans to be not only fully conscious of the global picture but also capable of organizing centralized I&C systems that effect society globally. That's not to say governments (=centralised I&C) can't and do screw up the natural workings of the market, but the point is that centralised I&C is just as systemically deep seated to sophisticated human societies as is the distributed processing of the market system. In particular, the huge surpluses generated by sufficiently advanced market based economies create the pressing question of who is going to control that surplus and how it is going to be distributed. Given human nature it is no surprise to find that there is great potential for dissent at the way a free market system distributes wealth. In response to the potential for defection (see my prisoner's dilemma point below) the centralised I&C systems (i.e. governments) are set up to settle/enforce ownership rights and this can be done either democratically or autocratically. Hence, it is likely that modern commercial industrial societies will always be a mix of distributed and central information & control.

It is very ironic that today's libertarian warrior is paralleled in the modern eco-warrior; both tend to be anti-establishment, but the parallel doesn't end there. The eco-warrior will point to the all but incomprehensible complexity of the web of feedback circuits found in the eco-system and how vulnerable they are to human meddling, meddling which is likely to adversely effect their fragile equilibrium. (Some eco-warriors have raised this to the level of an all but sacred principle: Gaia.) The libertarian warrior will say something very similar about the "natural" market systems. "Don't try to influence that system because its beyond human understanding". Like the libertarian's vision of the ideal laissez faire market the eco-system has little or no centralised feed back systems engaged in global control (unless you believe in Gaia).  But today's  intellectually sophisticated and technologically advanced humanity has the power and intelligence to centrally effect if not control both market systems and eco-systems for good or bad. True, a little knowledge allied to a lot of power can be a very dangerous thing and it's no surprise that both libertarian and eco-warriors are nervous at the thought of centralised human meddling. It is ironic that the decentralised markets which are at the bottom of so much technological and intellectual development, not to mention the emergence of powerful plutocrats, has had the effect of enhancing the ability of humanity to indulge in centralized cybernetic control (= centralised I&C)


As an aside let me comment that I would not trust Matt Ridley's general ideas in this connection.  In trying to use evolution to argue for doing away with the central planning (i.e. centralised I&C) Ridley shows no awareness that for conventional evolution to work it must start out with a huge burden of pre-ordained information. i.e it is effectively guided i.e planned in advance from an information point if view (See here, here and here). Organised biological structures do not simply emerge from an abyssal deep of pure randomness. Take a look at this synopsis of Ridley's book, The Evolution of Everything,  which appears on his web site:

Human society evolves. Change in technology, language, mortality and society is incremental, inexorable, gradual and spontaneous. It follows a narrative, going from one stage to the next; it creeps rather than jumps; it has its own spontaneous momentum rather than being driven from outside; it has no goal or end in mind; and it largely happens by trial and error – a version of natural selection. Much of the human world is the result of human action, but not of human design; it emerges from the interactions of millions, not from the plans of a few.

Yes, it may be a version of "natural selection" but if so then that means, as with conventional evolution, the "central" information constraining the system is implicit in the dynamics of life. True we may not (yet) understand where the pre-ordained information which drives natural history comes from but its presence challenges Ridley's notions about spontaneity, godlessness goalessness and not being driven from outside. Ironically Ridley's reference to "trial and error" actually gives the game away; generating trials can be modeled as a meaningless imperative process, but what determines the difference between error and success?  The concept of "success" has to be "centralized" and enshrined somewhere. Therefore, I propose, reality is a mix of both the imperative and the declarative. 

But having said all that I have no idea exactly what mix of decentralized and centralised management is optimum for a commercial economy (I'll leave the details of that for James to sort out!). But it may well be there are no pat answers to this question and that we should recall the lessons of John Holland's thesis about complex adaptive systems: That is, when chaos rules there are no equations or catch-all principles allowing us to construct definitive mathematical models enabling us to make definitive predictions or decisions which can be made far in advance. Consequently, a complex adaptive system such as a biological organism or a society copes with and adapts to a continuous stream of novel circumstances using trial and error feedback (i.e. Information and control). In such circumstances it is not possible to justify, using any general theory, a preconceived position which adopts in advance a particular mix of laissez faire (i.e. distributed I&C) and central I&C. In the complex adaptive system scenario adaptive behavior must be adopted because we don't know and never will know if a blanket "hands-off-the-market" strategy is generally justified; we just don't have any definitive mathematics to prove it. All we can do is adapt as best we can to the latest feedback from the environment. So, although I like to think of myself as an enthusiast of free market capitalism and its ability to generate innovation and wealth, I would never want to raise that enthusiasm to the level of a principle as some libertarian warriors seem to have done. The bug-bear with having to deal with polarised partisan polemics is that even though one may support a similar position, a bit of self-criticism and qualification comes over as putting one in the devil's camp.

Further to my many 'buts' I published the following list of issues on James Knight's discussion Facebook page urging him to take cognizance of these questions. This list has the potential to grow in the number of entries and the details of each entry; in fact I've already expanded it a bit since its first publication.


ONE: Do markets contain non-linear feed back systems? If so then chaotic market instability is a likely outcome. This could have an adverse effects (e.g. boom and bust) on working class people whose interests, in the main, go no further than wanting to live a hassle free comfortable life.  Given the limited quantum of the human life span these people may not be greatly motivated by the latest market generated efficiencies, of which they may never see the long term benefits and which to them only feel like unpleasant economic instabilities. (cf the great estates vs the swing rioters). 

TWO:  I put it to James that it may well be that free markets have a tendency to distribute wealth according to a power law. He seems to have picked this one up. However, there remains the question of whether this is a fact rather than just a conjecture of mine.  If it is a fact then the mechanism needs elucidating.  The power law distribution question is very relevant to the next question....

THREE: Re. the last two points: Prisoners dilemma and defection theory in the face of wealth inequalities, instability, short human lives and plutocracy. Marxism as an example of defection I suggest. It is often plausibly argued by left wingers that (power law?) wealth inequalities in capitalism creates a rich, powerful and undemocratic class of plutocrats, thus demanding centralized government in order to provide (hopefully!) a democratic forum to counteract plutocracy. 

FOUR: Limited ability of the market to solve certain classes of computation, particularly long term issues which don’t provide the incentive of local "internal" “pain” or “pleasure” signals. (i.e. “Externalities” is the jargon here). In particular I'm thinking of the ecological effects of human industry and wealth. But also, more abstractedly, the optimum market/government mix cannot be selected by the market itself; social systems are not sold over the counter and therefore are not subject to market selection. 

FIVE: Re the previous point. What information processor processes information external to markets. How can this information be passed onto the consumer as incentives to guide buying?

SIX: Market dynamics can be (crudely) understood and even (crudely) simulated (unlike politics). These understandings are, naturally enough, very tempting to  market interventionists, especially in the face of power law inequalities and the thrashings of chaotic instability. i.e. Markets prompt a concomitant centralised political response and therefore markets and politics will likely go hand in hand whether we like it or not. There may be a connection here with the correlation of a society's wealth  surplus and the emergence of government (cf Iron age Britain). It is an irony that compared to politics economics is relatively comprehensible - crude simulations of the market may be on a level with our understanding of atmospheric dynamics i.e. the weather. (However, probable chaos in both market and weather systems will compromise precise predictions and understanding).  All this is contrary to the libertarian idea that you don't touch markets because you don't understand them; the trouble is we do have a  modicum of understanding of market dynamics and that very understanding tempts interference!

SEVEN: Big production surpluses and increases in the overall wealth of a society lead to questions about the control and possession of that wealth, especially given human status driven motivations and the potential for human corruption.

EIGHT: Closely related to the latter point is this: Human beings are goal seeking systems (“complex adaptive systems”) and therefore will have a tendency respond in an adaptive way to their environment with declarative (that is "goal driven") social involvement. Ergo, modelling society as a pure “unplanned” imperative processes is unrealistic. Society has both declarative and imperatives influences impinging upon it. This point and the previous point aren't necessarily arguing for market intervention, but rather are pointing out the inevitability of intervention given that most real complex self-maintaining systems have available to them some kind of "central nervous system". 

NINE: Motivational theory: Commodities as a form of status symbol. The need for social status and a sense of community, belonging, purpose and identification. How well do monetarily valued market exchanges go toward satiating these all consuming human motivations and express human status choices? Is it likely that the human psyche can ever be completely satisfied with the way a free market distributes status values and community connection?

TEN: The “market of ideas": Perhaps not really a market because exchange doesn’t take place – ideas don't move about like conserved material commodities but can be copied and plagiarized with little cost. However, there does seem to be some kind of Darwinian struggle between ideas: Human beings are computational processors with limited computational resources and therefore can only entertain a limited number of concepts. The whole process looks to be more Darwinian than Smithian. Given that society is now linked by long communication links, this looks to be an important dynamic superimposed on society.

ELEVEN: Lastly the following point needs repeating (See ONE above): Are the feed back couplings of the market (see picture at the start of this post) nonlinear? If so chaos and market thrashings are a likely outcome when the market is subject to random perturbations. Under these circumstance the overall increase in wealth, measured as an average,doesn't carry a great deal of information if there is a huge background noise of troughs and peaks dwarfing the little human lives which live on these slopes. For some capitalism will feel like a bed of nails. 

This list has plenty of potential for expansion in length and detail. None of this necessarily attacks Smith’s minimalist idea that markets, if left to do their stuff, do a good job of increasing total wealth and should remain the core of any wealthy society. 


Finally I thought I would mention the libertarian paradox which I put to James and worded thus:

They (libertarians) claim the market should work for itself as government can't understand its inner workings (which is probably true) and yet how do libertarians know the market will work if no human mind can understand it?

James response can be found hereLet me quote part of that response:

But Tim's enquiry regarding how libertarians can know the market will work if no human mind can understand it doesn't strike me as being much of a conundrum, because in being asked to understand how the market works we are only being asked to understand that the market is society's aggregation of individual decisions by buyers and sellers made by people for whom those decisions brought about a mutual benefit.  

That is to say, while Tim is quite right that the free market is too vast and complex for politicians to understand its inner workings, it doesn't follow that because of this libertarians are on dodgy grounds assuming the validity of their position, because all us pro-market people are trying to say is that a free market in action must, by definition, be a system working for its agents, because it is quite simply the accumulation of activities that work for those agents.

There may well be unpleasant things in society that result from free market transactions, and concomitant power laws that cause discomfiture to certain socio-cultural groups, but us pro-market people are not primarily selling the qualities of the market per se - we are trying to advocate the freedoms from which things like the market operate more fruitfully.

James provides a very general answer here. If I'm reading him right then according to this answer all we need understand about the free market is that it is an expression of the bulk of consumer decisions and that each of these decisions entails an exchange of mutual benefit: e.g. one party wants and benefits from a competitively priced pen and the other wants and benefits from the money paid for it; what can be wrong with that? How can one be so crass as to deny that something mutually worthwhile has taken place and the market ensures that this happens millions of times daily? There is clearly an immediate local satisfaction here almost as if the whole population was engaged in mutual masturbation and getting immediate kicks. It can't be denied that accumulating the linear sum of the parts here it follows that there is a lot of pleasure/benefit entailed by market exchanges. However, as we know interacting parts are often more (and sometimes less!) than the sum of their parts. When a low level phenomenon such as local exchange of goods is aggregated there is the well-known phenomenon of emergence; that is, consequences at the high level which are difficult to anticipate without constructing a sophisticated simulating model. It is this difficulty in simulating an emergent outcome which I take to be the real content behind the view that we can't comprehend the emergent outcome myriad market interactions. However, James does acknowledge in the last paragraph of my quote those conjectured power law inequalities which I keep harping on about and the question mark which hangs over them, so we can't be far apart.

My answer to James blog post is this: Whilst at the low level, yes, markets generate a big linear sum of benefits, nevertheless that still leaves us with the question of emergent phenomena: If the claim is that we don't understand the complexity of all those myriad market choices then how do we know that it doesn't generate some unpleasant emergent effects? (Like dictatorial Marxism!) If you are spending all your days mutually masturbating one another, are you going to have your eye on the ball when it comes to things such as the ecological effects of human productivity, population explosion, the plutocrat in charge of a large media outlet or even nuclear bombs, social fragmentation and alienation, widespread Marxist disaffection cued by huge status inequalities, chaotic market instabilities causing unrest, technological advances perturbing the market and disrupting short lives, raw material shortages that take time for market driven technological solutions to fix etc, etc. Sometimes I have seen libertarian attempts to employ convoluted logical contingencies explaining why the free market will solve, say, the pollution problem after all. But this argumentation is usually carried out on a case by case basis with logic specifically tailored to the case in question and, unsurprisingly, always falling out in favour of the free market as a panacea. In physics when the same observation crops up again and again (such as the conservation laws) in widely different connections we don't expect it to be the outcome of a patchwork of miscellaneous and idiosyncratic proofs where the logic of each proof is entirely contingent upon the case in question; rather we suspect some general logic to be behind the conservation law in each case, logic which will one day, we hope, become clear.  So in the absence of demonstrably universal/general logic which might explain why free market economics is a catch-all solution, the idiosyncratic contingent logic of a case by case advocacy of the free market gives rise to the suspicion that a preconceived polemic is in fact the underlying and covert factor at work rather than some general principle.


In many ways capitalism with its restless adventurousness, sense of purpose, opportunities for creative innovation, its incentives, its concept of personal property & responsibility, production of wealth etc fits human psychology. But it doesn't fit it like a glove. Humans are not productivity termites and, moreover, the downsides of capitalism can lead to defections sometimes expressed as the cloud-cuckoo-land philosophy of Marxism which is a charter for dictatorship. It is likely that if elected to government Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party, although strongly socialist, would necessarily have to compromise with capitalism. But Corbyn's labour policies are very likely to depress the current industrial output leading to further dissatisfaction and the inevitable calls from the extreme left to go the whole Marxist hog and dismantle the UK's democratic and commercially based social order. The cry would, of course, be that you can't compromise with capitalism and therefore it and its state institutions must be cleared away for pure unadulterated Marxist communism. The extreme libertarian right argue similarly for the status quo version of capitalism; it's not working well, they claim, because we haven't gone the whole hog with unadulterated free marketism. The idealists of both  extremes seek social nirvana and don't tolerate the muddle, contention, compromise, and half way house solutions that are the natural state of human affairs. The other thing which the extremes of left and right aren't too partial to is system theory; that's just a complication clouding the cartoonish clarity of their thought.

* "Information & control" is another name for "cybernetic circuits"

End-note on planning
Clearly large commercial projects like the development of the latest car or the building of a cruise ship involve huge levels of centralised I&C. Moreover, a large commercial conglomerate also entails a high level of centralized I&C. However, there comes a point when human cognitive, epistemic and organisational limits stultify the ability to influence outcomes via centralized I&C; for example the industrial revolution was obviously not an outcome of central I&C, but  was an emergent phenomenon arising from the net effect of much more fragmentary I&C systems. Moreover, technological innovation is a function of nature and of course we can't predict what nature will throw at us via the next scientific discovery; this defies the foresight of centralized I&C. However, within  human  cognitive and epistemic limits it is clear that central I&C is very much part of human nature and as information and processing technology improves centralised I&C is likely to be enhanced.  It is probably no coincidence that the first big cities appeared around the same time as writing appeared, the latter enhancing centralised information and control. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Uneasy Alliance

The above picture of Donald Trump and evangelical Christian Mike Pence symbolises the uneasy alliance which exists between the extreme right and Christian fundamentalists. I don't think the fundamentalists really like it at all (at least I hope they don't!) especially in view of Donald Trump's indecisiveness in condemning the fascists at the Charlottesville demonstration/riot. But it may be an example of "My enemy's enemy is my friend", with the common enemy being Western liberalism whether in its Christian or atheist forms - generally, fundamentalists don't make a point of drawing a sharp distinction between the flavours of liberalism - to them they are all part of an evil satanic conspiracy against them.  But let's have a look at some of the people they are in effective alliance with (whether they like it or not). These people recently showed up at the Charlottesville demo-riot and this is what they looked like:

Bold, brazen, shameless displays of fascist allegiance
with the threat of militaristic coercion. 
Thank you Donald Trump and Breitbart! 

If these people don't like you this is what they might do to you:

...that is, they try to kill you; plenty of examples of that from their exemplar, a certain Mr Adolf Schitlgruber.  These are the people who, if they get in power, knock on people's doors at night, shut down independent media, throw opposing voices into jail and generally use coercion as they attempt to impose a fantasy world that exists only in their debauched imaginations. 

To be fair to Nietzsche he never thought it would come to this; a nuanced non-selective academic reading of Nietzche may not lead to fascism, but when one hears about the self asserting will of the ubermensch and Nietzxhe's contempt for supporting the weak in society, it perhaps is easy to understand Hitler's fascination with Nietzsche and social Darwinism. Moreover, according to  Wiki:

Bertrand Russell wrote that Nietzsche had exerted great influence on philosophers and on people of literary and artistic culture, but warned that the attempt to put Nietzsche's philosophy of aristocracy into practice could only be done by an organization similar to the Fascist or the Nazi party.

Nietzsche, Hitler and Oliver Cromwell could not come to terms with the untidy argumentative pandemonium that necessarily accompanies authentic democracy.

We can also read in Wiki:

The initial form of morality was set by a warrior aristocracy and other ruling castes of ancient civilizations. Aristocratic values of good and bad coincided with and reflected their relationship to lower castes such as slaves. Nietzsche presents this "master morality" as the original system of morality—perhaps best associated with Homeric Greece. To be "good" was to be happy and to have the things related to happiness: wealth, strength, health, power, etc. To be "bad" was to be like the slaves the aristocracy ruled over: poor, weak, sick, pathetic—an object of pity or disgust rather than hatred.

"Slave morality" comes about as a reaction to master-morality. Here, value emerges from the contrast between good and evil: good being associated with other-worldliness, charity, piety, restraint, meekness, and submission; and evil seen as worldly, cruel, selfish, wealthy, and aggressive. Nietzsche sees slave morality as pessimistic and fearful, values for them serving only to ease the existence for those who suffer from the very same thing. He associates slave-morality with the Jewish and Christian traditions, in a way that slave-morality is born out of the ressentiment of slaves. Nietzsche argued that the idea of equality allowed slaves to overcome their own condition without hating themselves. And by denying the inherent inequality of people (such as success, strength, beauty or intelligence), slaves acquired a method of escape, namely by generating new values on the basis of rejecting something that was seen as a perceived source of frustration. It was used to overcome the slave's own sense of inferiority before the (better-off) masters. It does so by making out slave weakness to be a matter of choice, by, e.g., relabeling it as "meekness". The "good man" of master morality is precisely the "evil man" of slave morality, while the "bad man" is recast as the "good man".

The concept of the self-asserting ubermensch
 was probably music to Hitler's ears. 

Fortunately the extreme fascists, like the extreme socialists, are as yet a fringe group but both groups, as they feed off social unrest and disaffection, are gauges of movements in social attitudes and influences.  The American fascists have come to the fore in the USA because their appeal and boldness has been enhanced by a number of factors. Disaffection caused by market disequilibrium which in turn was caused by creeping globalization is one factor. The accession of Donald Trump to the presidency aided by Christian fundamentalists is another. Publicity organisations like the alt-right Breitbart and Donald Trump himself don't provide a commentary which decisively condemns fascist white supremacists but instead they reserve their vitriol for the liberal establishment (liberal to them!)*   In prevaricating over fascism they have probably given a confidence boost to fringe fascism and even raised the suspicion that they are themselves (crypto) fascists.  

The extreme left with its "dictatorship of proletariat" and the extreme right with its self-asserting ubermench both ultimately lead to the dismantling of a democracy which allows for a cacophony of voices. But it seems that currently fascism is being well in truly stamped on by Western liberalism, I'm glad to say. The same needs to happen to the extreme Marxists; but then perhaps that battle has been won with the fall of communism; however, we must be vigilant on that score. Left-wing labour leader Jerry Corbyn has some extreme supporters, for example the Socialist Workers Party. Moreover, Corbyn was as indecisive in condemning the creeping dictatorship in Venezuela as Donald Trump was of the Charlotteville fascists. 

* I have yet to see an organisations like the fundamentalist ministry Answers in Genesis unequivocally  condemn the extreme right; presumably for them, as with Breitbart, they see the greater danger coming from the Western liberal establishment.

Friday, August 18, 2017

New Agers and Fundamentalists

 Two anti-establishment, anti-science publicists: David Wolfe and Ken Ham both challenge the establishment with their radically different version of "science". 

I have recently become acquainted with the name David "Avocado" Wolfe, a new age alternative concepts salesman and pundit. According to his Wiki page his ideas revolve around the following subject areas (most of  which I quote directly from Wiki):

1. Nutrition, in particular organic food and raw foodism
2. Kirlian photography
3. He promotes a variety of conspiracy theories
3 . He promotes a diet based on raw plants, stating that this has a "detoxification" effect.
4. He advocates that people with cancer take dietary supplements instead of getting medical treatment, which he describes as “largely a fraud".
5. He believes that "chemtrails" exist and are harmful to people and animals.
6. He has considered cocoa to be one of several "superfoods"
7. He says that deer antler spray is "levitational" and an "androgenic force", which he promotes and sells.
8. He claims that mushrooms have an "advanced intelligence and consciousness". He has stated that mushroom spores can "levitate off the planet" and believes they are trying to "get to the center of the sun". He has stated that mushroom spores originally came from "distant planets" and were "carried by cosmic winds or meteors into the Earth's atmosphere", stating "the preliminary work develops as the mushroom mycelium sets itself up to network and nourish multi-celled carbohydrate-forming organisms". He has also stated that the mushrooms that grow in trees are "medicinal mushrooms".
9. He believes vaccines are dangerous and may not work.
10. He believes that the Earth is flat and that gravity is a hoax. (see also here for this one)

It has only recently become clear to me that these new agers have a lot in common with Christian fundamentalists, not only in their attitude to the scientific establishment but also in some of the theories they promulgate. The list above has an overlap with ideas that do the rounds among Christian fundamentalists Viz: Nutrition and supplements as the right way to treat cancer, conspiracy theories such as the chem-trail conspiracy, anti vaccination concepts and flat earthism are all alternative "theories" I have seen promoted by Christian fundamentalists.  In particular, one fundamentalist of my acquaintance has, on one occasion or another, promoted the millennium bug conspiracy, the chem-trail conspiracy, anti-vaxing, young earthism and also proclaims that the standard medical treatment of cancer is fraud and should be replaced by treatment using diet and supplements. Significantly this same person was a one time new ager who promoted new age ideas and new age diets.  

The common theme running through both subcultures seems to be disaffection with and rejection of the academic establishment, in particular the scientific establishment. But in spite of this overlap it is ironic that Christian fundamentalists and new agers would otherwise not see eye to eye; far from it in fact. 

An important question is this; how do these fundamentalists and new agers know all this alternative stuff? Do they have alternative research departments scientifically testing their ideas and remedies? More likely, however, is that they have conspiracy theory generating pundits who join the data dots in bizarre and convoluted ways. These constructions may seem arbitrary but they primarily serve an important purpose for the disaffected and alienated; they furnish an argued platform on which the deep disillusionment with established authority can find a home and provide the pretexts needed to espouse an opposing world view to challenge the  powers that be. 

The take home lesson here is that whatever is at the bottom of the malaise afflicting people as diverse as new agers and Christian fundies there are, nevertheless, significant commonalities*.  I am not really sure what  it is about our society that causes of this general disaffection; perhaps it's a rebellion against the apparent demystification and desanctification of the cosmos. After all, H. G. Wells once wrote:

Science is a match that man has just got alight. He thought he was in a room - in moments of devotion, a temple - and that this light would be reflected from and display walls inscribed with wonderful secrets and pillars carved with philosophical systems wrought into harmony. It is a curious sensation, now that the preliminary splutter is over and the flame burns up clear, to see his hands lit and just a glimpse of himself and the patch he stands on visible, and around him, in place of all that human comfort and beauty he anticipated - darkness still

On that basis it is no surprise there is a reaction against a science that is easy to interpret in nihilistic and post modern terms (See also here). But in the final analysis this nihilism and postmodernism undermines the very science on which nihilistic and postmodern claims are based (See here).

* An interesting question arises in connection with climate change: Christian fundies tend to see climate change science, as they do old earth theory, as a conspiracy of establishment control, whereas in contrast, I would expect new agers to be pro green energy. But either way both use the subject as a stick with which to beat the establishment: Fundamentalists will accuse the establishment of lying over it and the new agers will accuse the techno-industrial establishment  as being the cause of it. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Nuclear Enabled Cranks

Crank noun: Unbalanced person who is overzealous in the advocacy of a private cause. 

One major difference between the two clients above: Any despotic tendencies in the guy on the left are currently moderated by the untidy, unholy but controlled row that is necessarily the routine business of a democracy. This system has to be dismantled before a despot can rule in the quietus of repression. Those who look for a morally entitled authoritarian system (as did Oliver Cromwell, for example) are ill-prepared to accept that the very "unholiness" of democracy, its compromises, its cut and thrust, its reversals, its highly partisan arguments and above all its lack of peaceful quietus which is actually its strength and a good sign that a democracy is healthy. However, like Oliver Cromwell* of old some of the American Christian right simply don't accept this outcome of human nature and look for the hegemony of a authoritarian, morally entitled system. Ditto the hardened left such as we see among some of Jeremy Corbyn's more extreme supporters. Both left and right extremes may resort to fanciful apocalyptic end of world scenarios and especially conspiracy theorism in order to convince us of the fantastic claim that the necessarily unfinished & disordered "building site" we call democracy is in fact a highly controlled state. They conclude therefore that their vision of society gives them moral licence to overthrow the current status quo.

* To be fair to Cromwell he appeared to have a sound conception of democracy, but when he saw its untidy logic at work he was repulsed and made himself a dictator, albeit an unwilling dictator. 

Conspiracy theorism is way of joining the random dots of social complexities in order to attempt to make sense of the otherwise chaotic jamboree of societal life. This is done by multiplying  myriad Machiavellian entities who run society by deception  The epistemic process of conspiracy theorism resembles joining the stars into constellations and then believing those constellations to represent something real when in fact all the constellations are is a good aid-memoir for holding complex distributions in the head with an otherwise fanciful background structure. Now, I'm not altogether against this post-facto "joining of the data dots" into sense making narratives because in world view synthesis we may have little choice but to proceed in such a fashion if we want to attempt to answer the deep questions of origins and reason (in fact currently string theory and multiverse theory are of this ilk). I'll freely admit that this is the role that my adherence to a progressive form of Christianity plays in my life; I'm very much aware that law and disorder science, based as it is on imperative algorithms, inevitably leads to a grand logical hiatus, a hiatus where human questions about purpose and consciousness may appear to be emptied of meaning. However, the dot joining activity of world view synthesis must be carried out with epistemic humility, caution, frugality and the realization that it never comes with the authority to bludgeon detractors into belief. 

Relevant links
On conspiracy theorism:
On epistemology:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Melencolia I Project Articles

I'm using this post to collect together the articles and papers I have produced for my Melencolia I series. I will update this post as I produce written items.  This will mean I can use a link to this post to give access to the whole series.


About the Melencolia I Project
In 1993, after nearly twenty years since my first encounter with quantum mechanics, I started investigating it once again. The urge to do this was brought on by a feeling that at last I just might have some insight as to the meaning of the strange world of quantum theory. This insight, if such it was, came out of my Thinknet Project, a project I had started in the 1980s. What piqued my interest was that the general structure of Thinknet theory, which in turn was based on some of ideas of the psychologist Edward de Bono, was reminiscent of quantum mechanics; in particular I fancied I saw in quantum mechanics a declarative structure not unlike my Thinknet simulations: Further detail on this matter can be found in the summing up sections of these papers here and here. To me it had started to look as if the standard imperative programming model was an inadequate metaphor for the cosmic physical laws, and instead we were dealing with something which had a declarative structure, a structure isomorphic with my Thinknet simulations. Some say the cosmos is a piece of intelligent design, but to me it had started to look more like the inside of a functioning intelligent process; so, less intelligent design, more the inside workings of a process of intelligent creation. If this was true then it would mean that the human perspective on the cosmos was a bit like the point of view of a neuro-scientist investigating the brain – down at the microscopic level the brain presents us with the relatively mundane operations of neurons, neuro-transmitters, electrical fields, signalling and the like; zooming in even further we find molecular chemistry; down at this level the traits we usually attribute to mind, namely intentionality, conscious sentience, purpose and teleology, dissolve into fragments, if indeed they appear to exist at all. In fact it’s a bit like aerial archaeology; viewed from on high the coherent patterns on the ground are clear to see, but at ground level they all but disappear. And yet those aerial patterns must somehow be impressed in subtle ground-level features, features which otherwise present a liminal threshold to the ground level observer.

Cognitive specialists are still trying put all the low level bits together in order to give a coherent third person account of the first person conscious perspective associated with the macroscopic mind. All said and done it seems that “Conscious cognition” is only meaningfully present at the integrated system level rather than the deconstructed component level observed by the third person. But there’s a paradox here; the third person scientific perspective presupposes the existence of the rational observer and scientific narrative constructor, which when traced back to its source itself entails a first person conscious perspective, the very thing under investigation. Ultimately the third person perspective presupposes a first person perspective and it’s easy to overlook this fact. Without an implicit full blown first person conscious perspective the third person account of the cosmos doesn’t make sense. In short, the third person perspective only makes sense if one presupposes the existence of an up-and-running rational first person perspective. 

If it’s a challenge to imagine how the details of the low-level biochemical perspective adds up to the integrated sentience of human beings then perhaps we have an inkling of the why, if the cosmos really is intelligence in action, we don’t readily see intentionality and teleology at work in the cosmos; we are simply too close to the stuff of the cosmos to perceive it. At first sight the cosmos looks to be an utterly meaningless and purposeless imperative computation, so much so that for many in the West there is no real substantive evidence of an immersive immanent intelligence surrounding us. In contrast I am offering, by way of an alternative (although admittedly it is a very long shot conjecture), that the cosmos is our low-level third person view of an intelligent declarative computation in operation; much like the low-level perspective a neuro-scientist has of the brain.

Human life only becomes coherent if one regards the first and third person perspectives as complimentary. If the third person examines a human being closely all they see is a complex network of biochemical structures and signals. But to make complete sense of this structure and its complex signalling network the third person must make an empathetic leap of the imagination; namely to understand that this system and its processes has a point by point conformity with the sensations & feelings of a first person perspective. But if we are going to make this empathetic leap with the human mind we may then be prompted to ask ourselves this question: Is our third person understanding of the cosmos, a cosmos with hints of a possibly declarative structure, also associated with some kind of first person perspective? This is a very speculative and conjectural leap but the beauty of being a private operator like myself is that there’s nothing to lose by seeing how much mileage one can get out of off-the-wall ideas like this. 

To allay the worries of Christian theologians about pantheism, none of this is to say that the cosmos is somehow to be identified with a sentient God; better to think of it as the manifestation of God’s thoughts about the cosmos, a cosmos which perhaps runs in the divine mind in a similar way a story runs in the mind of an author. The point of view I’m probing here is very different to that of the Intelligent Design creationists of North America who have adopted a dualistic intelligence-of-the-gaps procedure which means their inquiry stops dead once they have decided that they can’t see how so called “natural forces” give account of an object in question. In contrast I’m proposing those so-called natural forces are part of an intelligent process; hence I prefer to think of myself as heralding intelligent creation rather than intelligent design. What also sets me very much apart from de facto intelligent design is that I have to confess my ideas are highly speculative and very conjectural. I’m involved in the investigation of a hunch, a hunch which provides no pretext to spiritually abuse those who are not inclined to believe it. Moreover, I’m not coy in suggesting that the intelligence behind the conjectured intelligent cosmic processes would to all human intents and purposes be divine. Therefore I’m making no pretension to doing formal science. This is an entirely informal epistemic endeavour which can only offer a tentative take-it-or-leave-it post-facto sense making narrative (See here). Unlike the IDists and the so-called "creation scientists" I'm not making any claim to being God's gift to science. I'm a science hobbyist doing the equivalent of building a light aircraft in his shed hoping that one day it may fly, but not needing to invest too much in that hope because in the final analysis it has to be about the journey, not the destination: For, in by far and away the greater number of human endeavors a project's journey's end is about failure, not success. Therefore I'm expecting my own efforts to likely end in failure. But then as George Bernard Shaw said:

"A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing."

Critique of "Intelligent Design"
In this post I discussed some ideas by one of the de-facto IDist, Robert Sheldon. Because de facto ID conceives intelligence as a black box eminent to the objects it “designs” de facto ID has a philosophical blockage toward paradigms which may venture to propose that “natural forces” have any significant role in the formation of life. In the weltanschauung of de facto ID  “natural forces”, so-called, play a minimal role in the formation of life. Rather, in their view you need an external intelligent homunculus to do that. The idea that the world around us be so immersed in the mind of God that there is no humanly discernible distinction between scaffolding and building, between natural forces and intelligence, hasn’t occurred to them. The outcome is that the de-facto IDists are thoroughly committed to showing the inadequacy of “natural forces” to generate life:  The IDist epistemic is embodied in their “explanatory filter” which obliges them to preserve those enigmatic gaps in law and disorder science at all costs. In line with this negative tradition IDist Robert Sheldon pointed out that a random walk search, a search which proceeds to expand into its search space in proportion to the square root of time is too slow to be up to the task of finding viable living structures via evolution. The reason why random walk search is so slow is that as it proceeds the number of routes it has to explore goes up exponentially. But Sheldon’s obvious philosophical motive was to trash the idea that “Evolution did it” via random walk in favour of his belief that “God Intelligence did it”. But just how that intelligence did it the IDists do not say because they consider the detailed nature of intelligence to be beyond their terms of reference; it's almost as if the nature of intelligence is far too sacred ground for them to investigate.

In the Intelligent Design paradigm  intelligence and so-called “natural forces” are part of an unbridgeable dichotomy. It hasn’t occurred to IDists that just as the particulate low-end details of brain dynamics provides clues as to its high end operation, those so called “natural forces” we see at work across the cosmos may contain valuable clues about the operation of an intelligent process. In my blog post I've linked to I pointed out that Sheldon was reckoning without quantum mechanics; for not only does quantum mechanics have huge potential by way of its expanding parallelism, its wave motion has the effect of cancelling out the immense combinatorial sink of randomness. Thus quantum mechanics scores on at least two counts, namely a) Exponential resources and b) The cancellation of randomness. The second count means that its wave envelopes expand not with the square root of time but linearly in time. Although I would ultimately agree with Sheldon that non-locality is involved as per a declarative computational paradigm which ultimately selects from a huge array of search items, it is those so called “natural forces” which have an absolutely crucial searching role in the return of those outcomes.

The de facto ID community represented by the likes of websites such as Uncommon Descent and The Discovery Institute talk obliquely of a mysterious Intelligent Agent being the likely default means of explanation when our understanding of "natural forces" is (currently) unable to account for a phenomenon. Of course, everyone knows that these people are really talking about God and the IDists' studied detachment from theology comes over as an affectation, disingenuous even. Talking vaguely about "Intelligent causes", however, does give a scientific gloss to their work; after all, it is true that archaeology is in the business of separating out the "natural" from the "artificial". Moreover, if ever an obviously empirical situation should arise like that depicted in 2001 Space Odyssey, the question of intelligence and the nature of that intelligence would loom large in scientific circles. So arguably "Intelligent Design" is a little like archaeology and SETI and  therefore does have a prima facia claim to being  science. 

But of course we know that the de facto IDists are really thinking theologically and that is where lie their mistakes: They have in fact committed scientific, tactical and theological errors. Their error is scientific because their epistemic filter is misconceived; this misconception  leads into a natural forces vs God dichotomy which in turn helps foster scientific blunders such as the claim that evolution is inconsistent with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Their error is tactical because their pretense at doing science uncontaminated by theology is just that; a pretense and everyone, especially atheists, can see it. Their error is theological because God is both immanent and eminent and therefore He is immanent in natural forces. It follows then that we can seek God in those so-called natural forces and not just as an ancillary outside intelligent agent; or perhaps I should say that those "natural forces" are in God. For God is the eminent and immanent context of all that his authorship permits reification in the story He tells. The immanence of God means that he is of an entirely different genus to any ancillary intelligence such as man or aliens; if we are theologically turned on then we don't expect ancillary intelligence or humunculus intelligence to be a good model for God. 

In order to maintain a scientific gloss we find that IDists will often try to avoid mention of God in their works. Not only has this tactic miserably failed but I believe it is impossible for the Christian to carry on like this. If we are dealing with immanent intelligence and not just ancillary intelligence this subject cannot be approached without mention of the immanent Sovereign Manager and Creator. That's not a mistake I intend to make myself. My project is explicit about seeking the Sovereign Manager and Creator of our cosmos. I therefore make explicit mention of Him. Also, unlike the IDists I am not making strong claims of doing exclusively science (although some parts will be science) since my epistemology is far more broad brush than spring extending and test tube precipitating scienceThis will mean that any atheist who dislikes the idea of a Sovereign God being at the heart of a study will not find grounds for accusing me of trying to pull the wool over his/her eyes. There is one thing worse than a deceiver and that is the incompetent deceiver who is oblivious to the fact that his attempt at deceiving is so obvious.

So all in all I've become increasingly displeased with the de facto ID movement and their transparent facade of studied scientific detachment. But I'm in good company: I don't think Sir John Polkinghorne is pleased with them either

Main Papers and Articles of the Melencolia I Project

Supporting and Relevant Articles
Configuration space Series
William Dembski’s views:
Felsenstein vs. Dembski
Felsenstein and English vs. Dembski, Ewart and Marks