Saturday, December 27, 2014

It is the dawning of the age of….

A core lesson for our era. Don't give up on all privacy. Nevertheless -- live and work as if anybody might be watching now, or at a recording that's decrypted and published ten years from now. Always act as if there's a chance what you're doing will be revealed. That's the take-home lesson from...

Mr. Transparency on Life After the Sony Hacks: I was interviewed by David S. Cohen in VARIETY  — on the implications for a dawning Age of Transparency.

Follow that up with a thoughtful rumination -- On Fear of Surveillance Technology -- by Emrys Westacott, about three things we fear from the tsunami of cameras  -- a Frankenstein world, loss of privacy, and the likelihood that elites will use these new powers to dominate us.  Transparency can prevent all these bad things, but only if it is done right.

== Those cop-cams... ==

...that I forecast in EARTH (1989) and in The Transparent Society, are arriving in a tsunami. Resulting in...

An Israeli police officer was indicted because camera footage disproved his story about the teenager he shot. Yet another demonstration that cameras will be key to an evolving age of accountability.  

And researchers from the University of Cambridge's Institute of Criminology have published the first scientific report showing that police body-cameras can prevent unacceptable use-of-force. 

Smile, you're on video camera...Super-futurist Virginia Postrel offers an interesting thought experiment about the future spread of cameras and omni-veillance in our lives.  The upside potential is vast... providing we remain calmly reasonable about negotiating carve-outs and exceptions. And - above all - if we demand that the light spread "upward" - at least as much as downward.

On the other had... have you ever seen a techno trend that didn't have a deeply lowbrow-crummy side?  Creepy website streaming from thousands of private camerasInsecam has access to more than 73,000 cameras all around the globe which includes more than 11,000 cameras in the United States, 6500 in Republic of Korea and almost 5000 in China. By streaming the footage… without permission of the owners, Insecam claims it is teaching a simple lesson for folks to change their passwords and do minimal security.  Sure, good advice.  Meanwhile… um… you benefit from advertizing to the voyeurs who flood to your site because other fools tell the world about… oh… oops.  (Send me my cut, by the usual dropbox.)

== ... and speaking of creepy... ==

After six years and over one billion dollars in development, the FBI has just announced that its new biometric facial recognition software system is finally complete. Meaning that, starting soon, photos of tens of millions of U.S. citizen's faces will be captured by the national system on a daily basis.”  Sound terrifying?  Then chill.  Breathe.  Inhale and exhale. As usual I must point out that there is absolutely nothing you or anyone else will accomplish by whining and railing against this.  If we panic and ban the databases, they will simply go underground. As happened when TIA (Total Information Awareness) fled to the NSA.

 Elites will have them. Elites will see us. Name a counter example across all of the annals of time. But that does not automatically mean Big Brother.

The one and only way to keep this from becoming an Orwellian nightmare is to insist — with ferocious militancy — on our ability to look back at elites.  That is not only possible, it is exactly what gave us the freedom we already have.

A woman in Monterey Calif. is alleged to have intercepted communications, including sensitive law enforcement communications, by means that included “spy software” that the defendant secretly installed on the mobile phone of a police officer. The information also alleges that during the same period she illegally possessed interception devices, namely spy software including Mobistealth, StealthGenie, and mSpy, knowing that the design of those products renders them primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of wire, oral, and electronic communications.  Clearly this is not the same thing as 2013’s milestone civil rights breakthrough declaring an absolute right of citizens to visually record their interactions with police.  I am one of the biggest and earliest proponents of “sousveillance” to look back at authority for purposes of accountability.  But do you think this is within the bounds of reasonable?  Perhaps in that cooked county of movie lore.

== On Anonymity, Trolls and Sock Puppets ==

Privacy/transparency issues involved in GamerGate? It is a horrid thing, with trolls and nasty-boys going after women gamers, protected by encrypted anonymity. 

Will Wheaton comments about the need for methods to strip anonymity from online trolls:  Anonymous trolls have made the gaming community toxic — especially for women — and upended the industry at a time when the games we play are finally being recognized as the incredible works of art that they can be. While I don’t believe bad actors represent gaming culture’s mainstream, I feel sure they wouldn’t issue rape and death threats, or harass other gamers, if they would be held accountable for their actions.”

Again, my point about The Transparent Society.  It is only pure-anonymity that lets bastards like this operate. (There are versions of pseudonymity that would be win-wins, letting us have all the good-liberating aspects of anonymity, while eliminating the worst; a huge business opportunity, for the right innovators.)

The imbalance of power between trolls/stalkers and their victims is increasingly a topic of concerned discussion.  Again and again, the talk turns to finding ways to shield the IDs of victims… which never works… rather than outing the harrassers, which will inherently work, but  is presently difficult to achieve. See: YouTube and Patreon have allowed harassers to turn their abuse into a paid profession.

Again.  Accountability is the light that sears most kinds of bad guys, whether they operate in criminality or in high places.

== Policy matters... and Misc Universe... ==

 This Tool Tells You When Governments Have Infected Your Computer…”  To be honest, I’d be more wary of clicking on some blogged app that offers to check your computer for government spies.  Anyone have some expertise on this to share in comments? 

An exceptionally cogent explanation and run-down on the vexing issue of "net neutrality"... and why you should care: Say Hello to the Ubernet in the Economist.

Startup website Cloverpop wants to help you make critical life decisions. 

An unusually thoughtful rumination on what the information age does for our abilities to think, to be aware, to engage in new literacies and to collaborate.  

Are evil corporations or evil.gov already using “sock Puppets” to manipulate user feedback data and skew the Internet?  Making some interest groups or policies seem way-more popular than they really are? (Or less?)  Sock puppets also up viewership ratings and inflate the number of comments under a thread to give it buzz.

Reddit expects people to try and game the system, so has many defences in place. Still, Thinkst managed to breach those defences easily.” Also -- “…new technologies promise freedom, but then get subverted by the powers-that-be and actually end up working against you.

Can something be done?  In fact, yes. I have the outline of a business… a whole industry … in pseudonymous reputation conveyance/management… that would entirely change this entire landscape, allowing both more freedom and more accountability. Alas, VCs are only interested in clones of same-old ideas from the 1990s.

113 comments:

Peter said...

"To be honest, I’d be more wary of clicking on some blogged app that offers to check your computer for government spies. Anyone have some expertise on this to share in comments?"

A good standpoint in general. In this case, the link goes to a site with amnesty international and EFF logos, and then links through to a GitHub repo, so you can actually get the source.

I haven't read the full source, but after some browsing and looking at the commit log the repo 'feels' quite legitimate.

For what it's worth...

sociotard said...

A core lesson for our era. Don't give up on all privacy. Nevertheless -- live and work as if anybody might be watching now, or at a recording that's decrypted and published ten years from now. Always act as if there's a chance what you're doing will be revealed.

I would rephrase as "Live as if you are always being watched or will be reviewed, but never forget that privacy violation can be assault."

The starlets who, just a few months ago, had their intimate photos revealed, were treated as if it were their fault.

Yes, you comment on the need to not give up on some privacy, but I don't think that's the right degree of outrage. Some privacy violations are annoying, and some are assaults. We need to keep a mind that will let us identify with the victims, not the other way around.

After all, if it were your daughter, would you tell her "Well, next time don't take those pictures at all," or "I'll sick every blackhat on my fanlist on those rats" ?

Tacitus2 said...

"so rare we should construct Life Arks to keep the species extant."

No thanks. If you want to propose a selective breeding program get back to me.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

Some privacy violations are annoying, and some are assaults. We need to keep a mind that will let us identify with the victims, not the other way around.


I'm agreeing, and taking a step further. When assaults on privacy are perpetrated by anonymous hackers, especially those outside our jurisdiction, we tend to act as if there's nothing to be done.

I suggest that, instead, we should treat such things as we do harmful acts of nature, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, or freezing rain. We can't punish anyone for those acts of nature, and yet we do take steps to protect against the worst effects before the fact, and to recover afterwards. Shouldn't we be taking similar steps against anonymous hackers?

Alex Tolley said...

Discussion on a podcast: Can You Increase Privacy By Increasing Surveillance?

locumranch said...



The idea of privacy is roughly synonymous with that of 'personal space', as suggested by the old adage that 'one's right to swing a fist ends at another's nose', the problem being that these concepts are subject to frequent cultural revision, so much so that the Italian definition personal space (and/or privacy) is tantamount to frottery (sexual assault) in the good ol' USA.

This analogy also holds true in terms of government wherein any 'ruling class' (pick one) attempts to redefine individual rights through force of political will in a manner that violates (and/or invalidates) a pre-existent social contract (in so much as this 'will' may be democratic, federal or feudal), as evidenced by the recent democratic perversion that allows a population-dense urban area to enslave (violate the personal space & rights) of those non-urban individuals who reside in geographically superior but population-poor areas, which is exactly what has happened in both California (being dominated by an over-populated South) and the Red & Blue state divide.

And, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident ... That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the GOVERNED ... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness".

And, like many other freedom-loving Red State Americans, I say to all of you that my nose (in terms of privacy, personal space and governance) only ends where I say it ends, not where the democratic, federal or feudal you now say it does.

Contracts cannot be changed unilaterally, becoming NULL and VOID when either party attempts to do so, even when this so-called attempt is overwhelmingly democratic.


Best.

Jumper said...

Evey day is hyperbole day. And it will be so until every proton decays!

Alex Tolley said...

And, like many other freedom-loving Red State Americans, I say to all of you that my nose (in terms of privacy, personal space and governance) only ends where I say it ends, not where the democratic, federal or feudal you now say it does.


There was never any universal right to privacy, not was it ever strictly defined. You may wish it to be one thing, but that doesn't make it so. I have certainly stated my opinion that I am very uncomfortable with ubiquitous surveillance and do not care for it, but I do not assume privacy is a right, just a social negotiation. BTW, don't Christians assume God is always surveilling them, with no privacy at all? That I find creepy.


Contracts cannot be changed unilaterally, becoming NULL and VOID when either party attempts to do so, even when this so-called attempt is overwhelmingly democratic.


And yet states are repudiating pay and pension contracts, especially where governors are flexing their muscles against public servants. Social contracts are not the same. and are always subject to acceptable, but changing norms.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

And, like many other freedom-loving Red State Americans, I say to all of you that my nose (in terms of privacy, personal space and governance) only ends where I say it ends, not where the democratic, federal or feudal you now say it does.


And I say my personal space only ends where I say it does. And every other freedom-loving individual says roughly the same thing. So how do we adjudicate claims between competing free individuals who each thing we have rights that conflict with what others think?

We do what you say or else you'll whine about it? Yeah, I believe you live in a red state.

What I don't understand is exactly which right are you angrily asserting, and how is this right being threatened by urban liberals rather than by authoritarian right-wingers such as your own self? Surely, you are not claiming that NSA spying is being foisted upon you by Democrats, and that were your right-wing red state to secede, you'd be free of such incursions. Your red state Senators are most likely the ones going "I'm not doing anything wrong, so I have nothing to fear."

Again, you've already got the Supreme Court and the House, with the Senate coming your way in a few days. You've got something like 30 governorships and even more state legislatures under Republican control. What exactly is being done to you to make you such a sore winner, and are you sure that the urban liberals are really the ones doing it to you?

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

as evidenced by the recent democratic perversion that allows a population-dense urban area to enslave (violate the personal space & rights) of those non-urban individuals who reside in geographically superior but population-poor areas, which is exactly what has happened in both California (being dominated by an over-populated South) and the Red & Blue state divide.

No, seriously, what the eff are you talking about?

I could almost credit your sore-loserness if you lived in California, but I'm assuming you're not lying when you say you live in a Red State, so that's out.

Other than electing a black president, what has the "Red & Blue State divide" ever done to you, and how is it being done to you?

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

"Contracts cannot be changed unilaterally, becoming NULL and VOID when either party attempts to do so, even when this so-called attempt is overwhelmingly democratic."

And yet states are repudiating pay and pension contracts, especially where governors are flexing their muscles against public servants.


Exactly. Apparetnly, when corporations want to unilaterally re-write contracts with individuals, the corporation has every right to do so with the blessing of these freedom-loving Red Staters. After all, the country is the corporations' private property to dispose of as they wish in the first place. We should be grateful they don't simply shoot us all for trespassing.

David Brin said...

Guys, while locum is in an articulate phase, surely you do not expect or ask that his meaning - distilled down - should be manifest or clear? I have always found it next to impossible to actually understand his $##! point.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin,

"Guys, while locum is in an articulate phase..."

Is that what that was? It sounded pretty much just like the same paranoid ranting I have heard from self-styled conservatives since I was old enough to have some idea what they were on about. The constant declaration that everyone is trying to take away my rights, and that I have the right to determine what those rights are (which somehow always seems to include other people's money, labor, and even belief systems). He even paraphrases the same Heinlein lines I have heard over and again, from people who can memorize and quote but don't seem to be able to rad between the lines or account for historical context. I did find it funny, though, that he chose to quote Thomas Jefferson, when a couple years the Texas Department of Education (the arch-red state) removed Jefferson from the American History standards. Although Jefferson was the author of the Declaration, he was also a principle architect of the separation of church and state, one of those Enlightenment values deemed un-American by the religious right.

I was out of town for a few days, and it would have been kind of uncouth if I spent the whole time I was taking my kids to see their grandmother if I spent my time on the internet, so I missed some interesting action. There were some things I wanted to say about experiments done in the 60's to manipulate testosterone levels, and how changes to these can affect other hormones and neurotransmitters, too. It affects levels of ADH, which can lead to hypertension & heart disease, and Lance Armstrong may have actually caused the testicular cancer he so famously fought. But more to the point, high t levels interfere with the action of oxytocin, so a person who has been artificially raising his t level is simultaneously reducing his ability to understand and empathize with other human beings. This, of course, dramatically skews a person's perspectives. However, I just came off of 7 hours of driving, so I'm probably not at my own most coherent.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

To Larry Hart,

I was hoping to chat a little about Dave Sim, though I'm not sure it is entirely appropriate, this being David Brin's blog. Since I don't have your direct email, this is the only way I can do it. This may be tangentially related to previous discussions (about gender roles, relativism, etc) but if anyone is reading this and is not interested in hearing about another author, just skip the rest of this post. I hope that's okay.

Larry, I have pretty mixed feelings about Sim and his magnum opus. I haven't met him, and I'm not really a comic book reader, so I only have what he wrote to go by. I read his stuff when I was a teenager, but when I fledged the nest I knew I wouldn't have money for such things for years to come. I sold everything but Cerebus, which I put in a box and there they sat literally for decades, until my daughter found the box last summer and started reading them. She was laughing her anatomy off so loud I gave in to the temptation, and ended up tracking down the whole series. The first 10 volumes were easily worth the money and effort. They were as funny as I remembered, and easily the most intelligent thing I had ever seen in graphic form. But after volume 10 it became increasingly difficult to continue. I only finished reading the series because I wanted to see if Cerebus would really die as foretold - alone, unloved and unmourned (and found his death even worse).

I have read what others have said about Sim being a misogynist, but I try to judge such things myself. The whole time I was reading I was pretty sure he was just generally misanthropic. Those who wanted to declare him misogynistic seemed to miss the entire premise of the series, which began as a parody of that manliest of all manly man stereotypes by making his barbarian a deformed midget. He was pretty unkind to most of his female characters, but then, he was pretty unkind to most of his male characters as well (except for Suentius Po). No one accused him of misandry, though perhaps that is not surprising. If he were a woman it would have been the other way around.

My daughter didn't get much of a sense that he was a misogynist, but she didn't read any of his commentaries, only the story itself. She was still just as disappointed with the ending. It was obvious to me that the man who wrote "High Society" and "Church and State" was not the same man who wrote "Latter Days." I scratched my head the whole time, wondering if I was misunderstanding his meaning, and if he was also skirting into anti-semitic territory as well (he certainly wasn't kind to Woody Allen, but that doesn't make you an anti-semite).

I am pretty sure that his divorce is what started the whole downslide. I have seen a lot of people go through divorce, and it messes with your mind and your hormones. Many go through an I-hate-the-opposite-sex stage after a divorce, which usually lasts a year or two before the system returns to something akin to normal. But he didn't get over it, he seemed to go into a paranoid spiral, blaming women for all the evils of the world, which would hardly have endeared him to any potential mates who might have returned him to normality.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

In the end, he developed the same paranoia we have seen in a couple contributors to this blog. He even ranted about the same supposed conspiracy to "feminize" young boys by feeding them psychotropic drugs instead of actually parenting them. And yet, his central character, the hyper manly stereotype, still got his just desserts.

As far as supposed "feminization" is concerned, this isn't a terms any credible social scientist uses. However, neotony is a real phenomenon, but few reporters have ever heard of it, and most suffer from the same dualistic stereotypes as the general population. There has been a real trend over the past 2 million years at least (likely 4) of selection against these extremely violent, domineering types in favor - not of women but of neotonous types. People who are more cooperative, more communicative and capable of working together. This isn't feminizing, it is civilizing. If anyone wants a reference here, chapter 2 in Steven Pinker's "Better Angels of Our Nature" discusses this trend, though not in a very detailed fashion. I have older bioanthro books that go into greater detail, but these date from the 90's.

Anyway, I was hoping you might share your thoughts on the ending of that series. It's still a puzzle to me. In spite of Sim's overt words, I find enough ironies in the fiction itself to keep me scratching my head, and thinking that I am missing something.

Later

Robert said...

Paul: Actually, I'd not say it's "civilizing" I'd say it's "domestication" - as in humanity is slowly domesticating itself, even as it has domesticated other species.

Rob H.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Rob H.,

Ian Hodder, a well-known British archaeologist, wrote a book called "The Domestication of Europe" which makes exactly the same point you make. At the time I was in school it was considered his best work, though most of my fellow students didn't really grasp what he was getting at. It starts from the assumption that our ancestors before the transition to agriculture were very alien creatures about whom we cannot safely make too many assumptions. I had a funny moment in class when the professor had been trying to get across what the author was saying and no one seemed to be getting it. The light bulb came on in my mind, and I raised my hand, but all I was saying was the same thing the professor was. He was sure I got it, but neither of us could adequately explain it to anyone else. I guess it was my facial expression and/or tone of voice that convinced the professor I knew what I was talking about, or what he was talking about, but it wasn't until after class that I found I could really articulate it at all.

So yes, we as a species are in the process of domesticating ourselves. Civilizing seems to be a part of that process (in the sense of humans learning to live together in large enough groups to be called cities). It is a process that is hardly over, and may never really end, in much the same way that we never stop evolving, until we go extinct, that is.

I had a really good history professor when I was an undergrad, and before I changed majors. While I would not call her a flaming fascist like a lot of my more conservative neighbors (and some of the other professors) her outlook was far more right of center than mine eventually came to be (and I'm sure I am still evolving, too). It took me a few years, but I eventually figured out the main difference between how she saw history and how I saw it. She was married to a lawyer, and like a lawyer, she saw history in terms of precedent. If something had not happened before, it was immediately suspect and cause for rejection, but if there was some precedent for it, it was acceptable. I saw history in terms of trajectory. Look at a graph, like Heinlein in "Year of the Jackpot" and see where things were going. That's part of why I ended up changing majors. That same professor, after talking for months about the power that individual "great men" had on history, once admitted that the kings, priests and politicians are always at least 20 years behind the people. That statement kind of invalidated the whole paradigm. If you want to understand what is going on, you have to look at the people themselves.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

That move toward neotony is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is biological. The limits of our brains' energetics makes it unlikely most people will think much beyond the simplistic dualities like "manly" and "womanly" that hold us back from a greater potential, from becoming something for which there is no historic precedent - a peaceful, sustainable civilization that is based on a social contract that circumvents the same domination pattern of history and allows for true freedom among its citizens. or maybe I am being too pessimistic. I do meet people often enough who get it, or who get it if you talk to them the right way, stressing both the need for legal quality and freedom, on the one hand (not some fantasy of biological equivalence) and the absolute necessity that freedom be maintained by social responsibility. I hope that isn't too much to ask those manly men, that they bear their share of responsibility for maintaining the civilization that allows them to flourish.

However, these types are not people we need to completely despise or strive to destroy. Darwinian logic shows that diversity is strength, in that while we may have our preferred ways of seeing the world and living in it now, you can never be sure how the environment will change, and which genes and memes will be advantageous tomorrow. The same hormones that make these overgrown playground bullies also make good and honorable enforcers of society's norms and laws, as well as its chess masters, and yes, many of its best scientists. It's a contradiction we have to live with, but we don't have to let small-minded bullies run the show.

I sure talk a lot, don't I?

locumranch said...


In the sense that hyperbole means 'a throwing beyond', then truly 'all is hyperbole' (hyperbole of hyperboles) when every human advantage has been arrogated by men and every human right is taken by (rather than given unto) men, then a man's reach must exceed his grasp if he would seize the stars.

And, if these so-called 'human rights' were either human acts of arrogance or 'god-given', then it would follow that the domestication of man is a sin, representing either a repudiation of the human 'Wille zur Macht' in the case of the former and/or a rejection of the Divine in the case of the latter.

Either way, a domesticated human race is screwed.


Best

LarryHart said...

@Paul Shen-Brown:

If you want to e-mail me personally, use this address, which I will describe in a way not to invite spam-bots:

Larry The Illini (but without the spaces)
at yahoo dot com

Caveat Emptor, I can't see personal e-mail at work, and I don't always check it every day.

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown (about "Cerebus):

The first 10 volumes were easily worth the money and effort. They were as funny as I remembered, and easily the most intelligent thing I had ever seen in graphic form. But after volume 10 it became increasingly difficult to continue.

Two things that might clarify this:

First, I believe volume 10 is "Minds", am I right? The ending of that story is issue #200. Dave Sim himself said that #200 was the end of the actual story itself, and that #201-#300 is something akin to "the world's longest epilogue."

Second, in 1997 (in the middle of "Rick's Story"), Dave read the Bible cover to cover with the intent of making fun of people who believe in it. Instead, he fell in love with Scripture and became a full-fledged monotheist. So the whole direction of his preachiness changed drastically because of that experience.

I say "fell in love with" because he seemed to exhibit all of the signs that he warns other men about when they fall for a woman. He accuses men of becoming feminists because they are afraid of alienating their girlfriends otherwise, and yet much of what he "believes" post-Scripture seems to be motivated by fear alienating God.

What I found funny about Dave's life-changing experience is how much it simply made him more like himself than ever before. What I mean is, secular-atheist Dave thought that women distracted men from thinking, and that religion was one of the ways they did that to men (dragging them to church). Monotheist Dave, on the other hand, thinks that secular humanist, atheistic women distract men from the men's natural tendency to believe in God.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hello again Larry,

After he had his religious conversion, the misogyny started getting really blatant. But every religion out there is inherently sexist. They all rubber-stamp the prejudices of the times in which they were created, though like I said earlier about Edward Sapir, as times change people ignore those aspects of their religion they don't like and reinterpret the rest to match the social norms of the day.

But still, the main character acted like a bratty little boy his entire life, a stereotype of today's man-children, and he did not fair well. He was elected Prime Minister, and got booted out of office after a disastrous and unnecessary military campaign, he became the Pope and fared even worse. It's true that there were others trying to manipulate him, but they all failed to control his piggish tendencies and he ruined everything he touched. It's a little hard to see that as a putting everything at the feet of women, though later it became more clear that he had that Biblical notion of woman as the eternal distractor of men, the ones who were made in God's image.

When it was revealed that the main character was actually a hermaphrodite, it made me think of James Alan Gardner's novel "Commitment Hour" which is a brilliant play on our obsessions with gender. In Gardner's novel the hermaphrodites essentially did the expected - mediated between the extremes of both sexes, but it is interesting how society viewed them. The book is well worth a read, as are most of his novels. But on Dave Sim, it's not lost on me that he made the only truly honorable character the male aardvark, while the female and the hermaphrodite were equally reprehensible people.

Okay, that's probably enough on this subject on Dr. Brin's blog. Sorry for going off topic!

Alex Tolley said...

One can imagine a locum wolf saying that domesticated wolves (dogs) are screwed. Obviously that didn't happen, and dogs can do a lot more than wolves, making them useful as well resulting in their populations vastly exceeding all wolf populations even at their peak.

One trait of domestication is increased sociability. This makes cooperation easier, allowing possible more collective use of minds to do things beyond that of the individual. If that is a "downside", then I all for it.

One point about feminization (not cultural, but physical). We are dumping plasticizers (BPA) into the environment which is a hormone disruptor that tends to have estrogenic effects. We know that fish, amphibians and aquatic reptiles (e.g. alligators) have been particularly affected. However I read a paper once that indicated that it was also affecting humans too.

Alex Tolley said...

The Republican's Magical Mystery Tour (Coming Soon) by Robert Reich is OT this this post but applicable to teh previous. Essentially Reich is saying that republicans want to install a CBO director who will use "dynamic scoring" in economic projections so that tax cuts will show net tax receipts (ie pay for itself).

So despite all the failures of SSE, including the Kansas debacle that is causing Republicans to tone down the tax cuts = unleashed growth rhetoric, the Republican Congress wants to cook the books on economic projects to make tax cuts look like positive economic growth drivers.

While Reich suggests this this is more Republicans ignoring facts and making up their own, this looks more like outright fraud to me.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

loci, just a suggestion from an old hand at lithics. Petrified wood makes great projectile points, especially if you heat treat them. Just toss them in your fire for an hour or so. They turn a dull, brick red color when they are ready. But don't use p-wood for anything bigger than a projectile point or cody knife. Stick with chert of flint. Quartzite works, but doesn't keep its edge for long. And for mauls, you could use the standard issue basalt, but I understand the ladies really like the salt-and-pepper look of diorite.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alex, have you seen the National Geographic video "Dogs Decoded"? It's a fun video for any dog lover, and a great introduction to evolution that is very non-confrontational. I'm not really a big dog person, but I still found it enjoyable. It also makes the point that dogs, as a domesticated offshoot of wild wolves, are many times more successful than wolves ever were. Anyone who has some holiday viewing time, especially if you have young ones at home, might check this one out.

Robert said...

@Locu: Does the wolf look down upon the dog because it is domesticated? Does the deer sneer (as it were) at the cow for its domestication? So too would the undomesticated human turn its nose up at the domesticated form, despite the decided advantages that the domesticated human has over the wild form.

Ultimately, the domesticated humankind has the potential for greatness moving out into the stars, working together to create works that will live on for billions of years... should we avoid the pitfalls that the feral humans and undomesticated man brings upon civilization as a whole. For while the wild human may be able to exist better in a wild environment, in the realm of civilization it is man who coexists that will flourish.

Ultimately, is not the dog, the cat, the domesticated fox, are these animals not happier than their wild brethren who struggle to survive? Might we, as domesticated humans, thrive because we have created a world which suits us best and in which we need not struggle to survive but instead can achieve greatness by focusing on things other than the daily struggle to gain sufficient food and water for the next day?

You may sneer at this and claim "you lose your independence and your freedom with domestication" but which ultimately has greater freedom: the wolf that struggles to survive, or the dog who often lives thrice as long as part of civilization? And who is happier, the woman who welps a dozen children only to have most die in infancy or early childhood, the man who is withered and old in his 40s, or the man and woman who, because of civilization and domestication, thrive for decades?

Rob H.

David Brin said...

At least locum’s anti-domestication screed was understandable. But again, he exhibits not a scintilla of awareness of the very concept of positive sum games.

Because the New Civilization tames and staunches the first order masculine-competitive impulses, that our recent guest praised as “spartan,” that MUST mean an end to all of the beneficial aspects of our competitive drives to excel.

Bullshit. Those grunting, violent, bullying first-order modes of competitiveness only resulted in blood, oppression and feudal societies that netted out to having LESS competition and daring and adventure and progress. Just as “spartans” proved to be ineffective, cowardly and extremely poor at statecraft. By “domesticating” ourselves, we empowered ourselves to turn to SECOND ORDER styles of competition, in regulated arenas, like markets, democracy, science, courts and sports. All of them positive sum arenas in which outcomes vastly outweigh individual inputs.

The only system in which ANY child might endeavor for her reach to exceed her grasp is one in which we stop wasting 99% of all talent in feudal futilities and macho-bluster inanities.

All of my kids have second degree black belts and the boys are eagle scouts. They know how to beat spartans… as Athenians always do when they don’t turn stupid.

But the main arenas for “reaching for the stars” are positive sum competitions that locum - poor sod - is incapable of grasping, even as an abstract concept.

LarryHart said...

Oh, as long as it's relatively quiet right now, and as long as my daughter had to see a certain movie this past weekend...


JOIN
THE
MOCKINGBIRD!


I hope chapter 3.2 doesn't suck without Phillip Seymour Hoffman in it.

locumranch said...


Thank you all so much for your stone-napping advice and quaint rationalizations, but I much prefer substantive reason and steel.

Like over-indulged children, most of you have forgotten the wolfishly Ulyssean qualities that once allowed humanity to multiply, challenge and dominate the nature order. Qualities once referred to as 'Virtu', like cunning, honesty, audacity, insolence and aggression.

You remember those qualities, don't you? We once referred to them as 'leadership'.

That said, I understand that everyone loves puppies and little doggies, mostly because they make such non-threatening followers, being so juvenile, subservient, unformed and dependent that they are too afraid to pee without asking permission.

Too bad, too sad, that such meek little followers will not and cannot lead humanity to the stars. For that we need predatory Wolves rather than harmless pet Puppies.

Best

LarryHart said...

Aaaaaauuugh...

MockingJAY. MockingJAY.

(Can't believe I messed that one up)

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Like over-indulged children, most of you have forgotten the wolfishly Ulyssean qualities that once allowed humanity to multiply, challenge and dominate the nature order.


Qualities that allowed us to gleefully kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, you mean.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Like over-indulged children, most of you have forgotten the wolfishly Ulyssean qualities that once allowed humanity to multiply, challenge and dominate the nature order."

The primary quality that allowed our ancestors to "multiply and dominate nature"

Was COOPERATION!!

A solitary man ape was simply cat food!

Or do you think that a "wolfish" man ape could actually defeat a pack of wolves or a tiger?

What happened when the larger fitter fiercer hunter gatherers met up with the smaller more "domesticated" farmers??




Tacitus2 said...

Our Esteemed Host has had his Variety riff on post Sony Privacy linked to the arch conservative site Instapundit.

I for one welcome him to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy!

Tacitus

David Brin said...

You see? He cannot even conceive the counter-argument - that taming gross, predatory, simplistic and brutal competition leads - in fact - to much MORE competition, overall. And vastly more progress and spectacularly greater chance of reaching for the stars.

The thoughts simply cannot parse in his brain, even well enough to paraphrase them and properly shoot them down.

More and more I am coming to believe this is the great problem of humanity, at present. There are many otherwise intelligent men and women who simply cannot grasp the positive-sum notion. It puzzles and confuses them and ultimately enrages them. It explains the "Stop nagging me!" reflex of the right, in its inability to see self-improvement as desirable... they assume it means surrendering all the things that they hold dear.

And the far left. The process of horizon expansion and inclusion MUST come at the cost of old ways of doing things. ALL of the old ways, even love of country.

Locum is off-axis, I'll give him that! But he is like those two extremes, incapable of grasping - even briefly - the real issue that's at stake. And if he can't, is it any surprise that Tea Partiers and Taliban and Drug Lords, and Koch brothers and even genius zero summers like Noam Chomsky can't?

locumranch said...


Duncan says that the 'primary quality that allowed our ancestors to "multiply and dominate nature" was COOPERATION', and I agree completely. It was audacious, insolent and fiercely aggressive cooperation.

Generally speaking, pets (and/or domesticated animals) are much more stupid, more passive and much less resilient than their wild variants.

Deep down, I also know that David agrees with my perspective because he trained his children to protect themselves with paramilitary scout & karate training instead of just giving them a whistle and telling them to call help.

Oh, No!! Here comes the Big Bag Militarized Feudal Nanny State to strip away our few remaining rights, freedoms and privacy protections.

Here's a whistle, David. Blow it, blow it hard, and maybe a poorly domesticated wolf pack (a Spartan one) will come and save you, out of the goodness of its heart.

Bless you and your dark RED heart.


Best

Duncan Cairncross said...

Loco

You don't understand - you are talking about "warriors" - do fine as long as you are facing other "warriors"
As soon as you have to face "soldiers" you go down in bloody ruin

The difference is cooperation - and keeping down the aggression
Aggression will only get you killed

Cold calculated cooperative thought will keep you alive

The Spartans lost - they will always lose because only 20% of their people are involved (the rest were women and helots)

You do not want a "poorly domesticated" defense force because it will lose against a properly disciplined cooperative force every time

"Generally speaking, pets (and/or domesticated animals) are much more stupid, more passive and much less resilient than their wild variants"

How so??
In the wild environment - they won't do as well - surprise!
In their own environment they do a ton better

How can you say they are not "as smart" when a wolf would fail to get fed?

I would not expect any of us (even Loco) to do that well as a primitive
But in a city we do a lot better

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin,

What we see here in loci is what psychologists call "Believe Perseverance." Here's a definition from a web site I pulled up:

Social psychologists Ross, Lepper and Hubbard found that some people have a tendency or unwillingness to admit that their foundational premises are incorrect even when shown convincing evidence to the contrary. Belief Perseverance is this tendency to reject convincing proof and become even more tenaciously held when the belief has been publicly announced to others.

For example, members of the Jonestown cult made a public admission of their loyalty to Jim Jones by selling all their possessions and following him to Guyana. Even though they later experienced irrational manipulation and abuse, they stayed to the point of committing mass suicide when he told them to do so.

Read more: http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Belief%20Perseverance#ixzz3NMSxX3Xl

Belief perseverance is extremely common, and is pretty useless to fight against. As the definition notes, the harder you try to persuade a person that his belief is irrational, the more tenaciously they cling to their beliefs. Persuasion just isn't going to happen (and it explains why he has to resort to ad hominem, poisoning the well and such tactics so frequently).

I'm sure you saw the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham awhile back. In it Ham declared that no evidence could ever shake his faith in God (I'm probably paraphrasing this badly). To the more scientifically literate, this was a declaration of lunacy and a killing blow to his side in the debate. But to his followers, it was victory. This calls to mind Thomas Kuhn's concept of incomensurable paradigms. Though Kuhn was talking about competing modes of operation in scientific disciplines, I think the idea is applicable here. When people have incomensurable paradigms, they simply argue in circles around each other forever, until either they die of old age, or one convinces all the spectators of the greater usefulness of their paradigm.

I have no idea how many people view the comments on this blog, but judging by the traffic here in the past couple months, it would seem to be clear which paradigm is winning.

Unfortunately the whole subject of transparency and privacy that started the conversation seems to have been forgotten. We've gotten bogged down in discussions of subjects that should have been learned in adolescence. I'm afraid that I contributed to that quite a lot.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

In the interest of getting us back on topic, I looked at your remarks about the FBI's new facial recognition system. It reminded me of a couple things: King David, who was praised by the Lord for all manner of violence, slave-making and concubinage, finally pissed the Almighty off when he decided to count the people of his kingdom - all the better to tax them. Likewise William the Bastard of Normandy took a census of England, for the same basic purpose. It was referred to as the Domesday Book, and was not received well in its time.

I agree that it is inevitable that modern technology will intrude on us, and it is highly unlikely that we will be able to do anything about it. Last year the right-wingers were having a fit about drones, claiming that the CIA's use of them was Orwellian, while ignoring the fact that the drone program began during the Bush Administration. What I find really funny, though (and not only because I saw it coming) is that when I went to an electronics store this morning to pick up a cable, the front of the store had a huge display of drones you can buy and use to spy on your neighbors and peep through their bathroom windows. Okay, that isn't exactly how the add read, but you can be sure that will be a primary use of these devices. Now that it is a commodity for sale to the general public, I haven't heard anyone complaining about them. Hmm...

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

when I went to an electronics store this morning to pick up a cable, the front of the store had a huge display of drones you can buy and use to spy on your neighbors and peep through their bathroom windows. Okay, that isn't exactly how the add read, but you can be sure that will be a primary use of these devices.


This generation's version of those "X-Ray specs" advertised in comic books? The ones that were for looking through girls' clothes?

:)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

And the far left. The process of horizon expansion and inclusion MUST come at the cost of old ways of doing things. ALL of the old ways, even love of country.

I'm usually wary of the "the other side does it too" bit, but here, I'll admit, you're making the same point George Orwell did in the essay I linked to earlier about HG Wells. Orwell pointed out that reformers of Wells's ilk aspire to wipe out the tendency of humans to swell with pride at their nation's pluck, and that if such tendency had in fact been wiped out by 1941, the Brits would have rolled over to Hitler.


More and more I am coming to believe this is the great problem of humanity, at present. There are many otherwise intelligent men and women who simply cannot grasp the positive-sum notion. It puzzles and confuses them and ultimately enrages them.


I said it here a few years ago. Captain Kirk, in the best of all Star Trek movies (Wrath of Khan) says "I don't beLIEVE in the no-win scenario!" Likewise, these guys "don't beLIEVE in the positive-sum game."


Locum is off-axis, I'll give him that! But he is like those two extremes, incapable of grasping - even briefly - the real issue that's at stake. And if he can't, is it any surprise that Tea Partiers and Taliban and Drug Lords, and Koch brothers and even genius zero summers like Noam Chomsky can't?


That is a real problem, isn't it?

How do you use disputation arenas to arbitrate with people who don't believe in disputation arenas? How does one compromise with people whose position is "never compromise!"?

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

When people have incomensurable paradigms, they simply argue in circles around each other forever, until either they die of old age, or one convinces all the spectators of the greater usefulness of their paradigm.


Yes, debates rarely change the minds of the debaters. Rather, they are for those listening in to decide which of the competing ideas is more plausible, or more relevant, or more aligned with reality.

Jumper said...

I venture that you are all wrong about "domestication." Does a mother wolf "domesticate" her cubs? In a sense, yes. Lately we see that wild animals (mammals) transmit far more survival skills to their young by teaching than instincts can account for.
Much of the helplessness of domestic animals is, I think, because humans don't teach skills which are transmitted by parents in the wild. When rarely a dog trainer assumes an actual useful role as "parent" the animal is formidable indeed to a wolf.

There are plenty of examples: a wolf teaches its young how to dig an actual den to survive winter; a dog is actively discouraged from dogging. A mother and father wolf will nip a pup chewing on something which made the adult sick at some point, or even something its parent alerted to in its own puppy/cub stage. A wolf teaches how to hunt, a dog is practically never taught by a person how to survive by hunting.

An unsocialized wolf is actually at a disadvantage.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Ah, Jumper, you have hit upon an old theme, here. Nature vs. Nurture is one that will always have relevance, and you are absolutely right that learning has always been underestimated in the lives of non-human animals. But you won't convince loci ranch of that, nor any of the incurably conservative minds who use "instinct" and the hydraulic hypothesis (more an assumption, really) to justify anything they want, from racism and sexism to totalitarian dictatorship. They ignore the role those frontal lobes play - while the liberals on the other side ignore instincts we actually do have.

Jumper said...

(That should be "digging" not "dogging.)
Yes, the dog has an instinct to dig but more goes into a successful den. Dogs have a fair amount of "monkey see, monkey do" in them. My dog used to routinely demonstrate to new dogs how to unlatch the gate and escape. The neighbor's friendly pit bull figured out how to open my front door by watching me. With her mouth on the doorknob. (I was impressed, not to mention surprised!)

locumranch said...


A rare event has occurred. Our resident flibbertgibbet has made a valid point: Belief Perseverance, defined as 'the tendency to cling to one's initial belief even after
receiving new information that contradicts or disconfirms
the basis of that belief,' definitely applies to the denizens of this site.

First, their uncritical acceptance of the blue urban agenda. Second, their infatuation with Romanticism, Femininity & the Religion of Love. Third, their unquestioning support for the Christian slave morality. Fourth, their knee-jerk rejection of Virtue Ethics. Fifth, their preference for 'progressivism'. Sixth, their creeping elitism. Seventh, their attachment to a tyrannical 'bigger-is-better' social model. And, eighth, their assumption of infallibility.

Lord, it's sooo hard to be humble ... especially when you assume that you're perfect in every way.


Best

Alex Tolley said...

"Now that [a drone] is a commodity for sale to the general public, I haven't heard anyone complaining about them. Hmm..."

The FAA? The recent rules don't distinguish between toys and Predator drones. I see the toy drones as being no different than legal radio controlled planes and helicopters. They just have cameras as part of the package.

I think when there are enough cases of peeping tom drones, that we'll hear complaints.

If you have watched that old movie "Blue Thunder" with Roy Scheider, he and his co-pilot use a military copter in stealth mode to spy on a nude woman exercising as well as the "bad guys". The expectation was that getting caught would result in complaints to their PD.

I'm recognizing a lot of Ted Kaczynski (Unabomber) in locum's idea of doomed domesticated humans. There is also the rantings of a known right wing talk show host with his complaints about "sheeple".

There is some effect of domestication - reduced brain size. Apparently humans had "peak brain" before civilization. This can be disturbing if brain size is the key feature of humans as it implies that we are "regressing". Of course we are also able to offload cognitive work using our artifacts - e.g. books. Formal teaching also saves a lot of random trial and error learning.

All this talk of "warrior" classes always evokes the brutes in Mad Max type dystopias. Yet the direction of war has always moved in the direction of technology empowering the humbler citizen. Whether it was the biblical David slaying Goliath with a sling, English longbow archers decimating the French at Crecy and Agincourt, to artillerymen shelling troops from a distance. In the 21st century we already have drone pilots safely out of harm's way. Didn't someone famously write online assessments/stories about a modern military team decimating whole Roman legions? Personally I've always liked the idea that the most valuable person in WW2 in Britain was Alan Turing. A clear case of brains enhancing military effectiveness.

Alex Tolley said...

"First, their uncritical acceptance of the blue urban agenda. Second, their infatuation with Romanticism, Femininity & the Religion of Love. Third, their unquestioning support for the Christian slave morality. Fourth, their knee-jerk rejection of Virtue Ethics. Fifth, their preference for 'progressivism'. Sixth, their creeping elitism. Seventh, their attachment to a tyrannical 'bigger-is-better' social model. And, eighth, their assumption of infallibility."

We really are down to straw men now.

That last is in direct conflict with the idea that individual scientists are fallible, but the process of science is self-correcting.

Talk about "Belief Perserverance". Under Obama the size of the Federal government has decreased, unlike that of his predecessor. When I think of tyrannical social models, I see corporate control of actions that violates Constitutional guarantees, corporations controlling government legislation for their own benefit, corporations not only increasing inequality but making conditions for their employees miserable. For all the faults of the increasingly gutted social safety net, it is extremely benign in comparison.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

First, their uncritical acceptance of the blue urban agenda.


We still don't know what the "blue urban agenda" is. Can you at least give us a hint of what you're talking about, and what harm it has inflicted on Red Staters?


Second, their infatuation with Romanticism, Femininity & the Religion of Love.


Romanticism is the enemy. I have no idea how you think Dr Brin or anyone else here (except Treebeard) are Romanticists. Since, I assume you mean something by "femininity" so removed from actual female-ness as to be incomprehensible, I'll have to leave that one alone.


Third, their unquestioning support for the Christian slave morality.


Not sure what those words even mean in that order. But if anyone here is arguing in favor of a system which encourages slavery, it is you. You simply don't believe you'd ever be on the receiving end of the lash.


Fourth, their knee-jerk rejection of Virtue Ethics. Fifth, their preference for 'progressivism'.


No, we're the ones who put much thought into what to accept and what to tweak and what to reject outright. You're the one whose acceptance of millenia-old value systems and rejection of anything progressive is truly knee-jerk.


Sixth, their creeping elitism. Seventh, their attachment to a tyrannical 'bigger-is-better' social model. And, eighth, their assumption of infallibility.


No, that's you.

Lord, it's sooo hard to be humble ... especially when you assume that you're perfect in every way.


I know you are, but what am I?

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Deep down, I also know that David agrees with my perspective because he trained his children to protect themselves with paramilitary scout & karate training instead of just giving them a whistle and telling them to call help.


You mean he taught them to defend themselves from people who think like you. Not to use their marital skills to intimidate and run roughshod over other people, as you would.

That counts as "agrees with my perspective" about as much as it would to say that the Allies agreed with Hitler's perspective because they raised an army and kicked his ass, which is what he would have done to them had they allowed it.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

Talk about "Belief Perserverance". Under Obama the size of the Federal government has decreased, unlike that of his predecessor.


The size of state governments have also decreased, which is absurd in a recession bordering on depression, but is exactly what the Scott Walker/Paul Ryan types want.

The stock market is hitting escape velocity. Jobs are returning, despite public sector jobs being slashed. Regulation of business is almost non-existent.

Yes, I really don't understand what Republicans have against Obama except that it's personal. Had the exact same things occured under a President Romney or McCain (or God help us, Palin), they'd be singing praises to the rafters.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

End of year roundup.
http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/32788

Treebeard said...

This discussion is getting interesting. Ted Kaczynski had a pretty insightful critique of modern civilization, if you ask me. I particularly like the section on the “psychology of modern leftism”, in which he identifies the two main tendencies of modern leftists as “feelings of inferiority” and “over-socialization”.

The first one isn’t a big problem here, but the second one is very relevant. The Unabomber described over-socialization as endemic among upper middle class intellectuals, who “cannot even experience, without guilt, thoughts or feelings that are contrary to the accepted morality,” and “wants to integrate everyone into the system and make them adopt its values.” He says “today's society tries to socialize us to a greater extent than any previous society.” Hence, the prevalence of social engineering, laws, hustles, propaganda, surveillance and proscriptions of every kind, in this “greatest civilization in history”.

Probably what disturbed Kacyznski, and disturbs a lot of people about surveillance technology, is the fact that *there’s no escape from it*. In previous times, if a tribe or a nation or an empire was too oppressive, bold individuals could set out for untamed lands and make a new, freer life for themselves. But in a world where all real estate has been claimed, and the eyes and drones of the Empire are everywhere, and space colonization is a non-starter, where do you go? You fight each other for existing territory, apparently. It’s still a zero sum game in that respect.

The other thing Kaczynski identified was our alienation from “the power process” – how in a modern society where our needs are mostly taken care of by abstract, impersonal entities which effectively control us, we have disconnected ourselves from a sense of immediate power over our own lives that was the norm in pre-civilized society, with severe psychological and social consequences. And as I’ve mentioned before, power, as a marker of relative status, is inherently zero sum.

In other words, despite all the talk of a “positive sum” society, if it isn’t giving people an increased feeling of power, autonomy, and territory, but only some kind of simulacra, then it’s propagating a lie. An alluring, comfortable lie, like a gilded cage or a zoo, but still a lie.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

It's so fun when loci proves my point exactly! Has this happened to anyone else here?

Alex, what you said about drones being nothing more than renamed R/C airplanes is it. I never saw the movie you mentioned, though pretty much all my friends did and gave me the run-down, way back when. My tastes in movies has been changing as I get older, though. But I'm sure the lawsuits will start flying soon. What I was referring to was that I hadn't heard the right-wingers complaining about them, now that they are business and not just the big, bad (wolf) government using them. I'm also pretty sure that objections to GMOs will drop off when some company sells bioluminescent proteins that can be spliced into the genomes of people's private parts. Once it becomes a money maker a new idea becomes part of the cultural landscape and most objections get swept under the rug.

On the reduced brain size thing, don't forget that brain size tends to go with body size. Native Samoans average larger brains than your typical Caucasoid, but that's because of their larger average body mass. The reduction in cranial capacity from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic is a reflection of the extremely poor nutrition typical of early farming societies. Most people have the very mistaken notion that farm life makes for very strong, healthy people, but that is really only an effect of modern, mechanized farming. Everywhere archaeologists have sunk their trowels they have seen the stature and skeletal indices of health decline very dramatically after the transition to agriculture. Pre-modern agriculture can provide huge numbers of calories, which allows for much higher populations than hunting/gathering, but the nutritional value of the products is extremely poor. This trading quality for quantity took several inches and multiple kilos off the average agriculturalist, as well as reducing life expectancy. of course, the noble and priestly classes did not fare as badly as the agricultural workforces they taxed.

And while you are bringing up brains as a guiding force behind successful military action, I would like to add Luis Alvarez to Alan Turning. Alvarez led the team that invented radar, which allowed us to intercept German aircraft before they reached their targets. Alvarez won a Nobel, though it was clearly a team effort, like all good science. World War 2 was not so much a war of brains against brawn as it was a war of conservative against progressive. Hitler's conception of war centered on the things that had terrified soldiers in the battles of World War 1 - strafing planes and armored tanks. There were very smart engineers in Germany who produced excellent tanks and planes to satisfy Hitler's more conservative vision of warfare. He did not take the idea of the atomic bomb too seriously, either. It was the more progressive Allies who got innovative.

Larry, "the other side does it too" is actually a recognized fallacy, called "Tu Quoque" (though I'm not sure how to pronounce it based on the spelling. Fallacies are kind of fun to learn about, as well as arming you against fools. Here's one of the websites I direct my students to:

http://www.fallacyfiles.org/tuquoque.html


madtom said...

Dr. Brin, elsewhere you have said repeatedly and in various words that humanity's greatest talent is self-deception. And I quite agree. That's the biggest lesson I learned in the two years of university psych study that I made part of my post-retirement, post physical-science endeavors.

Unless you claim to be other than human, isn't it reasonable to ask whether you are certain that you have adequately considered the extent to which this gem of knowledge about humans applies to the human you are closest to?

Just how certain can any of us be that self-deception does not underlie even our most strongly held opinions, even our most precious values?

The best metric I have found is the quantity and quality of the emotions that accompany a thought or 'perception' or judgment.

Strong emotions not only impair perception and degrade rational thought, they are also diagnostic of an inappropriate linkage between a more primitive pre-Enlightenment mode of mentation and that which many of us hope is more characteristic of ourselves.

I recognized myself as well as you in Treebeard's characterization of you as a "romantic..artist.. deeply religious . . Enlightenment Crusader .." in his comment of a few days ago. He was describing me so well it was painful.

I am still a believer, but over a couple of decades I have been forced to modify the strength of the beliefs and the emotions associated with them as I took a cooler look at the history of the world and the present realities, as best I can ascertain what those are.

I cringe when I see you use a strongly emotive word like "traitor" on someone whose words have as many valid and important interpretations as your own (usually) do. More so because your word cries out for extreme punishment rather than rational progress towards mutual understanding. Especially when you and some other commenters (sycophants?) seem almost willfully to distort what the gentleman in question actually said, and attribute - then attack - meanings that seem quite strained to me.

It took me long years to revise some of my core beliefs about humanity and progress while remaining true to my fundamental regard for logic and self-examination, so I hope for no quick reversals from you. But I do hope that you will question the openness of what I'm sure you like to think of as your open mind, and perhaps find good reason for a more humble attitude, with a fair helping of "I *could* be wrong about that".

This because I value your contributions and respect your energy in pursuit of your goals. And of course I *could* be wrong about all this, or simply failing to see something important. About that, I think there is always room for discussion, without rabble-rousing namecalling.

David Brin said...

Sorry, I can only check in occasionally:

Locum never ever sees when he is proving my point. “Deep down, I also know that David agrees with my perspective because he trained his children to protect themselves with paramilitary scout & karate training instead of just giving them a whistle and telling them to call help.”

I would guffaw, if I did not want to cry over the crippled sate of what could have been a good mind. The rest of you can see how he crammed a multivariant continuum into yet another tawdry “either or” zero-sum silliness.

In fact, civilization has both come a VERY long way (my boys were never bullied nor face the relentless fights of my youth) and still has a very long way to go. It may even slip backwards. Preparing kids to be ABLE to come out on top, during brief episodes of dog-eat-dog… or in case D-E-D returns bigtime, is not inconsistent to anyone who understands adaptability or positive sums. But he can grasp neither concept.

In fact, Athenians were (and today are) vastly more capable at war than any Spartans, ever. Locum knows this to be true, and history verifies it. Yet the fact slips out of his consciousness, because cognitive dissonance hurts.

OTOH, Duncan — please use locum’s accustomed nickname. No need for the insulting variant.

David Brin said...

Later… wow what a jeremiad of complaints! “First, their uncritical acceptance of the blue urban agenda. Second, their infatuation with Romanticism, Femininity & the Religion of Love. Third, their unquestioning support for the Christian slave morality. Fourth, their knee-jerk rejection of Virtue Ethics. Fifth, their preference for 'progressivism'. Sixth, their creeping elitism. Seventh, their attachment to a tyrannical 'bigger-is-better' social model. And, eighth, their assumption of infallibility.”

What a litany! Utterly nonsensical, of course, but do go on, locum, you know that you can post your manifesto of strawman complaints here in perfect, collegial safety. Do tell!

Off the top though: no one on Earth has dissed romanticism as thoroughly and effective as I: http://www.davidbrin.com/tolkien.html

…and our enlightenment specifically and relentlessly rejected the formulaic preaching of the past. Sure, there is plenty of preaching going on! Old religions and yes feminism and political correctness… ALL of which you have seen me critique. But the notion that finger-wagging will make people behave better was replaced by reciprocal ACCOUNTABILITY and the contingent-experimental methods of science.

…Virtue Ethics? Oh, this I gotta hear.

… “bigger is better” has tons of challengers, all across the political spectrum. ESPECIALLY among feminists.

… assumption of infallibility? Really? Really? The only society in all of history in whicyh the top “priests” relentlessly preach the contingent nature of their explanations of the world and the inherent fallibility of the priesthood. In which “I might be wrong” is THE sacred catechism taught to all apprentices.

Proving that Locum simply knows no scientists.

David Brin said...

For a "spartan" to cite a "philosopher" who proved himself to be a whining loser-incompetent in absolutely every category, is deeply ironic. Cite Thoreau, Nietzsche, even Bakunin... guys whose jeremiads - while ranging from eccentric to insane - were at least less whimpering moans.

But I celebrate! For the first time, Treebeard actually makes a statement that is both cogent and true!

" power, as a marker of relative status, is inherently zero sum."

Yes, attaboy. I have no arguments with that statement. However to you that is an expression of fealty to both power and zero-sum thinking. When in fact, the statement alone discredits both.

Positive sum societies must wage war. They will have to, until zero summer stop trying to reinstate a system that has relentlessly and perfectly failed, in 99% of societies across 6000 years. It is the one and only mutually exclusive fight to the death. Positive sum can CONTAIN some isolated zero sum sub-systems, but zero sum societies cannot abide the existence of nearby, attractive, successful, rapidly advancing positive sum societies.

I mentioned zero-sum sub-systems. A Pos-sum (PS) society must have military etc until PS is safe. And then, even in the Star Trek future, such capabilities must be maintained (as I had our kids learn karate). And here's the kicker. PS militaries are almost always far BETTER at the application of power than ZS ones.

Notice Treebeard never once answered this, so I repeat it over and over. Spartans never matched the great and heroic and stunning victories of Athens. While the US military has been misused into quagmires, in direct confrontation, no spartan ever succeeded against it.

But Treebeard does not want power to be a "sub-system" of a PS society. He wants it to be the BASIS of all governance, as it was in the 50,000 ZS nations that polluted history with incompetence and failure for 60 centuries. He yearns for a system that almost never produced anything worthwhile and that always led to collapse...

...because Mr. Kibble has it in his mind somehow that he would be a Top Dog. Ignoring the fact that he has been coddled and provided for so that he can wallow in the sick-sweet chemical joys of ingratitude and fantasy-resentment.

locumranch said...


Thank you, Madtom, for pointing out something that David vehemently and consistently denies, that Idealism (defined as the insistence that 'the object of external perception, in itself or as perceived, consists of ideas') is a ROMANTIC (and therefore an ANTI-INTELLECTUAL) notion prone to all sorts of unreasonable rationalizations.

Yet, of the he goes down that "braid, braid road, that lies across the lily leven, that is the Path of Wickedness, though some call it the Road to Heaven", repurposing the most wickedly Romantic ideals in the service of science, which is most truly and unequivocally a DISSERVICE to SCIENCE because it includes a steaming, foul-smelling, fly-infested load of self-delusional excrement.


Best

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dear MadTom.

There is much to discuss - and calmly I would hope - in what you wrote here. That is, after all, what this blog appears to be for. This is going to get flibbertygibbety, but no one is holding a gun to anyone's head and forcing them to read. First I would like to deal with your use of the word /sycophant/. That's an easy word to throw around, and could even be true in a different context. But this is an on-line discussion. Probably very few of us have even met Dr. Brin in person, and anyway he is just a former professor and author, not Louis XVI who can grant anyone positions at court. If some of us agree with things he has said, it is because we share similar values and commitments, not because we expect any tangible rewards. Also please don't assume that if people hear have voiced agreement on some matters that it means we do not have our differences. I can only really speak for myself, I'm sure, but I recognize and value individuality and have expressed disgust with bobbleheads in this forum before.

Okay, hopefully I didn't come across as too wrathful, there. I'm not an easily angered person (you wouldn't last very long as a teacher if you were) and I'm not angry now, just mildly irked by the broad brush with which you are painting many individuals. A lot of 'impression management' goes into public conversation, doesn't it? So on to another subject.

If it appears that the birds are circling, there is a very good reason. But there is also an interesting irony at the heart of it, one which Dr. Brin has alluded to before. Many of us grew up valuing the kind of live and let live Enlightenment philosophy that says people are free to believe and say whatever they wish. It's a free country! (And I am sure this applies to many other countries besides my own.) To bring back the old Heinlein quote, you have the right to swing your fist around as much as you like, but that right ends where my nose begins.

There is a slight problem with this view, a problem that leads to the irony I mentioned. I have said before that a couple centuries ago America tried something that was unique at the time, though it has become standard in many parts of the world since then. When confronted with the choice of which religion to establish as the national religion, they chose D) none of the above. The problem with tolerating all religions is that the religions themselves preach intolerance. At the time the Western world had just been through centuries of the brutality labeled "Reformation and Counter-Reformation" in our history books. Over the past couple centuries the intolerance preached at our pulpits has waned somewhat. We no longer have public hangings for heresy and burnings of witches in town squares. But there are dogmas that many people adhere to that would see a return to that if they ever gained an upper hand in the leadership of society.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

As a former anthropologist I am very familiar with relativism. As a discipline, anthropology began as an arm of colonial governments in the 19th Century. They were a tool used by colonial authorities to discover the nature and customs of the "natives" so that they could be governed more efficiently. Yes, they began as part of that whole "white man's burden" mentality. That changed, though, when a German scientist named Frans Boaz began to study the Kwakiutl people of Western Canada. He came to a very different conclusion than was popular in his time. Instead of seeing these "natives" as inherently inferior to our glorious Western selves, he saw their customs and lifestyles as an adaptation to the environment in which they lived. They were not depraved, they were just making a living the only way they knew how. Boaz became the "Father of American Anthropology" having persuaded people to listen to their consciences and become advocates rather than conquerors.

While Boaz's idea of cultural relativism became standard in modern anthropology, if someone were described as Boazian today they would not be flattered. It's not that anthropology has swung back to being a tool of conquest, it's that in the intervening 100 years a lot has happened and we have learned a lot. World War 2 had a huge impact on how people think. When I took a survey of prehistory class and we came to discussing the Aztec, the professor said that he thought we would expect him to trot out cultural relativism and say that the daily blood and carnage of Post-Classic Mexico was okay because it was their adaptation to their harsh environment. Instead he read a gruesome description of the dedication of the Temple of Huitzilipochtli and the subsequent abandonment of the city while the slaves disposed of all the rotting corpses.

Humility and open-mindedness are qualities I admire, and I see tolerance as a necessary part of being a race of individuals rather than clones. But how far can that go? The ideas being espoused by a couple people on this blog are Machiavellian "might makes right" and "the ends justify the means" solipsism. (And I mean Machiavellian in the more common, naive sense of those who have read "The Prince" but not "The Republic.") It is one thing to tolerate intolerant views in times of peace and stability, when such views are unlikely to have much impact on society. All the normal, quiet, harmless people who voted Hitler into power because he seemed like he would be a strong leader who could fix the economy and get the trains running on time made the Holocaust possible, even if most of them were horrified by its result. You could say I am making a Godwin Argument here, but history is littered with the bloody, repulsive results of strong man politics - and we are hardly immune today, though in the US it has taken the form of financial barbarism more so than the traditional arenas of rape, murder, sacking villages etc.

Yes, calling these people /traitors/ comes across as a little extreme. Brin is more to the right in his thinking than I am, but within a tolerable range, a range that can be discussed calmly and rationally. There is room for persuasion without resort to ad baculum. The two who have been getting lambasted here are people who cannot be persuaded, they can only be held up as examples of the mentality that leads to the invocation of special powers clauses and internment camps for undesirables.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Of course, I could be wrong here. It is entirely possible that I have misinterpreted their words, painted them as more extreme than they really are. Or perhaps they will use these doubts as an opportunity to repaint themselves as better, kinder apologists for the likes Saddam Hussein. Doubt is part of the human condition. It keeps us thinking, keeps us growing. Doubt keeps us from becoming slaves to our impulses. If I have misjudged, how easily would it be for others to be lured into that kind of thinking by their words, even if it were unintended on their part?

Therein lies the dilemma of relativism. Without it we are hardly worthy of our humanity, and our intolerance will bring about our undoing. Too much of it, and we tolerate the monsters of intolerance among us, some of whom will eventually get the upper hand, lure enough slow-minded people to their cause, and destroy us from within.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with science, however loci wishes to portray it. Science is an endeavor for discovering and explaining facts. It is not about morality, it is about the factual. The morality, or lack of it, is the humanity we bring to the table.

How's that for flibbertgibbet?

Glen Filthie said...

I cannot believe that ordinarily intelligent men and women would think like this.

No, I prefer to live without Big Brother's eyes on me and if he wants to get stupid about it - I will resist him and his flunkies with every means at my disposal - right on up to the use of violence if necessary.

Power corrupts - and if you supposedly intellectual and academic lefties insist on building that all-seeing monster, don't be surprised when it turns on you. If you want to live under such scrutiny you can do so in any number of tyrannical 2nd and 3rd world hell holes across the planet.

Jumper said...

On cultural relativism:
"A story for which Napier is often noted involved Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. As first recounted by his brother William, he replied:

'Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.'"

Robert said...

I encourage others who have issue with some of Dr. Brin's actions to have the courage to step forward as well and speak up. In time, Dr. Brin may very well look up and see his own eyes looking back at him from the mirrored computer screen and realize that just as he warns others of addiction to outrage and the like, that he too is suffering from this condition and is ignoring his own fallacies by seeking that outrage high.

A wise person once said "write what you want to post, save it as a Word document, and put it aside for an hour. Then return to it and look at it with fresh eyes. If you don't see the problem with it, then post it. But if you look at it and blink twice then perhaps it could use editing... or not being posted at all.

I know I have increasingly grown likely to look at a comment and delete it outright because I'm realizing it might be misconstrued or that I'm overreacting... or even that the comment will likely be taken poorly. I'll also admit I don't practice what I preach all the time. ^^;;

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@ Glen Filthie

You mean like those religious hell holes like Afghanistan where religion controls everything? So when Christian Fundamentalists want Atheists stripped of assets and deported to gulags, or women deprived over the control of their bodies by banning abortion from conception, we are supposed to believe this isn't about turning the USA into a religious tyranny for everyone else?

matthew said...

@ Glen,
So do you think that Big Brothers eyes are not upon you in the first world now? Seriously? Who do you think you are strawmanning here? Or did you just read "Mr. Transparency" and make some assumptions? I assume that you meant "lefties" as an insult.

The important part of "reciprocal transparency" is the reciprocal part, not the transparency part, dude.


To all our resident Holnists, have you ever tried living in the Neolithic world you are so reverently espousing? Just curious as to your personal experience with high-T controlled living. Locum, Treebeard, any personal experience in, say, living without running water, electricity, on food you raised / gathered yourself? Or in a state of constant inter-tribal warfare? I ask because I have done both of those things. The experience has made me a committed foe of exactly the sort of rhetoric you both have been slinging around here. I'm very curious to hear your stories of how you came to your rejection of the Enlightenment, and if your life experiences include living without its benefits. I have met a few folks that practice what you both preach and I am curious about your life experiences.

Robert said...

Low lying fruit, Dr. Brin?

Boosting the immune system of older people may very well help extend lifespans, after all, seeing that often it's illness that kills older people. If their immune system can better combat the flu, pneumonia, and the like? Then more people will live longer and healthier lives.

Actually from what I've seen, a lot of the longevity drugs are going to take the form of methods of increasing enzymes and hormones that normally are produced in lower and lower levels as we age. No doubt this will please the pharmaceutical companies who'll become rich selling these "anti-aging" drugs.

Rob H.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

I'm Jumper and I'm an anger addict.

I'm very grateful to Dr. Brin for putting it in those terms as it helped me see this more clearly. As did Colbert when he coined or presented the funny term "angertainment."

I may even be getting better.

madtom said...

Thank you, Paul Shen-Brown, for your thoughtful responses. Even where there is disagreement, discussion can be pleasant and rewarding, and (as another teacher and human) I am happy to share thoughts and learn from you.

I have the occupational disease of wordiness, but I‘ll try hard to stay focused on a single issue here and resist the temptation to respond to everything of interest in your posts.

I’m sorry if my parenthetical question regarding sycophancy was troubling to you. It was inspired by the fresh memory of comments from several people of obvious intelligence who seemed suddenly and uncharacteristically to go off the rails into the thickets of emotionalism and sloganeering by judging Treebeard in a way that might be aimed at pleasing our esteemed host. As much as I respect Dr. Brin and admire and enjoy his work, I don’t expect ever to meet him or interact beyond this forum. Yet I can still feel the pull of an urge to please, driven by semi-conscious fantasies of greater involvement. Hence my semi-serious suggestion about a possible driving force.

I am troubled by these responses because I read Treebeard quite differently. When he says that “might makes right” I think he is being provocative in a pedagogical way, as well as making an arguably correct statement. I think that he is providing tools we can use to examine our own thinking. Most responders here seem to react emotionally in keeping with the common pejorative use of the phrase as a put-down of the brutish who may use it to justify brutishness.

I don’t think that Treebeard is advocating brutishness or saying that raw force is his personal choice as a final arbiter of morality or a desirable direction for society to take. Based on other evidence in his posts, I think he is providing an exercise in self-examination for those who are ready for it, by using factually accurate words to trigger inappropriately emotional and judgmental responses.(to be continued)

madtom said...

(continuing)
Treebeard seems to have both history and science on his side.

Historically, consider the rights and wrongs of the “Albigensian” Crusades (now perhaps sufficiently removed from current politics), and which set of beliefs and institutions has survived to this day, claiming to be "right". Scientifically, there is the simple message of natural selection, where (by one reading) having the might to survive is all that matters.

Yet emotionalism emerges here as the major response. Just what corporate opinion-shapers like to see, and what we as teachers try to fight.

Once “might” was taken to mean the effectiveness of a simian tribe’s muscular males in the pursuit of their goals, usually understood as “alpha male takes all”. But even the initial investigations of Jane Goodall have shown that cooperation is also an important factor in a chimp’s entire social life, sometimes even determining who gets to be (or remain) the alpha male.

From our chimplike ancestors onwards, improving technology (both social and hardware) has steadily increased the need for cooperation in the production, use, and defense against the ever-more-powerful brute forces that technology has produced.

IMO this coexistence and mutual dependence of apparent opposites like cooperation/competition is central to a deeper-than-sloganeering understanding of reality and our role as humans.

It is as basic as the need for elementary particles with different charges. All + or all – would give a runaway perpetual expansion, no structures, a boring and meaningless universe.

It is the tension between balanced opposites that makes things interesting and functional.

That is why I suspect that Treebeard is treading a line of discourse that remains well within truthfulness while using phrasing that can provoke.

Even the best scientists cannot rise above the limits of their own essential and unavoidable cerebral instrument, with all its quirks. I suggest that a keener appreciation of the factors that bias and limit that instrument should be a very high priority for all who would approach better understanding.

So I find it particularly distressing to see Dr. Brin present such a good case that our greatest human talent is for self-deception, then appear to stop there.

I think it likely that he himself is as human as those whose thinking he correctly labels inferior. But when he expresses his disapproval in such emotional, namecalling and polarizing ways, he seems to join them in their biggest mistake.

As you said, “Doubt is part of the human condition. It keeps us thinking”. When we stop thinking and start hooting, pounding our chests and breaking branches, we regress to a less productive and actually dangerous mode of being.

madtom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

It's all sort of supercilious to me. "Provocative" doesn't do much we wish it could on the internet. Plain speech is better than smirky false-faces. Given an intuition that no one consciously wants to be seen as such, one assumes a communication breakdown. The point of relating a Devil's advocate formulation, which we all find necessary from time to time, is not diminished by explaining it as such to the audience, it in fact provides clarity. Cleverness which obfuscates simply fails too often.

madtom said...

Jumper - In most cases I would agree with you about the undesirability of being provocative and the importance of simple clarity of expression. But that applies to intellectual issues, where logic is applied to facts that are checkable.

But (imo) Treebeard wants the reader to become aware of the reader's own internal sensations and responses, which are nearly impossible to describe in a short phrase online, or to check independently.

So the best approach is to provoke the responses in question. By being literally provocative. Then the reader may have the essential experience of what it feels like to make a particular kind of mistake.

Example: It took me years of practice, but I am beginning to be sensitive to the way it feels when I reject incoming data, or reject a conclusion as I am still forming it, and perform the act we call 'denial'.

I can't describe that feeling in a few words. But if I could provoke denial at will, I would be far better able to teach others how to perceive it.

David Brin said...

Robert, while I will attend to your finger-waggings I confess to finding their influence over me in decline, rather than rising in persuasion. I am unashamed of the use - for example - of the proper word to describe someone who has accepted coddling and protection from a gentle and supportive civilization all his life, while he relentlessly hollers that he hopes for it to collapse, all of its values to be upended and millions to be consigned to slavery.

“Traitor” is a mild and entirely apropos appellation for such a one… or three, as we’ve seen here, lately.

Clearly, when Matthew and others are responding to these visitors by calling them “Holnists,” you are not about to get much of an intervention from this community, insisting that I moderate my prose. Are you unable to sniff and notice that a “spartan” out there has recruited a wave of “visitors” who are of the anti-enlightenment persuasion? In the world they desire, no forum such as this would exist, since most of us would swiftly be put to death.

I will speak to them here. But if they get their way, we are meat. So do not demand that I mask the proper word for such… “enemies.”

Do go ahead and chide me for verbal excess, now and then! I will always weigh your chidings against my perceptions… and sometimes back off, even apologizing for florid indulgences. And yet, I will also often ponder, then decide…. um, no… my words fit the situation and the man.

David Brin said...

Madtom: “I don’t think that Treebeard is advocating brutishness or saying that raw force is his personal choice as a final arbiter of morality or a desirable direction for society to take.”

Heh! I respect you enough to scan backwards in reflection… for the five seconds it took to shrug and say “Are you freaking kidding?”

Dang you do bend like a pretzel to make excuses for folks. This “spartan” wants to be a lord, destroy all possible sources of accountability, and grab any woman he wants. He never once denied it.

The rest of your apologia is utter nonsense, sorry! I am one of the foremost people speaking in defense of the only human experimental system that ever took into ACCOUNT our propensity for delusion, constructing systems in which we can correct our delusions under the application of the sole remedy — adversarially competitive criticism.

I expose myself to this process relentlessly! (Witness fifty names of pre-readers at the end of each of my books, all of them notoriously ferocious nit-pickers. Heck… witness YOU!)

Alas, while paying attention long enough to evaluate, I found your attempt to label me a hypocrite to be… hilarious!

I live by this new experimental system. I apply crit in all directions and accept it willingly, when it comes it to me. And I have *benefited* from this process so immensely that it has largely become habit. Am I human and thus a crit-avoider, at times? Sure! Which is why I examine - and reply to - accusations such as yours and Robert’s etc. Moreover note this saving grace that makes my zones of blindness harmless. I AM NOT KING! Hence those delusions I refuse to examine don’t matter much.

As for Locum’s latest… WTF???? — Locum: “Thank you, Madtom, for pointing out something that David vehemently and consistently denies, that Idealism (defined as the insistence that 'the object of external perception, in itself or as perceived, consists of ideas') is a ROMANTIC (and therefore an ANTI-INTELLECTUAL) notion prone to all sorts of unreasonable rationalizations.”

Yadda yadda jabber rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman, rationalize strawman.

When cornered and unable to rationalize in plain words any longer, he goes to the refuge of refuges — pseudo-intellectual obscrurantism.

David Brin said...

Robert, re low-hanging fruit. I’m from Missouri. Show me. Actual results. That affect the “wall” at age 90. Show me statistical movement in the wall itself, not the % who make it there.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dear MadTom,

It is good to find people who can take the time to think an issue through - and wordiness is often a good indicator. I call it the verbosity gene, but that is just a joke on how people assume so much of us is entirely genetic.

In interest of reigning in my own verbosity, and because it is a holiday, I will try to keep it down, too.

As far as Treebeard goes, I think you might be reading more into his posts than he put in them. A complex thinker sometimes has difficulty NOT seeing complexity in others, in the same way that a good driver might lose patience with bad drivers because the skill has become automatic and seems easy to them. I could be wrong, but when he wrote about taking testosterone supplements, it came across to me as a childish boast, which makes it hard to take anything out of his keyboard seriously. Maybe he was being ironic and I just missed it.

That cerebral machinery we are all stuck with is a pretty feeble device in many ways. The better you understand it, the easier it is to get better use out of it. The limbic system can be such a tyrant, which is why I agree with Robert on letting your thoughts rest awhile. The old wisdom of "sleeping on it" makes good sense. I also try, at times, to pay attention to metabolic cues that my limbic system is overriding my lobes. I've noticed a slight increase in heart rate, likely a result of epinephrine, and the same heaviness in my forearms that I feel when I have had a little alcohol in me.

"IMO this coexistence and mutual dependence of apparent opposites like cooperation/competition is central to a deeper-than-sloganeering understanding of reality and our role as humans. " Here you have a thread of the real Darwin, the one few people read, as well as Claude Levi-Strauss, if you are familiar with "Triste Tropiques."

As far as Dr. Brin's words go, he will have to address that himself. For the most part I agree with him, though in the case of that Argentine visitor a few months back I think I would have used a more conciliatory tone. I got the impression that she was not going to be satisfied with anything less than the entire 300 + million of us apologizing to her personally, which is beyond unlikely. Many of us were shocked and disgusted by our nation's actions in Latin America, and I know I don't have the same loss as her. I have ancestors who died in the Dutch Resistance against the Nazi's, but that all happened before I was born. But these other two read like playground bullies who deserve only ridicule.

By the solar calendar it is New Year's Eve. Cheers! And to those of us who are on the lunar calendar, it isn't time yet, but cheers anyway.

Prost and Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!

madtom said...

Dr. Brin, thank you for at least considering my position. I'll try to keep this response short and specific and hope to waste little more of your time.

Your dedication to accuracy and truth I do not question, and I agree with your teams of critics in finding no fault with your books (at least the final versions on my shelf). But seeing the back of your head in a mirror is best achieved with a second, opposing mirror, not by staring extra hard into one mirror or trying to spin around really, really fast.

You said "I found your attempt to label me a hypocrite to be… hilarious!" But I have never labeled or thought of you as a hypocrite. If I had thought you fit the definition, I would have used the word. "Blind to your own blind spot", is my suspicion, and I've lived in that territory long enough to recognize the landscape. To me a hypocrite is one who deliberately, consciously and for unfair advantage insists on applying different sets of rules to others than to himself, while claiming otherwise. While the simplest dictionary definitions fit your re-wording of what I said, more detailed ones explain that the word's etymology includes 'play-acting' and pretending, rather than honest self-blindness. Since you are a master of words and surely aware of such distinctions, your characterization of my position seems to me another (and quite relevant) example of verbal judo: taking a perceived opponent's real position and exaggerating it into an easily-dismissed extreme.

I am also driven to comment on your "Moreover note this saving grace that makes my zones of blindness harmless. I AM NOT KING! Hence those delusions I refuse to examine don't matter much."

Au contraire, a modern Sun(diver) King! In this blog and your own writings at least, and likely in your own life, I say that you ARE King and do have courtiers, a conclusion I draw from my own observations of this place and the lives of people I have known personally who are outstanding in one way or another.

Can you cite any objective observations or logical methods you use to assess just what zones of blindness you may have, and what their significance may be? Assessing these as harmless, or indeed assessing them at all seems quite unscientific, being based on knowledge that you - by definition - lack.

Is it not logical to suspect that any delusions or blind spots that one retains, despite feeling pride in one's objectivity and the completeness and coherence of one's worldview, will be *highly* significant? My own experience has been that intelligence, education and brash self-confidence allowed me to ignore very important lacunae in my mental models and self-perception for most of a long lifetime.

But I could be wrong here (as so often before) so I will go back yet again, myself, to see if I can find where Treebeard actually said the things you attribute to him, or if your characterizations have applied verbal judo to what he really did say or intend.

"He never once denied it" establishes only that his purposes were not served by the form of discussion I am attempting here.

LarryHart said...

madtom:

Especially when you and some other commenters (sycophants?) seem almost willfully to distort what the gentleman in question actually said, and attribute - then attack - meanings that seem quite strained to me.


I'll second Paul S-B in saying you are off with the "sycophants" characterization. I will argue against points of view that don't seem to make sense or that seem to call for an attack on myself and mine.

The idea of associating anything bad with a particular subset of humanity ("feminine", for example, or "Jews" for another) is one I will take issue with. When I was a regular on a site devoted to Dave Sim, standing up for feminism would have been the opposite of sycophancy.

If you take Treebeard at his word, he got to be a super-hero through scientific means, and now wants to establish a society in which the people who made such a miracle possible would have been killed or subjugated by the naturally-brutish. Yeah, I have a problem with that, and it has nothing to do with sucking up to the host.

LarryHart said...

But enough ill will for one night.

Yes, for a few more hours, it is New Years Eve, one of the least-controversial holidays of the year. I intend to celebrate, and I wish a happy 2015 to all.

For personal reasons, having nothing to do with this group, I can't wait to watch the old year disappear in the rear-view mirror.

Robert said...

If Dr. Brin is King, I suppose that makes me the Court Jester, and Tacitus the cautious adviser. I was going to go for a King Lear reference as well, but to be honest Brin is no Lear and is not surrendering power for comfort. Quite the contrary.

----------

Dr. Brin, there is one thing to consider about "low-lying fruit" - as we age, our bodies become less capable at producing the hormones and enzymes needed to keep us healthy. Thus by supplementing declining hormones, we can enhance the human body as it ages and slow the ravages of time.

There is precedent for this. We provide thyroid medications for those whose thyroid fails to provide sufficient biochemicals. We provide insulin for those whose pancreas is no longer capable of supplying its own. So then, if we boost the levels of enzymes and biochemicals to the levels we had in our 30s or 20s even... might it not help keep the body functioning longer?

Conversely, the question is: what happens when you cease supplying the enzymes? Do you risk having the body no longer capable of producing its own because it has gotten used to outside sources?

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

Happy New Year all.

I sense David's finger hovering over the "onward" button.

Tacitus

madtom said...

And a happy new year to you too, Paul Shen-Brown! From this time-zone (an hour’s drive north of Auckland) it already looks very good at 17:30 on this pleasant January 1st afternoon as the sun sinks towards setting in another three hours. I am sitting in a comfortable sleepout on my country acreage gazing southwards across ponds at forest and pastures, under a mostly blue sky decorated with small clouds, and enjoying a fresh breeze as it animates everything from the tall grass to the big trees. Slightly tired from skimming wheelbarrow loads of azolla off a pond to avoid sun-blocking and anaerobic conditions, and placing the highly nutritious red/green stuff around the bases of fruit trees. Summer is icumen in, lhude sing I AM.

I respect your view of Treebeard and your reasons. We perceive Treebeard differently because I believe I recognize him from encounters elsewhere, and interpret his words against this larger base of data. Later I may be able to discuss this in more detail, but it is not yet the right time. I was momentarily jarred by the testosterone statement too. Then I put it into context and saw it as a factual-but-misleading description of what happens to almost all of us XY types at puberty. And I saw it as another effort to say true things that are provocative of certain desired emotional responses that can later be reexamined in the light of more complete data. [And I repeat – I could be wrong, but this is how it looks to me now.]

This relates to Dr. Brin’s objection to my calling him a ‘hypocrite’, a word that I never used or intended (or even thought of, actually). Every word’s definitional stretch can be envisioned as a Venn diagram surrounding its various legitimate uses, as defined quite legalistically in accepted dictionaries. But misusing language can be fun and profitable (in several senses!), and we all know and can construct apparent syllogisms that use the extremes of the overlap of legitimate definitions to (say) prove that an overdue library book is a crime that requires the death penalty. When serious people who are good with words stretch meanings in this way, I look for ulterior motives. Perhaps motives of which they themselves are unaware.

Time to stop making words and go, but I appreciate your references to thinkers’ works. Being familiar with only about half of them, I now have more good sources to consult. What I am actually re-reading right now is E. O. Wilson’s “Consilience” and Mlodinov’s “Drunkard’s Walk” (which was inspired by another favorite, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”). The latter two might be why I am hypersensitive right now to common errors of thought.

LarryHart said...

My New Year's Resolution--

A clean slate. I won't hold anything against anyone that they said before 2015.

Tony Fisk said...

Larry's last words now leave me hesitant to pick up my chalk.

(Oops! Done it now)

Many seem to be regarding 2014 as some sort of slough of despond. I have to confess it wasn't my best year either, but it wasn't *that* bad, was it?

Jumper said...

The mention of Kaczynski was interesting. He presented a lot of truth, yet then bemoaning the loss of value, became a hermit ensuring further his loss of - call it mana - or esteem, bringing his serotonin levels, I presume, down further. What a fool.
The specialization we have culturally evolved allows, I could argue, greater access to self-actualization than earlier times. More small ponds to conquer. There was no first-chair clarinet in neolithic times, nor a tennis champion. This leads me to realize every kid really does have a shot at a blue ribbon, although I have to add that a lot of them don't earn one and so can't have one.

I want to reference Piers Anthony's Sos the Rope but it's pretty obscure. Bog was the best club in the countryside, but never ruled, and that's good. And Bog probably knew that.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Many seem to be regarding 2014 as some sort of slough of despond. I have to confess it wasn't my best year either, but it wasn't *that* bad, was it?


Well, everyone in my household had medical issues, including the 16-year-old cat with throat cancer. My daughter, who was knocked out with the flu her entire Thanksgiving break, fared the best of us all.

So yeah, I'm ready for hope and change.

(For me, the November elections were also a cause for suckitude, but even that pales in comparison to the other thing)

David Brin said...

Madtom: “But seeing the back of your head in a mirror is best achieved with a second, opposing mirror, not by staring extra hard into one mirror or trying to spin around really, really fast”

You insist, as does locum, upon your strawman of me and anything I say to disprove it just glides past your observer bias. My entire life and philosophy revolve around using multiple, contingent and critical sources of reciprocal accountability, to find or deal with delusional errors. A process that no individual or group can be trusted to control, and hence the need for processes of UNAVOIDABLE crit.

Yet you insist upon lecturing me about that exact lesson, as if you invented it.

“"Blind to your own blind spot", is my suspicion…” No, it is your strawman rationalization and attempt to declare that I do not grasp the essence of the very core of the enlightenment that I keep writing about.

Note the irony… that it never occurs to YOU that your few, tendentious skimmings here — as you as skimming these words, right now — led you to leap to an unjustified but deeply personally satisfying conclusion. Okay then, here’s the challenge: when you find me ONE other writer today who explores the notion of reciprocal accountability more intensely or from more directions and angles than I do… how about THEN you lecture me about the topic.

Openness to crit means I must LISTEN to crit. It does not mean I can’t say “bullshit” to fools.

for example: “In this blog and your own writings at least, and likely in your own life, I say that you ARE King and do have courtiers…”

I respond at one level Bullshit! This community is one of the oldest and most mature on the web. And there’s not a sycophant among these guys.

At another, you willfully misunderstood what I said, cherrypicking a single sentence and ignoring ALL of those who came before. Kinda intellectually dishonest, yknow.

But you are a Kiwi! And hence we all need to be nice to you, lest you blackball any of us when we flee in your direction, from whatever it is, someday.

(There’s stuff an hour NORTH of Auckland?)

Paul Shen-Brown said...

The Unabomber described over-socialization as endemic among upper middle class intellectuals, who “cannot even experience, without guilt, thoughts or feelings that are contrary to the accepted morality,"

And therein lies Kaczinski's lunacy. Everyone feels these feelings, all the time. The limbic system screams at us every minute. Steal this! Kill that! Molest anything with a pulse! and above all, Eat! Eat! Eat! (good subject for the holidays, right?) There's a reason the accepted morality is accepted - because we are humans, not lizards. As MadTom pointed out, even chimpanzees suppress their limbic impulses to live in a social context. We all learn better ways to express those impulses without losing all our friends or getting killed at a young age. The Unabomber merely wanted to give in to those impulses in inappropriate ways, and thought that his own mental laziness made a political platform.

However, he makes for a good example of how our minds work in feedback loops. As soon as he decided that his "political philosophy" made him superior to all the sheeple around him, he isolated himself more and more. By isolating himself he reduced his own oxytocin levels (not serotonin - that's the one that responds to sunlight, and why the highest suicide rates are mostly in the cloudiest countries). Oxytocin is what makes people care about each other. Not getting oxytocin is what makes people in solitary confinement go mad (and what makes kids in classrooms never want to shut up - but I could go on forever about all the ways our school system fails us). So old Ted drove himself to his own madness. He probably thought that giving in to his "animal" impulses made him more "honest" than the rest of us, but as rationalizations go, it's pretty sloppy thinking.

This is the same kind of feedback loop you see in hypochondria. I had a friend who was a hypochondriac, and so far she is the only one of my friends who has died (I'm not yet of that age where mortality starts to take all your friends away). You feel sick, but the pain of physical illness is mediated by exactly the same neurotransmitter that mediates emotional pain (called very simply Substance P). You lie in bed feeling bad, and if you give in to the little voice that says that it will never get better, you start releasing stress hormones that, among other things, suppress anandamide, beta endorphin, oxytocin and a host of others that would normally counteract those bad feelings and allow us the mentally recover. The more bad feelings you feel, the more they self-perpetuate. Likewise anger, resulting in all those indignation junkies on talk radio (and at the polls). They do it to themselves without realizing it. This is why I can't over emphasize the need for understanding your own mind.

Thinking happy thoughts won't stop bullets, lower your taxes, or bring world peace. However, it has been shown to buoy up your immune system, not exactly curing illness but helping, and explaining the mechanism for the Placebo Effect. Unfortunately I didn't know any of this when my friend was alive.

So cheers for the new year.

David Brin said...


Robert your reply to “low hanging” boils down to more methods to increase the % of humans who reach the wall, hale and healthy. I see nothing (so far) that moves the wall itself.

Mind you, I would love to be proved wrong!

David Brin said...

Kaczynski's core, distilled essence was, as Paul points out, simply this:

"I am so much smarter than than all you fools!" Sheeple indeed. That is why his diatribes appeal to fellows with the same desperate need. The possibility of being part of a positive-sum civilization that solves the very problems in his jeremiads? The possibility never occurred to him.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul Shen-Brown

Re: Peak Brain. Here is one paper that discusses this. Note that the issue of brain/body size is addressed. (Author John Hawks)

extract: "The decline of human endocranial volume during the last 10,000 years is paralleled most obviously by the reductions of brain size in
domesticated animal species, including dogs, cattle and sheep, compared to their wild progenitors. Nutritional, developmental, and functional issues are all possible explanations for these parallel cases of brain size reduction. Humans are different in many ways from these domesticated species, but exhibit other parallel trends such as decreased skeletal robusticity.
"

It is just one paper.

A brief review of the archaeological evidence for Palaeolithic and Neolithic subsistence looks at diet and is more in line with your view about agriculture's impact on nutrition.

Discover Magazine article talking about Hawks' work and trying to put it into context.

I think the data is a little thin to be definitive, but it is an interesting finding on which to hang various hypotheses.

Robert said...

Actually, Dr. Brin, that is the question, isn't it? Look at the people who reach and exceed 100 years of age. How many of them are of poor health? And I'm not talking someone in a vegetative state.

If you improve the physical health of people and their biological capability to retain that health, how long will they live?

How many completely healthy people, without some accident involved, just die before reaching 90? Most often people die because of an illness. Many times, dying in your sleep is the result of the body giving out after an illness that may not necessarily have been known.

So then, by ensuring that people are able to retain the hormones and enzymes needed for healthy living, more people will reach 90 and beyond. More people may very well be in a position to utilize their health at that older age. And I say this watching my mother, who is 70, having mobility issues from her back and knee... and wishing someone would get one of those medical nanorobots set up so it could fix what's wrong. (Selfish of me, I know. I freely admit to being selfish, though.)

If we as a species get to the point in science that we can repair damage to the body on a small scale, can ensure the body doesn't start producing fewer and fewer of the enzymes and hormones that ensure healthy living, and are able to find a way of dealing with cancers and other diseases, we may find that we can continue to live well into our 100s... and not as some frail shell but instead someone who may not be what we were when we were young adults, but that allows us to live life and explore our world, those around it, and eventually the stars themselves.

Rob H., who freely admits to being a starry-eyed dreamer

Paul Shen-Brown said...

One of the biggest problems there is arrogance. When you have no doubts, when you are absolutely certain that you are absolutely right about absolutely everything, you throw yourself into one of those feedback loops. The ego balloons beyond normal proportions and both common sense and common decency go right out the window. Humility isn't just a virtue, it's a survival tool. The fools who think being "tough" makes them survivors are delusional.

I once met a man whose teen-aged daughter had been murdered in a news-gathering way. She was an employee at a Chuck E. Cheese franchise in Denver, when a recently fired employee returned with a gun and the absolute conviction that his lack of employment was anyone else's fault but his own. The father was quite struck by the boy's arrogance and complete lack of remorse for the the people he killed, and even seemed to feel that being on death row made him a hero of his ethnicity. The father argued for the death penalty, not because he was a believer in it, but because an inmate on death row gets locked into a much smaller cage than the average inmate and gets to watch less TV. He did not have much confidence that the system would actually execute the thug, but his life would be more miserable on death row than if he just got life.

I don't know if the scumbag is still in jail - I don't like to dwell on such things - but he does make a good example of where arrogance leads.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Madtom is an hour north of Auckland and I'm 40 minutes from Invercargill so we cover almost the entire country between us!

I suspect we also cover most of the political spectrum as well

I will try and be more polite to Locum - but he does stretch my patience at times

Anyway - Happy New Year everybody
Now I've got to get some grass cut - its growing like crazy out there

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Rob H.: We may be getting very close to having those medical nanorobots. See:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/12/ido-bachelet-announces-2015-human-trial.html

Human testing is planned for this year. These medical robots do not quite qualify as Drexler's atomically precise manufacturing, but they are getting very close.

One thing that David ignores in his "low hanging fruit" argument is the great variety of ways that genes may be transferred from one species to another. This is something that humans can do, but that seldom occurs in nature (except in certain viral infections).

Scientists have already made "mighty mice" by transferring parts of the genes of other species into mice. For example see:

http://www.jbc.org/content/282/45/32844.full

The most interesting thing about these experiments is how the mice maintained their great physical strength into old age. They also lived significantly longer.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is already scared to death that a human athlete will use very similar genetic engineering techniques.

Actually, a "Steroids League" is needed in baseball where individuals can use any kind of hormonal or genetic enhancement that they want in order to improve their performance. Players would simply have to divulge what they are doing, and submit themselves to a reasonable amount of scientific study.

This would provide a huge amount of scientific information that would be useful in helping older people to maintain full health, muscular strength and coordination into extreme old age. (And a "Steroids League" could make a lot of money with people coming out to see players often hitting 700-foot home runs and pitching 150 mile-per-hour fast balls.)

madtom said...

(hands cupped either side of mouth) Heloooooo down there, Duncan! Actually, I like to think that my position on the conventional political spectrum is fractal, because I don't see enough logic, decency and consistency to identify with most locations there. FWIW, I enthusiastically voted Internet/Mana and I thought the Moment of Truth was the most exciting thing I had seen on a screen since Watergate.

madtom said...

Thanks for your response, Dr. Brin, and I’m sorry my attempt at brevity misled you into thinking I was skim-reading or ignoring important parts of what you said. I was trying to focus on key points and focused too sharply.

I’m well aware of your honest dedication to your values (which I share), and which shines through your books and talks (or I wouldn’t be spending time here, myself!). I’ve also long noted the lists of checkers’ names in your books, which I read because I sometimes recognize one of the more prominent ones, and wonder which of the others I *should* recognize.

You *know* that nobody ever wrote a perfect book, have no trouble dealing with the fact that you’re human too, and you don’t want to be like Steven Pinker, who recently confused ‘principal’ and ‘principle’ in his essay on Why Academics’ Writing Stinks. Fine.
http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Academics-Writing-Stinks/148989/

You also understand as well as anyone ever did, just how important independent replicability and checkablity are in distinguishing real effects from errors and statistical flukes.

But to find and verify realities, we first need to look for them, and/or at least be capable of registering the event if we encounter a particular reality.

To a first approximation, I’d say our capacity for self-deception is 50% the “capacity to ignore”, to simply fail to allow into consciousness or memory what is clear to others but which makes us uncomfortable (denial). The other 50% is the “capacity to fantasize” to create more emotionally acceptable (but unreal) explanatory scenarios for observations whose reality makes us uncomfortable once they arrive in conscious awareness.

So finding blind spots becomes a search for what makes us most uncomfortable, since that is what we’re most likely to blind ourselves to, or to contrive false explanations for.

Naturally, not many people would embark on that search when life has so many greater urgencies and so much fun to enjoy.

And that search is usually not an exercise in finding real-world facts, but in finding emotional responses because they can *lead* us to facts about ourselves. That is, facts we might *want* to blind ourselves to. I can envision (uncomfortably) a scenario in which a subject is strapped into a chair and enmeshed in a web of detectors while being exposed to a thousand or so short videos that might objectively determine those areas of maximum discomfort. But I’d rather not.

So that blind-spot search is *very* unlikely to be undertaken without strong and specific motivation. How to provide motivation for someone to dwell on what makes him uncomfortable, perhaps by contradicting deep-held beliefs, without simply driving him away or making him an enemy? How would you write that into a plot? I seem to recall a pair of friendly-enemy ambassadors (one with antennae for emotions, and a quirky sense of humor, the other a reputation for blunt rational materialism) who faced a somewhat similar challenge while trekking through the wilderness day after day when their ship crashed instead of getting them offplanet.

My own confession, before I go: Though a citizen here for 20+ years, I’m an expat native Californian, born in San Francisco, who grew up with enough nuclear war nightmares to have his eye on places like New Zealand for a very long time, waiting for an opportunity. And you’d be welcome here any time. Coincidentally(?), my older daughter (who lives in the real city of Auckland, not just the artificial Greater Auckland Supercity, which now extends to the next ridge to the south of me), and who calls this country retreat “back of beyond”, shared her list of interesting people to follow on G+ with me at our Christmas celebrations up here, and your name was on the list! (Which I've been far too busy to action yet, since summer is here and the azolla is growing)

greg byshenk said...

David, I saw your interview in Variety, and generally appreciated what you had to say, but I was disappointed that (at least as presented) you seemed to accept the "North Korea" attribution, given that the evidence for it seems extremely tenuous. (Gawker has a good rundown of some of the doubts.)

David Brin said...

Robert, nothing you offer up suggests a moving of the “wall.” Sure, the wall is fuzzy and it does SEEM to be shifting a bit from late seventies to maybe ninety… but that is largely a function of millions of people hitting wall territory in tremendously better shape that they ever did, before. The existence of a wall, though is very clear.

Jerry, I think you misunderstand the low hanging fruit argument. Humanity NEEDED to become the mammalian methuselahs, because of our method of creating AI … our brainier selves … meant very extended childhood. Hence, whatever systems cause ageing in mice etc we found ways to turn OFF. We were under intense genetic pressure to live as long as possible… and we did that, in all the ways that we could stumble into easily.

Madtom backs off from his insulting characterization of me with charming alacrity. Still, much better and more politely parsed, he persists:

“So finding blind spots becomes a search for what makes us most uncomfortable, since that is what we’re most likely to blind ourselves to, or to contrive false explanations for.”

I have always confessed to being human. Indeed, I suffer from observer bias and flattery temptation and all those vices. But I am also protected by deep scientific training and by a core philosophy of contingency, reciprocal accountability, improvement-via-criticism and… above all… a very wide ideological stance that prevent me from investing too much of my ego into any one set of incantations.

All of which comes into the category of a newbie accountability preacher like you trying to “teach his grandmother to suck eggs.” You are SO far from being a guru in an area (reciprocal accountability) where I know vastly more than you, that your chidings are not effective, they merely look ridiculous.

All of which is proved by: “So that blind-spot search is *very* unlikely to be undertaken without strong and specific motivation.”

Thus you prove that you simply haven’t a clue. You truly do not have even an inkling how reciprocal accountability works. But indeed, keep at it, Grasshopper. You’ll have your aha moment. I have faith in you.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

David, I'm pretty sure that I understand your "low hanging fruit" argument. I agree with it with respect to our human past. I just don't understand how it would apply to modern genetic engineering techniques.

Maximum human lifespan seems to be limited by telomere length in humans; but telomere length is clearly entirely irrelevant in rats and mice (which have much longer telomeres, but much shorter lifespans). Rats and mice age because they have relatively poor DNA repair mechanisms.

As Rob H. implied, though, the most important anti-aging technologies involve not increasing maximum lifespan, but increasing health, strength, coordination and mobility throughout the entire lifespan that we do have.

Alex Tolley said...

Re: Aging

This year's finding that giving transfusions from young mice to old ones rejuvenates their bodies may be significant. At this point the likely proteins involved have been identified and there are human trials to be done.

At this point we don't know if it will extend longevity, or just make us healthier before we die. However if we find compounds that will increase expression of those proteins, we may just be on the cusp of finding out the answer within a generation.

madtom said...

Well, Dr. Brin, you flatter me with "Grasshopper" as I'm sure I don't rate even that rank, having always been an undisciplined student. And I've had plenty of "aha" moments, but mostly they involved discovering how wrong I was the last time I had such a moment. The next one can wait.

Fortunately, I'm a great fan of the old story about the Chinese farmer whose horse runs away and who accepts that and a series of downstream events phlegmatically, responding to neighbors' alternately pleased and sympathetic responses alike with "Good luck, bad luck - who can tell?"

Similarly when other events do not go as we might wish. Labeled by others as great or small, hero or traitor, we can only do our best.

Jumper said...

You don't often get the whole story..

Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho', faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an' sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her -
Sae fine a lady?
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar's haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle,
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whaur horn nor bane ne'er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there, ye're out o' sight,
Below the fatt'rels, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye'll no be right,
Till ye've got on it -
The verra tapmost, tow'rin height
O' Miss' bonnet.



My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an' grey as ony groset:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I'd gie you sic a hearty dose o't,
Wad dress your droddum.

I wad na been surpris'd to spy
You on an auld wife's flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit dubbie boy,
On's wyliecoat;
But Miss' fine Lunardi! fye!
How daur ye do't?

O Jenny, dinna toss your head,
An' set your beauties a' abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie's makin:
Thae winks an' finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

Howard Brazee said...

I am willing to give up my privacy, as a (high) cost of having our rulers (who are nominally our employees), giving up their privacy.

They need to be accountable.

Anonymous said...


That's reciprocal accountability in action as applied to privacy. Wish in one hand, excrete in the other, see which hand fills first.

David Brin said...

Jerry the low-hanging fruit argument means that we have already done all the longevity things that were available by stumbling into them via mutation, including turning OFF any programmed-in senescence. That means any new improvements will entail deliberate meddling in ways that random mutation could never have taken us. This excludes (obviously) all mere diet or magic-substance panaceas. I have bets about those and am raking it in.

Yes, of course there are NEW possibilities. It will be more than just telomeres, but I watch with interest. It’s just that It will be hard.

And again Alex, I pay attention when a mouse analog seems to offer ways to fix some particular failure mode. I do not believe I have ever seen a persuasive reason to believe that a mouse-experiment re senescence has ever has squat to do with human beings.

Madtom. All of that is fine. I will continue to listen to your criticisms. I just cannot promise whether to deem them change-worthy… or simplistic. Thrive, either way and keep poking away.

Jumper, you’ll recall I cite that same poem in TWO different novels!

Anon, that’s a tasty metaphor! Though I still ask, which method gave you the freedom and tools to share it with us?

Alfred Differ said...

Giving up our privacy isn't going to get the potential overlords to give up theirs. We are going to have to take it and that means occasionally overstep reasonable bounds. I can live with people spying on the police and other officials for awhile as we learn and adapt.

David Brin said...

Alfred... that is where I am militant.

David Brin said...

onward

Anonymous said...

Want to bet telescreens are not mandated in a few years? The internet of things seems to be the hot item this year. All it would take is mandating a webcam on everything, your fridge the thermostat etc. Of course all of it will be hackable. I'm almost surprised that windows does not already have a backdoor /rootkit built in.