Archives for category: The kind of world we are building for our children

We pride ourselves for our ability to choose. Rationally!
We call that ‘liberty’ and we consider it an ‘undeniable human right’.

Yet everything, including our understanding of things, exists because of ‘chance’.
While neither chance nor choice can manifest itself/be exerted outside what we’ve learned to call ‘hard reality’.

“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Attributed to Richard Feynman by
Florentin Smarandache, V. Christianto,
in Multi-Valued Logic, Neutrosophy, and Schrodinger Equation? (2006), 73

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Gara Herculane (1878-1886) is the oldest, and the most beautiful, railway station in Romania.
Like most others, after having performed wonders for all of us for more than a century, it has been made obsolete by trucks and automobiles.

DSC_0688

By clicking the picture you’ll be able to browse more images taken in and around the place.

 

For anything to become a resource, somebody has to:

a. notice it and
b. figure out that, and how, it can be used towards what that particular individual has in mind.

Until both these conditions had been met, it remains – at most, just something that is there.

The first thing any of us does when becoming conscious is to notice differences. That’s how we learn about the world.
We notice the difference between Mother and everybody else, then between Mother, Father and everybody else, between soft and hard, cold and warm, … etc. etc….

The next step is to notice the difference between ourselves and the rest of the world.

The third stage is no longer about noticing but about understanding. About putting two and two together.

Some people understand that by being different, people may complement each other. That by learning different trades, according to their talents, they may cooperate towards improving their chances of survival and their quality of life.

Other people understand that by being different, people may be made to hate and despise each-other. By concentrating the popular focus on the differences between ‘they’ and ‘the others’, the spin-doctors build up the pressure until the made-up inevitable happens.

After the ‘explosion’, the survivors have the opportunity to understand that they are not so different, after all.
That their friends and relatives have died simply because they had allowed for the differences between them to be used improperly.

Anumiți activiști politici și-au adus aminte că „dacă nu votezi, nu exiști”.

Ceea ce este perfect adevărat.
Pentru alegerile ‘normale’!
Locale, legislative, prezidențiale, pentru Parlamentul European….
In situația de mai sus, orice absență este un vot în alb dat întregii clase politice.

„Dați-i înainte că pe mine chiar nu mă interesează ce faceți voi acolo. Și voi accepta, cu ochii închiși, orice vă trece vouă prin cap.”

La referendum, la orice referendum, chestia e un pic diferită.
Din cauza pragului. Daca nu vin suficient de mulți oameni la vot, rezultă că subiectul nu este suficient de interesant pentru cetățeni așa că lucrurile vor fi lăsate așa cum erau și pănă atunci.
Cu alte cuvinte, la cele mai multe dintre referendumuri, absența echivalează cu un vot negativ.

„Nu mi-ați stârnit interesul. Ați ridicat o flamură mincinoasă!”

La referendumul ăsta, în mod special, absența devine o necesitate.
De data asta, însuși actul de a vota – indiferent cum, denotă că respectivul cetățean a acceptat deja principiul că drepturile omului pot fi reduse prin vot.

Referendumul acesta reprezintă, pur și simplu, o întoarcere în timp.

Cineva spunea că drepturile omului nu se votează iar altcineva îi replica că toate drepturile au fost înființate prin vot.
Amândoi au dreptate. Drepturile omului au fost, peste tot, confirmate prin vot. Al cetațenilor, al parlamentarilor… nici nu contează. Confirmarea drepturilor a fost, într-adevăr, un demers politic și democratic.

A le restrânge, chiar dacă tot prin vot, este extrem de periculos.

După îngustarea definiției cu privire la familie vor urma dreptul de a face avort, de a da divorț, de a  ‘glumi cu cele sfinte’, egalitatea femeii cu bărbatul, dreptul la vot al femeilor … iar lista poate fi prelungită până la infinit.

Educația pe care am primit-o, adică toată istoria pe care am citit-o până acum, mă obligă să stau acasă. Și să sper că mai puțin de o treime din electorat va considera că este normal să se bage în viețile concetățenilor lor.
Folosind cabina de vot pe post de scurtătură.

More than 30 years ago, a very good friend of mine had emigrated from then communist Romania to the US. Ten years later he landed  a job with a huge Japanese corporation, his previous position having been that of COO for a way, way smaller corporation. One where the owners were not only involved in running the business but also ‘close’ enough to the ‘daily hustle’.
After a few weeks he phoned me. He was utterly dejected. ‘It’s as if I’m back in Romania, working for a state owned enterprise. Nobody cares for anything but the hide on their own backs. And they act very narrow-mindedly. They lie to their bosses, don’t share work related knowledge with their co-workers and so on, without realizing that by behaving in this manner they actually weaken the structure which ‘feeds’ them. Furthermore, those in charge don’t care about anything else but their fat ‘compensation packages’, not realizing that, on the longer run, their behavior is leading to ruin. Meanwhile, the shareholders  – from ‘far-away’, don’t realize what’s going on. Until too late, of course.’

Some 25 years ago, another good friend of mine had emigrated to Canada. He currently works, as a contractor, for a huge Canadian corporation. A few weeks ago he was here for a short vacation and we had a chat. ‘Nobody cares for anything anymore. The contracting agencies don’t give a damn whether the people they send over are actually able to do the work, the bosses don’t understand, or care, very much… it’s as if we, the ex-communists, have came back from their future…’

Even the ‘family run’ businesses have lost their edge. Their owners are no longer ‘close’ to their employees and the businesses are very quickly sold to the highest bidder. And incorporated into ever-growing entities…

The two friends I already mentioned said that ‘whenever a corporation grows big enough, it starts to resemble a state’. My own experience concurs.

Only I’d take a step further.

‘Whenever an organization grows big enough, those who ‘inhabit’ it start behaving as if employed by a state/state-owned entity’. As if their job/position is theirs to be had/defended by birth-right. A feudalism of sorts.

And these people end up passionately defending the organizations which give meaning to their lives.
As they are! Simply because any change in the organization would imply a change, for the worse, in the fate of the individuals defending the current status.

And why would any individual behave in such a short-sighted manner?

“Every position in a given hierarchy will eventually be filled by employees who are incompetent to fulfill the job duties of their respective positions.”

Peter

BTW, when was the last time you came across the concept of ‘company culture’?

 

Present owes just as much to Reaction, if not more, as it does to Revolution
Ilie Badescu, PhD.

Newton had noticed  that everything, no matter how ‘inanimate’, reacts whenever ‘prodded’. And, maybe even more importantly, that the reaction is exactly balances the ‘prodding’.
Provided that the ‘prodding’ doesn’t actually ‘destroy’ the ‘target’, of course. But even then, some ‘reaction’ is always exerted against the ‘intruder’.
Walking, for instance. Whenever we walk on tarmac, our weight is fully supported by the pavement. When walking on dry, fine sand, our feet leave an impression. Our weight is eventually counterbalanced but not before some local ‘readjustments’ have been made. Finally, when walking in knee deep water, our feet completely ‘destroy’ the layer of liquid before reaching the ‘terra firma’ below. But not without having been met by some hydrodynamic resistance – which is far greater than the aerodynamic one we constantly overcome when walking on dry land.

Darwin had noticed that species either evolve – and survive, or ‘go under’ whenever something changes in the environment they had been accustomed to.
It’s a no brainer to remark that here the reaction is no longer as instantaneous nor as ‘equally opposed’ as in the first case.

Since Berger and Luckman’s The Social Construction of Reality it is tacitly accepted that our fate is heavily influenced by our actions.
Some of those inclined to entertain religious beliefs will now add that it is our actions which take us to hell or to heaven but since there have always been some ‘misunderstandings’ between the various currents …
Anyway.
My point is that in this third case, each specific ‘reaction’ is actively shaped by the individual ‘reactionary’. According to their own projections of the future, to the prevailing, socially adopted and individually internalized, rules and to the individual understanding of the until then discovered ‘natural laws’.

And that our future, as a species/civilization, is being shaped now.
By us.
Using whatever cultural heritage our ancestors have left us and, maybe more important, according to our limited understanding of the world.
And according to our wishes, of course.

It will be our children who will bear the brunt of our current decisions.

I just finished reading an excellent article about AI.

And it hit me.

We are simultaneously capable of noticing our limits and utterly incapable of dealing with them.

Well… if you think of it, this is the very definition of a ‘limit’.
Something which cannot be overcome…

We have a limited understanding of the world, we know this and yet we’re arrogant enough to embark on building  autonomous mechanisms to help us react to something we haven’t yet fully understood ourselves…

Archimedes was famous for “give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I’ll move the Earth”.
Robert K Merton warned us about the ‘Law of the unintended consequences’.
The last financial melt down was yet another proof of what happens when highly leveraged instruments are used without any shred of ‘modesty’.
All major religions warn us about the consequences of building our own idols.

Despite all this, we barrel on.
Regardless.

I’m not going to educate you about what fractals are.
The internet is full of information, go find it. If you care, of course.

I’ll just remind you of an old saying,
‘There’s nothing new under the sun.’

As if nature doesn’t exert itself.
If something works… why invent anything new when you can adapt something which already exists?

In this sense, I somehow must admit that those who believe is God do have a point about this. Sometimes Nature seems to have been fine tuned by an engineer…

Or that engineers have learned a lot from Mother Nature?

Enough with this back slapping between the engineer in me and … whoever is at the other end of this game.

1. The ‘revolving’ principle.

Basically all matter turns around a center, is circled about or finds itself in both situations at the same time.
From the electrons which turn around the nuclei of the atoms to our Sun which spins around the center of the Milky Way.

Behind this principle lies another one.

2. The dynamic equilibrium.

Everything which exists is in a state of dynamic equilibrium.
Both internal and external.
Its components relate to each-other in such a manner as to keep that thing together while the surrounding medium exerts various influences towards that thing.
From the meager proton – whose quarks ‘cooperate’ to constitute a distinct individuality and somehow manage to remain ‘apart’ from the rest of ‘world’ despite the huge forces which keep each atomic nucleus together, to, say, a living organism – which remains alive for only as long as it conserves its ability to interact, both ways, with the environment.

I can probably identify a few more but today I’m going to mention only one more.

N. Killing your host might not be such a good idea.

Remember the fable about the Scorpion and the Frog?

‘Now you really got my attention! How on Earth are you going to spin this into your tale about fractals?!?’

When syphilis first appeared in Europe in 1495, it was an acute and extremely unpleasant disease. After only a few years it was less severe than it once was, and it changed over the next 50 years into a milder, chronic disease. The severe early symptoms may have been the result of the disease being introduced into a new host population without any resistance mechanisms, but the change in virulence is most likely to have happened because of selection favouring milder strains of the pathogen. The symptoms of the virulent early disease were both debilitating and obvious to potential sexual partners of the infected, and strains that caused less obvious or painful symptoms would have enjoyed a higher transmission rate.”

Robert J. Knell, Syphillis in Renaissance Europe…, 2004

Want some more?
How many people have you seen last winter wiping their noses? How many of them actually had the flu and how many suffered from having a benign ‘cold’.
You must have surely got my drift by now… flu kills many more people than the cold. And Ebola kills far many than the flu. And that’s why the cold viruses have far more chances of finding a host than both flu and Ebola.
On one hand, the more deadly a virus is, the less hosts are left for the next generations of viruses.
And on the other hand, the more dangerous a virus – or any other ‘parasite’, is, the more those in peril will try to do something about it.

N+1. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Now that I’ve mentioned parasites, let’s take a step further and talk about symbiosis.

“Mitochondria are rod-shaped organelles that can be considered the power generators of the cell, converting oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the chemical energy “currency” of the cell that powers the cell’s metabolic activities. This process is called aerobic respiration and is the reason animals breathe oxygen. Without mitochondria (singular, mitochondrion), higher animals would likely not exist because their cells would only be able to obtain energy from anaerobic respiration (in the absence of oxygen), a process much less efficient than aerobic respiration. In fact, mitochondria enable cells to produce 15 times more ATP than they could otherwise, and complex animals, like humans, need large amounts of energy in order to survive.”
The mitochondrion is different from most other organelles because it has its own circular DNA (similar to the DNA of prokaryotes) and reproduces independently of the cell in which it is found; an apparent case of endosymbiosis. Scientists hypothesize that millions of years ago small, free-living prokaryotes were engulfed, but not consumed, by larger prokaryotes, perhaps because they were able to resist the digestive enzymes of the host organism. The two organisms developed a symbiotic relationship over time, the larger organism providing the smaller with ample nutrients and the smaller organism providing ATP molecules to the larger one. Eventually, according to this view, the larger organism developed into the eukaryotic cell and the smaller organism into the mitochondrion.

Another interesting case of symbiosis is that between each of us and the flora which populates our guts and helps us to digest our ‘daily bread’.

Now, do you remember my post about viruses?
Where I mentioned that viruses are organisms which somehow penetrate into their hosts, take over the management mechanisms of said hosts and ‘convince’ them to actually manufacture the next generation of ‘invaders’.
Killing the host cell in the process, but not necessarily the whole host organism.

This being the difference between the common cold, influenza and Ebola viruses.
On one hand.

On the other hand, there’s the difference between a parasite and a symbiont.
A parasite always being a ‘nuisance’ – from the innocuous common cold to the deadly Ebola, while all symbionts bring along quite lot of added value.

‘OK, and where’s the fractal side of all this?’

How many of the politicians you know behave as parasites and how many as symbionts?
Relative to the rest of the society, of course.
How many of the business people you know behave as parasites and how many as symbionts?
How many of the working age people you know….

And do you remember about the dynamic equilibrium which is essential for survival?
Of everything? Including human societies?
Which need ‘division of labour’ and ‘free market’ in order to thrive?

We arise as human beings in the experience of observing ourselves observing.

Humberto Maturana, The origin and conservation of self-consciousness, 2005

Maturana’s essay is compelling.
Yet, like everything else done by us humans, it is not ‘complete’.
It doesn’t mention ‘memory’, nor ’empathy’.

A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong, says L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. He’s a psychologist at the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center.

A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” Tompkins says.

A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior.

Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, says Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex. Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.

Kara Mayer Robinson, Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What’s the Difference, WebMD

You see, both the psychopath and the sociopath are aware of their own doings. They are able to observe themselves observing. And doing whatever it is that they are doing.
They are aware of their goals.
And do what it takes to achieve them.

The problem with the psycho/sociopaths being that a quirk of their memory allows them to learn – to remember, through language, the information contained in past experiences, but denies them the ability to recollect/imagine the emotional consequences imposed by their actions upon those who happen to be affected.

That’s why the psycho/sociopaths don’t have a functional conscience.

Sometimes during their coming of age, something went wrong.

The interface which mediates some of the information traded between their brains and the rest of the world is flawed.

Our brain consists of three main sections. The reptilian, the limbic and the neocortex.
The reptilian part deals with the ‘mechanical’ aspects of our lives – breathing, heart rate, etc, the limbic deals with our emotional lives – and is the first which can store easily accessible ‘memories’, while the neocortex is the part where most of our ‘reasoning’ takes part.
Of course that these three parts are interconnected. That’s how we can influence our breathing and why we – well, most of us, are able to control our sexual urges.

My point being that self-awareness is not enough.
Both psycho and sociopaths are able to calibrate their actions in order to achieve their goals. Which is the functional definition of being aware of yourself.
By not being able to fully grasp the emotional consequences imposed by their actions upon those who are affected by them, the psycho/sociopaths can develop only a more ‘focused’ understanding of the world than the rest of us.
Which can sometimes be a lot deeper than usual. Some of the psycho-sociopaths have been notoriously proficient manipulators…

But no matter how deep that understanding may have been, its lack of breadth has proven fatal. Historically and statistically speaking, of course.

This being the reason for which having a functioning conscience is an evolutionary advantage for individuals.
And, maybe even more important, for the communities composed of those individuals.

Societies which have successfully identified and kept in check those who behaved improperly fared way better than those which had allowed the ‘bulls’ to take control over the ‘china shop’.

And what better example is there than the fact that democratic societies constitute a better medium for their members to live in than the authoritarian ones?

As long as democracy isn’t replaced by mob-rule, of course…

Chapter 1.
Feelings, perceptions, facts.

Everything starts with a feeling.
Followed by a reaction.
Which, in biology/psychology/sociology is whatever the feeling organism does after it has been ‘poked’.
At this level, everything happens ‘mechanically’. Even for the most ‘sophisticated’. None of us is aware of what’s going on inside out gut yet a lot of information is being exchanged during the digestion process. We might ‘be there’ when we eat but our presence is not requested while our digestive tracts break down our food into usable ‘chemicals’.

Organisms which are capable of learning sometimes transform their feelings into perceptions.
In the sense that their reactions are no longer determined exclusively by their genes. In some instances they use their learned knowledge to improve their reactions, hence their chances to survive.
Think, for instance, of the many things our dogs do for us. Without having a clear understanding of whats going on but, nevertheless, faring a lot better than their wild cousins, the wolves. Or about the huge amount of data passed from one generation of elephant matriarchs to the other.

Further up the decision chain are the conscious species.
Those whose individuals are capable of ‘observing themselves observing’.
This self awareness is what makes the difference between being capable of being trained and that of actually being able to learn. To choose what you consider to be important and to decide according to that particular piece of information.

This being how facts are born.
We, self aware intelligent individuals, notice something. Deem it to be of a certain importance and, hence, call it a ‘fact’.
Regardless of that something actually having happened or being nothing more than a figment of our imagination.

 

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