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!


Seeking the TruthKnowing the Truth
Painful TruthsComforting Lies

The Science of LivingThe Art of Living







Facts and Fictions

The way the world isThe way we would like it to be
Outer WorldInner World
Waking LifeDream Life

Mistaking Truth for FalsehoodMistaking Fact for Fiction
Mistaking Falsehood for TruthMistaking Fiction for Fact

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970):
There [is] a vast field, traditionally included in philosophy, where scientific methods are inadequate.
This field includes ultimate questions of value.
[Science] alone, for example, cannot prove that it is bad to enjoy the infliction of cruelty.
Whatever can be known, can be known by means of science.
[But] things which are legitimately matters of feeling, lie outside its province.
(A History of Western Philosophy, 2nd Edition, 1961 / 84, p 788)

I mean by wisdom a right conception of the ends of life.
This is something which science in itself does not provide.
Increase of science by itself, therefore, is not enough to guarantee any genuine progress, though it provides one of the ingredients which progress requires.
(The Scientific Outlook, 1931)

Facts and fictions are equally important.
But what is of greater importance than either is not to mistake one for the other.

Facts are those propositions that can (potentially) be demonstrated empirically and/or logically to be either true or false, with some degree of likelihood.
All other propositions are fictions.

Facts are objective.
Fictions are subjective.
Shared fictions, such as morality, are intersubjective.
Accordingly, there are no moral facts, only moral fictions.

You cannot choose your facts.
You can, however, choose your fictions.

Fictions include inspirational stories that provide meaning and purpose to life.
In choosing which fictions to live by, it is prudent to choose from among those that are true to the facts (ie based in reality), rather than from among those that are not.

Religion is simply a failure to distinguish mythology from history.

A Secular Catechism

Without Facts
    There is only Opinion
Without Reason
    There is only Faith
Without Knowledge
    There is only Belief
Without Scepticism
    There is only Dogmatism
Without Science
    There is only Ideology
Without Kindness
    There is only Cruelty
Without Wisdom
    There is only Folly
Without Light
    There is only Darkness

Mon Coeur Sauvage

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

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

Loudly sing my Savage Heart
Fear not, the coming of the Dark

Cosmological Fine-tuning


Facts and Fictions

Dogmatism and Fanaticism

The Dominion of Fear


Poetry and Song


Stage and Screen

Playing Nuclear Roulette

On Tolerance

Honour and Freedom

Cosmological Fine Tuning

Franco-German Fiscal Hypocrisy

Dissociative Identity Disorder

The Birth of Modernity


Freedom (of Action) Without (Freedom of) Will

Friedrich Hayek: The Divine Right of Plutocrats

Malcolm Turnbull: Coal is King

Scott Stephens: In Praise of Aristocracy

The Politics of Energy

An Orgy Of Free Thinking

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

Mon Coeur Sauvage

A Virtual Epitaph: Digital Graffiti on the Wall of Civilization


Conservatives exist to prevent progressives from making things worse.
Progressives exist to make things better (despite conservative attempts to stop them).

In physics, when theory does not agree with the observations
— the theory is ignored.
In economics, when theory does not agree with the observations
— the observations are ignored.

What we believe about the world often tells us more about ourselves, than it does about the world.

The fact that you cannot prove a proposition false is not evidence that it is true.

Fanaticism is the breeding ground of atrocity.
Atrocity is the breeding ground of fanaticism.

Equality = Fairness = Justice

Freedom without justice is tyranny in disguise.

Governance = Leadership + Followership

Data is not Information
Information is not Knowledge
Knowledge is not Wisdom

If you can do significant good at insignificant cost, you should do it.

Disagreement is not (always) criticism.

Markets do not have hands, invisible or otherwise.

Most ugly ducklings grow up to be ugly ducks.

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 its destination

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)

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.
(System black, Background Briefing, ABC Radio National, 6 November 2016)

(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)

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

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