Where Are We Going?

Photo by Roi Dimor on Unsplash

This election cycle may be our last chance. Work HARD for the Progressives, do the best you can to see them elected, and vote as if all our lives depend on it, because they do.

Comment by “Art” in https://theintercept.com/2019/07/05/shell-conference-climate-change/

This brief comment to the article in The Intercept was one of several by “Art”. His other comments were a depressing, long list of scientific findings that he, as a climate scientist, offered to support his reasons for being so blunt.

To those who said it is too late, or that we, the people, have no power to make a change, Art replied, ” Your nihilism is duly noted but I refuse to give up.”

To which “mgr” wrote:

Art: Spot on! That’s really what it comes down to. We may win, or we may lose, but giving up is always defeat, from the inside out. It comes down to making a choice.

Where are we going?

For the sake of our children and their children, we have this choice: follow the platitudes of our current leaders as they follow the money dangled before their noses; or put your hand up and vote for a future that will include humanity. A future that will include breathable air, enough clean water to drink, sufficient vegetation and animals to maintain the only place, the ONLY place, in this universe where we can live.

The money being dangled before our noses cannot be breathed or eaten.

It is way past time to be nice. Our very lives are at stake.

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan

The Trappings of Science

Square Rigged, by Ben Nuttall-Smith

– How science is being eroded as an objective agent for our species

I recently underwent a grueling exercise with an individual who is exceptionally intelligent. I describe it as grueling because he clung for the longest time to a perception of “science” that is, regrettably, common. Nevertheless, that perception is not real science.

In a textbook, he was given three descriptions of science from which I asked him to choose the option that best matched his understanding of “science”. May I humbly suggest that only one option is worthy of that label.

Proposition A: a person of science will develop a theory, then apply evidence that can be found that will support that theory.

Proposition B: observations will be seen to have apparent relationships. A hypothesis is developed that encompasses those observations with a possible explanation of why or how they relate to each other. Evidence is gathered using observations and/or controlled experiments; assessments are made as to whether the evidence supports or does not support the hypothesis. If there is found to be sufficient support, a theory may be developed. The theory is tested continually to determine if it is still supported by new evidence.

Proposition C: an authoritative person pronounces on a theory which may be based on common sense, long practice, or even logical deduction or reasoning.

Prop C actually contains several distinct propositions. I will refer to them a group.

Discussion

Plato and many famous philosophers since have used logical deduction to explain the wonders of the world. Within the toolbox of science, this can be a useful method for arriving at possibilities. The main problem with that is, it may be useful but it often doesn’t use feedback from objective evidence. To offer a simple example, it is observed that a penguin is black and white. By logical deduction we know that snow is white and coal is black, so that must make a penguin equal to snowy coal. While an artificial intelligence (AI) program may produce that kind of logic, people understand it to be silly.

Another Prop C option: Aristotle was an admired and authoritative figure. Despite the prior writings of Pythagoras and others who came up with close approximations of the great size of planet Earth, Aristotle suggested with respect to the disappearance of a ship over the horizon, “…All of which goes to show not only that the Earth is circular in shape, but also that it is a sphere of no great size: for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be so quickly apparent.” (from Aristotle’s On the Heavens). No.

Prop A looks promising. This was chosen by my exceptionally intelligent friend (he is still a friend, by the way). It was also chosen by many other intelligent folks, such as Sigmund Freud (for personality development, in which he argued that personality is formed through conflicts among three fundamental structures – however, in testing that theory, the actual existence of his concepts has been fraught with partisan arguments, rather than objective evidence); John Locke (babies are born with a blank slate – which we now consider inaccurate); Aristotle (spontaneous generation of life, wherein he “observed” life starting from apparent nothingness). In essence, Prop A says that a smart person can come up with a theory and cherry-pick observations that may approximate what the theory suggests.

A theory, however, is never “proven” – merely supported by evidence, or not. A theory must be able to make predictions that can be tested. If we presume that penguins are snowy coal, observations and comparisons would quickly invalidate that “theory”.

When we look around at some of the marvels of the modern age, most of them have something to do with, or are enhanced by, digital technology. When da Vinci sketched out his plans for a helicopter, the reality of building one was stymied by rudimentary materials technology and lack of an understanding of aerodynamics (each field having recently received considerable impetus via digital technology: “computers”).

A computer, however, is merely a tool. If digital technology is relied on to be the magic bullet, depending on it as if it were the final answer usually leads one far down a garden path. When proponents of instant language translators say that they are on the cusp of a perfect solution, one would be wise to read what a professional in the field of translation has to say:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/the-shallowness-of-google-translate/551570/
Douglas
Hofstadter is a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

“I’ve recently seen bar graphs made by technophiles that claim to represent the “quality” of translations done by humans and by computers, and these graphs depict the latest translation engines as being within striking distance of human-level translation. To me, however, such quantification of the unquantifiable reeks of pseudoscience, or, if you prefer, of nerds trying to mathematize things whose intangible, subtle, artistic nature eludes them. To my mind, Google Translate’s output today ranges all the way from excellent to grotesque, but I can’t quantify my feelings about it. Think of my first example involving “his” and “her” items. The idealess program got nearly all the words right, but despite that slight success, it totally missed the point. How, in such a case, should one “quantify” the quality of the job? The use of scientific-looking bar graphs to represent translation quality is simply an abuse of the external trappings of science.”

We are inundated in the media with assertive pronouncements regarding the efficacy of certain products. Imprecise statements, cherry-picked observations, and outright fabrications are used without regard to the harm they cause. The harms extend beyond merely loss of money in buying worthless stuff. Purchasers may be conned into spending their meager resources and time on the worthless stuff to the detriment of using an approach that can be of actual value to them. This is particularly egregious in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. People who have become addicted to drugs such as opiates are dying in the thousands after being prescribed the drug and not being followed up properly, or where the prescription was for a symptom that should never have been treated with drugs in the first place. (See Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, Dr. Michael Catchpole 2019, Rutherford Press.)

One must ask, what harms are yet to be caused by AI in charge of ground and air vehicles. Analysis of the recent Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashes will take some further work, but we understand a lot at this time (see https://avherald.com/h?article=4c534c4a). Those tragic results cannot be placed solely at the feet of artificial intelligence residing in the software, but it may turn out that a significant component could possibly be attributed to a culture of hurried development and over-dependence on the “magic bullet” of AI, as alleged by pilots and engineers at recent Congressional hearings. Perhaps that culture has been fostered by a subliminal dependence on, and shifting of responsibility to, the lines of code on a silicon chip. Getting that shift wrong with a new laptop design is an entirely different order of mistake than getting it wrong with a new airplane that can carry over 200 lives on board. (see  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/business/boeing-hearings.html)

Trust in Science

Is trust in science  misplaced, or is it conveniently used as a replacement for deeper understanding?

Considering the difference between denialism and skepticism, a study found evidence, yet again, that presenting a denier with objective facts was not an effective strategy:

Because this denialism springs from motivated reasoning, science advocates are scrambling to understand how to debunk misinformation in a way that motivates their target audience to accept it. [added emphasis]

https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/06/debunking-science-denialism-does-work-but-not-perfectly/

Being “motivated” means that a denier is self-censoring anything that does not conform to the way the topic is stored in their mind.

A recent study of 140,000 people worldwide proved instructive. Here are the main highlights:

Trust in science and health professionals

Globally, 18% of people have a ‘high’ level of trust in scientists, while 54% have a ‘medium’ level of trust, 14% have ‘low’ trust and 13% said ‘don’t know’. This ranges from a third of people having ‘high’ trust in Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and Central Asia to around one in ten in Central and South America.

from: Gallup (2019) Wellcome Global Monitor – First Wave Findings
https://wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/files/wellcome-global-monitor-2018.pdf

The study is both fascinating and frustrating. The breadth of the study needs to be read to be fully appreciated. Any study that includes 140,000 subjects who answered such a range of questions is to be commended as a considerable feat.

May I humbly say, however, that frustration arises in those numerous instances where the numbers being thrown at the reader elicit questions of greater depth. Take this statement in Chapter 2’s Summary:

Worldwide, more than half the people aged 15–29 (53%) say they know ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ about science, compared to 40% of those aged 30–49 and 34% of those aged 50 and older.

Is age a causal variable, or correlational, or coincidental. For instance, might it be that older folks have matured into the realization that the more they know, the less they understand? And that certainty is best left to the young blurs that pass by on their respective missions? Is there a whiff of something like the subject of Douglas Hofstadter’s article on translation: all the right words – absent depth?

The reason for my skepticism is outlined below.

Human Rights or Social Permission

Do humans have rights? Are they “inalienable”; or are they subject to the will – or lack of will – displayed by a political community? This was explored by Kenan Malik:

So, what should we do? Our starting point must be the recognition of rights neither as inalienably rooted in human nature, nor as gifts bestowed on citizens by the nation state, but as aspects of human social existence continually created through struggle and contestation. Rights are, as the political theorist Lida Maxwell has put it, ‘collective achievements rather than individual possessions’, and achievements that are ‘fragile’ and ‘imperfectly realised’.

How does the topic of human rights fit into this discussion? One way is that it shows the value of skepticism in approaching a subject for which so many people hold hard views.

The Science of Skepticism

For those who consider it “good science” to first develop a theory and then try to prove it, the field is open to cherry-pick whichever evidence can be shoehorned into the most compelling package. After all, the right words are being employed by proponents of their pet theory: science, reasoning, evidence, clinical, proven

No. Science depends on skepticism: questioning the evidence which supports or doesn’t support a hypothesis; constant review of evidence; the belief that a belief is a blindfold…

Malik’s analysis of human rights, above, lists ideas and their proponents who wish to bestow a conceptual construct into human genes. They insist that the only way to combat discrimination is by saying that people are “born with rights”. A corollary of this approach, however, allows some to say that only certain humans have the “rights gene”, therefore discrimination against the defective elements of the population is permitted.

The more difficult approach to fighting the many forms of discrimination is to freely admit that rights originate in words; they are born in the fire of social discourse. And there, the rights may be either eroded away or strengthen for those who must depend on them the most. That fire may wane or flare, so it is incumbent on the people of a political community to keep feeding oxygen and, yes, fuel, into the fire.

Skepticism is one such fuel. A skeptic’s voice must be heard by all who wish to contribute to the discussion.

Denialism is not, however, the same as skepticism. Denialism is a soggy blob of retardant on the fire of social discourse.

The trick, then, is to find a method that distinguishes motivated reasoning from healthy skepticism.

Yes, this is hard.

Love and Time

Thoughts on Margot: Love in the Golden Years

How does one celebrate the romance of a lifetime?

To lovers in their latter years, the prospect that one will leave before the other becomes increasingly evident. Yet, no matter how prepared we think we are, the shock and resultant loneliness reach far beyond any expectation.

Seniors become accustomed to caring for one another in ways younger couples seldom dream of. Such intimacy and dependency deepen love far beyond the heart-fluttering romances of younger years.

Despite the annoyances of age such as loss of hearing and the inability to control certain body functions – flatulence, bladder control – we tend to become more forgiving and considerate of the other.

The excitement of sexual activity gives way to back and neck rubs, intimate conversations and the simple joys of being in one others company.

We tend to favour the comfort and happiness of our partner, far above our own. Love reaches its full potential.

                                                                                    Ben.  June 29th 2019

Anxiety at Steam Punk

Within the walls of the Nautilus in the delightful back room of Port Alberni’s Steam Punk Cafe, how could one be anxious?

Shane – who did literature review for Dr. Catchpole – and Shane’s mother, Tammy, look to be in good spirits, and Dr. Catchpole certainly is relaxed. In between signing over 20 books, he kept telling us of his upcoming fishing expedition into the wilds of Oregon.

So many of the folks coming in for his book, Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, expressed their sincere gratitude for the special perspective it gave them when real anxiety started to interfere with their lives. From the book:

My third and final career goal has been to convince the public, and more directly in this book, to prove to you that it is no longer necessary for you to live with or be bullied by distressing levels of anxiety…

…“Anxiety-related Disorders have been beaten”. All these disorders are now proven to be treatable, and the success rates… are outstanding.

And, critically, the treatment does not include drugs!

No subsequent addictions, terrible withdrawals, zombie side-effects or paying your life’s fortune to some heartless pharma corporation (nor a street drug dealer).

Just get cured.

Buy the book at https://rutherfordpress.ca/anxiety

Free Speech?

From https://kenanmalik.com/2019/05/31/who-has-the-right-to-speak/:

…It is, in my view, precisely because we do live in plural societies that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In plural societies, it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Almost by definition such clashes express what it is to live in a diverse society.   And so they should be openly resolved than suppressed in the name of ‘respect’ or ‘tolerance’. And important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged.

The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. This is why free speech is essential not simply to the practice of democracy, but to the aspirations of those groups who may have been failed by the formal democratic processes; to those whose voices may have been silenced by racism, for instance.

The real value of free speech, in other words, is not to those who possess power, but to those who want to challenge them. And the real value of censorship is to those who do not wish their authority to be challenged…

My comment to the above post:

Having been censored from this blog, but nevertheless continuing to value the ideas placed here, I have to gulp.

I don’t know why my comments have been censored. I am certain that in the present readers’ minds, the very fact of my being censored by Kenan must be a damning statement that must immediately put me into the very back of a deep cell.

To go back to examine my previously accepted comments, and then those that were censored, I am at a loss. The contents really do not appear to warrant such action.

Perhaps it is because of my visible name? [not given in the Comments] Having been in programming, the desktop computer field and bulletin boards and all their subsequent iterations since 1972, I have seen the best and the worst of it. For that reason, I am averse to placing my given and family names onto an internet platform. Sorry about that. If that is sufficient to get me automatically damned, so be it.

To the substance of the post: I am in complete agreement with Kenan’s philosophical argument that free speech ought to be “free speech”.

Similarly, I fully agree that the law in a democracy ought to apply to every person equally.

Then we get to reality. Those with heavy duty lawyers and access to the various gatekeepers in the judicial system will always have the law bend toward their side. In a copyright infringement case where I was an expert witness for the other side of the table from a major Hollywood producer, who was backed by a formidable team of lawyers from cities across North America, funded by a major film production house, the plaintiff had no chance. That my suggestion even allowed his single non-specialist legal counsel to fight them to a draw was a miracle. It is undeniable that the full-court press tactic, even without a “win”, caused a major chill across the community of writers.

There are way too many cases where the law is most certainly not being applied “equally”. Witness the very recent official admission that indigenous peoples in North America, and specifically in Canada, have been subjected to nothing less than a “genocide”.

So, in which of the endless universes is there equal treatment under the law?

Back to free speech, and back to you the reader’s undoubted innate response to my starting statement that Kenan censored me: we all depend on some basic platform from which to gaze upon the actions around us. Kenan’s Moral Compass, therefore, must be considered such an absolute reference point. And if HE censors someone, boy! that guy must deserve it!

Whether Kenan’s reason was trivial or substantive is not the issue, is it?

Dare I ask, was Kenan being ({[hypocritical]})?

No. (Providing, it wasn’t, in fact, some AI contraption that did the dirty deed.)

Kenan was being HUMAN. We, at this point in our evolutionary stage, depend on some stable reference platform upon which to stand. Is that a point to be argued? Whether it ought to be so, is not the argument.

Individually, we are not yet points of energy that have no need for relativity.

Until that simple situation can be accepted, philosophical discussions of oughtness must be tempered by what can be done with what we are given.

What do you think of “free speech”? Before answering, I urge you to read the full post: https://kenanmalik.com/2019/05/31/who-has-the-right-to-speak/

Balance of Consciousness

About five months ago I had a sinus or inner ear infection that was routinely unpleasant. It was different, however, in that it left me with a minor but specific disruption in my sense of balance. At the onset, when I got up from a prone position it produced a fascinating, almost psychedelic effect that took over my consciousness, flashing colourfully as my mind cruised very near the edge of unconsciousness.

Dr. Google suggested it may be labyrinthitis. Not quite, though. I also looked through Wikipedia for “proprioception”. Interesting, but…

I assumed that the effect and its underlying cause would eventually repair itself. Well, the flashy colours are mostly gone, but my sense of balance is still affected in that specific manner. After I lie back on a pillow, then start to get up, the effect takes over for a few seconds.

It’s like a reverse mercury switch – the regular one consists of a small blob of mercury rolling about inside a glass capsule, and two contacts sticking through the glass wall form a bridge by the mercury only when the capsule is in a particular orientation. Instead, imagine a capsule woven with contacts everywhere – except for a specific location, where contact is on the edge of being lost.

Balance results from the integration by the brain of three inputs. One’s eyes produce, in effect, the cognitive feedback. In seeing one’s bodily orientation with respect to objects and a horizon, the brain gathers that the body is vertical or otherwise.

Somatic feedback comes from the muscles and joints. If seated, receptors will send their signals to indicate that fact. (“Flying by the seat of one’s pants” is famously what a pilot should not do, as those somatic receptors quickly become tired and stop signaling after a few minutes, allowing the pilot to feel that the plane is still level.)

The vestibular system is next to one’s inner ears. It is the “accelerometer” that reports movements of the head in the way that a cellphone’s accelerometer will signal the view on a phone screen to flip as you change its orientation.

I think the bug of five months ago affected either a small part of one of the semicircular canals of my vestibular system, or the route along which signals are sent to that part of the brain that is the accumulator of all the signals that comprise the sense of balance.

So, my question is: why should that small signal disruption have such a critical effect on consciousness?

If your cellphone’s accelerometer is turned off and the screen no longer flips, the rest of the phone’s functions continue happily blinking and beeping at you. If an injury leaves you with no feeling below your chest, your consciousness is not disrupted.

What is this connection between balance and consciousness? The combined wisdom of the internet is not helpful in answering that simple question. This could be important.

What do you think?