Peace and Long Life

I save you
You save me

Is what kills you
If you ignore it for long enough

Climate change:
Its not about saving the planet
It's about saving ourselves

Climate change:
What's the bottom line?
Don't fuck with the atmosphere!


Donations (AUD)

Annual Donations as a Percentage of Gross Income
(5 year average)
UNICEF Australia$21,000
Oxfam Australia$16,800
Australia for UNHCR$6,700
Afar Pastoral Development Association$5,000
Cambodian Children's Fund Australia$5,000
Australian Greens$3,000
Solar Aid$2,500
Village Reach$2,500
Médecins Sans Frontières$2,500
Gifts of Light$1,250
Climate Council$250
Skeptical Science$250

Climate Change Action

Clean Energy Investment$909,085.13
Dirty Energy Divestment - Superannuation
Dirty Energy Divestment - Banking
100% Green Electricity

Honour and Freedom

Michel Eyquem (1533–1592) [Lord of Montaigne]:
I condemn all violence in the education of tender minds which are being trained for honour and freedom … and I hold that you will never achieve by force what you cannot achieve by reason, intelligence and skill. …
I have never seen caning achieve anything except making souls more cowardly or more maliciously stubborn. …
[Indeed, even] if I were able to make myself feared [by my children,] I would rather make myself loved.
(On the affection of fathers for their children, The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, M A Screech, Translator, Penguin, 1991, II:8, pp 437 & 441)


Submission is a poor substitute for respect.
Fear instils only servility; it does not command respect.
It is important not to mistake one for the other.

(23 April 2017)

Divine Fine-tuning

The Ultimate Watchmaker

The fine tuning argument is a version of the argument from design.
Finding a watch implies the existence of a watchmaker.
A complex phenomenon is unlikely to occur by chance, therefore it must occur by design.
Design implies a designer.

Complexity demands explanation because of its apparent improbability.
But explaining complexity by resort to greater complexity seeks to explain the improbable with the even more improbable.
The less complex is created by the more complex, which in turn is created by the even more complex, which in turn … an infinitely complex designer: the ultimate watchmaker.
But, by extension, the infinitely complex would be infinitely improbable.

How does complexity emerge from simplicity?
By small degrees.
It may seem odd that, given enough time, complexity can emerge incrementally from simplicity — order from chaos.
Nevertheless, that this fact is surprising does not make it any less true.
The world is as it is.
Nature is bound neither
  • by human preferences, nor
  • by human expectations.
To believe otherwise is self-delusion.

The God Variable

Scientific progress consists in the refinement of causative explanations in terms of progressively fewer degrees of freedom.
The most robust scientific theories are those that are the most constrained.
Conversely, a theory which explains everything explains nothing.
That physics has reduced the number of free variables to a small number is a measure of its success. It is also the whole point of the exercise.
The supernatural is being left with fewer and fewer knobs to twiddle as the domain of natural understanding expands and the realm of ignorance shrinks.
The gap of the God of the gaps is getting smaller and smaller.
And if and when there is only one variable left, let's call it the God Variable, what value might we assign to this Divine Number?
How about 42?

(2 April 2017)

Freedom (of Action) Without (Freedom of) Will

The issue of free will contrasts:
  • the animate with the inanimate
  • the language of agents with the language of physics,
  • teleological explanations with mechanistic ones.

Consciousness is the tip of the cognitive iceberg.
It has long been clear that vast amounts of preprocessing of perceptual data occurs below the level of conscious awareness.
The work on readiness potentials simply extends this to the experience of intentionality.
Likewise many of our preferences are influencing by factors which we are unaware of eg images flashed so quickly they are not registered consciously, ambient temperature, pupil dilation.

If free will has both a conscious and unconscious component (as is the case for all other mental phenomena) can it exist without the conscious element?
Freedom (of action) without (freedom of) will?
Say, in insects or sufficiently sophisticated machines?
What do you call freedom of action without self-awareness?

Do we consciously choose what our next thought, feeling or impulse is going to be?
Do we choose to fire neurone X or neurone Y, or to upregulate or downregulate neurotransmitter system Z?

Determinism at the level of the atomic constituents of a system does not mean determinism applies to the system as whole.
The whole can be more than the sum of its parts.

A notion of free will that requires that we control the process by which choice is made leads to an infinite regress.

The idea of being free to choose otherwise given an identical brain state implies an entity that 'stands outside' the natural order (supernaturalism) or the material world (cartesian dualism).

Within a system causation need not be unidirectional, ie it does not just go from lower levels to higher levels (bottom-up); it may also operate top-down.
An example of bidirectional causality is:
  • neurological events in the brain cause psychological events in the mind, and
  • psychological events in the mind cause neurological events in the brain.
In a dynamic non-linear interactional system causation is not bottom-up or top-down, it is circular.
Hardware controlling software controlling hardware controlling …

Choices are a summation of multiple inputs:
  • internal and external,
  • conscious and unconscious,
  • intuitive and rational.

Moral responsibility suggests a capacity to respond to a schedule of incentives and deterrents ie environmental contingencies.
It implies trainability.
An entity, whether conscious or not, which does not have the freedom of action to respond adaptively to different environmental contingencies cannot be morally responsible.

(20 March 2017)


Dogmatism and Fanaticism

The Dominion of Fear


Poetry and Song


Stage and Screen

Honour and Freedom

Cosmological Fine Tuning

Freedom (of Action) Without (Freedom of) Will

Malcolm Turnbull: Coal is King

CNN Exit Poll 2016

The Rage of the Powerless

Donald Trump: Why Are We Surprised?

Malcolm Turnbull: The Pretty Face Of An Ugly Party

A Secular Catechism

The Meanings of Life

The Universe



Control through Fear
Education through Violence
Obedience through Submission

Painful truths
Comforting lies

Acts versus Agents
Is it better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons Or the wrong thing for the right reasons?

Markets do not have hands, invisible or otherwise.

A cloud with a silver lining is still a cloud.

Denial: there is no problem.
Indifference: there is a problem, but it doesn't bother me.
Resignation: there is a problem, it does bother me, but there's nothing I can do about it.
Acceptance: there is a problem, it bothers me, and there is something I can do about it.

Fear begets Anger
Anger begets Hatred
Hatred begets Cruelty
Cruelty begets Suffering

Anyone but me
Anywhere but here
Anywhen but now


Is what we believe the truth?
Or, is truth what we believe?

Knowledge: belief based on evidence.
Faith: belief in the absence of evidence.
Error: belief contrary to evidence.

The reference point for science is reality.
The reference point for values is consensus.

Science tells us about the world.
Religion tells us about ourselves.

Why we believe
Is as important as what we believe.

If Life is a journey
Death is the destination

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Kaplan & Sadock:
[The] modern discovery of hundreds of new cases of the [multiple personality] disorder is forcing a reappraisal of its rarity, although there are not as yet sufficient data to permit a reliable determination of its incidence.
(p 1029)

The recent revival of interest in multiple personality disorder has led a renewed enthusiasm for treatment of such patients with prolonged psychotherapy. …
[However,] experience in treating dissociative disorders is Iimited, and the value and effectiveness of prolonged psychotherapy cannot be dogmatically asserted.
(Dissociative Disorders (Hysterical Neuroses, Dissociative Type), Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 5th Ed, Williams & Wilkins, 1989, p 1038)

Kendell & Zealley:
[Multiple personality] is extremely rare and some doubt its existence outside literature and psychoanalysis. …
The most dramatic cases have been described during the course of psychoanalytic treatment.
The well-published case of Kenneth Bianchi, the Californian 'Hillside Strangler' who faked multiple personality and hypnosis to avoid the death penalty and completely fooled many 'expert' psychiatrists and psychologists was a salutary lesson to supporters of this concept.
(Neurotic Disorders, Companion to Psychiatric Studies, 5th Ed, Churchill Livingstone, 1993, p 511)

DID is one of the most controversial psychiatric disorders, with no clear consensus on diagnostic criteria or treatment. …
No systematic, empirically supported definition of "dissociation" exists.
[Neither] epidemiological surveys nor longitudinal studies have been conducted …
DID is diagnosed more frequently in North America than in the rest of the world …
The prevalence of DID diagnoses increased greatly in the latter half of the 20th century, along with the number of identities (often referred to as "alters") claimed by patients (increasing from an average of two or three to approximately 16). …
DID became a popular diagnosis in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, but it is unclear
  • if the actual rate of the disorder increased,
  • if it was more recognized by health care providers, or
  • if sociocultural factors caused an increase in therapy-induced (iatrogenic) presentations.
The unusual number of diagnoses after 1980, clustered around a small number of clinicians and the suggestibility characteristic of those with DID, support the hypothesis that DID is therapist-induced.
(Dissociative Identity Disorder, 9 March 2017)

Charles Rycroft (1914–98) [Psychoanalyst]:
Dissociation of the personality is … extremely rare — so rare, indeed, that one has to take seriously the possibility that it may be a social and psychiatric artefact [that] can only occur if:
  1. prevailing views on the nature of personality make it conceivable that two personalities can occupy the same bodily frame, and
  2. the [person] encounters a psychiatrist who believes in, or is already interested in, dissociation of the personality.
In fact, the great majority of reported cases … date from between 1840 and 1910 — that is, from after demoniacal possession had ceased to be a plausible … explanation of sudden, extraordinary changes in personality, until the time at which psychoanalytic ideas began to have an impact. …
The great majority of the physicians reporting cases … have been men [treating] women younger than themselves. …
Hysterical dissociation states, including dissociation of the personality, seem … to have more to do with the psychology of deception and self-deception than with any innate or acquired incapacity for integration.
(Dissociation of Personality, Oxford Companion to the Mind, Richard Gregory, Editor, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp 197-8)

(14 March 2017)

CNN Exit Poll 2016

David Runciman [Professor of Politics, Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University]:
The evidence from exit-polls is that the biggest gap of all, the strongest indicator is:
Did you, or did you not, go to university?
(How Democracy Ends, Late Night Live, ABC Radio National, 1 December 2016)

CNN Politics

50% of 24,537 respondents had a college degree, of whom 52% voted for Hillary (vs 43% for Donald):
  • 49% (18% of all respondents) of whites with a degree voted for Donald (vs 45% for Hillary),
    • 54% (9% of all respondents) of white men with a degree voted for Donald, while
    • 51% (10% of all respondents) of white women with a degree voted for Hillary,
  • 71% (9% of all respondents) of non-whites with a degree voted for Hillary.
Of the 50% who did not have a degree, 52% voted for Donald (vs 44% for Hillary):
  • 67% (23% of all respondents) of whites without a degree voted for Donald, while
  • 75% (12% of all respondents) of non-whites without a degree voted for Hillary.

64% reported earning $50,000 or more, of whom 49% (31% of all respondents) voted for Donald (vs 47% for Hillary).
Of the 36% who earned less than $50,000, 52% (19% of all respondents) voted for Hillary (vs 41% for Donald).


The majority of white male college graduates voted for Donald.
However, they were outnumbered by white women and non-whites with degrees; consequently, the overall college educated vote favored Hillary.

Those without a degree split along racial lines.
And, since white voters outnumbered non-whites by almost 2:1, this demographic went to Donald.

Similarly, rich voters favored Donald while the poor preferred Hillary.
But again, almost twice as many rich voters turned out as poor ones.

(14 December 2016)

No Party Politics Here

Malcolm Turnbull:
I regret to say, that a number of the state Labor governments have, over the years, set priorities and renewable targets that are extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic, and have paid little or no attention to energy security. …

Tony Wood [Director, Energy Program, Grattan Institute]:
The policy that drove the 40% of electricity in South Australia coming from wind was actually a federal government policy introduced originally when John Howard was Prime Minister under a Coalition government for the Renewable Energy Target. …
[Industry then capitalised on the renewable energy target by building wind farms in the state with the most wind: South Australia.]
So I would say that if you wanted to place blame on anybody for undertaking an aggressive renewable energy target and not thinking through the consequences, that blame could just as easily be laid, if not more so, at the foot of the federal government than the state government.

(9 December 2016)

The Rage of the Powerless: The Political Economy of Illiberalism

Philip Pettit (1945):
[When] you look at the different socioeconomic classes; and you look at stable policy preferences associated specifically with those classes; and then you see how far public policy has been responsive to those preferences over the last 30 or 40 years: what you find is that the bottom 20–25% [have had] zero influence of their policy preferences on government — that's a shocking condemnation of a democracy …
(A Brief History of Liberty, Alan Saunders Memorial Lecture, 8 August, 2014)

John Galbraith (1908–2006):
When … men and women are employed and at continuously improving wages or salaries, they are not greatly concerned that others, with whatever justification or absence of justification, have more, even greatly more.
The relevant comparison is not with what others have but with one's own previous economic position — it is the improvement over the previous year that is noticed.
When unemployment [and] wage reductions … are endemic, the comparison with previous years is unfavorable.
[It is then that] the mind turns to the better fortune of the fortunate.
(pp xv-xvi)

The ancient preoccupations of economic life — with equality, security and productivity — have now narrowed down to a preoccupation with productivity and production.
Production has become the solvent of the tensions once associated with inequality, and it has become the indispensable remedy for the discomforts, anxieties and privations associated with economic insecurity. …
Production has become the center of a concern that had hitherto been shared with equality and security.
(The Affluent Society, 4th Ed, Penguin, 1984, p 99)


Mainstream (neoclassical) economics has failed (at least for the bottom 90%).
Income growth for most people across the developed world is stagnating.
Income and wealth inequality is returning to levels not seen since the Gilded Age prior to WWI.

As if, as Thomas Piketty has suggested, it was post-war reconstruction boom that drove the great contraction in inequality after WWII, then those days are over.
Low growth may be the new normal.

High growth covers a multitude of sins.
People might support, or at least tolerate, progressive attitudes towards women, ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants and asylum seekers, climate change, and LGBT rights when times are good and their economic prospects are rosy; but in times of general economic distress, focusing on such issues just stokes resentment — they are seen as middle class indulgences remote from the everyday concerns of ordinary people.

The conservative economic prescription for the macroeconomic malaise is more of the same microeconomic medicine:
  • lower wages, poorer working conditions, and weaker unions (labor market deregulation);
  • spending cuts for the poor (austerity); and
  • tax cuts for the rich.
Politically and culturally they perform a bait and switch.
Populist anger is not due to economic injustice, but identity politics (nationality, race and gender).
People are being oppressed by the tyranny of left-wing political correctness.
The answer is greater opportunity to express illiberal values and the endorsement of such values by those in positions of authority (Section 18C).

The answer to rising intolerance is not the licensing of more bigotry and scapegoating.
Illiberalism is a symptom, not a solution.

(6 December 2016)

Why Are We Surprised?

Donald's victory was not a black swan event.

What was the Bayesian prior regarding Donald's chance of winning?
Say it was unlikely: 33%.

Throwing a 1 or 2 with a 6-sided die is not a "likely" outcome but since, of course, it happens 1/3 of the time and it is no cause for surprise.
Unlikely events happen all the time.
Just not as frequently as likely ones.

Because Donald won does not mean prior assessments of his chance of winning were necessarily wrong.

One's emotional reaction to an event is not just a function of how likely or unlikely it is.
The quality and magnitude of the outcome matters.
High impact, adverse events naturally evoke stronger reactions than low impact events event even if they are equally likely.
There is always both an analytic and an intuitive/emotional component to any assessment of risk.

Events often appear inevitable in retrospect.
This is the historical fallacy.

We tend to overestimate our ability to predict the future.
Uncertainty is scary.
It is comforting to think that we know what is going to happen next.

A failure of imagination.
Unprecedented events are more shocking than familiar ones.
It is not easy to imagine events that have never happened before.
Despite the experience of Brexit, it was difficult to imagine Donald becoming president — especially for those for whom this was a horrifying prospect.

What we are experiencing is the difference between possibility and reality.

(25 November 2016)

Malcolm Turnbull: The Pretty Face Of An Ugly Party

Scott Stevens:
[Malcolm Turnbull is] trying to sell himself [firstly,] to the electorate, but primarily he was trying to gain a degree of authority over a … policy-conflicted party. …
[What he is pleading for is:]
Please God, give me time, to rebuild something here. …
Can we just have a bit more time to get something together?
(Do voters have moral responsibilities?, The Minefield, 7 July, 2016)


This is the electors' dilemma.
Faced with a disunited party with an indifferent first term record:
Do you give them three more years in government to get their act together on the strength of a shiny new / recycled leader?
Or, are the opposition benches a more fitting place for them to sort out their differences?
Can the country afford the risk of wasting three more years in policy limbo?
Hope, it seems, has narrowly prevailed over experience.

Election campaigns are always fought on at least two fronts:

  1. Program = Policy Platform.
  2. Leadership = Trust.

Labor took the policy road.
Malcolm Turnbull:
Trust me I'm an businessman, investment banker, journalist, rich, smart etc
The Coalition had to run on leadership because their economic program has been in a shambles since the electorally devastating 2014 budget.
To gain the leadership Turnbull had give undertakings to retain essential elements of Abbott's hard right agenda.
To break those undertakings and have any prospect of changing policy direction he needed a convincing win — which he has failed to achieve.
It was a Catch 22.
He needed electoral success to unify his party while needing a unified party to achieve electoral success.

(17 July 2016)

A Secular Catechism

Without Evidence
    There is only Ignorance
Without Reason
    There is only Faith
Without Knowledge
    There is only Dogma
Without Science
    There is only Ideology
Without Kindness
    There is only Cruelty
Without Wisdom
    There is only Folly
Without Light
    There is only Darkness

The Meanings of Life

The Seeking of Pleasure
The Avoidance of Pain

The Hunger for Love
The Thirst for Knowledge

The Cultivation of Wisdom
The Practise of Virtue

The Craving for Approval
The Need to Belong

The Pursuit of Happiness
The End of Suffering

Mon Coeur Sauvage

Loudly sing my Savage Heart,
Upon the keening windswept plain
Of bitter battles yet to fight
With weapons worn, and armor stained

Listen for the Havoc's cry
Beneath the weeping winter sky
Sing within, memories fading pale
Of distant dreams, and hopes assailed

Loudly sing my Savage Heart
Be strong, for the coming of the Dark

(Dedicated to Limor Theedar)

The Universe

The universe does not care.
It does not hear our prayers.
It is not flattered by our offerings or sacrifices.
It is neither vengeful nor forgiving.

There is no relationship to be had with the universe, no reciprocity, no intentionality.
There is only direction without purpose.
It is a blank canvas upon which humanity expresses its needs and desires for pattern and meaning.

Human values are the by products of the sociobiological history of the human species.
As is our freedom to choose between them.
Our purposes are our own.
To be pursued with such dignity and courage as we can command.

The universe is a wondrous and a terrifying place.
But it is neither friend nor foe.
For those, we only have each other.

No comments :

Post a Comment