junho 30, 2022

julho 11, 2021

Biological Causes

Modern biology is characterized by a number of ideological prejudices that shape the form of its explanations and the way its researches are carried out. One of those major prejudices is concerned with the nature of causes. Generally one looks for the cause of an effect, or even if there are a number of causes allowed, one supposes that there is a major cause and the others are only subsidiary. And in any case, these causes are separated from each other, studied independently, and manipulated and interfered with in an independent way. Moreover, these causes are usually seen to be at an individual level, the individual gene or the defective organ or an individual human being who is the focus of internal biological causes and external causes from an autonomous nature.

This view of causes is nowhere more evident than in our theories of health and disease. Any textbook of medicine will tell us that the cause of tuberculosis is the tubercle bacillus, which gives us the disease when it infects us. Modern scientific medicine tells us that the reason we no longer die of infectious diseases is that scientific medicine, with its antibiotics, chemical agents, and high-technology methods of caring for the sick, has defeated the insidious bacterium. What is the cause of cancer? The cause is the unrestricted growth of cells. That runaway growth, in turn, is a consequence of the failure of certain genes to regulate cell division. So we get cancer because our genes are not doing their business. It used to be that people thought that viruses were a major cause of cancer, and a great deal of money and time has been spent looking for the viral causes of cancer in humans without success. Biology has moved on from the time when viruses were all the rage to a time when genes are much more trendy.

Alternatively, there are environmental insult theories of the causes of cancer. Cancers are caused, we are told, by asbestos or by PVC or by a host of natural chemicals over which we have no control, and although they are present in very low concentrations, we are exposed to them over our whole lives. So, just as we will avoid dying from tuberculosis by dealing with the bug that causes it, so we will avoid dying from cancer by getting rid of particularly nasty chemicals in the environment. It is certainly; true that one cannot get tuberculosis without a tubercle bacillus, and the evidence is quite compelling that one cannot get the cancer mesothelioma without having ingested asbestos or related compounds. But that is not the same as saying that the cause of tuberculosis is the tubercle bacillus and the cause of mesothelioma is asbestos. What are the consequences for our health of thinking in this way? Suppose we note that tuberculosis was a disease extremely common in the sweatshops and miserable factories of the nineteenth century, whereas tuberculosis rates were much lower among country people and in the upper classes. Then we might be justified in claiming that the cause of tuberculosis is unregulated industrial capitalism, and if we did away with that system of social organization, we would not need to worry about the tubercle bacillus. When we look at the history of health and disease in modern Europe, that explanation makes at least as good sense as blaming the poor bacterium. -- Biology as Ideology, Richard Lewontin

maio 24, 2021

Dogmas Everywhere

We're all familiar with prudishness as it applies to sexual ethics: the prude thinks certain sex acts are immoral, even between happily consenting adults.  They also hold that sex work is inherently degrading, and that others should not be allowed to offer monetary compensation in exchange for one's sexual labour.  The prude is not willing to tolerate others engaging in consensual and mutually beneficial exchanges in this arena if they don't stem from what the prude regards as the "right" motivations and take place within "approved" institutional arrangements (e.g. marriage).  It's a deeply illiberal perspective that has thankfully fallen out of favour in recent decades.  We may, of course, have reasonable concerns about the exploitation of sex workers in practice.  But it's increasingly recognized that the best response to such practical concerns is to improve the options available to those in desperate circumstances, not to deprive them of (what they evidently regard as) their current best option.  So I think it's fair to say that liberals have won out over sexual prudes in our current cultural milieu.

Sadly, the reverse appears true within the arena of research ethics.  Research prudes think that certain kinds of medical research (e.g. involving voluntary infection) are unethical, even when all involved are happily consenting adults.  They disapprove of offering monetary compensation to research participants, to make participation worth one's while when it otherwise would not be.  They are not willing to tolerate others' engaging in consensual and mutually beneficial research arrangements if participation doesn't stem from what the research prude regards as the "right" (i.e. non-financial) motivations.  It's a deeply illiberal view that unfortunately still predominates, with cultural bastions like the New York Times routinely dismissing controversial ("queer") research possibilities as "unethical", without argument.  We may, of course, have reasonable concerns about the exploitation of research participants in practice.  But it's depressing how hastily people assume that the best response to such concerns is to paternalistically deprive others of an option that they might well have reasonably preferred over their available alternatives.

Perhaps the most important difference between the two arenas is that the research prude's illiberalism is vastly more harmful.  Medical research has immense positive externalities.  So preventing it has immense negative externalities.  You're not just harming the would-be research participants (not to mention undermining their autonomy), you're also harming all those who end up suffering from medical conditions that could have been cured or prevented had the research gone ahead.  Missed opportunities are rarely salient, and so do not provoke the outrage that they truly deserve.  But on any reasonable estimate, the death toll of research prudishness is surely monstrous. -- Against Prudish Research Ethics, Richard Y Chappell

maio 17, 2021

Bullshit Jobs

The United States plays a key role in our story. Nowhere was the principle that all wealth derives from labor more universally accepted as ordinary common sense, yet nowhere, too, was the counterattack against this common sense so calculated, so sustained, and so ultimately effective. By the early decades of the twentieth century, when the first cowboy movies were being made, this work was largely complete, and the idea that ranch hands had once been avid readers of Marx would have seemed as ridiculous as it would to most Americans today. Even more important, this counteroffensive laid the groundwork for the apparently bizarre attitudes toward work, largely emanating from North America, that we can still observe spreading across the world, with pernicious results.

Would-be capitalists were not granted the right to create limited-liability corporations unless they could prove doing so would constitute a clear and incontestable "public benefit" (in other words, the notion of social value not only existed but was inscribed in law) [...] much of this anticapitalist feeling was justified on religious grounds; popular Protestantism, drawing on its Puritan roots, not only celebrated work, but embraced the belief that, as my fellow anthropologists Dimitra Doukas and Paul Durrenberger have put it, "work was a sacred duty and a claim to moral and political superiority over the idle rich"  [...] work was both a value in itself and the only real producer of value.

In the immediate wake of the Civil War all this began to change with the first stirrings of large-scale bureaucratic, corporate capitalism. The "Robber Barons," as the new tycoons came to be called, were at first met (as the name given them implies) with extraordinary hostility. But by the 1890s they embarked on an intellectual counteroffensive [...] The promulgation of consumerism also coincided with the beginnings of the managerial revolution, which was, especially at first, largely an attack on popular knowledge. Where once hoopers and wainwrights and seamstresses saw themselves as heirs to a proud tradition, each with its secret knowledge, the new bureaucratically organized corporations and their "scientific management" sought as far as possible to literally turn workers into extensions of the machinery, their every move predetermined by someone else.

Why was this campaign so successful? Because it cannot be denied that, within a generation, "producerism" had given way to "consumerism," the "source of status," as Harry Braverman put it, was "no longer the ability to make things but simply the ability to purchase them", and the labor theory of value—which had, meanwhile, been knocked out of economic theory by the "marginal revolution"—had so fallen away from popular common sense that nowadays, only graduate students or small circles of revolutionary Marxist theorists are likely to have heard of it. Nowadays, if one speaks of "wealth producers," people will automatically assume one is referring not to workers but to capitalists.

This was a monumental shift in popular consciousness. What made it possible? It seems to me that the main reason lies in a flaw in the original labor theory of value itself. This was its focus on "production" [...] which was always conceived primarily as male work — as a matter of making and building things, or perhaps coaxing them from the soil, while for women "labor" was seen primarily and emblematically as a matter of producing babies. Most real women’s labor disappeared from the conversation [...] "Caring labor" is generally seen as work directed at other people, and it always involves a certain labor of interpretation, empathy, and understanding. To some degree, one might argue that this is not really work at all, it’s just life, or life lived properly—humans are naturally empathetic creatures, and to communicate with one another at all, we must constantly cast ourselves imaginatively into each other’s shoes and try to understand what others are think ing and feeling, which usually means caring about them at least a little—but it very much becomes work when all the empathy and imaginative identification is on one side. The key to caring labor as a commodity is not that some people care but that others don’t; that those paying for "services" (note how the old feudal term is still retained) feel no need to engage in interpretive labor themselves.

[...] as many feminist economists have pointed out, all labor can be seen as caring labor, since even if one builds a bridge, it’s ultimately because one cares about people who might wish to cross the river. As the examples I cited at the time make clear, people do really think in these terms when they reflect on the "social value" of their jobs.

To think of labor as valuable primarily because it is "productive," and productive labor as typified by the factory worker, effecting that magic transformation by which cars or teabags or pharmaceutical products are "produced" out of factories through the same painful but ultimately mysterious "labor" by which women are seen to produce babies, allows one to make all this disappear. It also makes it maximally easy for the factory owner to insist that no, actually, workers are really no different from the machines they operate. Clearly, the growth of what came to be called "scientific management" made this easier; but it would never have been possible had the paradigmatic example of "worker" in the popular imagination been a cook, a gardener, or a masseuse. -- Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber

outubro 20, 2020

The THOG Problem


Image: Wikimedia Commons 

You are shown four symbols

  1. a black square
  2. a white square
  3. a black circle
  4. a white circle

and told by the experimenter "I have picked one colour (black or white) and one shape (square or circle). A symbol that possesses exactly one of the properties I have picked, is called a THOG. The black circle is a THOG. For each of the other symbols, are they a) definitely a THOG, b) undecidable, or c) definitely not a THOG?" wikipedia (also cf. Futility Closet)



outubro 13, 2020


 'Do you think I am saved?' he says. 'I am covered in lamp black and my hands smell of coin, and when I see myself in a glass I see grime – I suppose that is the beginning of wisdom? About my fallen state, I have no choice but agree. I must meddle with matters that corrupt – it is my office. In the golden age the earth yielded all we required, but now we must dig for it, quarry it, blast it, we must drive the world, we must gear and grind it, roll and hammer and pulp it. There must be dinners cooked, Rob. There must be slates chalked, and ink set to page, and money made and bargains struck, and we must give the poor the means to work and eat.' -- The Mirror and the Light, Hillary Mantel

outubro 06, 2020

Small Telescopes

It is generally very difficult to prove that something does not exist; it is considerably easier to show that a tool is inadequate for studying that something. With a small-telescopes approach, instead of arriving at the conclusion that a theoretically interesting effect does not seem to exist, we arrive at the conclusion that the original evidence suggesting a theoretically interesting effect exists does not seem to be adequate. --  Uri Simonsohn

setembro 11, 2020

My Time

The modern morality of “You're on my time [...] is the indignity of a man who feels he's being robbed. A worker's time is not his own; it belongs to the person who bought it. Insofar as an employee is not working, she is stealing something for which the employer paid good money (or, anyway, has promised to pay good money for at the end of the week). By this moral logic, it's not that idleness is dangerous. Idleness is theft. This is important to underline because the idea that one person's time can belong to someone else is actually quite peculiar. Most human societies that have ever existed would never have conceived of such a thing. As the great classicist Moses Finley pointed out: if an ancient Greek or Roman saw a potter, he could imagine buying his pots. He could also imagine buying the potter — slavery was a familiar institution in the ancient world. But he would have simply been baffled by the notion that he might buy the potter’s time. Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber

fevereiro 26, 2020


Thunberg put her finger right on one of the key drivers of the problem: the fairytale of eternal economic growth. Many of us mistake that problem as a problem with capitalism, but really it’s more of a malthusian dynamic than that: you simply cannot and should not assume that population and industrialization can ramp indefinitely. Usually when I say something like that, someone will swan in and declare that Malthus was wrong and that we can handle a much larger population, if we’re smart about it and use resources wisely, etc. But the problem with that is that the larger your population is, the more damaging it’s going to be when something goes wrong and breaks those assumptions. I’m speaking here from my history as a descendant of Irish migrants who fled to the US because there was too much dependence on the potato. Potatoes were what brought my Norwegian ancestors over, too. Potatoes were a miracle food at the time and allowed some parts of the planet to expand their carrying capacity. not accounting for what might happen if the carrying capacity suddenly dipped because of British greed and airbone fungus. We can grow the population much larger than it is, sure, but what are the failure modes when the feedback loops get tighter and tighter. During WWII, the Bengal Famine [wik] was not a result of a drought (as it has been whitewashed to be) but rather a supply-chain management problem where the British thought they’d do well to hedge their bets against a nazi blockade by taking Bengal’s rice crop. 2.1 million people died of hunger, probably not realizing that it was Winston Churchill who had knifed them. As the population goes up, the catastrophic results of that sort of hiccup goes up, too. -- Marcus J. Ranum

dezembro 17, 2019


The key to success in marriage is to make each other
so weird that nobody else would accept you.

dezembro 11, 2019

Obscure Sorrows

Sonder: The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
Opia: The ambiguous intensity of Looking someone in the eye which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.
Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.
Énouement : The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
Vellichor: The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.
Rubatosis: The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.
Kenopsia: The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.
Mauerbauertraurigkeit: The inexplicable urge to push people awa,. even close friends who you really like.
Jouska: A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.
Chrysalism: The amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.
Vemodalen: The frustration of photographic something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.
Anecdoche: A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening
Ellipsism: A sadness that you'll never be able to know how history will turn out.
Kuebiko: A state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.
Lachesism: The desire to be struck by disaster - to survive a plane crash. or to lose everything in a fire.
Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
Adronitis: Frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone.
Riickkehrunruhe: The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.
Nodus Tollens: The realization that the plot of your life doesn't make sense to you anymore.
Onism: The frustration of being stuck in just one body. that inhabits only one place at a time.
Liberosis: The desire to care less about things.
Altschmerz: Weariness with the same old issues that you've always had - the same boring flaws and anxieties that you've been gnawing on for years.
Occhiolism: The awareness of the smallness of your perspective. 

dezembro 04, 2019

Unseen Law

[...] adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you'll sound like a maniac. Ifs an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can't exist. -- Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence
Actually, there are a couple of small exceptions. Little Red Riding Hood may be perfectly ordered, but the Big Bad Wolf seems to be breaking all the laws of linguistics. Why does Bad Big Wolf sound so very, very wrong? What happened to the rules? Well, in fact, the Big Bad Wolf is just obeying another great linguistic law that every native English speaker knows, but doesn’t know that they know. And it’s the same reason that you’ve never listened to hop-hip music. You are utterly familiar with the rule of ablaut reduplication. You’ve been using it all your life. It’s just that you’ve never heard of it. But if somebody said the words zag-zig, or ‘cross-criss you would know, deep down in your loins, that they were breaking a sacred rule of language. You just wouldn’t know which one.

Reduplication in linguistics is when you repeat a word, sometimes with an altered consonant (lovey-dovey, fuddy-duddy, nitty-gritty), and sometimes with an altered vowel: bish-bash-bosh, ding-dang-dong. If there are three words then the order has to go I, A, O. If there are two words then the first is I and the second is either A or O. Mish-mash, chit-chat, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, tip-top, hip-hop, flip-flop, tic tac, sing-song, ding dong, King Kong, ping pong. -- Mark Forsyth [link]

novembro 28, 2019

Man's Search For Meaning

Not every conflict is necessarily neurotic; some amount of conflict is normal and healthy. In a similar sense suffering is not always a pathological phenomenon; rather than being a symptom of neurosis, suffering may well be a human achievement, especially if the suffering grows out of existential frustration. I would strictly deny that one's search for a meaning to his existence, or even his doubt of it, in every case is derived from, or results in, any disease. Existential frustration is in itself neither pathological nor pathogenic. A man's concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease.

There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."

[...] mental health is based on a  certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to  accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what  one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental  well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about  challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill. It is only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency. I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, "homeostasis," i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him. What man needs is not homeostasis but what I call "noödynamics," i.e., the existential dynamics in a polar field of tension where one pole is represented by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other pole by the man who has to fulfill it. And one should not think that  this holds true only for normal conditions; in neurotic individuals, it is even more valid. If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster their patients' mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one's life.

The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century. This is understandable; it may be due to a twofold loss which man has had to undergo since he became a truly human being. At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in which an animal's behavior is embedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like Paradise, is closed to man forever; man has to make choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. [...] there are various masks and guises under which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated  for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates in sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum.

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a  given moment. To put the question in general terms  would be comparable to the question posed to a chess  champion: "Tell me, Master, what is the best move in  the world?" There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one's  opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life.  Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in  life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the  world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this  constitutive characteristic "the self-transcendence of  human existence." It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself - be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.

[...] there is a danger inherent in the teaching of man's "nothingbutness," the theory that man is nothing but the result of biological, psychological and sociological conditions, or the product of heredity and environment. Such a view of man makes a neurotic believe what he is prone to believe anyway, namely, that he is the pawn and victim of outer influences or inner circumstances. This neurotic fatalism is fostered and strengthened by a psychotherapy which denies that man is free. To be sure, a human being is a finite thing, and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

I speak of a tragic optimism, that is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life's transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

[...] happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to "be happy." Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy [...] This need for a reason is similar in another specifically human phenomenon - laughter. If you want anyone to laugh you have to provide him with a reason, e.g., you have to tell him a joke. In no way is it possible to evoke real laughter by urging him, or having him urge himself, to laugh.

As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning. To be sure, some do not even have the means.

The third aspect of the tragic triad concerns death. But it concerns life as well, for at any time each of the moments of which life consists is dying, and that moment will never recur. And yet is not this transitoriness a reminder that challenges us to make the best possible use of each moment of our lives? It certainly is, and hence my imperative: Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

In fact, the opportunities to act properly, the potentialities to fulfill a meaning, are affected by the irreversibility of our lives. But also the potentialities alone are so affected. For as soon as we have used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past wherein it has been safely delivered and deposited. In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity.
From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past - the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized - and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.

Viktor E. Frankl - Man's Search For Meaning

novembro 21, 2019

Lessons of Darkness

  1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Vérité is devoid of vérité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.
  2. One well-known representative of Cinema Vérité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. 'For me,' he says, 'there should be only one single law; the bad guys should go to jail'. Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time.
  3. Cinema Vérité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.
  4. Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.
  5. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication, imagination and stylization.
  6. Filmmakers of Cinema Vérité resemble tourists who take pictures of ancient ruins of facts.
  7. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.
  8. Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: 'You can't legislate stupidity'.
  9. The gauntlet is herby thrown down.
  10. The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn't call, doesn't speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don't you listen to the Song of Life.
  11. We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.
  12. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of hell that during evolution some species - including man - crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.
Werner Herzog

novembro 14, 2019

About the "Bell Curve"

Simply stated, [Murray and Herrnstein’s argument] goes like this: If the variation in a particular individual trait is caused by genes, then the difference in average values of the trait in populations must also be caused by the genes. In the I.Q. debate, this argument takes the following form: variation in I.Q. among individuals in a population is caused (to a large extent, at least) by each individual’s genes. For group A, the average I.Q. score is higher than for group B. Hence members of group A must, on average, have higher I.Q. genes than members of group B.

However plausible this sounds initially, the fallacy of this logic becomes immediately obvious with a little thought and the use of a popular analogy. If we randomly take some corn seed and plant it in uniform, rich, well-tended soil, we will get a distribution of plant heights whose variation is caused by their genes. If we take a sample of seed from the same source and plant in poor soil, we will again get a variation of heights that is caused by the genes. But the second group will have a lower average height than the first, even though the plants come from the same gene pool. This difference in average values is caused by the environment and not the genes, a fact known to every farmer.

So it is possible to have a variation that is purely genetic in some trait within a single group, while the difference in average values of the same trait between different groups is caused purely by environment. For example, the variation in individual heights has a substantial genetic component. But in Japan, which has been a relatively isolated country, average heights have risen considerably since World War II, a fact easily explainable by better nutrition.


novembro 07, 2019

Copyright Reform: A Proposal

My proposal for copyright reform:  5 years, 5 million copies, or 30 years, which ever comes second.

You have rights to your work for at least 5 years, no matter how many of your work you sell. Suppose you sell 7 million, or 70 million, in 5 years. Then at 5 years, that's the end of it.  Your work enters the public domain.

Suppose you only sell 3 million by the end of 5 years.  Your rights are extended until you sell another 2 million.  Unless that takes more than 30 years.

Suppose your work is something off beat, or scholarly, and is never going to sell 5 million copies.  Then you have the rights for 30 years.

Good for books. For movies?  If a movie hasn't made its money back in 5 years, it isn't going to. 

-- https://anamecon.blogspot.com/2012/12/copyright-reform-proposal.html

outubro 31, 2019

the nature of markets

Regarding the nature of markets and capitalism, there's a form of natural selection at work, plus the concept of externalities. Externalities are costs that are borne by society rather than by the individual business, or benefits that are shared by society rather than accruing to the individual business. And this raises the dilemma of capitalism, and why markets cannot be trusted to work for the public good except in very limited circumstances:

1) A business will never consider a cost that is borne by society as a whole rather than by the business in specific; and

2) A business will never spend money to produce a benefit that is shared by everyone, but the cost borne only by the business itself.

Market forces work to society's benefit only when there are no externalized costs or benefits involved. The public good will be served by the profit motive if and only if the two are congruent. and that is not always (or even usually) true.

Natural selection takes this form. A business that behaves in an ethical fashion beyond what the law requires will be at a disadvantage in competition with others that have less scruples. Or, to put it more bluntly, business sinks to the level of thuggery that the law allows. That's not because business people are inherently Immoral, but because immoral business people put moral ones out of business, except where the law creates a level playing field and room for morality to operate.

If the law allowed it. business people would routinely hire assassins to kill their competitors. Those unwilling to take this action for moral reasons would be killed by those who were willing to. We see this in the illegal drug trade, where an unenforceable attempt to eradicate a commodity altogether drives the business outside legal protection altogether. The only reason we don't see it in legitimate business practice, is that the law forbids it.

In short, the idea that business immorality derives only from the state's attempt to regulate the economy has no basis either in observed fact, or in reason. If we want business to behave ethically, we must make that a legal requirement. -- Brian Rush

julho 15, 2019

Diminishing Returns

[...] the human bias to keep doing more of what worked so well in the past leads to doing more of what failed even as results turn negative. The dynamic in play is diminishing returns: the yield on the policy that worked so splendidly at first diminishes with time.

Credit offers a cogent real-world example. When credit becomes available in a credit-starved economy, it generates a rapid, sustained expansion as credit-worthy borrowers borrow and spend on new productive capacity, consumer goods, housing, etc., all of which further drives expansion. But once credit has saturated the entire economy, the only pool of borrowers left are uncreditworthy (i.e. at risk of default), and the only projects left unfunded by credit are laden with risk. Either way, credit expansion stops: either lenders prudently refuse to issue credit to risky borrowers and ventures, and credit expansion grinds to a halt, or they foolishly lend money to borrowers and ventures which predictably default, triggering a credit crisis that brings imprudent lenders to their knees and triggers cascading defaults as declining asset prices push marginal borrowers into bankruptcy. Doing more of what was successful [...] -- expanding credit -- is now doing more of what's failed. Expanding credit in a credit-saturated economy only sets up cascading defaults.

The human response to the failure of what worked so well is disbelief: the problem, we reckon, is we didn't do enough the first time. So the answer to the failure of extending more credit is to extend even more credit and lower lending standards so anyone who can fog a mirror can get a loan. At this point, diminishing returns become negative returns: doing more of what's failed is now not just unhelpful--it's actively destructive. Cramming more credit down the throats of risky borrowers and ventures guarantees a full-blown credit crisis when the defaults start taking down lenders and crushing asset prices that were dependent on credit expanding into eternity. -- Charles Hugh Smith

julho 07, 2019

The Long Descent

Where nearly all of the carbon goes, in turn, is the earth’s atmosphere, where it messes with the delicate balance of the global climate. [...] The Earth’s climate, reduced to simplest terms, is a heat engine that runs off the difference in temperature between the Sun and deep space. Back in 1772, James Watt launched the industrial revolution by figuring out that he could boost the efficiency of the crude steam engines then in use, and so get more work out of them, by reducing the rate at which heat was lost from the engine to the environment. Adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere does exactly that, and the work that the Earth’s climate does is called “weather.” Thus the result of greenhouse gas pollution isn’t a steady increase in temperature—it’s an increase in all kinds of extreme weather events, coupled just now with a shift in climate bands that’s warming the poles.

Does that mean that sometime very soon industrial civilization is going to crash to ruin because of some climate-related catastrophe? No, though you’ll hear that claim made at high volume in the years ahead. Does it mean that solar and wind power or some new energy technology will save the day? No, though you’ll also hear those claims being made at equally high volume. Here again, those same claims got made during the previous energy price spikes of the 1970s and the 2000, with equally dubious results.

No, what will happen is that the annual cost of weather-related disasters will move raggedly upward with each passing year, as it’s been doing for decades, loading another increasingly heavy burden on economic activity and putting more of what used to count as a normal lifestyle out of reach for more people. With each new round of disasters, less and less will get rebuilt, as insurance companies wriggle out of payouts they can’t afford to make and government funding for disaster recovery becomes less and less adequate to meet the demand. [...] That’s the shape of our future.  It bears remembering, too, that fossil fuels aren’t the only nonrenewable resources that are being extracted at a breakneck pace just now with no thought for tomorrow. For that matter, the global climate isn’t the only natural system on which we depend that’s being disrupted by human pollution in ways that are already circling around behind us and kicking us in the backside. As Kenneth Boulding pointed out a long time ago, the only people who think that you can have limitless economic expansion on a finite planet are madmen and economists. In the real world—the world the rest of us, willy-nilly, are constrained to inhabit—actions have equal and opposite reactions, and trying to push the pedal of economic growth all the way to the metal all the time simply means that you run out of gas sooner. That’s the logic of the Long Descent: the slow, ragged, unevenly paced, but inexorable process by which a civilization that’s overshot its resource base winds up in history’s compost bin. -- John Michael Greer

novembro 19, 2018

Ambiguity and Authority

Sometimes people use "respect" to  mean "treating someone like a person"  and sometimes they use "respect" to  mean "treating someone like an  authority" and sometimes people who are used to  being treated like an authority say "if you  won't respect me I won't respect you"  and they mean "if you won't treat me like an authority I won't treat you like a  person"  and they think they're being fair but they  aren't, and it's not okay.-- Anon.

novembro 12, 2018

War and Peace

Tolerance isn’t a moral law, it‘s a peace treaty. Peace treaties are only followed if the result is peace. -- Yonatan Zunger

novembro 05, 2018


Like objects exist despite Quantum Physics, free will exists despite determinism. These terms refer to different planes of explanation.

outubro 29, 2018


I want to murderize the term "objective truth".  Because mostly it just means "This is one of my core beliefs".  By scrapping that term, and instead saying "All beliefs are subjective, but some have more evidence in their foundations than others, and this is a difference in degree, not of kind" we can begin to stop fortifying our misconceptions with language. Those things are well-entrenched enough as it is. [...] Fact is whatever is out there in the world, the ding-am-sich. Facts are objective, but you don't have any. Nobody has access to facts. We have beliefs about facts. And those beliefs are formed exclusively from the evidence available to us, as subjects. That evidence can be wrong or misleading. You have no facts. All we have is what you so weaseley call "opinions" (a better word is beliefs). And some beliefs are more well-founded than others. Our most well-founded beliefs, however, are not discernible to us from our core beliefs. They all feel "objective" to us, no way for the individual to know which "objective fact" (actually subjective belief) is strongly held because of evidence, and which is strongly held because of cultural values on happens to hold. So we need to drop that bullshit and start instead lifting our burdens of evidence, even for the stuff our amygdala says is "objective".

Is 1+1=2 a fact?   Of course not, it never was. Maths is an artificial system. 1+1=2 because we define the system so as to give that result. Of course, arithmetic was designed to mimic certain features of reality, but this was done as an abstraction of an abstraction of an abstraction. Each abstraction makes the result less real - but easier to work with. The way we built arithmetic is perfectly analogous to how each child learns arithmetic. First you look at real objects, and produce a theory of kind, then you learn to count real objects, by grouping them in various kinds, abstracting away the individuality of the objects. Then you progress to imagined objects. Then you progress to removing all the remaining remnants of the reality you based it on, working instead with just numbers. -- Andreas Geisler

outubro 22, 2018


If a bureaucrat (or lawyer) acts on fully specified set of rules and exercises no personal judgement then they can be replaced by a machine. If they don't want to be replaced by a machine they should be able to prove that their personal judgement is indispensable. That changes incentives for bureaucrats in quite a dramatic fashion -- Martin Sustrik

outubro 15, 2018


In any operating system whose goal is homeostasis, departures from the current steady stale caused by change in the energy fluxes or their response times will tend to be corrected and a new optimum sought which incorporates the changes. A system as experienced as Gaia is unlikely to be easily disturbed. Nevertheless, we shall have to tread carefully to avoid the cybernetic disasters of runaway positive feedback or of sustained oscillation. If, for example, the methods of climate control which I have postulated were subject to severe perturbation. we might suffer either a planetary fever or the chill of an ice age, or even experience sustained oscillations between these two uncomfortable States.

This could happen if, at some intolerable population density, man had encroached upon Gaia's functional power to such an extent that he disabled her. He would wake up one day to find that he had the permanent lifelong job of planetary maintenance engineer. Gaia would have retreated into the muds, and the ceaseless intricate task of keeping all of the global cycles in balance would be ours. Then at last we should be riding that strange contraption, the 'spaceship Earth'. and whatever tamed and domesticated biosphere remained would indeed be our 'life support system'. -- James Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

outubro 08, 2018


An illustration of [the] single-minded corporate focus on financial returns can be seen in a conversation between biologist Paul Ehrlich and a Japanese journalist. Ehrlich observed that the Japanese whaling industry was at risk of exterminating the whales that were the source of its wealth. The journalist responded: “You are thinking of the whaling industry as an organization that is interested in maintaining whales; actually it is better viewed as a huge quantity of [financial] capital attempting to earn the highest possible return. If it can exterminate whales in ten years and make a 15% profit, but it could only make 10% with a sustainable harvest, then it will exterminate them in ten years. After that, the money will be moved to exterminating some other resource.” -- Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct

dezembro 10, 2016


Kayfabe   (by Eric Weinstein link)

The sophisticated "scientific concept" with the greatest potential to enhance human understanding may be argued to come not from the halls of academe, but rather from the unlikely research environment of professional wrestling.

Evolutionary biologists Richard Alexander and Robert Trivers have recently emphasized that it is deception rather than information that often plays the decisive role in systems of selective pressures. Yet most of our thinking continues to treat deception as something of a perturbation on the exchange of pure information, leaving us unprepared to contemplate a world in which fakery may reliably crowd out the genuine. In particular, humanity's future selective pressures appear likely to remain tied to economic theory which currently uses as its central construct a market model based on assumptions of perfect information.

If we are to take selection more seriously within humans, we may fairly ask what rigorous system would be capable of tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears. Such a system, in continuous development for more than a century, is known to exist and now supports an intricate multi-billion dollar business empire of pure hokum. It is known to wrestling's insiders as "Kayfabe". 

Because professional wrestling is a simulated sport, all competitors who face each other in the ring are actually close collaborators who must form a closed system (called "a promotion") sealed against outsiders. With external competitors generally excluded, antagonists are chosen from within the promotion and their ritualized battles are largely negotiated, choreographed, and rehearsed at a significantly decreased risk of injury or death. With outcomes predetermined under Kayfabe, betrayal in wrestling comes not from engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct, but by the surprise appearance of actual sporting behavior. Such unwelcome sportsmanship which "breaks Kayfabe" is called "shooting" to distinguish it from the expected scripted deception called "working". 

Were Kayfabe to become part of our toolkit for the twenty-first century, we would undoubtedly have an easier time understanding a world in which investigative journalism seems to have vanished and bitter corporate rivals cooperate on everything from joint ventures to lobbying efforts. Perhaps confusing battles between "freshwater" Chicago macro economists and Ivy league "Saltwater" theorists could be best understood as happening within a single "orthodox promotion" given that both groups suffered no injury from failing (equally) to predict the recent financial crisis. The decades old battle in theoretical physics over bragging rights between the "string" and "loop" camps would seem to be an even more significant example within the hard sciences of a collaborative intra-promotion rivalry given the apparent failure of both groups to produce a quantum theory of gravity. 

What makes Kayfabe remarkable is that it gives us potentially the most complete example of the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery. While most modern sports enthusiasts are aware of wrestling's status as a pseudo sport, what few alive today remember is that it evolved out of a failed real sport (known as "catch" wrestling) which held its last honest title match early in the 20th century. Typical matches could last hours with no satisfying action, or end suddenly with crippling injuries to a promising athlete in whom much had been invested. This highlighted the close relationship between two paradoxical risks which define the category of activity which wrestling shares with other human spheres:
• A) Occasional but Extreme Peril for the participants.
• B) General: Monotony for both audience and participants.
Kayfabrication (the process of transition from reality towards Kayfabe) arises out of attempts to deliver a dependably engaging product for a mass audience while removing the unpredictable upheavals that imperil participants. As such Kayfabrication is a dependable feature of many of our most important systems which share the above two characteristics such as war, finance, love, politics and science.

Importantly, Kayfabe also seems to have discovered the limits of how much disbelief the human mind is capable of successfully suspending before fantasy and reality become fully conflated. Wrestling's system of lies has recently become so intricate that wrestlers have occasionally found themselves engaging in real life adultery following exactly behind the introduction of a fictitious adulterous plot twist in a Kayfabe back-story. Eventually, even Kayfabe itself became a victim of its own success as it grew to a level of deceit that could not be maintained when the wrestling world collided with outside regulators exercising oversight over major sporting events.

At the point Kayfabe was forced to own up to the fact that professional wrestling contained no sport whatsoever, it did more than avoid being regulated and taxed into oblivion. Wrestling discovered the unthinkable: its audience did not seem to require even a thin veneer of realism. Professional wrestling had come full circle to its honest origins by at last moving the responsibility for deception off of the shoulders of the performers and into the willing minds of the audience.

Kayfabe, it appears, is a dish best served client-side.

julho 04, 2016

Scars are not easily removed

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise. Aldo Leopold

junho 28, 2016

Speed fast towards the end

The truth is you can be orphaned again and again and again. The truth is, you will be. And the secret is, this will hurt less and less each time until you can't feel a thing. Trust me on this. Chuck Palahniuk

junho 23, 2016

And even more maps

It's like trying to find the treasure in the pirate's map.