Archives for category: evolution

Let’s face it, all of us have asked ourselves, ‘why do we have to go through all this’?

Why are we thrown into this world, without any of us ever been asked about it, only to end up dead?

Well, I haven’t got an answer to this particular question. Sorry for getting your hopes too high.

But, thanks to a friend of mine, I’ve just found the answer to the next best one.

‘Now, if we’re already here, is there anything that we can do about it?’

The gamut of a potential answer to this question runs from ‘end it this very minute’ to ‘let’s do our best, which ever that might be’.

‘End it this very minute’ has the obvious plus of avoiding any additional suffering to that already experienced – and we pretty much know what we can expect as we’ll be getting older, and the equally obvious minus that no one knows what tomorrow will bring.


Who amongst us knew, thirty five years ago, that communism will fall? With a bang!
Who amongst us knew, thirty years ago, that the internet will allow us to exchange ideas so fast, across so much of the world?
Who amongst us knew, five minutes ‘before’, who was the soul-mate each of us have been so happy to share everything with since ‘that happy moment’?

OK, let’s do our best then.
But what is this ‘best’?
How can we define it?!?

To each, their own…

It was exactly here that my friend’s input was invaluable.

“Curiosity is an important source of wisdom, but nowhere near as important as pain.”

The very moment that I was reading this, my fingers started to itch:

“I’m afraid both are ‘equally’ important.
The way I see it, curiosity and pain are, intellectually speaking, very similar to man and woman. You cannot have wisdom without a ‘healthy’ dose of both curiosity and pain, just as you cannot possibly conceive a child without enough of both man and woman.
Furthermore, the kind of wisdom/child you end up with depends heavily on how well both factors manage to cooperate in their ‘discourse’. Not to mention how important is the ‘environment’ where wisdom is ‘attempted’ and ‘child’ is raised.
In this sense, curiosity and pain are just as equal as man and woman are equal.
Or should I say ‘so complementary that neither of them can fulfill their meaning if the other is absent’?”
At first glimpse, this whole thing seems extremely reductionist.
What about those who cannot/want not to have children? Am I implying they’re wasting their lives?
And what about the few who cannot even comprehend the concept of wisdom? Are they to be ‘set aside’?!?
Take a deep breath!
What I’ve just understood is simple.
Basically, these are the only two things over which we have the slightest degree of control.
To give birth – to the next generation of humans, and to learn. To add something to the accrued understanding which is known as ‘culture’.
‘End it, this very minute!’ versus ‘Do our best!’
In order to add something to the future of mankind, not all of us actually need to ‘give birth’. Not all of us actually need to become the next Steven Hawking – I have chosen him as an example because he had just passed away this morning.
But how better this world will become as more and more of us will learn to balance ‘curiosity’ and ‘pain’?
As more and more of us will learn to encourage ‘curiosity’ – their own as well as that of others?
As more and more of us will train themselves to apply only the least amount of ‘curative pain’ whenever they are in control?
As more and more of us will understand that in so many instances both curiosity and pain are more a matter of chance than of ‘due diligence’, and, as a consequence of their newly found understanding, will be more willing to extend a helping hand to both curious and painful?
Flash back from earlier this morning.
Another friend of mine had mentioned a Russian proverb – his translation, I don’t speak the language.

“Do not try “raising/shaping” your kids.

Whatever you do, they’ll still grow to resemble you.
Educate/shape yourself.”
There’s nothing else left to be done but to shape ourselves.
This way we’ll contribute both to the future of mankind and to our own.
It’s a lot nicer, and safer too, to live among people who entertain an atmosphere of mutual respect amongst all of them than to attempt to survive in a ‘top dog takes all’ ‘urban jungle’.
the golden rule

We are constantly being told that we’re living in the best possible world.

I agree with that.
Of course it’s the best possible one… specially since there’s no other!

On this side of the Styx, anyway…

Let’s get real now.

This is the Century when we’ve managed to open up all corners of our round Planet. We’ve ‘conquered’ the most remote and inhospitable places – both poles, all mountain tops and most of the ocean floor, including that beneath the Arctic Ice Sheet, and, way more important, made most of the Earth solid surface accessible for almost everybody. By car, by train, by plane, by bike, by ferry …
We’ve managed to populate all the ‘cubicles’ designed by Mendeleev and we found uses for most of them.
We’ve managed to identify a vast array of natural resources. We’ve developed matching technologies to exploit each of them, to transform and combine them into what we thought it would fit our fancies and to distribute the results to whomever wished to receive them.
We’ve continued to develop already invented means of communication and we transformed them into something totally different. Practically, we’ve restored the world to it’s ‘Golden Age’. We now live in the Global Village.

Which is not that much different from the old one…

Now, with the world watching Aleppo burn, Daraya fall, and Idlib and other Syrian cities suffer so brutally, Pope Francis’s description of Syria as “abandoned and beloved” rings chillingly accurate. After Bosnia, I was sure the international community would never again stand by and watch in silence as hundreds of thousands of people were bombed relentlessly, starved, beaten, traumatized, and denied the most basic human rights, including education and medical facilities. During the height of the worst years in Sarajevo, from 1992 to 1994, you could chart the ebb and flow of the city’s hope, like the steady flow of the Mijacka River, whose shelled bridges we had to run across to avoid getting hit by snipers. Food supplies ran out; soldiers were getting slaughtered on the fronts; the hospitals’ generators went down.

Janine Di Giovanni, From Sarajevo to Aleppo, Lessons on Surviving a Siege,
The Atlantic, October 12, 2016

What happened with “only a fool learns from his own mistakes, the wise man learns from the mistakes of others“?

OK, back to square one…

1918 had seen the end of the First World War.
Which was the first ‘mixed’ war and the one which should have been the last…

‘The last’ part is obvious, let me elaborate on ‘the first mixed’ one.

Basically, people are both lazy and easily frightened. Their natural tendency is to ‘give in’, a.k.a. ‘trade in’ rather than ‘fight for it’ ‘to the ultimate consequence’.
Which actually makes a lot of sense. Just imagine what would have happened if we were just a tad more combative than we used to…

Need a clue? Click on the picture below.

sex bonobos chimps

Welcome back.

The proposition “Laziness and congeniality is our default mode (mood?)” is valid but from a ‘statistical point of view’.
On a ‘case by case approach’, the manner in which each of us reacts in specific circumstances depends both on those circumstances and on our own interpretation of what’s going on. In fact, it’s our individual consciousness which makes things even more complicated than the situation described in the video above.

During most of our history, human social arrangements have closely resembled those of the chimpanzees. Alpha males have somehow managed to climb to the top of the food chain while the ‘laziness’ of the rest kicked in and allowed the alpha males to do more or less what they pleased.
Which had included a lot of unwarranted aggression.

Up to WWI, most wars had been started by aggressive rulers who had somehow convinced their followers to attack one or more of the neighbors. Which neighbors were also organized more or less like a chimpanzee troupe – ‘lazy and congenial people’ ruled by which ever alpha male was aggressive/cunning enough to remain in power.
These social arrangements had a very interesting consequence.
All conflict was between rulers and all wars were ‘turf wars’.
The belligerents were not attempting to out-kill each-other but to establish hierarchies. More prosaically, war was nothing but ‘protection racket’. The loser had to pay a certain amount of money to the winner – ‘war reparations’, surrender a piece of the ‘turf’ or both at the same time.

In time – due to particular circumstances, some of what are currently known as ‘nations’ have learned that ‘chimpanzee social order’ leads to unnecessary suffering and have (re)invented an alternative. A.k.a. democracy.

WW1 was the first major war which pitted authoritarian regimes against democratic ones.
Yes, humankind had already witnessed some wars which had been started by more or less democratically run countries – the British Empire had attacked the Boer Republics in South Africa, for example, only this is but a blog post, not a 500 page dissertation…
Unfortunately, the democracies which had won the WWI had behaved totally inappropriately… with dire consequences. For them, as well as for the rest of the world.

The Treaty of Versailles imposed a huge amount of war reparations upon the main loser. Germany.
Two consequences have arisen from here.

The obvious one was WWII. And almost nobody disputes this.
The less obvious one was that those war reparations had transformed war itself.

A democratically run coalition imposing war reparations upon a defeated and leaderless/dispirited population had transformed war from a dispute between rulers into a dispute between nations.

This was the ‘accelerant’ used by Hitler to start the second funeral pyre which had engulfed Europe…

Democratically run nations behaving inconsiderately towards other nations also established an immensely dangerous precedent.

The first example of which had occurred less than 20 years later in Spain.


It was Hegel who first noticed that how much of ‘something’ was available at some point in place and/or time was determining the evolution of things.
Later, Marx and Engels ‘hijacked’ the idea and then corrupted evolution into revolution but I’ll set aside that subject for the time being.

“It is said that there are no sudden changes in nature, and the common view has it that when we speak of a growth or a destruction, we always imagine a gradual growth or disappearance. Yet we have seen cases in which the alteration of existence involves not only a transition from one proportion to another, but also a transition, by a sudden leap, into a … qualitatively different thing; an interruption of a gradual process, differing qualitatively from the preceding, the former state”

Georg Friedrich Hegel, Science of Logic

According to Ernst Mayr, evolution is a process which weeds out the misfits.
Which ascertains that at any given moment only those individuals/species who can survive the present conditions continue to enjoy life.
Regardless of who’s responsible for any changes in those conditions, of course…

And did I tell you that evolution is an impersonal process? Which has no goal, whatsoever?

We are currently witnessing an accumulation of heat on our Planet.
I’m not going to argue whether we are the main culprits or not. I don’t command any expertise in this domain, except that I know for a fact that increasing the relative content of CO2 in the atmosphere does increase the retention of heat by the aforementioned atmosphere.
I also know for a fact that we’ve burned in the last three centuries fossil fuels which had been accumulated during God only knows how many millennia. Releasing a huge amount of CO2 ‘in the aforementioned atmosphere’
Was it enough to raise the level of CO2 to the present figure? I don’t know… Volcanoes are another ‘prolific’ source for this fateful gas…

„Then why are you writing this post? Only to acknowledge your ignorance? Why should we bother?”

Dead saiga antelopes

Dead saiga antelopes in a field in Kazakhstan. About 20,000 of the species were found dead in one week. Photograph: Reuters

„The scientists on the ground pinpointed blood poisoning as the cause, but were puzzled as to why whole herds were dying so quickly. After 32 postmortems, they concluded the culprit was the bacterium Pasteurella multocida, which they believe normally lives harmlessly in the tonsils of some, if not all, of the antelopes. In a research paper published in January in Science Advances, Kock and colleagues contrasted the 2015 MME with the two from the 1980s. They concluded that a rise in temperature to 37C and an increase in humidity above 80% in the previous few days had stimulated the bacteria to pass into the bloodstream where it caused haemorrhagic septicaemia, or blood poisoning.”

You see, this post is indeed about ignorance.
We just don’t know what will happen if enough of something accumulates somewhere.
Until it does, of course.

And to find out we’ll need to survive the ‘happening’…

I keep hearing about this issue and I can’t stop wondering about how parallel to each other are those defending this idea with those denying its merits.


-Robots are eating more and more jobs so more and more people will end up hungry.
-AI will make robots so productive that it will be far more efficient to use robots than human workers.
-A decent income is a human right.


-This is a socialist move, hence it will end up in failure – no other reason offered.

As it is obvious to all, both sides score big.

Yes, including ‘a decent income is a human right’ and ‘all socialist ideas end up in failure’.

Then what are they fighting each-other about?!?

Let me rephrase that.
WHY are they fighting, in the first place?

Because neither listen to what the other has to say… as simple as that…

Let me discuss some of the practicalities involved.

Robots eating up jobs and AI being able to continually increase financial efficiency are so evident that they do not deserve much consideration.

‘All socialist moves ended up in failure’.
We need to define socialism in order to make sense of this sentence.
Mainly because ‘socialism’ is one of the most abused words nowadays, on a par with liberalism. Sometimes they are even considered synonyms…
Well, ‘liberalism’ comes from liberty and  bona fide liberalism is concerned with individual freedom.
Socialism, on the other hand, comes from social. And is concerned with the the workings of the entire society.
The point being that there are two types of socialism. One which is ‘somewhat’ synonym with liberalism – the ‘reverse’ side of liberalism, actually, while the latter is the exact opposite.

I’m not making any sense?

Let me start from the other side.
All forms of socialism which have failed have been excessively centralized forms of government. And it was because of that excessive centralism that they had failed, not because of being ‘socialist’. The evident proof being that the same thing has happened with all right-wing dictatorships, which had used the very same excessively centralized decision making mechanism – the totalitarian government …

Which brings us back to the problem at hand.

For Universal Basic Income to work – or Guaranteed Basic Income, as some insist on calling it, it has to be financed.
Through taxes, right? Which means that those owning the robots would have to be somehow convinced to give up a huge proportion of their profits… Then why bother in the first place…? Why start any businesses, at all?
We’ll have the government run the whole show? Remember what history teaches us about centralized decision making?


Well, not all is lost while there’s still hope!

Let me rearrange the arguments.

We not only live in an inherently limited space, with inherently limited resources, but we’ve also finally started to understand our predicament. Which calls for as much efficiency as possible.
Only for a different kind of efficiency than that we’ve accustomed ourselves to.

Until recently, we’ve been trying to get as much money under our belts as possible. Without much regard for anything else.
That’s why we’ve been cutting down secular forests, feeding almost all the fish we’ve been pulling from the oceans to the domestic animals we were raising for their meat, polluting our breathing air, selling our fellow humans which happened to had a different skin color than ours into slavery… As if there was no tomorrow…

Slowly, we’ve started to realize that this won’t work for very much longer.

That no matter whether we’re responsible for the global warming – or if it’s real at all, sooner or later we’ll exhaust the planet.
OK, it is highly plausible that we’ll discover/learn to use new classes of resources.
But this eventuality doesn’t constitute, in any way, a valid reason for us to continue squandering the meager resources we have at our disposal.

Hence the need for increased efficiency.

Only this has to be a different kind of efficiency. The kind that focuses on minimizing waste instead of maximizing profits. The kind that recycles because it makes obvious sense, not because it is cheaper.

Along the same path we’ll discover that it would make a lot of sense to help the less developed nations to catch up with the most advanced ones.
For starters, because the ‘advanced economies’ no longer need cheap workers. They use robots instead.
Secondly, because better living people tend to have less children than those struggling to survive. And we’ve already agreed about the planet being rather limited…

Nothing too fancy… until now, right?

Well, the next item will be trickier..

Remember that Ford had raised dramatically the wages he paid to his workers?
With tremendous results?

OK, his reasons were not the ones, generally but erroneously, attributed to him.
He didn’t do it to ‘encourage’ his workers to buy cars from him… or because of philanthropy…

Actually, it was the turnover of his staff.

At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford’s turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.”

But, whatever Ford’s reasons were, the long term results have been abundantly clear.
Nowadays people who build cars are being paid well enough to afford buying the same kind of cars they are building. At least in the advanced economies…

What happened was that Ford, in order to keep the assembly line going, paid his workers as much as he afforded to. With spectacular results.
While nowadays most employers tend to ‘compensate’ their employees with as little as possible. Which makes perfect economic sense… doesn’t it?

The same economic sense which used to drive us into “cutting down secular forests, feeding almost all the fish we’ve been able to pull from the oceans to the domestic animals we were raising for their meat, polluting our breathing air, selling our fellow humans which happened to had a different skin color than ours into slavery… As if there was no tomorrow…”

See what I mean?
Instead of attempting to mandate a ‘Guaranteed Basic Income’, calculated by the central government and financed through forcefully levied taxes, how about hiring as many people as it would make sense, let them work as little days per week as they want and pay them as much as we can afford to instead of programmatically replacing as many of them with robots and paying the remaining ones as little as we possibly can?

OK, some of us won’t get as rich, as fast, as our grand-fathers did… So what? None of us can eat even close to what our grand-fathers used to… and food is a lot cheaper, anyway…

This is would be a considerably shorter way to get more people out of poverty than any scheme concocted by any government and it would have the same snow-ball effect as Ford’s wage increase had.

Economists describe this as Rostow’s ‘take off effect’.


For attaining adequate finance for take off it is necessary that:

(a) The community’s surplus over consumption does not flow into the hands of those who will utilize it by hoarding, luxury consumption or low productivity investment out-lays;

(b) Institution for providing cheap and adequate working capital be developed;

(c) One or more sectors of the economy must grow rapidly and the entrepreneurs in these sectors must plough back a substantial portion of their profits to productive investment; and

(d) Foreign capital can profitably be utilized for building up social and economic overheads.”


Obviously, any attempt to instate a guaranteed basic income, (except for those too young, too old or otherwise un-able to pull their weight, of course) would grind any ‘take-off’ to a stand-still.

And no, getting people out of poverty is not a valid goal, per se.
Poverty is a relative thing, which relies more  on feelings than on hard reality.
The real problem with poverty is that it reduces the ability of poor individuals to lead meaningful lives. Poor people are a lot less autonomous than self sufficient ones, meaning that decision making ability is impaired by the fact that they need to focus their attention on the short term time span.

This whole thing has long term consequences on societal level.

Remember what I said about centrally planned socialist countries constantly failing.
About all dictatorships eventually crumbling under their own weight, because of too much decision power being concentrated in too few hands?

Excessive wealth polarization produces the same results. Economic decision becomes too concentrated, political decision follows through and…

What next?
The world has already experimented with communism. Didn’t work.
It also experienced two economic meltdowns, exactly when wealth polarization was at relative peaks.


When are we going to learn anything from what happens to us?
Why do we continue to waste the accumulated lessons collectively known as ‘history‘?


Let me first clear up something.
I’m an engineer. Converted to sociology, indeed, but still an engineer.
So don’t expect any fancy wording or very sophisticated philosophical considerations!

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that we’ve just arrived on this planet. Just ‘you and me’, not ‘us humans’.
Being sent by some alien civilization to see what’s going on here.
Like we, ‘the civilized people’, study the natives still living in the Amazonian forest – minimum contact and so on, no intention what-so-ever to invade the territory or any other-way purposely intervene in the natural evolution of things.

I don’t know about you, but my report would be something like this:

The most interesting aspect of the planet is the manner in which the intelligent inhabitants have evolved.
Those living in a relatively small and isolated corner of the landmass have somehow developed the most consequential culture and then imposed some very important aspects of it on most of the rest.

Even more baffling is the fact that all major religions observed on this planet start from the same tenet.

the golden rule

The only thing which singles out those who had managed to impose their culture on most the rest being that they apply the rule in a ‘pro-active’ manner.
‘Do unto others what you wish others to do unto you’ versus ‘do not do unto others what you don’t like being done unto you’. ‘Normative’ versus ‘preemptive’.

– Why are you so baffled about any of this? The universal law of evolution maintains that things which are not suitable enough for the environment where they happen to exist will eventually disappear… Each culture produces a certain civilization – modifies the environment according to its wishes/as a consequence of its mistakes, and the other cultures have to adapt/evolve to the new situation… nothing new or peculiar here…

– Nothing new, indeed, except for the fact that while most of the cultures on this planet learned to ‘live and let live’ – “do not do unto others…”, while the two most successful ones have adopted the slightly but very consequentially different “do unto others…”, a.k.a. ‘who’s not like us is against us’….

– Is there any explanation for the most aggressive attitude being the most successful one?
Until now, at least… considering that the two cultures which share the ‘do unto others what you wish to be done unto you’ attitude seem to ‘have worked themselves up’ into a rather ‘confrontational situation’… both intra and inter culturally…

– The only putative explanation I can come up with for such a divergent evolution is that Plato, the seminal intellectual figure of the ‘doers’, taught his followers not only that the world is knowable but also that he who has reached a learned state must, forcefully if necessary, lead his peers to the ‘light’ he had found while the ‘significant others’ believe that the learned ones should speak out, at their discretion, only when somebody asks them to.



– One more thing.
The immediate consequence of Plato’s teachings was that Alexander – an emperor who was tutored by Plato’s eminent student, Aristotle, had conquered most of the then civilized world only to die, untimely, a drunkard’s death… intoxicated by booze, intoxicated by power… who cares?

We were discussing ‘worst possible scenarios’ on Facebook and somebody mentioned ‘climate change’.
I must add here that the exchange was ‘framed’ by ‘skin in the game‘, a concept used by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his rather don-quixotic quest for more responsible decision makers.

OK, the whole domain of climate change is riddled with epistemological holes.
Linear models are used to approximate processes we barely know anything about.
‘Starting points’ have been, again and again, been proven wrong.
I could go on for hours.

I’ll make a small parenthesis here and inform you that according to a fresh study things might be far worse than we’ve reckoned. This paper, published by, suggests that Earth’s oceans used to be far cooler than we’ve previously thought they were.

In this context, one of the participants made the following remark:
the burden (of proof) should fall on those calling for changes, for the rather obvious reason that we could suggest changes all day long. Only a few can be implemented.

Hard to argue with that, right?

But which changes are we talking about here?

A change in our manner of interacting with Mother Nature?
Costly, indeed, financial wise, but nowadays technologically possible.

Or about the changes we’ve already – unwittingly, most of them, imposed upon our ‘spaceship’?

We’ve dramatically changed the ‘use of land’. Agriculture and transport – yes, roads and railways have a huge impact – have changed the very nature of what’s going on on a considerable portion of the Earth’s surface.
We’ve dramatically changed the composition of the atmosphere. And I’m not talking about CO2 yet. CFCs, pesticides, NOx and SOx gases, etc., etc….
And, last but not least, we’ve reversed a trend which had been going on for hundreds of millions of years. Photosynthesis used to transform atmospheric CO2 into organic matter, some of which has been steadily accumulated as coal and crude oil.

So, about which changes should we worry first?

Or, in SITG terms, whose skin should bear the brunt of change?

Ours or our children’s?

I’ve reached the conclusion that thinking and digesting have very much in common.

Citarum 2

We can’t do it by our own. Those of us who don’t cooperate/speak with those around them, don’t have what to eat or what to think about.

Both processes imply three stages. Identification, absorption, use.
We use cultural models to identify both our food and the important issues.
Absorption – through our gut/conscience, is both highly specific to each individual and governed by our common DNA/shared cultural traditions.
The ‘products’ of the digesting/thinking process are, again, used both in public as well as in private. Part of the energy we get from our food is consumed ‘cooperatively’ with our ‘coworkers’ while most of our thoughts end up either verbally expressed or put in practice.

Both processes, digesting as well as thinking, increasingly change the environment where we, and others, live.

Citarum 1

Before proceeding any further, let me introduce you to two other, more distanced, cousins of ours. Gorilla and Orangutan.

Orangutan leads a semi-solitary life in the Bornean and Sumatran Jungle. They are fairly large animals, males tip the scales at 200 pounds or so, and need a lot of food. They eat mostly fruit and, in times of scarcity, bark, flowers, insects and eggs.
It was their ‘eating habits’ which had shaped their social lives:
Food is often scarce in the rain forest and that is why the orangutan is a semi-solitary creature. In times of great abundance of food, orangutans may use the opportunity to socialize and gather in small groups.
Because they live solitarily, the young siblings must on one hand learn ‘everything’ before starting their adult lives and they don’t have anybody to learn from but their mothers. Hence they stick around for longest. A baby orangutan will nurse until about six and continue to live with their mothers for a few more years. Two or three for the males, five or six for the females – on top of everything else the females have to learn “mothering skills” and for them the only way to do it is to watch their own mother taking care of the next sibling.
As a consequence of all this, the females give birth only once every 8 years, “the longest time between births of any mammal on earth. (This results in only 4 to 5 babies in her lifetime.)” Not a very efficient survival strategy, for the species I mean…

Gorilla has adopted a different feeding strategy.
This is actually a joke. It wasn’t ‘the gorilla’ which has ever adopted anything, least of all ‘a survival strategy’. The ‘adoption process’ had been fueled by chance, had been ‘censured’ by  the realities of their living places and was later labeled as “evolution” by Charles Darwin.
Coming back to our distant cousins, gorillas are even larger animals than orangutans.
300-400 pounds, for the males, versus 200. Hence they need even more food.
An adult Grauer’s gorilla male is estimated to eat 30 kg of plants every day, an adult female about 18 kg.” The difference being that gorillas eat a lot of leaves.
When they have the opportunity to choose, they will surely pick up fruit but they are much more adapted to eating leaves than orangutans are. As a consequence they do not need to ‘spread around’ as thinly as orangutans do, the young can also learn from the rest of the pack so females can give birth every 4 years instead of every 8.

Is there any link between all this babbling and the stated subject of your post?

Actually yes.

As gorillas and orangutans are teaching us, together is easier than each by its own.
Being able to give birth every 4 years is a huge evolutionary advantage over having to wait 8 years before becoming pregnant again.

But this is not all we can learn from our cousins.
Male gorillas, at 300 to 400 pounds, are formidable defenders. Their only enemies, except for humans, are the leopards.
Compare 350 pounds with less than 100 for a chimpanzee/bonobo male.
That would be a good starting point to figure out why silver-backs – mature male gorillas who despotically reign over their 1 to 5 females – can afford to drive out their sons after they become sexually mature while the chimpanzee alpha males, who lead troops of up to 50 members, will allow other mature males to live by – and to have intercourse with some of the females living in the same group.
The second reason being that gorillas eat, almost exclusively, plant matter, supplemented with some insects, while chimpanzees form hunting parties in order to catch, kill and eat other animals, including monkeys. And one can ‘graze’ by himself while hunting is way easier in cooperation with others.

Feeding habits can explain quite a lot, isn’t it?

Let’s make a step further and turn back, as I promised in my previous post, to the differences between chimps and bonobos.
Well, bonobos hunt, just as efficiently as the chimps do, only they are less inclined to murder their neighbors.
Just one suspected killing observed during “92 combined years of observation at four different sites“, for the bonobos. In the other camp, 152 killings, 58 directly observed and the rest “counted based on detective work“, gathered over “426 combined years of observation, across 18 different chimp communities“.
The second difference, that I find interesting in the context of ‘capitalism’, is the size of the ‘colonies’. Bonobos live in way bigger groups than the chimpanzees. 100 versus 40 to 60, I’m not sure whether this had any impact over the relative fate of chimps or bonobos but it is surely relevant for how capitalism works. Stick around.

One more ‘animal story’ and I’ll wrap everything up.

“We previously reported that chimpanzees were unable to optimally select the smaller of two candy arrays in order to receive a larger reward. When Arabic numerals were substituted for the candy arrays, animals who had had prior training with numerical symbols showed an immediate and significant improvement in performance and were able to select reliably the smaller numeric representation in order to obtain a larger reward. Poor performance with candy arrays was interpreted as reflecting a response bias toward the intrinsic incentive and/or perceptual features of the larger array. In contrast, the Arabic numerals represent numerosity symbolically and appear to promote response choice on the basis of abstract processing of numerosity, with minimal interference from the inherent properties of the choice stimuli. The present study tested the hypothesis that, for mixed symbol-candy choice pairs, the requisite processing of the abstract numeral may foster a mode of numerical judgment that diminishes the interfering incentive/perceptual effects of the candy stimuli. The results were consistent with this hypothesis. Whereas performance on candy-candy arrays was significantly below chance levels, performance on numeral-candy choice pairs was significantly above chance and comparable with performance on numeral-numeral pairs.”

OK, OK, don’t shoot the messenger… those guys were writing a scientific paper, not a blog post… let me ‘translate’ it in simpler words.

There is a relatively simple psychological test involving two bowls full of candy.
One of them containing more pieces than the other.
The test consists of a child being asked to choose between those two bowls, after being told that the candy from the chosen bowl will be given to somebody else and the candy from the second bowl, the unchosen one, will be given to the child. The test is repeated a number of times and most of the children, 4 year olds and above, learn quite quickly to point to the bowl containing the smaller number of candy.
If, instead of children, chimpanzees are asked to choose between the two bowls, they continue to point to the bigger number of candy, even after the umpteenth repetition.
Now here comes the really interesting part.
Dr. Boysen and other scientists from Ohio State University, had previously taught a chimp, Sheba, not only to count but also to read numbers. One digit numbers…
When Sheba was subjected to the test, using real candy, she had responded exactly as the other chimps had done before her. She was unable to wrap her head around the notion that she will get the candy from the OTHER bowl. But as soon as the researchers had replaced the actual candy with digits written on small cartons… bingo! Sheba had become a lot wiser and had very quickly figured out that choosing the bowl with the smaller number (of candy) was a far better option.

Let me put two and two together.

Our cousins, the great apes, have given us a valuable lesson about cooperation.
Orangutans have to raise their offspring as single mothers. A very time consuming process which limits the number of siblings to 4.
Silver-backs don’t need much help to defend their families. So they can afford to drive off any potential competition… but they cannot hunt. Or do anything else ‘in concert’ with their peers.
Chimpanzees have learned to tolerate each-other, to a degree. They can form larger communities and engage in cooperative endeavors. Hunting and warfare.
Bonobos have developed a very efficient method to quell tension which may appear among themselves and to subdue rogue members of the community, without actually killing them. With no apparent benefit… except for us…

History is telling us, shouting at us even, that authoritarian regimes are short lived. Shorter and shorter lived, as we come closer to the present day.
Ancient Rome had lasted for almost a 1000 years. 2000 if we take Byzantium into account.
The British Empire was de facto dissolved, more or less peacefully, after less than 500 years, along with the rest of the European colonial empires.
The Russian Czarist Empire had buckled under its own weight after some four centuries, reinvented itself as the Soviet Union and faltered again after less than a century.
The rest of the ‘modern’ dictatorships have crumbled even faster, with only two notable exceptions: North Korea and Cuba.

Mighty commercial ventures, which had seemed impregnable in their heydays, are now almost forgotten memories. From the British East India Company to the now infamous ENRON…

Yet humankind, as a whole, had fared better and better.
OK, we did bring a lot of ‘man made’ misfortune over our own, collective head.
Only every little piece of that misfortune had been produced and inflicted in an authoritarian setting.

From Alexander the Great (?!?) to Hitler, history is full of ‘leaders’ who had somehow convinced their subjects to foolishly follow orders. Eventually, everybody got killed in the process. The leaders as well as the hapless subjects…
From John Law – ‘the son of a Scottish banker, a gambler and playboy who had killed a man in a duel‘ before insinuating himself at the top of France’s financial establishment during the first part of the XVIII-th century, where he had orchestrated a “system” closely resembling a Ponzi scheme – to Bernard Madoff, the economic and financial history is full of ‘tycoons’ who have led their their subordinates, and a considerable portion of the financial markets, to utter disaster.

And some of us still consider that ‘greed is good’… Maybe they should read again about Sheba and the candy bowls…

I can hear some of them protesting: “In the real world, there is nobody to switch the bowls! ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers'”
Yeah, right… tell that to some of those who had won the lottery… “About 70 percent of people who suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Then why are we still so obsessed with money?
Like Sheba was with those candy?
Why do we collectively continue to behave like a bunch of three years olds?

Maybe because money have proved, over the centuries, to be very reliable tools?
Because profit has been a very good measure for a company’s ability to survive? If corroborated with other indicators, but that’s another story…

At some point I mentioned that capitalism only works if the market where its wares are traded is really free. Meaning that that market has to work under the rule of law and that nobody in that market should allowed to become so powerful as to dominate the others.

Well, that was a lie.
Actually, capitalism works anywhere.
Those running the late Soviet Union have tried to convince the rest of the world that monopolies might work.  Various ‘business men’, including some very successful ones, try to convince us of the same thing. “Competition is for losers” they say… OK, I can understand why they keep trying… That’s what the entrepreneurs are for! “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
My point being that markets which are not presently free will become free with the passage of time. No matter what!
No political arrangement has ever been strong enough to contain a dysfunctional economy. That’s why the Soviet Union, and the rest of the communist camp, had crumbled. That’s why we have a crises every time the government, with the best intentions, abruptly intervenes in the economy. Or fails to do so and allows monopolies to exist for too long…

Capitalism actually works.
Look around us.
I could give you a myriad examples. I’ll settle for two.
Romania, which less than 30 years ago was struggling under the communist yoke, now has one of the fastest internet in the world.
Some 40 years ago, when my uncle had emigrated to America, long-distance  phone calls were so expensive that he barely afforded to call his mother more than twice a year… nowadays two people can chat for hours across the planet, for free, over the internet. With video…

How about we letting it do its magic without some of us trying to drain ‘undeserved advantages’ from the process?
And no, those trying to ‘drain undeserved advantages’ are not the real culprits for what is going on!
A really free market is not one where a big bully with a huge stick makes sure that nobody steals from its neighbor.
That would be the definition for a police state!
A free market is one where people organize themselves, hire a normal guy with a smallish stick to take care of thieves and then call him every-time when they see a robbery taking place.

Nowadays too many of us actually admire the thieves and try to bribe the guardian.
While the rest idly walk by, as if what’s going on under their own noses is not going to affect them in a very short while …

Each of us tries to deliver themselves from the misery of this world.

We attempt that at the intersection of three realities.

The ‘hard’, the ‘virtual’ and the ‘socially constructed’.

The ‘hard’ one is what Marx called ‘the objective reality’. Whatever exists outside our individual minds. Whatever doesn’t need any confirmation from any of us.
For instance, a rock can very well lay on the bottom of the sea without any conscious agent being aware of its existence. No one might ever become aware of its existence but that actually doesn’t matter. Same thing goes for a man made piece of furniture. The original craftsman might die, the owner also,  and the ‘thing’ might be forgotten in a warehouse – or attic – without its existence, ‘in the hard reality’, being jeopardized in any way.

The ‘virtual’ one is whatever each of us makes of what happens around them. It consists of three, separate yet interdependent, ‘ingredients’. The ‘perceived’ realities, the ‘intended’ realities and the ‘engines’ that make all of them possible – our conscious selves.
I’m speaking of ‘realities’ because each of us is different from all others – hence ‘sees’ slightly differently from all others, cannot inhabit the same place in space – hence ‘sees’ the world from a slightly different perspective, doesn’t have the same goals – hence entertains different intentions.

The ‘socially constructed one’ comprises the aggregate consequences of our efforts. Intended and unintended. Known to us and unknown by us.  Belonging both to the physical and metaphysical realms. As in both the Egyptian pyramids and language being parts of the socially constructed reality.

Please note that the first and third ones are ‘objective’ in Marx’s terms while the second in purely subjective.
It is also worth noting that the ‘hard’ reality is not immune to our efforts and that the ‘socially constructed one’ becomes ‘harder’ with the passage of time. The pyramids dotting the banks of the Nile constitute a very good example of our ability to change the ‘hard’ reality while the Catholic Church – one institution among many – is a good example of a metaphysical construct resilient enough to survive for two millennia.

Another very interesting ‘social construction’ is the concept of liberty.

I find it very interesting because it is simultaneously ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’, ‘natural’ as well as ‘man-made’.
It is objective in the sense that it continues to exist no matter how many individuals subject themselves to abject spiritual slavery.
It is subjective in the sense that each of us understands freedom in their own way.
It is ‘man made’ in the sense that we have coined the concept and minted the words used to describe it.
Yet it is ‘natural’ since we all are made of flesh and blood and need to breath in order to stay alive. And yes, it is us who have invented the dog-collar and the leash we use to restrain the liberty of our dogs. Exactly because it is natural for them to try to be as free as possible.

Since this is but a blog post I’ll fast forward to what I had in mind for today.

The free market.

Which is, evidently, a socially constructed institution.
Supposedly, a place which miraculously transforms “private vices” into “publick benefits“.

Well, I’m afraid that those who have convinced themselves that ‘greed is good’ have understood nothing of Bernard Mandeville’s stark warning.

A market may be fueled by ‘greed’, or even by (evil)’vices’, but it is the freedom of those who partake in that market which keeps everything in check.

The communist centrally planned economies were also fueled by individual lust for power. They failed simply because no small group of people is smart enough to master such complicated matters nor humble enough to see/accept its limitations.

The very same lack of freedom has produced the financial crises of 2008.

‘Greed is good’ is nothing but a rationalization of the current obsession with monetary rewards over the very shortest time frame coupled with a blatant disregard for the longer term consequences of our actions.

And as any drug addict can confirm – whenever they are not ‘feeling high’, entertaining any obsession means loosing one’s freedom.

In reality, actually free markets are fueled by trust, not by greed.
And (self)governed by the fact that each participant is free to define/pursue its own interest and react to anything that is happening inside the market’.
Unfortunately, current markets are no longer free. Not that much because of governmental intervention but mainly because too many of the participants are blindly chasing the same narrowly defined ‘interest’.

“But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

Smith’s words could not have been any clearer. Each of the participants to the free market wants something different from the market and each of the participants trusts the others to provide those different somethings – as long as the buyers can satisfy the sellers, of course. Nobody gets robbed while everybody gets whatever specific things they had come for.
In modern terms this would have been described as an ‘everybody wins’ situation.

Compare this with the contemporary mantra.
‘Profit maximization’.
Everybody chasing the proverbial ‘fast buck’
‘Enjoy the moment’ & ‘forget about tomorrow’.

And we continue to kid ourselves about the ‘freedom’ of our markets…

Even funnier is how we have twisted Mandeville’s warning to fit our own narrative.

“Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity …
Thus every Part was full of Vice,
Yet the whole Mass a Paradise …
The bees, however, are not satisfied to have their viciousness mixed with their prosperity. All the cheats and hypocrites declaim about the state of their country’s morals and pray the gods for honesty. This raises the indignation of Jove, who unexpectedly grants the hive its wish.
BUT, Oh ye Gods! What Consternation,
How vast and sudden was th’ Alteration!
As Pride and Luxury decrease,
So by degrees they leave the Seas.
All Arts and Crafts neglected lie;
Content, the Bane of Industry,
Makes ’em admire their homely Store,
And neither seek nor covet more.

In this way, through the loss of their vices, the hive at the same time lost all its greatness.

Now comes the moral:
THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive
To make a Great an Honest Hive.
T’ enjoy the World’s Conveniencies,
Be fam’d in War, yet live in Ease,
Without great Vices, is a vain
Eutopia seated in the Brain.

Fraud, Luxury and Pride must live,
While we the Benefits receive. …
So Vice is beneficial found,
When it’s by Justice lopt and bound;
Nay, where the People would be great,
As necessary to the State,
As Hunger is to make ’em eat.

Apparently, Mandeville’s verses do not make much sense.
Why would a hive which had successfully purged itself off all vices find itself in a far worse situation after the cleansing?

Let’s first try to understand what those vices were.

Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity …
Thus every Part was full of Vice

Let me remind you of the fact that Mandeville had lived, and written, during the same period when the Puritans were trying to impose their strict moral code on the rest of the British society. And for the Puritans any attempt, made by ‘millions’, to supply ‘each other’s lust and vanity’ (a.k.a. various personal needs and fancies) was ‘vicious’ in itself.

The point of the whole thing being that it was not the absence of vices which had brought down the hive but the obtuse single-mindedness with which the vices had been banned. A line of thought very much the same with Durkheim’s ‘normality of crime‘.

And not very much different from our current obsession with (short time) profit!



A good friend of mine – the guy I’m talking with when I get bored and start thinking – challenged me to explain to him what an AI machine is.

The challenge ended up badly. It ended with a question instead of an answer.

Is it open?

Let me start from the beginning.

Basically an A.I. machine is a computer, just as a computer is no more than a ‘sliding rule’.

All three are made made by men, operated by men and ‘targeted’ by men. At least this is what we like to believe.
Replace ‘men’ with ‘humans’ if you are gender conscious, even if this will not solve the main problem. Are we sure that A.I. machines will accept human control, after we will have complicated them enough for them to develop a certain kind of awareness?

Otherwise said, all three – A.I. machine, computer and sliding rule, are tools.
Somebody wished to do something, couldn’t do it with their bare hands/naked brain, designed an ‘implement’, made it, used it to pursue the intended goal and set it aside.
Somebody else picked it up, reconsidered it, fine tuned it to fit their goal, used it and set it aside. And so on.
At some point other people learned to use tools designed by ‘third parties’, without really understanding how the tools actually worked or were made/designed. For instance, I don’t know much about how computers work. That doesn’t prevent me from being able to write this post on a laptop.

Those three are very specific tools. Designed and used to process information.

The sliding rule is the most straight-forward to use. The operator has to formulate the problem he needs to solve, gather and organize the relevant data, express them in an exclusively numerical form – a.k.a. ‘digital’, break down the problem into simple mathematical operations, use the sliding rule to perform those and then ‘assemble’ the results of the calculations into the answer for the original problem. In order to do all these, the operator only needs to understand the nature of his problem, not the ‘mechanics’ of the sliding rule. In this regard, all that they have to do is ‘follow the rules’.

A computer can be used to perform more complicated tasks, specially if it is connected to the internet, thus simplifying the life of the operator. Once the problem has been formulated – by the operator, the same guy can use the same (internet connected) computer to collect the data, digitize and transform them to fit the requirements of the specific computer application that will be subsequently used and, finally, solve the problem. One, last – but, unfortunately, sometimes forgotten, operation would be for the operator to check whether the solution really fits the problem.
In this situation the operator also doesn’t need to understand the mechanics of the computer but still has to have a clear understanding of the problem at hand.
More so, even if the operator itself is not fully aware of what is going on ‘inside’ the computer, those with intimate knowledge of these matters can identify, predict, and reproduce using a sliding rule’, each minute step the computer will be doing along the route.

An A.I. machine is system composed of a computer, a data base and something rather different from an ordinary computer application.
OK, some might argue that the most important is the software but please bear with me.
And yes, the computer can be a virtual machine while the data base can be hidden somewhere in the cloud, none of this changes anything.
The huge difference between a simple computer and the A.I. machine being that a computer is actually operated by an agent’ while the ‘machine’ is indeed put together by somebody, ‘pointed’ towards the intended problem but then it is left alone to its own devices. Meaning that the ‘supervisor’ has a limited understanding about what is going inside the whole thing.
And no, I’m not joking. Nobody, not even the guys who had written the code, knows the exact path along which the machine arrives at the end of its ‘thought process’. Actually, when they want to gain some insight into what’s going on, those people take a series of ‘snapshots’ during the process and then struggle to figure out how the machine went from A to B, from B to C… and so on.

So far so good. The A.I. machines have conquered some until now seemingly unassailable pinnacles.
Find your own examples.

I’ll resume myself to reformulating the question I arrived at the end the challenge I mentioned earlier.
For now the computer that constitutes the ‘working horse’ of any A.I. has limited computing power, regardless of those limits being physical (a number of processors) or just ‘assigned’ (as it happens with a virtual machine). Similarly, the data base it works on is also limited. What is no longer limited is the ‘set of  rules’ that lie at the bottom of all this. The ‘program’ is already able to change itself, a.k.a. to learn. To adapt itself to the problem. To devise its own ways. To map its own path towards the goal it has been assigned to solve.

What will happen when the ‘program’ will learn to grow the processing power that it can use? To access additional data?

When it will consider its job to solve other problems?


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