Archives for category: The kind of world we live in

We, humans, pride ourselves on many things.

On being smart/intelligent. And on being the only animals able to brag about their achievements with their peers…

But what is it that qualifies us as humans?
That would, of course, depend on what a human really is…

OK, let me use another tack.
What are we really good at? What sets us apart from the rest of the animals?

Practical intelligence? Our ability to solve really complicated problems?

Then watch this wild New Caledonian Crow treating itself to a piece of meat.

new Caledonian crow

Our ability to figure new meaning and to overcome our natural impulses?

Then read about Sheba the Chimp using language to suppress her greed:

In a celebrated study that investigated impulse control, Sally Boysen of Ohio State University asked chimps to choose between two dishes of M&Ms®.

SALLY BOYSEN: Now, you watch real carefully. We’re going to put one, two, three, four down here. Are you watching, Miss Priss? Sheeby? And we’re going to put two in here.

Give those to Sarah. Okay.

Well, I have to give these to Sarah, and Sheeba gets two. So Sarah gets four and Sheba only gets two. Aw, too bad.

NARRATOR: The twist was that the chimp got the candy she didn’t point to. Could the chimp learn to resist her impulse to reach for the bigger pile?

SALLY BOYSEN: You want Sarah to have these? It’s okay, it’s okay. You get to have that one. Yeah, Sarah gets five, and Sheba gets one. Oh, that is such a shame.

NARRATOR: Amazingly, chimps never overcame their greedy urges. They always reached for more and, so, ended up with less.

SALLY BOYSEN: And Sheba gets two, so Sarah gets four. See?

NARRATOR: Impulse studies have also been run on humans. In a classic experiment from the 1970s, a researcher gave a four-year-old a simple choice.

RESEARCHER : So, if you wait for me to get back, I’ll give you this bowl with all of these gummy bears, okay? But if you can’t wait, you can push that button, like this, and then I’ll come back and you can have this bowl with just this one gummy bear, okay? Okay, I’ll be right back.

NARRATOR: According to an inconclusive but intriguing study, the longer children resisted temptation, the higher their S.A.T. scores were years later. In any case, the differences between people are small compared to the gap separating humans and apes.

BRIAN HARE: Maybe one of the first things that happened during our species evolution is we became much less emotionally reactive. And maybe that’s one of the big differences that may explain why we solve problems so differently. We sort of got control of our emotions.

NARRATOR: Can apes be given skills to help them master their emotions? Sally Boysen trained a chimp to understand numerals. Then she repeated her M&Ms experiment, but now offered different pairs of numerals rather than treats.

SALLY BOYSEN: You want to give two to Sarah? Okay. Two goes to Sarah, and you get six.

NARRATOR: Remarkably, chimps were now able to learn what they couldn’t before: point to the smaller number to get the bigger prize.

Symbols can make you free. They can help distance an ape from its impulses. But outside of the lab, apes don’t seem to use symbols. Still, ape minds seem to share many of the amazing features of the human mind.

There is a video which depicts all this. Click on this link and see if it’s available “in your area.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/ape-genius.html.

How about our consciousness? Our ability to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘.
Well, that alone wouldn’t have made us any more special than an octopus…

self aware octopus

But what if our individuality resides in us having taken all three to ‘a different level’? One which hasn’t yet been attained by anybody else? Not necessarily higher, mind you!

I’ll deal with ‘trade’ now and I’m afraid you’ll have to come back for the rest.

‘Trade’ wasn’t even mentioned in those three examples?
What was the crow trying to do?
Feed itself? As in exchange matter with the ‘outside’?
What was Sheba trying to do?
Figure our what was going on? As in trading information with the surrounding world?

In this sense all living things are engaged in all forms of trading? And continue to do so for as long as they remain alive?
What did I tell you about us doing nothing really new? Only different?

OK, we had already figured out – long before Adam Smith described it as ‘division of labor’, that by dividing tasks amongst us we’ll be able to accomplish far more things than if we had attempted ‘individual autarky’. And then we had invented ‘trade’, as a manner of exchanging the different wares each of us was proficient in doing…
Wait! Even this is not really ‘new’!
Mother Nature had already invented sexual reproduction – a very extreme ‘division of labour’, a very long time ago…. but not before bacteria were already adept at ‘trading’ genetic information.

 

 

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“Try” implies intent, right?
Towards the professed goal… otherwise it makes no sense…

Which begets yet another question:
‘But how do we determine intention?’
‘The ‘perpetrator’ must have wished for it, given what they’ve done/said!’ ?!?

Let me give you something to chew on…

 

Jordan Peterson, (12 Rules for Life, 2018) is a smart guy who has just published a rather controversial book – read ‘all about it’ here.
Cathy Newman, a “presenter for Channel 4 News” has recently become “a minor Internet phenomenon, thanks to the journalist’s extraordinary interviewing style.”
The excerpt above belongs to that interview but, unfortunately, proves that there is nothing extraordinary about this interviewer’s style. Oversimplification has become a pattern rather than an exception.

But why?
What’s going on here?
Why would seemingly sensible people, in pursuit of commendable goals, put themselves in such untenable positions? “A British broadcaster doggedly tried to put words into the academic’s mouth.” A rather harsh commentary, specially when published by the Atlantic, a magazine promoting more or less the same ideas as those ‘defended’ so passionately by Newman.

The “invisible gorilla” to the rescue.

Not familiar with the concept? Click on the link.

I won’t bother you with the details of this very modern experiment but I’m gone quote a ‘classic’ Romanian proverb
‘As soon as people gaze long/deep enough into a single spot/subject, their knowledge horizon becomes ‘their’ point of view’.
At this point, I have a confession to make. I don’t know how classic it is, nor whether it is actually a proverb. I was introduced to it by my 7-th grade history teacher, Mr. Bucataru. More than 40 years ago, at least 20 before the ‘invisible gorilla’ strolled across the basket ball court, ‘blissfully’ unnoticed by half of the people ‘present’ for the occasion.

So.
Was Newman really trying to sound dumb? As in ‘assuming the perceived dumbness as a cost towards a more valuable goal’?

Or was she so absorbed by the ‘more valuable goal’ – which ever that might be, I cannot pretend to know what she was after, that she wasn’t even aware that her very behavior was detrimental to whatever she attempted to achieve?

Could it be that sometimes we concentrate so much on whatever we consider to be  ‘the occasion’ that we fail to actually be there?

Why Can’t People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?”

Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, Jan 22, 2018

If this book has a blind spot, it’s largely a function of the fact that Peterson is a professor. If you’re an academic, especially a Canadian academic, living in a real city, you rarely (if ever) meet right-wing crazies. But you’re exposed to left-wing crazies on a fairly regular basis. This tends to skew and distort your conception of where the crazies are to be found mightily….
.
.
I share Peterson’s deep discomfort with any mode of analysis that reduces individuals to the status of group representatives. But to say that this pernicious mode of analysis is solely a function of “Marxism” or “postmodernism” is a gross oversimplification. Among other things, it makes it seem like this is a uniquely left-wing problem—when clearly it’s not. Right-wing reactionary racists regularly reduce individuals to the status of group representatives. And they’re doing pretty well politically lately.

John Faithful Hamer, Commiting Sociology, Feb 2, 2018.

“So you’re saying … we should live like lobsters?” or: Why does politics make us stupid?

Pascal Boyer, Blog, Cognition and Culture, Feb 1, 2018

PS. I’ve just realized that the ‘Romanian proverb’ I mentioned above is somewhat related to Nietzsche’s: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss gazes also into you.”
And since ‘becoming a monster’ basically means loosing the ability/willingness to fit into the society where you have been born,  the logical conclusion of Nietzsche’s advice is ‘never attempt to fight monsters by yourself’. It’s easier to retain your humanity when belonging to a team and even more so when the teams involved in any competition behave fairly and respectfully to each other.

I checked my FB wall before ‘reloading’ ‘on the thickness of things’.

‘Zuckerberg’ made me an offer I couldn’t refuse:

“Your Memories on Facebook
Sarchis, we care about you and the memories you share here. We thought you’d like to look back on this post from 4 years ago.”

Wow, a robot – you know that FB is involved way over its head in AI, don’t you? – which cares about it’s client…

Anyway…

Here’s what I posted then:

“A Dog’s Life

An older, tired-looking dog wandered into my yard.

I could tell from his collar and well-fed belly that he had a home
and was well taken
care of.

He calmly came over to me, I gave him a few pats on his head. He
then followed me into my house, slowly walked down the hall, curled up in
the corner and fell asleep.

An hour later, he went to the door, and I let him out.

The next day he was back, greeted me in my yard, walked inside and
resumed his spot in the hall and again slept for about an hour.

This continued off and on for several weeks.

Curious I pinned a note to his collar: ‘I would like to find out who
the owner of this wonderful sweet dog is and ask if you are aware that
almost every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap.’

The next day he arrived for his nap, with a different note pinned to
his collar:

‘He lives in a home, with my non stop chatting and nagging wife,
he’s trying to catch up on his sleep ……

Can I come with him tomorrow ?

Thanks !”

Since I do not have any recollection about this I googled some of it in an attempt to find it’s origin.

Disclaimer

Many of these articles were submitted by PetPlace.com dog lovers and the original source is unknown in terms of origin, author or copyright. It is not our intent to infringe on anyone’s copyright and if it is done, it is done unknowingly and we would be happy to remove the offending content. Just email us!.”

The same text has been published by tens and tens of sites.
Or maybe more? I just scrolled down on the search results page, didn’t count them…

It looks like things do have a certain thickness, don’t they?

Regardless of nobody being absolutely sure about who said this, there is a more or less shared consensus about history being written by the victors. After they had finished butchering the heros

execution of William Wallace

William Wallace

The problem being that most (written) history is a compelling proof that too often the ability to win doesn’t necessarily imply a real understanding of what had happened during the contest!

No matter what opinion each of us entertains about ‘alternate reality’, fact is that none of us is able to grasp all relevant aspects of even the most basic concepts.

Growing under a communist regime I had learned, very quickly, to keep my mouth shut.

Like all authoritarian regimes, communism eventually crumbled.
Mostly under the pressure that had been built from within and which could not be accurately measured, simply because people were conditioned to keep their mouths shut.

Nowadays technology makes it possible for some of us to ‘look’ ‘beyond’ what most understand by ‘freedom of expression’.

… anxiety and action shouldn’t be based only on what could happen in theory as much as what’s likely to happen in practice — and how much it will affect you.

Some people are afraid of sharks. While the prospect of being eaten by a giant fish is vivid and terrifying, it’s also unlikely, old chum. In fact, the drive to the beach is far more dangerous than the swim once you get there.

Likewise, avoid getting hacked. But more important, start taking action on the bigger risk: The stuff publicly posted on social sites.

Alternate meaning of ‘freedom of expression’?

‘You are free to express yourself and I am free to use whatever information you have chosen to share’!

Actually it makes a lot of sense.

Let’s imagine, for instance, that my son comes home and tells us he is going to marry someone.
Twenty short years ago my wife would have phoned her best friend and told her about it. In two days the news would had traveled around and feed back would had poured in, specially if we were living in a small community. We would had been informed about all past indiscretions attributed to our son’s intended spouse, as long as any had ever surfaced.
Nowadays, being technological savvy, my wife would google the name first, even before phoning her best friend – if she wasn’t already privy of ‘enough’ indiscretions, of course.

Would it make any sense to blame the public authorities who do the same thing? Or the private agents who, in their attempt to fulfill their jobs, use whatever information is publicly available about each of us?
My question should have a special meaning for those of you who live in democratic countries – where the public authorities execute whatever mandate you have entrusted them with, and under an economic regime governed by the (more or less) free market – meaning that all ‘private’ agents need at least some support from their stakeholders (yes, that’s you!) in order to remain economically viable.

I’ll come back to this subject.

Meanwhile you can learn more about it by reading the article that spurred my rantings:

“Anything you post can and will be used against you”

Just click on the title.

Growing in a communist country, Romania, I was ‘exposed’, naturally, to all sorts of communist propaganda. ‘Embedded’ in almost everything.
One ‘sugar coating’ that was very popular among the apparatchiks of the day was ‘crime novels’. ‘James Bond’-like  ‘literature’ which was supposed to educate us, ordinary citizens  who could almost never get an exit visa to go to a ‘capitalist’ country,  about the perils ‘our’ trading agents/diplomatic personnel had to ‘negotiate’ when sent abroad to ‘serve the country’.
The most publicized ‘peril’ being the ‘prostitute trap’. Supposedly the ‘pure’ communist was trapped by a skillful prostitute into believing she was heavily enamoured  of him and then lured to an apartment were the couple would be filmed while ‘consummating’  their new found passion. Later, of course, the recording would have been used to exert pressure in order to influence the hapless fool into betraying his country.

The recent articles regarding ‘the art of kompromat’ tend to suggest that those ‘novels’ were nothing but yet another example of a wolf crying wolf… but who knows…

Fast forward to our times.

Is there anything clear in all this?

And no, I’m not wondering whether there is an actual tape of Trump ‘frolicking in bed’ with anybody. Even if it exists, it is well guarded. After all, such a tape is way more valuable as long as it is hidden away than when out in the open. The threat to reveal it works only as long as nobody else but the black-mailer and the victim know about its existence.

Then why all this brouhaha?

A preemptive strike meant to dull the effect of Putin actually publishing such a tape?
Putin trying to ‘soften up’ his intended target?
But what is Putin’s goal? He cannot dream of ‘controlling’ the President of the United States. Even when that position is fulfilled by someone like Trump… The actions of any POTUS are so public that any influence would very soon become apparent, on one side, and Trump, himself, is a very ‘unreliable’ person to start with.

But what if Putin has another, and way more insidious, goal?

What if he wants to compromise the very concept of democratic elections?
To ‘demonstrate’ to us that ‘the public’ is (has become?) incapable of electing a good man to lead it to the future?

Well… the problem with ‘kompromat’ is that it has to be tailored to its intended victim.
Just imagine what effect would have had a tape depicting Obama in bed with someone else but Michelle. Who would have believed such a thing?
But Obama was, to a degree at least – as Trump had very astutely estimated, vulnerable to a campaign focused on his birth certificate. We all know what kind of ‘passion’ the birthers have managed to instill into some of the die-hard conservatives.
And we should not forget that Trump had started his political life as a friend of the Clintons. His words, “that Hillary Clinton ‘had no choice’ but come to his third wedding“, are now world famous…

Now, bearing all these in mind, shouldn’t we ask ourselves how farfetched is Putin’s project of destroying our faith in democracy? Using ourselves as minions?

After all, Trump was elected democratically!

And do you remember those discussions about the US being intended as a Republic by the forefathers, and not as a Democracy? Or Orban’s – Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, one of Putin’s close political friends, concept of ‘illiberal democracy‘?

“I voted for Trump because I think his illiberal tendencies are actually a feature rather than a bug. When he undermines rule of law, I see not a danger, but someone who is undermining a system that has become a game for elites with access to armies of lawyers. When he browbeats Congress, I don’t worry about “checks and balances” which have become a recipe for dysfunction, but rather see him as a man taking on useless political prostitutes servicing everyone who can write a sufficiently large campaign check. When he strong-arms multinational companies like Carrier, I see someone standing up to the worst aspects of globalization.”

Who built the world as it is right now? The one where the young adult who wrote the words quoted above, had grown up into and was modeled by?

We did it? With both its good-s and its bad-s?

It is us who kompromised it?
Then it is us who’ll have to fix it!
Or we’ll have to endure the yoke the likes of Putin and/or Trump will undoubtedly try to put on our shoulders.

 

 

Modern technology has produced some rather perverse ‘side effects’.

What used to be called ‘democracy’ has slowly been driven into ‘mob rule’.

It is hard to determine whether this is the desired effect of some (un) ‘intelligent design’ or an unforeseen consequence of the callous machinations of the ‘power hungry’ but it doesn’t matter much, does it?

Let me first clarify some concepts.

For me ‘democracy’ is way much more than what happens in and around the polling stations.
Fairly counting the votes is indeed important but even more important is what takes place long before the ballots are cast.
A really functional democracy is that where every stakeholder has the opportunity to voice their concerns and where the rest pay attention to everything that is said in the public square. By both their political friends and by their political adversaries.
In fact no ballot can be cast efficiently unless the voters have developed a fair image of what is going on in their society. While no one can develop an actually complete understanding of anything, let alone one regarding such a complex system as an entire society, we must jealously keep in our minds that ‘not entirely complete’ is one thing and ‘heavily biased’ through a severe lack of pertinent information is quite a different one.

On the other hand ‘mob rule’ is a what happens when voters’ passions are so high that enough of them are no longer able to think with their own heads and allow themselves to be ‘led by the nose’. Into voting for a specific somebody or, alternatively, into not voting at all ‘because it doesn’t matter, anyway’.

At first democracy actually meant first hand, person to person, meetings in the public square.
The Ancient Greeks solved their ‘state affairs’ in the Agora, the Romans in the Forum while “Althingi” (the name of the oldest parliament that is still in existence, that of Iceland) means ‘General Assembly’.

Slowly, as the constituencies grew larger, the stakeholders needed some more sophisticated manners of keeping in touch. Luckily for them, Gutenberg had already invented the printing press. The American Founding Fathers – who had made good use of this first instrument of what was going to be the mass-media – had insisted passionately on the ‘freedom of the press’. And for good reasons. As I pointed out a little earlier, access to information is paramount for an efficient decision. Further more printed material is a very handy tool when it comes to conveying information from one person to another. Its rather stable nature allows it to survive unadulterated, at least for a while. So it can be handled around or kept for further reference since it is relatively easy to organize. And searched at will. All these discouraging the ‘communicators’ from lying – blatantly, at least. Since lies where relatively easy to pin-point and prove those who needed to maintain their credibility refrained themselves from ‘exaggerating’ too much. The fact that the general public was rather particular about this kind of things also helped in this matter.

Later, when radio and television were introduced, things had become more complicated. Given the fleeting nature of spoken – rather than printed – words, the ‘talking heads’ felt less compelled to stick to the straight and narrow.
Things were compounded by the advent of the ‘political-marketing specialists’ and of the ‘bean counters’.
The latter kept insisting that the mass-media venues have to be as profitable as possible – hence publish more and more of ‘what the audience asks for’ instead of bona-fide information while the former kept telling to the politicians that they have to ‘get under the skin of their constituents’ – by, again, telling them what they were more likely to believe instead of treating them as the grown-up adults they were.
The consequence of all this merchandising was that the erstwhile more or less compact public has been gradually carved up into discrete, and growingly separate, ‘publics’. Otherwise known as ‘echo-chambers’.

The apparition of the Internet/social networks has further deepened the already existent divides. People no longer know what the others really think or feel. But their ignorance doesn’t keep them from having opinions. Or from voting about things they do not really understand. So they vote how they are told by their trusted ‘analysts’/’experts’.

Now, is it of any use for us to blame anybody for what had happened?

Or would it be a lot better for all of us to grow out of this before the ‘whirlwind’ makes a ‘hard landing’ on top of our heads?

 

Israel has been backed up by the US ever since it was established.
They didn’t enjoy an unconditional carte blanche but the amount of help was  very consistent and, above all, very dependable .

Until a few days ago.
Nowadays Netanyahu, Israel’s PM, feels like he has been thrown in front of a bus by the departing President of the US, Barack Obama. Because the US ambassador, Samantha Powers, had abstained herself, instead of exercising her veto, about a resolution calling for Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

Ever since Israel has been reestablished by his original inhabitants Russia’s rulers have tried to use this situation in their advantage. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and lately Iran, have received backing from Kremlin in their fight against Israel. By meddling into this conflict Russian rulers were simply trying to get international stature.

Recently Russia’s ambassador to the UN had used his veto power to block a resolution asking for the ceasing of the bombardments in Aleppo. Yet another proof that Russia’s leaders do not care about how they become respected on the international stage, as long as that respect is manifest. As in ‘the world listens when they speak’.

During the Obama administration the US refrained itself from such drastic measures. The US has refused – for now, at least – to re-engage in the brinkmanship game with the Russian leaders. Effectively denying the latter the kind of status they so strongly desire.

Israel has just become yet another collateral victim in this conflict.
Just as the Arabs have been for the last three centuries.
Caught, at first, in the middle of the endless colonial wars between England and France on one side and the Ottoman empire on the other. And later in the cold conflict between Russia and the US.

Theoretically it means “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

Practically it looks like this.

famine-in-ucraine

In fact real life communism still is, and always was, about a whole country kow-towing to a dictator who pretends to care for nothing else but for the welfare of the people. His people!

The point being that each resource allocation game needs a referee. Otherwise all rational people would take as much as they could carry from the communal reserve – because it is free – and bring back as little as possible, hence nothing if not coerced to – because it implies some effort.

OK, any reasonable five years old would tell you that the communal reserve would very soon become empty if things would go like this – hence that presumably ‘rational’ behavior would be anything but – only it would be very rational to at least try, wouldn’t it? For how long it would work, no matter how short that interval…

And something else.
You are most likely familiar with ‘bad money drives out good’. There have been a lot of examples to prove this, one of them being Christ driving the money changers out of the Temple.
Some of you might not be familiar with how money worked in those days so here is it.
A coin was a simple ‘slab’ of precious metal, of somewhat constant weight, approximately round, which had been ‘stamped’ with the face of the local ruler. At first, in the minting shop, all coins belonging to the same edition were more or less of the same weight. But, since the edges of the coins were not ridged, ‘smart’ people started to ‘shave’ the coins.
And, after the first guy had started to shave them, each individual who got a coin would have been foolish not to shave it, just a little bit. Maybe the next guy would be foolish enough to accept it, after being shaved. To contest it the recipient would have had to go to the money changers and pay for their expertise. And this is how the coins became smaller and smaller…
Only the priests at the temple didn’t want to be fooled. So they hired some money-changers to vet the coins the believers brought to the Temple. The very money-changers that Christ had driven away. “God doesn’t need this kind of guardians. If we keep them here it would mean that we expect people to cheat. Even here, at the Temple. And if we expect them to cheat, they will surely do so!”

Only some people do cheat. And since some cheat, the rest will have to do something about it. Either make cheating the rule, which would lead nowhere, or make it so hard to cheat as to become impractical. Hence the ridges at the edges of the modern coins. Which can no longer be shaved because the ridges would make it obvious.

Coming back to our ‘communal reserve’ you would have to employ a guardian to make it sure that no one would take any more than they really need and that everyone periodically brings back stuff according to their abilities.
But how would that guardian determine what are the real needs and the real abilities of each of those individual members of the community?
And, even more importantly, what would stop the guardian from taking the whole ‘communal’ reserve into his private possession? As in acting like a communist dictator? Simply because ‘he needs it’?

The only alternative that worked was the free market. That where you sold your abilities and where you could buy things to fulfill your needs. Where prices were set at the meeting point between ask and demand.
But the same principle, bad money drive out the good, acts even here.
‘Smart’ people try to organize ‘monopolies’. Which, basically, is the same thing as they attempting to become the owners of the ‘communal reserve’.

This whole thing looks like an intractable vicious circle?
Take heart, that’s what ‘reeds’ are for.
We invented those, when we realized that we needed them, didn’t we?

reeded-coins

You still wondering what to use in order to transform that vicious circle into a virtuous one?
How about individual freedom coupled with a healthy dose of mutual respect?

hacked doublespeak.JPG

The overseers of the U.S. intelligence community have not embraced a CIA assessment that Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Republican President-elect Donald Trump win the 2016 election, three American officials said on Monday.

Yet
“ODNI is not arguing that the agency (CIA) is wrong, only that they can’t prove intent,” said one of the three U.S. officials. “Of course they can’t, absent agents in on the decision-making in Moscow.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose evidentiary standards require it to make cases that can stand up in court, declined to accept the CIA’s analysis – a deductive assessment of the available intelligence – for the same reason, the three officials said.”

Now, since when is anybody in this ‘line of work’ concerned with anything more than ‘a deductive assessment of the available intelligence’?

Wasn’t it the DA’s office which was interested in making the cases ‘stand in court’?

Anyway, this whole exchange sends a very clear message.

Nobody disputes the simple fact that some Russians have indeed hacked into servers which harbor information pertaining to the electoral campaign. What the various branches of the intelligent services cannot agree about is the precise intent of the hackers.

Aha.

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