Saturday, January 30, 2016

Insistence of Vision and other forward-looking tales

Fantastic news for those of you out there who love the genre-of-an-active-mind. 

First, my long anticipated and long-delayed third short story collection is now available for pre-order.  (Discounts only for pre-orders.)

To be released in March, Insistence of Vision will open doorways into possible (and mind-blowing) tomorrows and alternate realities. Through tales like “Chrysalis” and “Transition Generation” and “Stones of Significance” you’ll explore the consequences, if we get want we ask for.  You’ll meet alien invaders unlike any other, in “Mars Opposition” and in “The Logs.”  There is also a novella offering new drama from the Uplift Universe! 


The most recent tale in this volume -- "Tumbledowns of Cleapatra Abyss" -- is included in four best-of volumes from 2015, so far, and it's only January. 

Surprises and ironies abound in Insistence of Vision… as they will in the territory ahead.* Our future.

More good news? Download your free e-version of  Future Visions: Microsoft has published an anthology of original Science Fiction short stories reflecting its research projects, with entries by Elizabeth Bear, Greg Bear, David Brin, Nancy Kress, Ann Leckie, Robert Sawyer, Seanan McGuire, and Jack McDevitt. My story in Future Visions is the only recent tale of mine that's not included in Insistence of Vision.

== Star Wars on Trial: the force awakens ==

The new edition of Star Wars on Trial! The new “Force Awakens” edition of Star Wars on Trial has been released, just in time to tie in with the Force Awakens movie (Episode -what-is-it-seven?) No, the editions aren't that different.  Mostly my new introduction... and a cool modification to the already hilariously apropos cover.  You still get terrific, incisive, often-sarcastic but also on-target skewerings… and defenses… of this incredibly popular pop-culture phenomenon. 

And yes... I finally did take the family to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. See my comments on this phenomenon.

Meanwhile, another author appraises why the Jedi themselves undermined the Old Republic. Others are decrypting secrets of Star Wars… as in this hilarious... and rather convincing explanation of how the seemingly insipid and foolish Jar-Jar Binks is almost certainly a Sith master.  You will chuckle, growl, and finally admit it must be true!

== Brief looks at recent Sci Fi ==

What alien life might we find under the vast ice shelves of moons such as Jupiter's Europa? A Darkling Sea, by James Cambias, explores a First Contact scenario under the kilometer-thick ice sheet of the moon Ilmatar, which circles a distant gas giant. Humans have established a deep sea research station, with a strict promise of non-interference with the blind, but intelligent creatures that have evolved in the dark ocean depths. Tensions rapidly rise when the Terran crew is discovered, setting the scene for a solid adventure story and complex inter-speces political negotiations... as two vastly different cultures seek to communicate and possibly, reconcile. With intricate world-building and vividly detailed aliens.

For a fast-paced science fiction mystery-thriller, try The Fold, by Peter Clines. The hero, a high school teacher with a perfect eidetic memory and the ability to make tremendous deductive leaps, is called upon to evaluate a super-secret DARPA project -- a team of scientists have developed The Albuquerque Door, a bridge through a fold in space-time. The reclusive researchers claim it works perfectly and will soon be safe for teleporting humans, until things go horrifyingly wrong… with implications that may threaten all of humanity. 

Scheduled for release in January: All the Birds in the Sky, a debut novel from the talented Charlie Jane Anders, editor of io9, which SF Signal calls, "a stunning novel about the end of the world - and the beginning of our future. 


It’s their planet now! A riveting post-apocalyptic tale that taps into your darkest nightmares: Slavemakers, by Joseph Wallace, is a sequel to his earlier novel, Invasive Species, where deadly parasitic wasps (known as thieves) nearly wipe out humanity. In Slavemakers, set twenty years later, most remaining humans have been enslaved, under the mind-control of the venomous wasps;  isolated pockets of refugees eke out an existence, protected by a vaccine created from a rare cultivated plant. And a few uniquely powerful individuals are able to tap into the linked hive mind of the wasps in order to alter the fate of the planet...

What if your tablet didn't just provide you with information, but anticipate your needs, providing prompts... as you find it harder and harder to recall even ordinary words? The Word Exchange, a debut novel by Alena Graedon, envisions a near-future where the written word is nearly extinct; people are dependent upon their handheld Memes to the extent of buying words they can't remember. Our protagonist, Anana Johnson, is assisting her father in producing the final print edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language, when he mysteriously disappears. She desperately seeks clues, even while communication becomes increasingly challenging as a word flu pandemic sets in, causing many to lose the basic ability to speak. Interesting, but the random word substitutions in the text do slow the flow of the novel.

Octavia Butler did a charming short story - Speech Sounds - along similar lines.


What lies are told to keep society functioning? In Emma Newman’s recent novel, Planetfall, one individual is ‘called’ to an alien planet by a vision. The story takes place twenty-two years after colonists established an outpost at the base of an immense alien artifact -- God’s City. When a mysterious stranger shows up, it opens up long-hidden secrets from the founding of the colony. The story centers around Ren, a talented 3D printing engineer, her social isolation, anxiety, her eventual mental unraveling… and perhaps transcendence.

Keep your eye open, soon, for Avengers of the Moon, a rollicking space opera in the Doc Smith tradition, by Allen Steele, and Charles Stross's new paratime series opener Dark State.




*Which prompts a smile-worthy thought. Our daughter, Ari, observed that “ironman” actually translates as FeMale! A spooky/fey observation and an ironic one… till my wife pointed out that “Fey” and “Irony” are the very same thing.  Oog. Never mind that.  Pre-order Insistence of Vision! 

98 comments:

Paul SB said...

All of these sound like some fun reading that I might have time for when I retire, or of the state shuts down my school and I find myself unemployed. Not meaning to sound ungrateful - it's cool having a really good writer to recommend good reading for the rest of us.

However, I noticed one of those things that is commonly misunderstood by most of the public, misperceptions that come to some extent from authors not doing their homework. The central character of the story called "The Fold" is supposed to have an eidetic memory, but having an eidetic memory is not some dream skill that we all wish we could have (especially as we age). Robert Sapolsky described people who have it as a condition which allows them to remember perfectly, but understand virtually nothing. In one of the lectures on CD I have, he tells the story of a Russian man who was given a job at a large company, but unlike the other executives, he never took notes at board meetings. After a few weeks the president of the company called him in to a private meeting and suggested that he was not taking his job very seriously. The man with the eidetic memory said that he took neonates because he remembered every word the boss had said, and proved it by repeating every word the boss had said. That was impressive, but the guy ended up losing his job eventually, anyway. While he could remember anything, he couldn't process the information and figure out how to use it. He wasn't very good at making decisions, and ended up standing around railroad stations making a busker's living wowing people with feats of memory.

There are a lot for things out there that 'everyone knows' but everyone knows wrong.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

as in this hilarious... and rather convincing explanation of how the seemingly insipid and foolish Jar-Jar Binks is almost certainly a Sith master. You will chuckle, growl, and finally admit it must be true!


Hey, I've been saying for at least a decade now that Qui-Gon's almost innocuous decision to bring Jar-Jar Binks along in Ep1 was directly responsible for Jar-Jar's lobbying for Palpatine's ascension as dictator in Ep2.

sociotard said...

Have you looked at "A Borrowed Man"? scifi novel about a cloned murder mystery writer who is kept in a public library, to be checked out by anyone who wants to consult. I read the sample and thought "I could see Brin doing that to himself"

Jumper said...

On Ayn Rand from the last thread, lately I realized I hadn't been giving her enough credit for her over-the-top portrayal of the evil bureaucrats. Of course life has taught me that they exist equally in corporations, which defuses much of her point.

David Brin said...

Sociotard sounds like a fun book.

Jumper, I further point out that Ayn Rand most often cites as villains conniving old-money oligarchs, who conspire together to use captured government to eliminate brash new competition. Bureaucrats and socialists are most often portrayed as mere patsies or fools. Her real ire is aimed at old money aristos who cannot bear allowing bold innovators out-compete them.

Often the conniving aristo is the brother or other relative of an independent-minded hero... as in the brothers of Dagny Taggert and Hank Reardon.

How ironic! She implicitly admits the root problem of proto-feudalist owner oligarchic cheating, yet never concedes that law and a neutral civil service are the only tools that have ever worked - to varying degrees - to reduce that plague (it arises out of basic darwinism and human nature.) No other approach ever created a flat-open-fair-creative-productive-competitive playing field as effectively as did the Rooseveltean compact, high-taxes and all.

Her prescription is diametrically opposite to the one method that did more than any other to achieve the condition she claims to desire!

Can the rooseveltean approach spoil and do its own harm to flat-open-fair-creative-productive-competitive playing fields? Yep! AR was right to rail against the wholly captured Interstate Commerce Commission, for example, an old boy cabal that used government to protect their easy profits from competition, very much as she portrayed the railroads being ruined in Atlas Shrugged. Only...

...Ony it did not take a solipsistic-insanely destruction revolution of selfishness to bring down the ICC. Just politics. The democrats dissolved it. And the similar Civil Aeronautics board, restoring competition to rails and air travel. BTW ONLY dems deregulate. Goppers just yell about it.

Tony Fisk said...

Before the current speculation about Darth Jar Jar, there was Darths and Droids.

Ep 7... oh dear. Yes, it had some great effects and interesting characters but, without a coherent plot*, they were very poorly served. One dreads what will result when 'Empire' is put through the blender (or maybe the idea is to smuggle some writers in while Abrams isn't looking? ... wait a minute...).

While another collection of short stories is welcome, calling 'Temptation' a *new* Uplift story is stretching things a bit: it was written last century! Still, for anyone who hasn't read it yet, it is well worth the wait.

*What I call the 'Doctor Who' rule states that "Good effects cannot do for a poor story what a good story can do for poor effects."

David Brin said...

Story collections, by nature, bring together ahem older tales. But I bet this one has bunches you've missed.

Ronnie Darling said...

Thank you for the free book! Alas, I bought it a week or ten days ago. I'm sure I won't regret it, so never mind the alas. I love LOVE your book reviews, I've never read them before, I watch your twitter feed, and your FB feed, and from time to time I follow the links and read whatever is comprehensible to me (I never got the "smart pill" because- no money) So this blog entry of yours was such a great surprise. Thank you!

On a second note, my daughter just graduated with her Doctorate in Philosophy (apparently astrophysics is philosophy) after a free ride and stipend from John Hopkins. I'm very proud of her, and so I wouldn't ask questions that might alarm her to the fact that mom was smart when she was a kid, but not so much now --- I started following you and Corey Doctrow and a few other people I consider "smart" (read that to say brilliant) in the hopes that some internet-association-shoulder-rubbing and lots of reading might disguise my lack of a high school degree. So far, not so bad. Her "specialty" is dwarfs and black holes, mostly anything outside of our solar system, and she's done some work with gravitational waves over in Washington State. Do you have any suggestions in regards to something I can learn/read about that will make conversations with her a bit easier? She's very driven and passionate about her work, and now that she's out of academia and looking for a real job (hopefully at an observatory in Arizona where she went to Tempe Uni) she seems to have this no-nonsense personality that is the white elephant in the room.

Thank you in advance
Ronnie J Darling

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Which prompts a smile-worthy thought. Our daughter, Ari, observed that “ironman” actually translates as FeMale! A spooky/fey observation and an ironic one…


Young girls have been aware of that joke for at least a few years now. My daughter and her cousin, both in their young teens now, had t-shirts several years ago that read:

FE is iron
I am female
therefore, I am Iron Man

The father of one of my daughter's friends actually has "FE MALE" as his vanity license plate.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

The man with the eidetic memory said that he took neonates because he remembered every word the boss had said, and proved it by repeating every word the boss had said. That was impressive, but the guy ended up losing his job eventually, anyway. While he could remember anything, he couldn't process the information and figure out how to use it. He wasn't very good at making decisions, and ended up standing around railroad stations making a busker's living wowing people with feats of memory.


I just recently re-viewed the 1970s movie "The Paper Chase", which I probably haven't seen in 30 years. In one early scene, one of the law students says he can remember the facts of any case he has read because he has a photographic memory. The John Houseman character lectures him that a photographic memory will do him no good unless he can critically analyze the facts, which of course, the guy can't do at all, and the guy ends up failing the class.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

What I call the 'Doctor Who' rule states that "Good effects cannot do for a poor story what a good story can do for poor effects."


The young 'uns won't understand this, but in 1977, the original "Star Wars" was an example of great special effects and a plot that was just good enough not to fall into your "poor story" category.

Last year, I had my daughter watch the 1960s Charlton Heston "The Ten Commandments" for the first time. She laughed hysterically at the 1960s-era special effects (particularly the pillar of flame), but enjoyed the film.

BTW, I'm agreeing with your rule, and just supplying some examples it brings to mind.

Paul SB said...

Larry,

It's good to know that at least some of the media out there gets the science right. I never saw The Paper Chase largely because I grew up knowing enough lawyers (by way of my mother's profession) to lose any interest in watching movies about them. At one point when I was in college I started writing a story about a person with multiple personality disorder (which is not the same as schizophrenia) because whenever it came up in the media it was made into a joke, but people who have this are people who suffered horrible abuse in their childhoods. But like a lot of ideas I had, it never got finished, and isn't likely to have gotten "out there" anyway.

A counter example to Fisk's Law would be the movie HBO made of Ursula LeGuin's "The Lathe of Heaven" which was slick production full of fine visual effects - and such a botched version of the story it was barely watchable. The old BBC version, with terrible effects, was better, but still didn't do justice to the novel by far.

Paul SB said...

Ronnie,

You can pick up a whole lot quickly by watching the History Channel's series "The Universe." Then pick the topics you like and go to the library from there.

Brains are things that you grow, not so much buy. I was explaining to my anatomy classes last week the different lobes of the cerebrum. One of them, called the Parietal, is mostly about processing the senses, but is also where your brain deals with math. When I was in high school I got A's in everything else but math. At the time I didn't know anything about brains, I just figured there was something wrong with mine. So when I went to college I majored in something that did not require any math. But I did have to take one math class, and I put it off until I was a senior. I was dreading the class, but when I took it, I had to scratch my head and wonder what was going on, because it wasn't hard at all. I guess my parietal lobes just hadn't fully grown when I was in high school, but after a few years they were ready to learn.

By that time it was way too late for me to change majors. I had wanted to study aerospace engineering and design spacecraft sent out to explore the Solar System (and maybe beyond, but that's still sci-fi). 20% of your intelligence is what you're born with, the rest is what you do with it. Good luck keeping up with your daughter!

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

A counter example to Fisk's Law would be the movie HBO made of Ursula LeGuin's "The Lathe of Heaven" which was slick production full of fine visual effects - and such a botched version of the story it was barely watchable. The old BBC version, with terrible effects, was better, but still didn't do justice to the novel by far.


I think that fits Tony's "Dr Who rule" quite accurately. When they botched the story, the effects couldn't save it. When they got the story right, it was better, even with lesser special effects.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

20% of your intelligence is what you're born with, the rest is what you do with it. Good luck keeping up with your daughter!


You weren't addressing me, but I already know my daughter will leave me in the dust, and as Dr Brin has asserted several times, that's a good thing.

At the moment, its nice for my wife and myself to be two of the only parents among her friends' parents to be able to help her with math homework. Just the other day, with a friend over for a visit, she asked about some problem or other in geometry, and my wife and I were able to discuss it meaningfully. Her friend noted that her parents would have just stared politely into the distance. My daughter then proclaimed, "Nerd parents. I'm livin' the dream."

Paul SB said...

Larry,

I have the same feeling with my daughter, but I'm afraid not my son.In either case, though, I'm still not much help with math homework. If I took the time, I'm sure I could learn it, but at this point in my years it wouldn't do me a lot of good. What I really need to learn is something classes can't teach - how to get my son off the video games and using his brain for something good.

Even if you feel left behind by your daughter, if she can call you and your wife nerds with pride, you've done something right. (Btw, have the health issues been resolved? - it=f that's not being nosey...)

As to Fisk's Law, I seem to have misread it. My slowly demyelinating brain missed the 'not' in the first phrase. Maybe I should sign up for an algebra class after all!

LarryHart said...

@Paul SB,

If you're asking about my wife's health issues, she's a lot better than she was a year ago. We still never got a completely accurate diagnosis of what she had/has, but after seven months of going from one specialist to another, she finally found an old-school doctor who was willing to say "If it walks like Lyme disease and quacks like Lyme disease, let's treat you as if you do have Lyme disease and see if that helps. If not, we'll try something else." Once she was on antibiotics, she began recovering, although not without seven months worth of nerve damage that will probably never be fully mitigated.

She's lucky she's intelligent and well-read enough to be able to self-diagnose an illness that apparently our finest medical minds and technologies are unable to do anything about unless a test with a 50% failure rate tells them what to do.

And thanks for the concern, but that's all the time I want to spend filling up Dr Brin's blog with my family's personal stuff.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

What I really need to learn is something classes can't teach - how to get my son off the video games and using his brain for something good.


Well, there was an episode of "The Simpsons" where Marge could not get Bart and Lisa to do any lawn work, but later in the show, they were playing the "lawn work simulator" on their computer. Is there a way to get him to do something useful by playing a computer game?

David Brin said...

Ronnie thank you for your lovely and deeply moving note. The pride you feel in your daughter's accomplishments shines through.

But please - can you honestly say you never look at her, smile, and think: "I helped to MAKE that. That wonder over there is partly my doing. I am so-o-o-o cool."

Seriously babe. You are. So cool.

Oh, Yes, rent all the UNIVERSE episodes. COSMOS. SHows like those. Discover Magazine. Bug her to explain stuff, once a week. Remind her that it's her job to learn how to explain wonders to child-like minds! ;-)

Larryhart: "Nerd parents. I'm livin' the dream."

Oh, enjoy it while it lasts. She... will... turn... fourteen.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB (again):

Even if you feel left behind by your daughter, if she can call you and your wife nerds with pride, you've done something right.


I didn't mean "left behind" in the sense of "Why did she move away from home? And she never writes."

I meant she's so much more advanced than I was at her age, with so few of my insecurities, that she's bound for greatness. I guess I'm also livin' the dream.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

She... will... turn... fourteen.


She just did.

Paul SB said...

Larry,
- And thanks for the concern, but that's all the time I want to spend filling up Dr Brin's blog with my family's personal stuff.
Completely understood. And the 'left behind' was exactly that - I often feel the same way with my Spawn 1. I have decades more experience and education, but she still blows me away on a regular basis. I'm living' the same dream, in that way.

Larry and Dr. Brin,
Not everyone who turns 14 turns away from their parents. Mine will be twenty in a couple months, and she still treats me like I'm her best friend. Maybe that's just her condition, but the universality of adolescent behavior has as much to do with culture as it does biology.

locumranch said...



The rise of the PhD is more a cause for alarm than celebration as it reflects educational inutility & creeping credentialism.

Encouraged by poor job prospects in a contracting economy, the PhD candidate forgoes gainful employment & pursues a specialised educational career path which qualifies them for little more than education and research.

Things become even bleaker when we realise that university diploma mills churn out a surfeit (over-supply) of PhDs on a global scale, depressing the relative value of this degree even further, so much so that

(1) “Job opportunities available for PhD graduates and the security and remuneration these opportunities provide do not always appear commensurate with the opportunity costs involved in studying for a PhD, at least to the graduates themselves”,

(2) "Only 12.8% of PhD graduates can attain academic positions in the USA", and

(3) "In the UK, almost 80% of people achieving PhDs in science will eventually find careers outside science".

http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20130403121244660

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25642132

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2015/02/18/too-many-phd-graduates/#.Vq6H630rKJc

This crisis in educational navel gazing (wherein the western educational system entire disappears into its own 'black hole' of a navel) was presaged by J. Abner Peddiwell's seminal work 'The Saber-Tooth Curriculum', leaving the 'average' PhD graduate the option of either choosing a career in 'Barista Science' or joining the over-educated & unemployable ranks of 'Occupy Wall Street'.

I put the blame squarely on an 'optimism' that prefers feelings & desire over practicality & utility.


Best

LarryHart said...

@locumranch

If I were to agree with you, declare life on this mudball earth to be hopelessly disheartening, and chop my own head off in a guillotine, would that finally get you to stop?

Because short of that, I can't for the life of me see what you are aiming for.

Tony Fisk said...

I did catch the original 'Temptation' novella in a Mammoth Best SF collection C 2000 but, if there's been additions, all the better!

She... will... turn... fourteen.

Ours has just started at a new school. It was chosen on her own initiative: not something I'd have done at her age. Fourteen is still a few months off.

PS: for those who are interested, nominations for the 2016 Hugos are now being accepted here.

David Brin said...

Where L has a point is that PhD candidates submit themselves to being used as driven labor, 80 hour weeks at pennies per hour, sometimes for magnificent mentors - the smartest and best people our species ever created - and sometimes for slave-driving egotists. (There is a slight field-correlation, with physics being more of the former and biology containing more of the latter.)

To which I reply, so? This is exactly the kind of retro pattern that Locum and his ilk moan nostalgically for! Master-Journeyman-Apprentice stuff. All the way to medieval gowns in which the newly minted "doktor" gets to wear a monk's cowl! It goes way, way back, son.

What's changed is that this path is now open to many, many more (and boy do they come, flocking) -- and the process is more moderated and fair (though I experienced unfairness that made me test the system... and I won, big. Oh, I'd make changes.)

Jesus, if there are more doctorates than academic slots, guess what. It's fucking competitive! It's a market and you knew it was when you applied to graduate school. And even so, they come in droves. Why? Because the Big Prize is the best job, ever, in the history of the species! Pushing the envelope of knowledge while nurturing scientific skill and curiosity in both future winners and also teaching those exacting mental skills to those who won't attain any prized professorships...

... but who WILL go into he job market with clear proof that: "I know how to study a problem to its very core, dissect it and discover something that no one on Earth - possible anywhere in creation - ever knew before. It may have been a small thing, BUT I ADDED SOMETHING PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN TO HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. That is what PhD means. And sure, that's credentialed. So sue me. Better yet, hire me. For enough to make up for those 5 years as a lab (or theory) slave -- which also happened to be the best and most fascinating and most wonderful years of my entire f***ing life."

Dig it. In 1930 Galbraith and others predicted that industrial productivity would render the 40 hour week obsolete and millions would have to find ways to occupy their time, outside the tsunami-productive factories and farms. He looked foolish for a while. But perhaps he was just 100 years premature. And if so?

I can think of worse ways to occupy the time of our very brightest than spending their youths seeking a "credential" that says "I spent some of this time and wealth at the very frontiers of human knowledge."

David Brin said...

Well, as long as folks are mentioning the Hugos... INSISTENCE OF VISION contains "Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss" which is in FOUR "best-of 2015 collections." Oh, did I already mention that? Discounts on pre-orders! ;-)

Paul SB said...

Larry, I think Loci just bitches to bitch. Maybe it's his way of venting steam. But seriously, he mirrors the same unsubstantiated crap that 35% of the population believes is Gospel Truth (like the idea that all people who have academic degrees are stupid), then congratulates himself on being smarter than 90% of the sheeple out there. Of course he wants everyone to believe that Ph.d's are stupid, because many of them discover facts that prove he (and the other 35%) are dead wrong about very important things. Though unlike most, you can only extrapolate what he actually believes by reading what he argues against. He rarely comes out and says anything clear (which, ironically, is a trait more typical of older generation stereotypes of women).

Indulging in one of those "If I won the lottery" fantasies, with or without job prospects I would go back to school and a Doctorate in a heartbeat. I might get a couple, if I were independently wealthy. All that brain exercise would add years to my shelf life.

Robert said...

I know a young lady whom I first met online because of a webcomic (Comiku Girls) she did with her best friend and partner in cosplay before carpal tunnel kind of killed the comic. I met her in person at an anime convention, as she and her friend do various panels on Japanese culture, including a Japanese Tea Ceremony.

(In fact, she and her friend helped my friend propose to his wife - they hid the engagement ring in a cup of green tea and my friend caught the whole thing on video. Quite amusing and sweet.)

Anyway, I had an opportunity to meet up with her once for coffee and we chatted about various things. When her grandparents died, she had a decent-sized inheritance which she used to go back to college and get a Master's Degree in Japanese poetry.

Why? Because she loves Japanese culture and wanted to learn more.

I am willing to bet that some people go and get a PhD not because they are looking to get a job in academia or because they think they will earn a higher salary... but out of a joy for learning. Some people love to learn. They will spend money and take college classes to further their education, even though there isn't a financial gain for this endeavor.

And for all the anti-intellectualism in this world (it's not just the U.S. that has this disease), there has always been people who strive to learn more and to further expand not only their own boundaries of knowledge, but push the envelope and discover new things so others can learn as well. Not as teachers... but as people on a journey for the sake of knowledge itself.

Cynics don't understand this. After all, there is no actual financial gain for this final level of education... or for going for two, three, or four PhDs. Why bother, really? Except... some people love to learn. And the only way to stop them is to kill them.

That is why the cynics are ultimately wrong and that this nation and this world is not going to hell and isn't going to burn with some imaginary God declaring "Game Over" so the Faithful and anti-intellectual can celebrate while the intelligent suffer for eternity: because there will always be people seeking to learn, to expand knowledge, and to utilize that knowledge to make the world a better place.

Rob H.

locumranch said...



While there are people who prefer to equate the placebo effect with intelligence, literacy & self-diagnostic ability, I prefer plausible explanations over flights-of-fancy.

I understand education for its own sake -- I value it also -- but this is not the topic I discussed, the topic being that the over-saturation of higher education (and, with it, the proliferation of PhD programs) is a false economy that devalues education for all concerned & forces the degree-holder into working "80 hour weeks at pennies per hour" (aka 'penurious wage slavery') in a process that David refers to as "f(fff)ing competitive".

Once I dreamed of ocean, dolphins & marine biology until I met a family friend who had earned that particular degree AND worked at McDonald's, only to realise that the Western Education System was a multifaceted Confidence Game rigged to enslave the young, the unwary & the ambitious with the promise of a most improbably wondrous lottery prize.

Yet, the truth will out, and those of us who have paid our dues four-fold are waking up to the nature of this deceit, and we are not amused.


Best

Paul SB said...

Rob,
Agreed entirely! And I would point out that people who go out of their way to learn actually improve their intelligence. Brains are like muscles, the more you exercise them, the better they get. This is one of the most important discoveries of modern neuroscience, because it shoots down all those ancient assumptions that feed people's apathy and disregard for other people. The racism, sexism, and more insidiously the classism all stand on the assumption that every aspect of our lives and our worth as human beings is genetically determined and unalterable. That assumption turns out to be mostly wrong.

There is also a very strong relationship between an active mind and longevity. So far from being fools, those Ph.D's are exercising their brains to optimal health. The cynical fools simply can't understand them because they have left their own brains to atrophy which is why they can do no better than to bobblehead.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Don't ignore the very real possibility that your math teachers really sucked in the early years. We've been learning a lot about how NOT to teach mathematics over the last few generations. You may have unintentionally been an object lesson.

Mathematics is an odd language, but when it is taught AS a language, more students comprehend more of it more rapidly. When taught as a collection of abstractions and NOT as concrete calculations, the language is easier to perceive.

In my generation, I suspect that most of us who 'got it' and went far with it were mostly self-taught. We may have spent a lot of time in front of teachers, but what we know comes from our own efforts. Languages can be taught, but they require a kind of immersion I never saw in class. I had to immerse myself and that came from my pursuit of physics.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I agree with Alfred
Everybody (almost) can understand and use mathematics

my assessment is that reading is actually a more difficult and unnatural skill but we can teach almost everybody to read

The problem is how it is taught
I don't know how to teach it better!

I think that it needs to be taught with a lot of examples about how to actually use maths
Beyond that I don't know

Alfred Differ said...

I have to grumble a bit about the shallow thinking that gets expressed regarding anarchists and minarchists. I'm not in either group, but I do respect some of the ideas they suggest as experiments to try on a small scale. For example, private roads don't have to be toll roads. Such a simplification shows a lack of imagination. The first house I bought had Mello Roos charges associated with the parcel. They were for roads that had been built before city incorporation. The county charged nearby property owners who wanted to roads improved earlier than would have otherwise happened. There is no reason why this kind of charge can't be levied by a 'public-owned utility' that happens to build and manage roads. Use of the roads would be charged to nearly property owners who could pass charges through to customers if they happened to operate businesses, so 'tolls' are just part of the picture.

I'll admit many libertarians are utopians. We can safely ridicule them, but not for the high ideals they believe. The nonsense lies in their belief that we can create large scale change to improve society. This type of grand social engineering has a dismal track record. When I meet a utopian, I suggest they find some like minded people and set up their equivalent of a commune. I'd support letting their 'city' operate as they wish and flex state law to accommodate, but I'd require a sunset clause on their city incorporation that could only be extended with a super majority vote of their local citizens. Cities should be experimental zones for how we choose to organize ourselves. Conformity should be respectfully discouraged... for long enough to run the experiment.

So... can the roads be built and operated privately? Show me where the experiment has been run lately. Show me the failures. If none exist, I'll argue that we don't know and we should consider getting out of the way of those who want to make test subjects of themselves.

Robert said...

Locu, you are blind.

You cannot comprehend this one statement:

Some people are getting their PhD not as a means of furthering their career, but rather for the joy of learning and of discovering new knowledge.

To put it in monetary terms, let us say that there is 10,000 tonnes of gold in the world that is mined. And then someone finds an asteroid and harvests all the gold in it, and there's another 10,000 tonnes of gold.

The value of gold just was cut in half. Unless of course the person who found that gold has no intention of putting it on the market and instead keeps it for himself because he wants to build a castle out of gold and now he has all the raw materials needed to do just that.

If people are getting PhDs for the sake of learning, it does not devalue the economic value of the PhD because they are not seeking it to get a job, but to continue their own education.

And even if many of them are? Education and learning are things to be upheld and considered worth pursuing.

Try wrapping your twisted sense of reality around that concept.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: Let me start by offering my sympathy if you are living under a large debt load. I DO recognize the fraud being perpetrated by some institutions of higher learning and warn those younger than me who ask for the advice. An education IS a purchase and only a fool walks into a market wanting to buy something no matter the price. Higher education financing waters contain many sharks.

The problem with the rest of your nonsense is you aren't paying attention to why people buy an education. SOME do so for job prospects and higher pay, but many of us don't. It wasn't until about 6 years ago that I finally landed in a job where my employer cared to pay me more for my PhD because they could charge their customer more for my time. It doesn't matter why they can... they just can. My previous employers didn't really care once I explained that I acquired it for personal reasons that had nothing to do with their market sector. Mostly I just 'failed' to mention it to them because they didn't need to know.

I first sought employment in academia and as you've pointed out, the odds were against me. Doing so was actually a case of lack of imagination on my part, though. I enjoy teaching immensely, but I develop an unscratchable itch when I'm immersed in a bureaucracy. Can't stand them. My desire to produce a growable income when I met the woman I wanted to marry cured me. Permanently.

What really moved me to buy the education I have was an early event in my life. I was 7 when Apollo 11 got to the Moon. I noted the awe and pride on the faces of the adults around me and I wanted to make more of it happen. Working at the edge of what is known to Humanity was the way to do it. It works like a charm. It also works with the women. Heh.

I still get people who ask why I'm not in academia. They figure something must have gone wrong. I spend time with some of them explaining to them that something actually went right. Instead of the stuffy 'church' that is much of academia getting access to my talent, entrepreneurs do. I know how to create knowledge and have the bullet-proof ego that comes with that knowledge. Job interviews don't scare me. Building a business that might fail doesn't scare me. The world is better off with me NOT being in academia.

Access to such people may not be an intended consequence of an oversupply of education, but it IS happening. Civilization WILL notice.

Alfred Differ said...

another thought...

One of the interesting things history shows again and again once the industrial age started is that many commodities that were formerly expensive become cheap. Iron and steel used to be costly until competition among providers created an oversupply. Woe be unto us? Nah. We found a use for cheap iron and steel. Who would have bothered crafting wire rope before the world industrialized? Where did all those bricks go from the buildings that used to fall on us each time the Earth trembled?

We will find a use for this oversupply of education. In the mean time, accept the devaluation of old knowledge without devaluing the people who have it. You need them to acquire old knowledge to create new knowledge and the value it brings.

David Brin said...

All somewhat true... except compared to every other civilization of any kind, past or present.

Except for that inconvenient fact. plus the ironic hypocrisy of utilizing every freedom and technology that were wrought by science and by people who actually know stuff about human history and human nature... what it boils down to is a deep distaste for all the ever-increasing numbers of folks who know a whole whole whole lot more than he does.

Douglas Fenton said...

Alfred Differ,

My son-in-law’s experience mirrors yours concerning your Ph.D. He has a Ph.D. from a reputable university in physics and spent three years doing a post doc but eventually decided to leave the field when he met my daughter. I think I can safely say that the prospect of marriage definitely causes you to rethink your life. Once he decided, he put out a few feelers and was immediately offered a job that tripled his prior income. He didn’t like it too much but he needed the money. Two years later, he was offered a different job that paid a good amount more and was one he liked much better. Last Christmas I asked him if he regretted leaving research and he answered that he did miss it but he felt he wasn’t getting anywhere from a professional point of view and that he was in a dead end. He also said that with his Ph.D., getting a well-paying job is easy. The problem is finding one that he likes and one that provides the same stimulation as his post-doc work. (As an aside, he grew up in a small town in West Texas and has Texas written all over him but his politics are very blue. Education does matter!) My daughter, and his wife, just finished her Ph.D. and wants to go into academia so I am crossing my fingers. Maybe she will make it or maybe not but I am confident that she will not be working a McDonalds.

The point I would like to make is that any student who goes for a Ph.D. knows that getting in academia is very tough but they accept the challenge and if it doesn’t work out then they should be prepared to change. From an employer’s point of view, my company hired tons of Ph.Ds. from all areas because what we want are first-class minds. Those with Ph.Ds. are smart and are capable of working intensely. Furthermore, they are flexible in their thinking and have performed very well even though they were in positions that had little to do with their schooling. For us a surplus of Ph.D.’s on the market works to our advantage.

Jumper said...

I've worked with PhDs in chemistry, engineering and metallurgy. In industry, and who resemble essentially nothing like locumranch's stultified blathering.

Tacitus2 said...

The concept of pursuing a PhD, or some other form of education later in life is worthy. It is along the lines of the Golden Age chapters of Childhood's End which I recently re-read.

In fact I am working out a way that I can do this when I am in the proper phase of the retire/unretire cycle. I am having a lot of fun coaching FIRST robotics of late but need to seriously upgrade my machining and welding skills. Totally going to the local tech college next fall.

But not all PhDs are created equal. It would be great to get an advanced degree for the fun of it if you had no need to earn a living off of it. But society "needs" certain advanced knowledge more than others. I think the tales of ready employ apply less to those with Film Studies and Art History degrees.

Two thoughts on that matter.

1. How many people starting college can really predict their world a decade later? My oldest son is in the age band that made their plans before the 2008 financial crash. He's in great shape but many of his friends have marched a long way down paths that look far less viable now. And.....how many of said young folk have a clear focus on how family life, children etc will factor in? I hate to see our Brightest and Best (yes, even the Film Studies doctorates) delaying, deferring or agonizing over becoming parents. Our society needs them in this role also.

2. I do get the sense that many institutions of higher learning are not being candid about job prospects after advanced degrees. Law schools are notorious in this sense. If schools can crank out a high volume of doctorates of course the value of same will decline a bit. Ideally there would be some sort of ratio. We should have so many PhD slots per year nationwide and with X percentage physical sciences, Y percentage literature, etc. This is exactly how Medical Schools do things and while the supply and demand sides are not in perfect balance it is a rational system that has kept the "quality" of an MD degree fairly high. It also of course preserves the income earning potential of one which is what the AMA really has in mind.

Not that I think we should direct a top down command economy of academia. I would settle for a greater degree of transparency. The PhD barista is an anecdote. Real stats would be a tonic.

Tacitus

Jumper said...

What if AI becomes smarter than people, and everyone gets an earpiece or cochlear implant, and all you do in life and business is "read your lines" which your AI whispers to you? Then the leaders of society would be the ones with the best AIs, the best good looks, and the best theatrical ability to deliver their lines.
Oh, wait. Hmmm. Uh, where was I? Oh, yeah: if you want to be a successful lawyer, you might take some theater training too.

Smurphs said...

Locum again drops some curmudgeonly BS about what is wrong with the world, and my fingers itch to write back. Then I read on, and once again, our host answers politely, on topic, with an open-mindedness and generosity of spirit I just can’t duplicate.

Well done, Dr. Brin! Keep taking the high road, and maybe someday I will learn how to follow.

raito said...

I came here for the politics. And instead (sometimes), I find new stuff to read, in particular Freefall and Star Power. I said before I have a hard time finding new authors. This will help.

With regard to T-shirts, my daughter has the 'Self Rescuing Princess' shirt. She also has a bedspread with a princess and castle on it. The princess's dress has pockets full of tools, and she's fixing cars.

I took a lot of flack for buying my daughter a set of wrenches before she could walk (no flack from my friends with advanced degrees in child development). I told the naysayers that they were sized well for small hands, made fun noises when banged together, could be counted and sorted, were nearly impossible to destroy, were washable, and were shiny. The ideal toy for an infant. She's got a whole toolbox now.

And she's entering the school's science fair in first grade to light up an LED using pickles as batteries (her idea).

I'm not one that should comment on how math is taught. Those same degreed friends keep telling me that how I learned math (the methods that I loved) don't work well for anyone else. At least I won't have to fish around for arguments if anyone ever decided to tell my daughter 'girls aren't good at math'. I'll just point and say 'Your mother can do differential equations' (and parse Navier-Stokes. So can I.)

I can't say as I like how math is currently being taught. But it really doesn't matter, because for my children, I'm their biggest influence. Currently, it appears as though math is being taught as if taught to people who will never use it or require it. I disagree that somehow reading and writing are more foreign to the mind that math. Reading and writing are natural extensions of language. They're just listening and speaking through a medium other than sound.

As far as my children go, I'm just a booster rocket for the future. I have told them that I've tried to make the world a better place. And one of the things I did to do that was to have them.

I've known plenty of PhDs. Most are decent. Most added to the supply of knowledge (not all, unfortunately, the system isn't perfect). Some think it means something it doesn't. There are also ways other than getting a PhD that add to the supply, too. In theory, patents can do it. There are also other ways.

Where I work, there's plenty of PhDs. In fact, the president of the company and I talked about my education. I got the feeling he thought I might like to pursue additional formal education after I retire. I wouldn't. Because I've figure out how to learn anything I want to learn. I don't need to pay anyone to do that.

Robert said...

Hmm. Well, seeing I'm the resident webcomic reviewer, I'll have to go through my list of science fiction webcomics and post links at some point.

Meanwhile, here's another nail for Dr. Brin to hammer down in calling for transparency and warning about wealth disparities and how people are going to start pulling out torches and pitchforks if the superwealthy don't start paying their fair share.

And also as a prime example of rent-seeking behavior and how trickle-down economics is a complete and utter failure.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

I suspect locumranch was sold a lot of hype about the value of what he knows and now he is paying for it. It happens a lot from what I've seen and I suspect the rate is growing due to the rapid changes occurring around us. There IS misbehavior among lenders who finance our educations, but even an honest broker can run into problems when they fail to predict changes in the market a few years ahead.

@Tacitus2: You don't have to limit your first thought to people just starting college. It took me 13 years to get from the start of college to leaving grad school (fully), but even people trying to predict 4 years out run into trouble. I've been making a living as a software engineer for about 20 years and I know it is hard to see past 2 years. Product lines vanish. Skill sets become obsolete. What I tell people starting down this road is to focus on soft skills that are required for collaboration in large teams and on learning skills which are required to pick up what an employer or business partner needs in a 'just in time' fashion. Learn that stuff for the sake of generating a future income and learn anything else for the sake of personal growth.

The libertarian in me objects to the way we are distorting the education market with subsidies that essentially protect lenders from risk. I think students should be able to declare bankruptcy and wipe the slate with the lender, but getting there would require removing the mechanism we have for underwriting student loans using government money. In principle, I want to remove the market distortion. On the other hand, though, I recognize that an "oversupply" of education changes the world for the better. The progressive in me wants that and is willing to cause the distortion. The education benefits in the GI Bill after WWII utterly changed the US for the better, so I'm drawn to a solution that promises more of the same but for the whole world.

I'm hesitant to use the words 'oversupply' and 'education' in the same sentence. A progressive could easily argue we've had a chronic shortage for thousands of years and I'd have to nod in agreement. A huge difference between this civilization and previous ones is the cost of education. I'm not sure I should even be using the word 'civilization' to suggest ours is like previous ones. Our diamond shape shows we've done something radically different. (Reminds me a bit of the inflationary part of the Big Bang model.)

Alfred Differ said...

@Jumper: WHEN AI gets that smart, it will do so because we are part of it. We will be whispering to each other like the hemispheres of a common brain. We are building (and using) the analogous corpus callosum right now. Can't you hear the whispering? 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@Douglas Fenton: I never made it to the post-doc phase, but not because I didn't look for opportunities. I was looking for temporary teaching positions while I looked for something better and I got lucky. One of the guys who signed off on my dissertation said they would be happy to 'use' me for as long as I was willing to let them when I enquired about lecturing opportunities. The overloaded meaning of the term was obvious in his tone of voice. It was time to leave the nest. Failure to do so would lead to me being abused by people who didn't see it as abuse. It took awhile for the lesson to sink in, but it did.

The prospect of marriage caused me to complete the 180 degree turn. There were still a lot of things I had to learn to function on my own, but I started getting started. That's a skill that has proven useful in a rapidly changing world.

(I've been to West Texas. Interesting places out there, but I could see that it was more purple than red. They really should form their own state to distinguish themselves from the parts of Texas near Louisiana.)

LarryHart said...

@Alfred Differ:

After the Republicans got the majority back in the House in 2003, Tom DeLay worked with the Texas legislature to re-district the state, something that is usually only done after the once-a-decade census in years ending with 0. Texas Democrats were able to temporarily block the move by fleeing the state, thus denying the legislature a quorum. But eventually, the dirty deed was done. The city of Austin, for example, where my in-laws live, is carved up among multiple districts, insuring that no one of them is "blue" enough to elect a Democratic legislator.

Point being, prior to that move, Texas often had a Democratic majority in the legislature and in their delegation to Congress.

David Brin said...

Jumper there are some scenes in Person of Interest where two godlike computers are talking to each other through surrogates - on a child - wearing earpieces. Great show.

My own education was at-most 30% formal classes and 20% the intensive study for doctorate, Much of the rest came just from living and working on a great university campus, strolling into random buildings and knocking on random doors, attending seminars in departments having nothing to do with my own.. and sometimes teaching or working in unrelated disciplines.

For two years I was managing editor of the Journal of the Laboratory of Human Cognition. Take that, snarking critics of over-specialization!

Though yes, overspecialization is a problem. It is much less bad at US universities, where 1/4 of each undergraduate's classes are supposed to be "breadth." But still 99% of students get far from the "universal" university education that I got.

Jon S. said...

"What if AI becomes smarter than people, and everyone gets an earpiece or cochlear implant, and all you do in life and business is "read your lines" which your AI whispers to you? Then the leaders of society would be the ones with the best AIs, the best good looks, and the best theatrical ability to deliver their lines."

So much like today, except there's AI (and thus some actual intelligence) involved. Sounds okay to me. :-)

Jumper said...

I was hoping someone would notice that, Jon. ;>]

locumranch said...



At least Alfred & our host acknowledge the inherent contradictions implicit in their educational belief system:

First, how they champion an individualistic, anti-collective & permissive approach to higher education as 'self-improvement' divorced from social utility; and, second, how they simultaneously endorse higher education as a progressively utilitarian, communal & reciprocal responsibility.

As the blood-price for personal advancement, I (and many others like me) accepted responsibility for the greater collective.

Yet, as I tire & hope to retire, I find bugger-all among these (financially-dependent; hyper-educated; self-indulgent) ne'er–do–wells who are willing to shoulder my burden & reciprocate in kind.

Where is this progressive reciprocity now??

Perhaps, I will emulate our fine host, pursue individual self-interest & disregard the investment that the collective made in my particular advanced degree program, repudiating it, along with any residual debt.

I shrug.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.


Best
____
What human would want an AI whispering in their ear, directing their every action, as if they were the soulless automaton? There a Scifi short story about that.

Jumper said...

Well, I don't wander into dystopia very often, and when I do, at least I clean the place up before I leave. Yes, it was dystopian, and yes, it was also poking fun at certain business types and politicians at the same time.

Jonathan Sills said...

I prefer the formulation by Richard Armour:

The moving finger writes, and, having writ,
Is badly stained with ink, you must admit.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, as far as math education goes, you are likely right, though I don't blame my former teachers (most of whom are probably no longer with us now). Actually, I blame one of them, Mr. Selk was such a horrible man I still remember his snarling face after all these years, but that's beside the point. I've heard some innovative things, and the new Common Core standards emphasize more practical, hands-on approaches, though most math teachers are having a hard time adapting, as I understand it (and maybe more important, most administrators are rather clueless how to do it themselves). But for me the window of opportunity closed a long time ago. Maybe when I retire.

On the subject of machines whispering in people's ears, has anyone here read M.T. Andersen's novel "Feed"? It's a young adult (Caldecott winner, if I remember), but might be worth your time. Very dystopian, but intelligently dystopian, not the usual reactionary screed, but still fairly light reading.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0763662623?keywords=m.t.%20anderson&qid=1454375314&ref_=sr_1_3&s=books&sr=1-3


David Brin said...

"Perhaps, I will emulate our fine host" ...

Oh? And fuck you, you strawmanning puerile-evil twerp. The rest of that paragraph may describe you, but not me.

Do that again and you'll be banned.

BTW... to ascribe the glum trends he relates -- to "progressivism... when they were worse in every single other culture... a fact that - when pinned - he cannot remotely deny ... would be pathetic, had he not gone and strawman slander lied about "our fine host".

Drop dead, twerp.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Perhaps, I will emulate our fine host, pursue individual self-interest & disregard the investment that the collective made in my particular advanced degree program, repudiating it, along with any residual debt.


Isn't that what you're already doing?

As I used to tell my formerly-sane conservative buddy on a different list, "If you punch me in the face every time you see me, then you can no longer threaten that if I do something you don't like, you'll punch me in the face."

You've shot your wad already.

I shrug.


Geez, the Ayn Rand industrialists who went on strike at least had something to withhold. What you're threatening to do, ironically, is a positive sum game.

David Brin said...

BTW I paid all my debts and worked through grad school and paid for a year of it with sales from my 1st novel.

And the Goppers who passed a rule that student debt... and ONLY student debt... cannot be refinanced when interest rates drop... those fellows are truly evil men.

Alfred Differ said...

First, how they champion an individualistic, anti-collective & permissive approach to higher education as 'self-improvement' divorced from social utility;

Got that part right.

and, second, how they simultaneously endorse higher education as a progressively utilitarian, communal & reciprocal responsibility.

Nope. I once thought I had a reciprocal responsibility like you suggest, but I’ve come to realize that I lack the insight to know what it is. It cannot be to teach what I know to the next generation because it might lose value as I age. I’ve no doubt the knowledge has to get passed along, but I’m not convinced I have to teach it. Much of what I finally learned in physics got through my thick skull with my own effort. In other words, I think we mostly teach ourselves. All I really have to do is demonstrate some success in life using what I’ve learned and others who choose to imitate will do the rest. They can pay me as part of a trade if they wish. I’d probably take the money. They don’t have to do it, though.

Also, you won’t hear me talking about utility very often. I’m not convinced anyone is smart enough to know how to measure utility at the level of the community. I’m not even convinced the term has any meaning at all. People choose to trade (or not) and that gets perceived with a utility measure, but I rather doubt real humans think that way during the trade.

As the blood-price for personal advancement, I (and many others like me) accepted responsibility for the greater collective.

Hmpf. To whom did you pay this blood price? Names please. Don’t point at a community because the moment you do I’ll point out that someone with a real name suckered you.

Perhaps, I will emulate our fine host, pursue individual self-interest & disregard the investment that the collective made in my particular advanced degree program, repudiating it, along with any residual debt.

Bah. Who exactly invested in us? Where is the contract? When you realize that this stuff goes mostly unspoken as parts of traditions we choose to adopt, you’ll see there is no immorality associated with changing that choice later. In fact, it is easy to argue that failing to change the choice in the face of evidence of better ROI’s for the collective is the moral failure.

In my life so far, I’ve noticed that people who think society made a serious investment in them in exchange for a ‘contracted’ ROI are usually full of themselves. I don’t mind a strong ego and occasional arrogance, but I’ve never actually seen this investment contract being struck except between parents and their children. Most non-family members of our western communities are mildly apathetic regarding what we choose to do with our lives, so when someone behaves as if the contract exists with the whole community, I’m inclined to accuse them of arrogating comprehension powers.

Alfred Differ said...

With no book to sell during my grad school days, I made it through the old fashioned way. I stayed poor. My social security statement says I earned $3K in 1987. I have no idea how I made it through the year, but my research journal shows I slowly ramped up that year until I was doing legitimate research. (Maybe my parents gave me another $2K... I vaguely remember that. By 1988 I was teaching part-time.)

There is no harm in being poor while improving one's self. Life doesn't end when purchases are constrained. 8)

Paul SB said...

Alfred,
I think you have misconceived the nature of teaching and learning. There are most certainly things that cannot be taught, things that we learn through our own experience or absorb unconsciously through observation and mirroring. Things that are consciously taught mostly can be self-taught. There probably isn't anything that couldn't be, but an experienced teacher can do a lot to shorten the learning curve. It's ideally a reciprocal relationship. A good teacher meets a good student in the proverbial middle. I'm not saying this to defend my profession. I could go on for pages about all the things that are horribly wrong with how the education system works, but that's not my point. If a teaching/learning relationship is done right on both sides, the benefits for the learner are profound. Unfortunately you may have never seen this in your experience. I can't say I have seen more than a few glimmers of it, myself, even at the college level. I've seen more in artistic pursuits.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

- And the Goppers who passed a rule that student debt... and ONLY student debt... cannot be refinanced when interest rates drop... those fellows are truly evil men

And actions like that should reveal what their real goals are: trying to deny higher education to the middle and lower classes demonstrates that they are protecting the financial interests of their offspring by preventing competition - dynastic self-interest & class warfare. They claim they serve the nation, but it should be clear who they really serve. Yet roughly a third of people in this country are completely duped by their propaganda.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: I'm not arguing that there is no value to be found from teachers. I'm pointing out that the value is dependent upon the perception of the student. What the teacher thinks of themselves and what they have to offer is one side of the trade. The student is the other. Far too many are sold on the idea that teachers offer inherent value independently. I was when I was younger. No longer.

I HAVE had the pleasure of meeting students in the middle and delivering something of great value to them. It's quite a kick both to my own ego and to my belief that I've given something back to society for what they've all done for me. That's different, though. It's not a blood-price. I give back out of love. No brainer.

As for me learning much of what I know on my own, that is not the fault of my teachers. Many tried and partially succeeded. I was a lazy grad student and earned the pain I experienced as I dug my way out of the hole I created. Also, my personal learning style required comprehension before I could score well on a test because I've never been good at rote memorization. That plays havoc in classes where the material is complex, but is amazingly useful when doing original research. For example, I had a heck of a time doing grad level E&M problems (out-right flunked) until someone showed me what classical E&M theory looked like using a geometric algebra instead of the lame vector/tensor notation everyone else uses. Poof! Crystal clarity. I found my research interest after that. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: I imagine to alt.universes. In one the 'truly evil men' intentionally protected the interests of their offspring. In the other, they responded like puppets to a business interest group serving student loan lenders who wanted to pay to protect THEIR interests. I imagine trying to detect differences between the two alt.futures. I'm not sure I can. My mental simulations of each suggest they work out about the same way.

So... I'm wary of assigning reason to what they did especially when one of them effectively says they are out to enslave me and mine. It's possible they are doing exactly that, but it's also possible they are stupidly serving yet another group of would be oligarchs who would enslave me and mine. The slavers are evil. Their servants are stupid at best.

locumranch said...




"I've paid all my debts..."
"Who exactly invested in us?"
"Where is the contract?"

I stand corrected by all concerned. I once believed that some favours could never be repaid. I see now that there is NO Social Contract.

It is as if we were all whelped by spontaneous generation, owing no debt to our parents (the past), our offspring (the future), our environment (the climate), our enablers, the rule obedient and the political collective.

Anything owed or borrowed can be safely ignored, depreciated or refinanced, if not for the despicable intransigence of those truly evil men who give gold & expect to be repaid in kind. No one is owed either an education or a livelihood; every man is an island; and the Golden Rule is hereby revoked.

It's a not-so-funny joke that allows the dishonorable to renege & renegotiate even when some adhere to their contractual obligations most scrupulously, and I must face these loathsome lawyers in their lair come morn, where it is a proud and lonely thing to be an honorable man.


Best
____
Who is the slaver here? Those who rashly pledge, promise or borrow what they cannot repay? Or, those who uphold the pledge & promise that the borrower rashly made?

Alfred Differ said...

I'm not suggesting you renege on what you believe to be your obligations. I'm asking you if you can name those to whom you are obligated. Are they real people or abstractions? Did they specifically state the terms of the deal?

I thought I knew when I was younger. Turns out I was wrong and I didn't realize that until I became disappointed with what I came to call the church of academia. My disappointment turn out to be my own fault, though. No one had agreed to the side of the contract I thought existed. Some thought so right along with me, but we couldn't point to real people.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Jumper there are some scenes in Person of Interest where two godlike computers are talking to each other through surrogates - on a child - wearing earpieces. Great show."

Until people tried to implement its premise in real life, and we got the Bataclan's massacre: that was not so great.

***

* "As I used to tell my formerly-sane conservative buddy on a different list, "If you punch me in the face every time you see me, then you can no longer threaten that if I do something you don't like, you'll punch me in the face."

I'll punch harder!
Seriously: that's pretty much every's bully's argument "I can do worse"

***

* "BTW I paid all my debts and worked through grad school and paid for a year of it with sales from my 1st novel."

Not everyone's lucky enough to win big at the speculative fiction's Powerball

***

* "trying to deny higher education to the middle and lower classes demonstrates that they are protecting the financial interests of their offspring by preventing competition [...]. They claim they serve the nation, but it should be clear who they really serve."

Oh but they serve "The" Nation: they just never specified which one.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

If a teaching/learning relationship is done right on both sides, the benefits for the learner are profound. Unfortunately you may have never seen this in your experience. I can't say I have seen more than a few glimmers of it, myself, even at the college level. I've seen more in artistic pursuits.


You'd have seen it more if you'd watched "The Paper Chase". :)

I actually experienced it a few times with specific teachers when I was in high school, attesting to by the fact that I still remember those teachers' names from almost 40 years ago. But at the time, I didn't consider myself a worthy receptacle of their attention, and I was a bit put off by it. "Why are you paying so much attention to me?", that sort of thing.

Now, I see the same among some of my daughter's teachers, and luckily, she's more attuned to it. They love to teach someone who "gets it". The other day, she started a trend among the boys in her 8th grade class, getting them to cuss in ice cream flavors ("Oh, fudge and chips!") and when her English teacher learned whose idea it was, she told my daughter "You win at life!"

Douglas Fenton said...

Locum,

Society is not like an individual person. You cannot make a contract with Society as you can with a real physical being because there is no one to sign at the bottom of the document as Alfred Differ eloquently pointed out. Sure Society has a certain responsibilities towards you and you have certain responsibilities towards Society but Society doesn’t have the responsibility to protect you from your own bad decisions. If you feel that Society “broke” an imagined contract with you then you are just transferring blame away from yourself instead of owning your mistakes as any adult should. You just want to say “it’s not my fault and I am a victim”. You haven’t grown up yet and maybe you never will.

Jumper said...


I've had teachers who felt like collaborators. It's good to have them; it helps. I have had teachers who somehow explained things I simply would never understand using texts alone. Priceless.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Douglas: that's not precisely true, there is one contract Society as a whole can be said to have signed.

It's called the Constitution.

Unfortunately there are many individuals who would love to renege on specific terms.

Peter said...

So when is the sequel to "Existence" coming out. (^_^)

Jumper said...

The Constitution can also be seen as establishing a corporation. One can opt out of part of it, or all of it by moving, but it owns a lot of property and if you use it you need to pay, even if you are an owner, much as the owners of Coca Cola still have to buy Coke with money when they shop.

Douglas Fenton said...

Catfish N. Cod,

There has been a lot of debate over the view of the Constitution being either a “social contract” or it being just the set of rules for the proper running of the government. In my view, the Constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and leaves the gritty work of making laws to Congress. These laws bind the individual to government but also create reciprocal obligations of the government to the individual. He individual must follow the laws of the land but government on the other hand is supposed to create specific laws that favor the individual (i.e. labor laws, environmental norms, ant-discrimination laws and so forth) and is obliged to apply these laws equally (in principle). In that sense the contract is between the law-makers and the individual and not with the Constitution itself.

I recognize that it is a moot point and is the subject of countless discussions but in the end does it really matter what we call it as long as it works?

Jeff B. said...

Dr. Brin, if you haven't seen already, I think you have a fan: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/

Jeff B.

locumranch said...



Whether you choose to call them mutual 'responsibilities' or reciprocal 'obligations', the Articles of National Incorporation (referred to by many as a 'Constitution') are either a Binding 'Social Contract' or a loose conglomeration of unenforceable suggestions.

In the case of the former, the individual trades pledges with a collective that reciprocates (to at least some degree) of which 'The Common Defence', Medicare, Social Security, National Debt & General Assistance are examples.

In the case of the latter, most (if not all) pledges, promises & agreements are moot, invalid & unenforceable, leading inevitably to subjugation, internecine conflict or social dissolution, of which Corruption, Cheating, No Confidence & Bankruptcy are examples.

I have been a credulous child and, as Douglas suggests, the time has come to put away childishly outmoded things like honour & oath-keeping because there is neither honour nor honesty among thieves, liars & renegotiators.

Dissolution & Disincorporation, it seems, are the Order of the Day. We owe those who pursue useless doctorates, borrow & renege exactly what they owe us -- Zip, Zero, Nada -- because only the disingenuous repudiate the Social Contract that feeds them.


Best

Jumper said...

The only reason one might have to put away honor, oath-keeping when among thieves, liars and renegotiators because they have no honor or honesty, would be if you yourself were a thief, liar, or renegotiator. Logically, that is.

Looks like you might be able to get Krugman's phone number after all, David. Don't blow it by too much star-struck obeisance! You're a successful author and a damn good prognosticator, after all. More like a junior partner.

Douglas Fenton said...

Locum,

Please give us some examples your honor and oath-keeping so as we can emulate your shinning example.

Jumper said...

He swore to never surrender in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Jumper said...

And when I said the USA could be thought of as a "corporation" I can assure you I did NOT mean THIS:
http://beforeitsnews.com/politics/2016/01/regarding-the-take-over-of-blm-facilities-in-the-western-states-judge-anna-von-reitz-2768110.html

LarryHart said...

Jeff B:

Dr. Brin, if you haven't seen already, I think you have a fan: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/


Since the relevant post is not immediately obvious, anyone interested should scroll down to "Post-Iowa Notes"

Jeff B. said...

Larry Hart,

Thank you, I thought I'd linked to the specific post.

Jumper,

"One can opt out of part of it, or all of it by moving, but it owns a lot of property and if you use it you need to pay, even if you are an owner, much as the owners of Coca Cola still have to buy Coke with money when they shop."

Or the conundrum of Federal and state employees having to pay Federal and state income taxes (respectively)...

And I was going to ask if that "corporate America" link was for real, but the first hit googling the letter's author hits at Snopes. Apparently she is neither judge nor constitutional expert, but an advocate of Individual Sovereignty...



Jumper said...

Yes, Jeff B. I looked at her stuff and was convinced she was a fine example of just how loony they are getting these days. I did want to distance myself from that kind of thinking, and note that my comment on the U.S. government's aspect of being a corporation was simply one facet of it. And by corporation I meant the very broad definition which includes all manner of legally recognized incorporations; everything from nonprofit societies, universities, guilds, unions, credit unions, land banks, volunteer fire departments, and (shudder) churches.

LarryHart said...

Hey, I just realized the perfect metaphor for last night's Democratic race in Iowa...

Sanders was supposed to get trounced, but he kept alive and kept fighting, and even though the fight ended up being called for Hillary, Bernie showed that he was a contender.

Wasn't that exactly the plot of "Rocky"?

If so, then New Hampshire, where Bernie has home field advantage and can probably win, could be Rocky II.



Jeff B. said...

Jumper,

I get redefining terminology to suit one's own goals (much as I loath the practice. And I've lurked here for years so I know it does happen with some mindsets.) But Normally I would expect to see some coherent logic, but this loon is so far beyond the pale I'm speechless.

The U.S. government is a "British corporation"? As a federal employee, I'm quite aware, thank you very much, from whence my paychecks come...

Alfred Differ said...

The problem with social contracts is there is no entity on the other side that can enter into a binding contract. Social contracts are convenient abstractions for social traditions. The theory behind these contracts goes back to antiquity, but there is an underlying fault in them all when one tries to define the parties involved. Agree to one of them and the defenders of a tradition will effectively act as the signatories from the other side. However, they don’t actually represent society if one lives in a liberal society. They are just a potential power bloc. Change your mind later and they might get upset, but in the US that is fairly rare if upon departure you avoid turning against them to harm the tradition. How reasonable is it to think of it as a contract then, if a breach is unlikely to be enforced. If the contract is so weak that only an attack is considered a breach, is it really a contract? How about an MOU instead?

My beef with social contracts lies with the fact that once one assumes their validity, one requires the existence of an elite group of enforcers. How often in the last 6000 years have our elites abused this power? We currently experiment with setting one group of elites against another, but wouldn’t it make just a little bit of sense to avoid the need for them if we can? If participation in a tradition is allowed to be euvoluntary, no enforcer should be tolerated. If participation rates for a tradition are so high that we define a part of our ethics by it, non-participants are going to be harmed by participants. Only then am I willing to consider the need to create enforcement elites in order to establish general rules (agreed upon by most) to guide them.

In locumranch’s case, I suspect he wants out of an obligation he has been taught to uphold. When we talk about abandoning a previous life plan that included these kinds of obligations, WE appear to be the immoral ones. I suspect he was suckered when he was young and now feels the pain. Whether it was parents, teachers, or others close to him, abandoning ‘reciprocal obligations’ is probably as difficult as changing one’s core values. His portrayal of ‘change’ supports my point.

In the case of the latter, most (if not all) pledges, promises & agreements are moot, invalid & unenforceable, leading inevitably to subjugation, internecine conflict or social dissolution, of which Corruption, Cheating, No Confidence & Bankruptcy are examples.

Inherently immoral behavior described here, right? Clinging too hard to the notion of social contracts is the root trap here. The Hobbesian version of these contracts is truly monstrous and that’s essentially what he is describing. There is no room for liberty because there is an enforcer above us all who is not party to the contract.

I think Locumranch is caught in a philosophical dilemma from which many of us walked away. I suspect this is related to his inability to see positive sum processes. The way out is to abandon Hobbes’ lunacy. Civilization won’t collapse without it because we never really use it. Abandon the illusion.

Alfred Differ said...

Government as a corporation is flawed. Government as a collection of corporations makes some sense with the obvious problem that they write the very rules that guide them in the markets in which they participate. The US Constitution delineates powers they should have and for much of our history we accepted the tradition that this meant those were the ONLY powers they should have. We’ve flexed on this since FDR and even more so after WWII as we shifted from being a republic to being an empire. Times change.

The little hairs on the back of my neck rise when I think about government acting as corporations. I’m reminded of what Ronald Coase pointed out regarding why corporations even exist. We COULD contract with each other to get everything we want and live in a libertarian (Smithian) ideal, but we don’t. We don’t because there are transaction costs associated with contracts and we work to minimize them. Corporations exist at the sizes they exist as solutions to optimization problems. So, if government is a corporation, what transaction costs are being optimized? Isn’t there a conflict of interest when that ‘firm’ can alter rules that alter those costs?

Danger Will Robinson!

David Brin said...

Anyone who hears me say "Students should be able to refinance loans when interest rates go down" and think that means "reneging" is a moron. We can do that with our mortgages and most other forms of debt. Students were singled out. With gross evilness.

I'll be communicating a bit less after tomorrow's posting... my appraisal of Iowa.

Enjoy.

Jumper said...

Sorry, no. Alexander Hamilton as Treasury Secretary under Washington in the first administration under the new Constitution went way past enumerated powers.

And note I did write "also be seen" as a corporation, meaning that is not the full description, but one portion of it. Specifically I said that because grazing one's cattle on public land without permission is tantamount to the same act violating corporate land. One isn't allowed to declare private taking of it any more than seizing or taking land from a legally chartered corporation.

Also I agree with the general wish that student loans charge lower rates.

Tacitus2 said...

Looking forward to your thoughts on Iowa. Having been through, ahem, quite a few four year cycles I can say that this is the oddest I have seen.

The two D candidates are geriatric and caucasian. Three of the four top R vote getters are minorities and on the younger end of the age curve.

Are we finally seeing the deflation of the Trump bubble? His antics may go down as the biggest flim flam in modern political history.

Presuming that we have a final field of Clinton, Saunders, Rubio and Cruz. Not what any of us would have considered ideal, but that is looking like reality. Donald Trump's Reality? I sincerely hope the voters continue to reject it.

Tacitus

Tim H. said...

Thinking about recent presidential politics, the primary system as it is, seems calculated to disenfranchise moderates. The keys seem to have been handed over to enormous money and the tea party. For me, this is a problem, conservatism is an important part of a balanced political culture, the restricted form of contemporary conservatism and it's insular nature* reduces it's value to the nation. If progressive politicians ever gain that sort of dominance, the same will apply to them.
*"FME" must be exposed to sunlight, or they beget even more "FME".

raito said...

Alfred Differ,

Yes, government as corporation may be flawed because government sets the rules, but the current (real) corporations seek to do the same. It's a bit of a shame that there appears to be more profit in manipulating the rules then participating the the market.

Jumper,

As far as land goes, the government owns all of it. If you don't think so, try not paying taxes on it. We don't really own land, we lease it from the government, paying our rent in taxes. But we are allowed, in most cases, to sell our lease to someone else.

Tim H.,

In some ways, I find the current primary system to be a good example of political corruption. I really fail to see why a couple of non-profit corporations are allowed to spend my tax money to figure out who they will put on a ballot. Especially in states where one is required to be an actual member of the party. In my state (WI), I am only allowed to vote for a single party in a primary. Better than some places, but I'm still not too happy about it.

One of the things that both parties agree on? That there should only be two parties -- the existing major parties.

sociotard said...

If Russia Started a War in the Baltics, NATO Would Lose — Quickly

Douglas Fenton said...

raito,

You don’t really own your own body either. You just rent it at considerable expense from Death. If you don’t give it food, water and shelter (various types of life taxes) then Death takes your body away. It isn’t even a lease with a fixed end date because Death forecloses on you whenever It feels like it without much warning if any. So using your definition, nobody can ever truly own anything, not even himself or herself. I don’t worry much about if I truly own my land or not. However I do worry about the amount of taxes I pay on it.

locumranch said...


So, according to my solicitor, I 'won' in court yesterday, proving breech, malfeasance & willful misconduct against the other party, yet it remains to be seen if I actually 'won' anything beyond a moral (Pyrrhic) victory in a justice system that has repudiated justice in favour of status quo maintenance & good feelz.

Interesting, though, how so many assume that I am the 'bad guy' for attempting to hold others to the same standards to which I am held for, apparently, it is not enough for me to sacrifice my life, time, resources, welfare & skills for the benefit of others, I must also be 'good' by forgiving all others for their inequities, human failings & trespasses against me & mine.

After all, if our post-justice system is willing to forgive (bail-out) most big corporations for various tax evasions, loan defaults & pension frauds, then it should be willing to do the same for 'God Bless Us Everyone', especially university students, victims of historical 'unfairness' & all 'womenz' who should never ever be held to the same disposable male standard that mandates prison terms for those who fail to meet child support obligations.

BTW, I do admire David for the courage & perspicacity of taking a poorly-marketable Astrophysics PhD (one that would traditionally 'obligate' the holder to calcific academic servitude) and move laterally into literature (what William Gibson would call a 'Jack Move'), only to excel in science fiction as he does. This act, by itself, is worthy of emulation.


Best

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

apparently, it is not enough for me to sacrifice my life, time, resources, welfare & skills for the benefit of others, I must also be 'good' by forgiving all others for their inequities, human failings & trespasses against me & mine.


Christianty's a bitch, isn't it?

Dave Bowen said...

Avoiding politics altogether...a nod to Dr. Brin on his highlight of Peter Clines excellent novel "The Fold." In the interest of not spoiling, I'll just say it will likely make you look at time travel in a whole new way.

Also worthy of note by Clines is his earlier, unrelated book "14," which begins at normal and eventually opens the door to truly, deeply weird.