Archives for category: Chance

Let’s face it. The homeless are ‘survivors’ who don’t pull their weight as members of the community. They live ‘off the land’ – but the land they use to live off is us, and they don’t give anything back in return. Except for the garbage they leave behind…

Hence we have a problem.
Which we might choose to ignore. Or to solve.

I’ll presume we want to solve it.
First step to solving any problem is, of course, to understand its nature.

So, what is bothering us?

The garbage they leave behind?
The sore sight they offer each time we see them?
The danger they represent for public safety?
The fact that they occupy public property? And prevent the rest of us from using it?
The fact that they don’t contribute?
The loss of their creative potential?
The bad example for our children?
They are a reminder of what could have happened to any of us?

Second step, the ‘how’ of the matter.

What caused such a number of able bodied people to live in the streets?
Why do so many of them use drugs? And alcohol?
Why do so many of them refuse to be helped? By the institutions which care for them?

I don’t have a real answers for any of these.
The first category of questions depends on each of us while the second on each of the homeless.

Nevertheless, I would like to point out a few things.

Very few of the homeless have been born on the street.
Most of them have been educated into the values of the society to which each of them belongs. Very few are recently arrived immigrants, at least in the US.
“we found that the longer that immigrants had lived in the United States, the greater their risk for homelessness. This is a unique finding that has not been reported before and suggests that immigrants are more likely to shed previous practices and attitudes from their origin countries over time as they live in the United States, which can put them at increased susceptibility to mental illness, substance abuse, and other factors that can increase homeless risk.This idea would be consistent with the literature finding that the health immigrant effect declines for immigrants in the United States as they acculturate and develop habits and practices similar to native residents”. J. Tsai, X.Gu, Homelessness among immigrants in the US

Why do I bother? Specially if I don’t have any answer?

The way I see it, each society is a social organism.

This image had been labeled ‘misleading’ by the Reddit users who cared enough about the subject. And rightly so. “This data is incredibly unreliable. It spans from 2009 to 2015 in different countries and has different criteria for defining homelessness.”
More about how this kind of data is been gathered and why it becomes misleading can be found in the OECD report on the subject. Click here for the 2019 one.

And what might we learn from this? Leaving aside the ‘vagaries’?
That New Zealand has way more homeless people than Japan?
And why nobody knows anything about the New Zealand homeless – or about those in the Czech Republic, but all concerned netizens are horrified by the manner in which the US are treating their homeless?

“”Where are we going to go now?” Denver closes park near Capitol, clears homeless camp citing rats, health hazards.”

For starters, and given the relative size of the US population, there are way more homeless in the US than in the rest of the OECD. Roughly counting, of course.
Secondly, the US is the wealthiest country in the world. And the one which used to describe itself as being the place where all dreams could be fulfilled.

Then, and this is only a hunch, there is the ‘small’ problem of the ‘native citizens’. Oops… not a mere hunch anymore. “In 2013, 12,754 Māori were homeless, comprising 32% of the homeless population compared to comprising just 14.9% of the total population” Same considerations may be taken into account when evaluating the situation in Australia and Canada while Europe has a rather consistent Roma population. Many of whom continue to live in a ‘traditional’ manner.

So, after all, is there anything to be learned here?

Actually, yes.

That luck does play a huge role. It makes a hell of a difference being born a Maori in New Zealand or a billionaire’s child in California.
And that becoming acculturated in the US actually increases your chances of becoming homeless.

What?!?

Have you already forgotten? 😦
“we found that the longer that immigrants had lived in the United States, the greater their risk for homelessness. This is a unique finding that has not been reported before and suggests that immigrants are more likely to shed previous practices and attitudes from their origin countries over time as they live in the United States, which can put them at increased susceptibility to mental illness, substance abuse, and other factors that can increase homeless risk.This idea would be consistent with the literature finding that the health immigrant effect declines for immigrants in the United States as they acculturate and develop habits and practices similar to native residents”.” J. Tsai, X.Gu, Homelessness among immigrants in the US

The way I understand all this is that there must be a link between homelessness and the intensity, and character, of the social interaction prevalent among the members of any given society.

People in the West, and specially in the US, see personal success as paramount. And personal failure as … well… something to be shunned. Simply because it reminds us of what may happen to any of us.
Specially when taking on the risks we must assume if we want to really succeed. As we are pressured from early childhood.
The risks the immigrants grow accustomed to the longer they live in the US.

I’m afraid I was that close of forgetting a point I planned to make.
Why so many of the homeless use drugs and have an alcohol problem.

“The new study, led by NIDA’s Dr. Marco Venniro, required rats to choose between social interaction with another rat or access to a drug (heroin or methamphetamine). The animals consistently chose social interaction when given the choice, and this was true when they were first given access to the drug or when they were experienced drug takers.”

Isn’t it interesting?

There is a then and there is a now.
We’re OK with ‘then’ and we’re not so comfortable with ‘now’.
Yet the only link between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is us.

Our generation took ‘then’ and brought it ‘now’.

Everything that happened between then and now had happened to us, by us.

I thought I had it all figured out.

I had already learned that individuals needed to preserve their self esteem. The good opinion they have built about themselves during their entire lives.
This being the reason for which most self made people see their own efforts as the main reason for their status. While being adamant that Lady Luck had played no role whatsoever in their advancement…

I had also observed that all imperia had eventually failed. No matter what kind of imperia… Political dictatorships, commercial monopolies, abusive families…
For no other reason than dictators’/patriarchs’ tendency to drive away those who don’t kowtow to their opinions.
Which attitude effectively empties the structures led by authoritarian figures of any ‘alternative’ expertise. Of any other expertise but that of the leading figure. And since no expertise was ever infinite – not even Napoleon’s, the end of all imperia had been sealed from the moment when a single will had imposed itself over the entire structure.

OK, from the outside everything made sense. The added figures matched the measured total.

But something still bothered me.
As a constant rebel, I perfectly understood those who chose to leave instead of bowing to the higher authority.

But why act in a dictatorial manner in the first place?
Why drive away all those who might come handy in a dire strait?
Why not replace those who choose to leave with equivalent people? Instead of favoring increasingly obedient ones?
Specially when speaking about very intelligent people… and very few individuals have ever arrived at the top of any complicated structures only because Lady Luck had a crush on them …

Yesterday, when discussing the subject with my father – we each support different political parties and Romania had just elected it’s president, he told me: “You had been lucky enough to never have had to make a compromise. That’s why you can afford to think like this!”
We were using Romanian. I used ‘can afford’ to convey what he said to me because I’m not aware of a closer English equivalent. Maybe I could have used ‘allow yourself to think like this’…
Anyway, that was the moment when it struck me.

That past ‘compromises’ tend to compromise our ability to see the forest for the trees.
That whenever somebody aired an opinion which even slightly contested any of the compromises we ever had to make in our pasts we perceived it as an aggression. As if our self esteem was under assault. No matter that the ‘assailant’ had no way of knowing that we had to compromise our own beliefs at one point.
The simple fact that we remember that moment is enough. We’ve found ways to soothe our souls. We’ve already have invented excuses. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to function… But we’ve never been able to really come to terms with ourselves. We’ve never forgiven our own weaknesses. Never assumed them in earnest.

And this is how past ‘mistakes’ continue to haunt us.
Preventing us from accepting advice.
Because ‘deep down’ we feel the urge to continue the path we have already chosen’. That being the easier way to preserve our psychological well being. Our mental consistency…

Further reading:
Cognitive Dissonance
Customer cancels Zomato order for sending non-Hindu delivery boy.

If you think of it, life – yet another word for ‘survival’, is about growing up from being a ‘parazite’ to pulling your own weight.

And this is valid at both individual and ‘collective’ levels.

All individual organisms – from viruses to bacteria to human, are born as helpless ‘parasites’ and survive for only as long as they don’t go ‘against the grain’.
Similarity, new species appear completely by chance and survive for only as long as they do not create enough disturbance for the rest of those who live in the neihborhood to take ‘punitive actions’.

Higher up the ‘evolution tree, ‘cultures’ – ‘wisdom’ accrued while surviving specific sets of circumstances, continue to help those who observe them for only as long as the observants don’t try to impose ‘theirs’ where they do not fit.

Furthermore, rulers continue to rule for only as long as their presence is an asset for the system.
Otherwise, the whole system goes south but the responsibility belongs to the ruler, not to the entire system. Which, nevertheless, bears the brunt of the consequences.

In some circles, the process is also known as ‘becoming a responsible adult’.

In many ways, technology has leaped ahead of leaders and organizations, and the human element needs to catch up.

Erica Volini et al, Introduction: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus

I’m afraid there is nothing new here.

‘Technology” has always been the elephant in the china shop.
Only it is very seldom that elephants enter by themselves. Anywhere, let alone in a china shop. And the mahouts who led them there were not always up to the task.

First things first.
“Technology has leaped ahead…” is an oxymoron.
Technology has always been one step behind the humans.
For no other reason than the fact that technology is a human invention. Each and every technological feat has been initiated and put in practice by a human being.

Hence ‘ ‘technology’, (wink) has leaped ahead of leaders and organizations, and the rest of the human element needs to catch up’!

Secondly, the ‘mahouts’ have a relatively easier job than those who drive the ‘rest of the human element’. Developing a technology is fairly easy but making sure that people do not hurt themselves while using it is fairly impossible.

The physical world is straightforward. It’s reaction is always the same. Once the experimenters learn what happens when they execute a certain action, the ‘response’ elicited from ‘that’ physical system by the experimenters’ consistent actions will never change.

On the other hand, people – conscious people, that is, are not that straightforward.
Being self aware, they constantly evaluate the consequences of their responses. They constantly evaluate what happens after they respond to whatever probes them from ‘outside’.
They constantly re-evaluate the consequences their actions produce upon themselves. They learn.
Only they don’t do it ‘mechanically’. Each of them has preferences and a certain freedom of will. Hence their inconsistency. Each of them learns slightly different things from the same situation. And each of them may choose to react in their own manner.
In spite of their assumptions, people are at best reasonable and never fully rational.

Bluntly put, it is fairly easy to evaluate the consequences of a gun being shot at a man but a lot harder to evaluate the consequences of a man shooting a gun.

The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs.”

The systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.

In these terms, science must be deterministic.
No systematic study of anything might ever be made if not starting from the conviction that a given set of causes will produce the same results, over and over again. No laws attempting to describe any facts in general terms might be formulated unless starting from the same premises.

On the other hand, it was science itself which had taught us that:

It’s impossible to determine, with absolute precision, both the position and momentum of an electron

The same ‘uncertainty principle’ can be extended to other pairs of “complementary variables, such as length of time and energy“.

And there are countless other examples of ‘in-determination’ which have been documented by scientists during their search for the ultimate truth.

Any chance of reconciliation?

Well…
To start, I’ll note first that ‘determinism’ is a concept which had started its career in philosophy while ‘science’ has a more ‘complex’ origin. It might have been initiated by Christian theologians trying to ‘guess’ God’s will only they were attempting to fulfill that task by closely watching Nature – which was seen as the very embodiment of God’s intentions.
In this sense, scientific determinism can be understood as the conviction that Nature must make perfect sense – must be completely explainable, simply because God’s creation – which includes Nature, must be perfect.
OK, and since all theologians agree that no human will ever be able/should ever pretend to know God, what’s the problem in accepting that Man – collectively speaking now, will never learn enough to find a complete explanation for everything?

‘And what about the atheists?’

What about them?
Oh, you mean the people who are sure that God doesn’t exist? Who are just as sure that God doesn’t exist as the staunch believers who are perfectly confident that God not only exists but also micro-manages everything? Under the Sun and beyond?
I’ll just leave it there…

On a deeper level, there is no contradiction between ‘determinism’ – philosophically speaking, and scientific thinking. As long as we keep these two ‘apart’, of course…

‘So you are going to accept that science will never ‘know’ everything AND that ‘everything is a consequence of the previous state of affairs’ ‘ ?

Well, again…
The key word here is “inevitable”!
Determinism is ” the philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs
For a philosopher it is very easy to say ‘inevitable’. Even more so for believing philosopher.
For a scientist… how is a scientist going to say that something is ‘inevitable’? ‘Philosophically’ speaking, of course… as in ‘with absolute precision’?!?

Specially since entertaining a truly ‘scientific attitude’ means, above all, to be prepared, at all moment and without any notice, for all your previously held convictions to be contradicted by new evidence…

‘What are you trying to say here?
That everything revolves around the manner in which each of us relates to the meaning of his own interpretation of each concept?
That truth itself is relative?’

‘That man is the measure for everything?’

Yep!
AND that man is also responsible for the consequences his own actions! In front of his own children, before everything else.
For no other reason than it will be his own children who will bear the brunt of his own decisions.

Additional reading:
Science as Falsification“, Karl R. Popper.
800 Scientists say it’s time to abandon “Statistical Significance”
“Protagoras”
“On the Essence of Truth“, Martin Heidegger
“Suicide now leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14 in Japan

I was arguing yesterday that life, as a biological phenomenon, depends on membranes doing their jobs.
Keeping the inside in, the outside out and managing the transit of substances. Nutrients in and excretions out. For some organisms, their ‘membranes’ also act as a thermo-regulators.

‘Watching’ a membrane in action, one might get the impression that it has been endowed with a certain ‘awareness’. The membrane acts as if it were aware of the differences between its inside and its outside. It recognizes what belongs where and keeps them there. It also recognizes nutrients for what they are – and lets them in, and excretions for what they are – and where they should be.
OK, the membrane does what it does simply because it was ‘pre-programmed’ in a specific way, according to the genetic information each organism has received from its predecessors. There’s nothing supernatural involved here. For what we currently know, anyway…

Watching, as a dispassionate outside observer, the evolutionary process unfolding one might get the impression that life itself has a certain awareness.
‘Rules of life’, read genetic information passed along from one generation to another, are diligently updated to fit the changes in the environment. Nevermind that the whole process is ‘impersonal’, ‘goal-less’ and is fueled by haphazard trial and error, the end result is what we currently consider to be ‘learning’!
That’s what we try to code into our artificially intelligent machines, don’t we?

Further more, recent research points out that individual organisms share information with their brethren.
Bacteria can share antibiotic resistance genes through lateral transfer.
Physarum polycephalum, a unicellular organism, seems to be able to share information already learned when it comes in contact with other members of the species.
Plants “can “talk” in several different ways: via airborne chemicals, soluble compounds exchanged by roots and networks of threadlike fungi“.

Since communication itself is a process which implies the ability to differentiate between a ‘run of the mill’ situation and one special enough to warrant the effort to ‘talk’ about it, I find all these to be compelling arguments for life itself to be considered as implying certain forms of awareness.

According to ‘science’, life is nothing but a process through which (genetic) information is passed, with small alterations, from one generation to another and during which the environment is, however minutely, changed by whatever the living organisms do during their lifespans.

‘Individually’ – organism by organism, life takes place inside a ‘membrane’. Which you might call it ‘skin’, if you like.
That membrane separates the ‘inside’ – the living organism, from the ‘outside’ – otherwise known as the ‘environment’.
Each individual organism continues to be alive for as long as the membrane manages to keep the inside in, the outside out AND to properly regulate the exchanges between the inside and the outside.
This being the moment when we need to remember that each living organism needs to eat, to drink, to breathe and to excrete. Meaning that it needs a more or less continuous flow of certain substances from the outside and to periodically clean itself. And the moment to understand that each organism continuously changes its environment. By incorporating some of it while feeding/breathing and by ‘polluting’ it when ‘throwing out’ the by-products of its metabolism.

For all the activity above to take place, each individual organism needs to follow some ‘rules’. It’s ‘membrane’ needs to ‘know’ which substances to allow in and which to keep out. Which substances to throw out and which to keep it.
To perform all these duties, the membrane itself needs to be organized in a certain manner. For all to happen as it should, the ‘interior’ has to be organized in a certain – and specific, manner.

On the other hand, for any (set of) rule(s) to make sense, it has to be congruent to the situation it ‘attempts’ to manage. For instance, the rule about what substances are to be ‘allowed in’ has to be adapted both to the specific needs of the organism following it AND to what substances are available in the particular environment in which that organism attempts to survive/thrive.
Since the environment in which the living process attempts to take place is subjected to continuous change – both as a consequence of organisms living in it and as happenstance happening, the ‘rules of life’ cannot be ‘set in stone’.
For life to continue in a consistent manner, it has to preserve its rules while for life to survive in an ever-changing environment it has to adapt its rules to fit the changes in the environment.
This being where evolution takes charge.

That’s why the life we’re familiar with, ours, is comprised of successive generations of many individual organisms which somehow pass genetic information (rules of life) from one another. The fundamental ‘trick’ which makes everything possible being that during the ‘passing’ process the genetic information is slightly altered.
Sometimes with beneficial results – those individuals thrive and, eventually, new species appear. Other times, the results are tragic. The individuals which receive bad – read unfit, rules of life do not survive.
Equally tragic is the fate of those species, otherwise ‘successful’ until that moment, which, at some point, are confronted by so momentous changes in their environment that they are no longer able to adapt. Dinosaurs are the first examples which come to my mind but the list is so long that we’ll never learn about all of them.

A pessimist might conclude that life is all about species and that individuals are expandable.
Au contraire, mon cher ami. Since there’s no way in hell – or in heaven, for anybody to know which individual organism has that particular piece of information which will enable their successors to survive the next alteration in the environment it would be rather dense to consider any individual as being expandable. In fact, it was the ‘individualization’ of the living process that made possible the evolutionary process.

Life is about both individuals and species, simultaneously and with equal importance.

– History is the story of what we remember of what had happened, right? Based on our shared individual recollections, the ‘written sources’ we have at our disposal and our interpretation of any other material traces we might have found… and properly preserved…

– Yep!

– Then no history, no matter how diligent and well intended the historian, will ever be the actual representation of what had really happened, back then!

– Well, you seem to be quite familiar with Heidegger’s work.

– I can’t say that. Popper’s injunction that science is more about being prepared to acknowledge your ignorance than about really knowing is enough for me.

– Then we might be soon delivered from History, after all.
When enough people will share your attitude/paradigm – that no matter how hard we’ll ever try we’ll never know anything for sure… it will be impossible for any would be dictator to pretend they have the ‘right’ answer for any problem we might encounter.

“One of Pareto’s most noteworthy and controversial theories is that human beings are not, for the most part, motivated by logic and reason but rather by sentiment.”

Coming from an engineer – Pareto had started as one, this concept becomes even more noteworthy.
Why would a ‘professional using precision measurements and seeking consistently reproducible results’ focus his attention on sentiment rather than reason?

Because this is the reasonable thing to to?

And one of the reasons for which I tend to agree with him – besides being an engineer myself, is that he had started his studies using the most ‘reasonable’ instrument ever devised by man: “Residing in Florence, he studied philosophy and politics and wrote many periodical articles in which he first analyzed economic problems with mathematical tools.”

So, Pareto had reached the conclusion that human beings are driven mostly by sentiment after rationally analyzing the economic (and political) life.

OK. But what lies behind ‘sentiment’?

Pareto had proposed ‘residues’ as ‘motivation’ for sentiment. His theory is interesting only rather complicated. Almost byzantine. A well written summary can be read here.

What I find fascinating about Pareto’s theory is the rather veiled but certain correspondence which exists between his ‘residues’ and Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”.

I’ll try to ‘raise the veil’ at a later date, today I’ll just point you towards a very relevant ‘coincidence’.

The psychologist had traveled the same road as the engineer.

Maslow (1943) initially stated that individuals must satisfy lower level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. However, he later clarified that satisfaction of a needs is not an “all-or-none” phenomenon, admitting that his earlier statements may have given “the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges” (1987, p. 69).

Both had started ‘deterministically’, trying evidentiate ‘the’ (ironclad?) link between behavior and conditions – and expecting that link to be of a rational nature, only to reach the conclusion that individual sentiment/evaluation is at least as important – if not more so, as reason in the decision process. In shaping human behavior.


%d bloggers like this: