Saturday, September 24, 2016

At the intersection of Science Fiction and Future Tech, plus sci fi reviews!

Dig it... two sci-tech postings in a row! Because despite the ravings of media and politicians, they are no what's taking this spectacular civilization forward. Some of them hamper and some help, but the real action is out among the brilliant innovators, explorers and -- yes, amateurs like you -- who are engaged in the Greatest Adventure.

For example...

Can AI and robots learn ethics? In Preparing for our Posthuman Future of Artificial Intelligence, on Omni Reboot, I review a dozen books whose authors range from optimistic to pessimistic to weird… and conclude (as you will) that all of them miss a vital point!  

In Deliver us from the fury of the cyborgs and grant us the peace of cyberspace, evolutionary biologist P. Z. Myers gives a more skeptical assessment of the future of AI. Smart. But mine is better. 

But let's roam onward. In Why You Should Read Science Fiction, Richard MacManus, founder of ReadWriteWeb, offers some perspective on how SF sheds light on speculating about our technological future

In this sci-fi short film, Uncanny Valley, we get a dark look at the possible implications of virtual reality, and what happens when the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur.

Here's a fun infographic showing 25 plausible future techs that will change daily life and that were predicted by science fiction.

Surgically implanted memory prosthetics… are now being tested on human subjects by Los Angeles startup, Kernel.

With interscatter communication, ‘Eye phones’ communicate with smart contact lenses to monitor blood sugar levels and other physiological data.

Mind-controlled nanobots could precisely release drug dosages inside your brain.

== Spreading poison ==

While we are on messages in storytelling...

I look forward to seeing the movie, Sully... anything with Tom Hanks in it. But as this article by Stephen Cass makes clear, the film spews hate against civil servants and the concept of competent government. 

In his recently published memoir, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger lauds the skillful fairness of the NTSB, who never, ever hounded or tried to railroad him and who drew correct conclusions, calmly, sympathetically and professionally. Every negative portrayal in the film is an outright, lying piece of propaganda.

Yes, it is natural in some ways to do this. Modern fiction, especially film, is propelled by several standard motifs. Danger, heroism vs opposition, plus themes of Suspicion of Authority (SoA) whether it be Sauron, an evil emperor, a nasty corporation or government civil servants. (Especially the latter!) Other prevalent themes include tolerance, diversity, personal eccentricity... and I feel most of these are positive themes, overall! But elsewhere I show how these wholesome memes regularly metastacize into a pair of evil messages that are savagely hurting us all -- (1) that a hero cannot count on neighbors and citizens because they are all sheep (utterly belied by the events of 9/11)... and (2) that no institution can ever be trusted. These memes are cancerous. Mr. Eastwood often gives us good movies, when he stays focused on the small scale. He has fine directorial instincts. But by giving in to the politically, polemically-lazy reflex, he has taken a good story and turned it into yet another dollop of poison. See the whole memic structure of modern film and fiction here, and you'll realize how laziness has turned so many directors into enemies of a civilization that's been very very (and five more "veries") good to them.

 == Brief Reviews of Recent SF ==

Winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature, Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, offers a vivid long-scale look at human destiny. The crew of the starship Brin 2, led by scientist Avrana Kern, set off on a terraforming expedition to a distant planet, to establish a future home for humanity. But… the actions of a saboteur destroy the ship. Kern escapes in a cryosleep pod after launching planetward a pod of monkeys and an ‘uplift’ nanovirus – which inadvertently finds a home among the invertebrates of Kern’s World, increasing their intelligence (and complexity of their social web) generation by generation. Meanwhile, centuries of war and plague have rendered homeworld Earth uninhabitable. The last survivors follow ancient celestial maps to reach worlds terraformed by their distant ancestors. They arrive to find that their anticipated new home is not quite what they had anticipated… A compelling read!

Slow Bullets, a novella by Alastair Reynolds. In the aftermath of a brutal interstellar war, a conscripted soldier, Scur is captured and tortured by Orvin, a vicious war criminal, who injects her with a slow bullet (a kind of internal data tag that wreaks havoc on the body). Left for dead, she wakes up from cryosuspension aboard a prisoner transport carrying soldiers from both sides, along with POWs and criminals. But... something has gone wrong with the ship, for they are in unknown space, with no one in charge, out of reach of any sign of civilization. The ship’s memory is rapidly decaying. In the chaos that ensues, Scur vows revenge against Orvin -- who is among the survivors aboard the failing starship – even while seeking to save what remains of humanity.


Lock In, a near-future crime thriller story from John Scalzi. A devastating global pandemic has left millions of people (known as Hadens) paralyzed, in a perpetual state of “lock in.”  While their body remains bedridden, neural network implants in their brains have been developed to enable them to maneuver through the outside world using personal robotic units (Threeps) -- or by temporarily inhabiting the bodies of other rare humans known as Integrators. The story begins, of course, with a dead body… found in the presence of an Integrator, whose professional code of ethics forbids him from revealing if his body was at work for a Haden client when the murder occurred. Our main character is a Haden, a novice FBI agent operating through his Threep, determined to unravel layers of conspiracy and intrigue, even as he becomes a target.

Dark Orbit, by Carolyn Ives Gilman. In this far future universe, interstellar travel is possible, not through FTL, but by lightbeam; individuals are disassembled and reassembled upon arrival. Those who are willing to leave friends and family behind to leap across time and space are called Wasters; in contrast, "Planters" prefer to stay rooted in their own timeframe. Exoethologist Sara Callicot is recruited to travel by questship to a newly discovered habitable planet, Iris, with its unusual gravity fluctuations rooted in elevated concentrations of dark matter. Upon arrival, the crew makes a mess of First Contact with the crystalline planet’s strange, blind sentient beings. A mix of hard science, philosophy and mysticism, Dark Orbit delves into human consciousness and human nature. See a more extensive review on Strange Horizons.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu This book is a few years old, but imaginative, witty and great fun. Time travel is not only possible, but fairly mundane in Minor Universe 31. Things do go wrong, and that’s where social misfit and time machine repairman Charles Yu steps in, to resolve paradoxes and save people who decide to change the past, perhaps by trying to murder their own grandfather. While seeking to find his own father, who is lost somewhere in time, Yu enters a perennial time loop. To exit, he must seek clues by reading (while also writing) a book his future self wrote, titled, How to live safely in a science fictional universe. Great recursive imagining...

Just released: the audiobook for my second short story collection, Otherness, is now available from Audible.  I worked pretty closely with the reader, veteran Hollywood actor, Stephen Mendel. Why not make your commute interstellar and have your strides take you across fate and time?

Just how good is SF at foreseeing future tech? We're just back from the science fiction worldcon, MidAmericaCon II, held in August in Kansas City. Here's a photo from a fascinating panel, Science Fiction Predicts the Future the Way a Shotgun Kills a Duck. I'm in the middle of panelists Chuck Gannon, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, Joe Haldeman and Gregory Benford. Great fun!

And yes, many panels did not just have old male farts. I got to interview the delightful winner of the novella Hugo, for "Folding Beijing," Hao Jingfang, who greeted our family in Chengdu in 2007.  So flattered when she called me a "mentor".  Keep eyes open for her novel "Wandering Maerth."  (Oh, Ken Liu, her translator, was gallant onstage and took home his own rocket!) See his latest collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Liu also translated Cixin Liu's The Three Body Problem.

== ... and finally... ==

For insight into the future: Nicola Danaylov's excellent Singularity 1on1 podcast interviews a number of very sharp minds (including Kevin Kelly, Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Marshall Brain, Daniel Wilson, Michio Kaku) for in-depth discussions about the major technologic transformations that are coming and how they might be guided. Watch the excerpt reel

...and consider supporting the Crowdfunding effort. (I'm on Episode 78: What's Important Isn't Me. And It Isn't You. It's Us!)

102 comments:

Creigh Gordon said...

As a former Federal employee, I eventually felt compelled to push back on anti-Government cynicism. Our political system has any number of problems, but cynicism is a cure for none of them.

Jumper said...

Thanks for the heads-up on Eastwood's latest pile of goo.

"I have little respect for the crowd who keep asking what reality REALLY is. It's infinite regress no matter how they kick and cry that it can't be so."

Wow, I realized, donzelion, how awful that sounds. I am not criticizing reductionism so much as those who seek "final answers" using a tool which will not find it. It's like positing perfect universe simulators, and then attempting to find out if we are one. Or asking the outcome of irresistible forces meeting immovable objects, or asking if God knows what he is going to think before he thinks it. It's a philosophical rabbit hole which includes stipulations that rabbits are forever invisible.

donzelion said...

Creigh: how many federal employees feel a tinge of ambivalence towards the agencies they served? Close to 100% (even those who love the institutions in which they worked)? Not at all unlike a marriage...

Dr. Brin: For a 6-minute flight, making the plane itself into the adversary would be a bit...well, brief. Cliched, even. Eastwood certainly hasn't been a fan of bureaucrats, but how would you have generated dramatic tension, had you written this story?

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

I might start sounding like a suck-up artist, here, but yes, I really love that book, and could say a lot more than what I did about the denouement. As a student of human nature, and knowing that you are not trained in anthropology or any other social science, it is clear to me that you really did your homework on this one. Anyone who thinks writing is an easy career is ignorant of how much work goes into the research end of writing good literature. The culture you created for Stratoan society was very well thought out and full of the kind of detail that shows not just voluminous knowledge but a real love for the craft. Your grasp of how changes to social structures would ripple through society at all levels shows much greater subtlety than what you normally see when people try to portray utopian social experiments. I have tried similar themes and though your take is different from mine, your skills and talents leave me pale. (This flu has been doing that, anyway. I have never had to take more than a day away from my classes, and it's starting to worry me.) Mentioning your sequel notes leaves me salivating like a distantly-promised visit to a dinosaur dig to a loyal canine. Okay, that was just a metaphor. I'm not really salivating, just blowing my nose constantly, and coughing so hard it makes my head ache. The picture you painted of the central character was so moving that even at my age I go starry-eyed romantic.

All this is not to say that I would not welcome anything you put your mind to, and if you set out on another Uplift series (which I suspect would be the more popular choice) I would be happy to rush out and get it the day it's published.

Weirdly, my mind keeps wandering back to a Phil Foglio graphic novelization, but if it ever happened, you would have to reign in some of his excesses.

Paul SB said...

Okay, this is the third time in two days that a comment of mine mysteriously vanished.

The comment I wrote before this one to Dr. Brin was for Creigh Gordon, and it went something like this:

More often than not cynicism takes over as the problem extraordinaire, the thing that has to be overcome before anything else can be fixed. Cynicism is an easy habit to fall into, and an easy mode to emulate (competitively, in the Veblen sense), but it is self-destructive. It prevents people from taking on challenges, turning them into apathetic couch sitters who can do no better than suck up oxygen.

Paul SB said...

Now I am sending from a different computer, and it seems to be working. Perhaps my computer has come down with some computer flu to compliment whatever virus has been plaguing me for the last week.

Smurphs said...

Paul SB said :
It prevents people from taking on challenges, turning them into apathetic couch sitters who can do no better than suck up oxygen.

Thank you for not saying "car sitters". ;)

Hang in there, the flu sucks!

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

While seeking to find his own father, who is lost somewhere in time, Yu enters a perennial time loop. To exit, he must seek clues by reading (while also writing) a book his future self wrote, titled, How to live safely in a science fictional universe. Great recursive imagining..


Sounds like the science-fiction equivalent of "Death Trap". One that I'll definitely have to track down.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: It prevents people from taking on challenges, turning them into apathetic couch sitters who can do no better than suck up oxygen.

Worse I think. It turns them into the sneering crowd that discourages the rest of us from taking up challenges too. I suspect there is a non-linear response too.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

(This flu has been doing that, anyway. I have never had to take more than a day away from my classes, and it's starting to worry me.)


I had one like that in 2011, just after my dad passed away. I assumed that my immune system had been compromised by stress, but the darned symptoms just would not progress for weeks.

As others have said, hang in there.

The silver lining is that, once you're through with it, you're probably immune to everything for this winter season.

Jonathan Sills said...

Here's a microcosmic example of the cynicism problem:

In the MMO Champions Online, set in a superheroic universe, there is an annual event (during the game's anniversary celebration) during which giant robots under the control of the villainous Dr. Destroyer attack the headquarters of the dominant supergroup in Millennium City (nee Detroit). During the last week of the event, that invasion is reinforced by the arrival of the titanic mechanical menace Mechanon, who seeks to destroy all organic life and "liberates" the Mega-Destroids you're fighting, making them much tougher.

Now, last year was the first time Mechanon joined in on this event. The developers overestimated what the heroes would be able to do, and made the villains nearly impossible to defeat. (It helps that the event happens once per hour, meaning that there's time to figure out strategies...) This year, it's been made a lot easier - the robots' attacks, for instance, now scale off their remaining health, meaning that if you damage them, they get weaker instead of stronger. (Last year, their attacks could one-shot even a top-level hero who was using the Block power to prevent damage.) Also, all of the "zones" (the instances a hero can spawn in, up to a character cap of 50 currently) start the fight at the same time, to avoid the issue last year where one team of top-levels would dominate all the fights in all the zones.

However, the mess last year infected the playerbase with considerable cynicism. To the point that now, unless you happen to be in the famed Zone 1, it's become incredibly difficult to rally players to fight the robots (despite some pretty decent rewards). The attitude has become, "There's no point - only Zone 1 can possibly win this fight. If they're not here, why even bother? And if they are, why bother anyway? They don't need me." On occasion, I have managed to break through that cynical layer, and rallied enough heroes to win in another zone, but even that doesn't seem to dent the cynics' worldview.

Apparently, once you've succumbed to "the quick and easy path" (with apologies to Yoda), it becomes easier to sit there and say it's impossible than to get up and freaking try. Which also explains rather a lot about modern politics...

Paul SB said...

Smurphs,

You are very, very welcome!

Alfred,

I can't differ with you on this one.

Larry,

I sure hope you're right!

While I have your attention, (SPOILER ALERT) what did you have in mind in terms of a romantic interest for Maia? Renna seemed like the obvious set up, but the first time I read the book I kept thinking, "It's Brin, he wouldn't do something so obvious and sappy." I was pulling for Naroin, but I am sure a lot of people would cry foul, given both the age and status difference between them. Brod seemed like he might make a fair substitute for Renna, but he seemed too much like a bosom companion, not like a romantic partner.

Paul SB said...

Jonathan,

It also explains a whole lot about the public schools! Take it from an insider.

Alfred Differ said...

"I have little respect for the crowd who keep asking what reality REALLY is. It's infinite regress no matter how they kick and cry that it can't be so."

That didn't sound awful to me. It sounded like a decent warning to remember that the model isn't the problem, the map isn't the geography, and the theory isn't the universe.

Objectivism in its purest form is a time-wasting trap. If any aliens out there want to keep us in our place, just drop by, say hello, and promote this meme. Civilization will die. 8)

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

While I have your attention, (SPOILER ALERT) what did you have in mind in terms of a romantic interest for Maia?


I didn't have anyone specific in mind. I just thought that by the end of the novel, her nickname would no longer be applicable.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Objectivism in its purest form is a time-wasting trap. If any aliens out there want to keep us in our place, just drop by, say hello, and promote this meme. Civilization will die. 8)


Are you sure that isn't exactly what happened?

Paul SB said...

Larry,
I hear you, but perhaps our issues are not such big issues for Stratoan people, given how their hormones were tweaked.

Two of my posts on the last thread disappeared, and I remember a bit of what they had been about. One was the latest sapling attack. His response to you was one I first heard when I was 11, and not leveled at myself (my 11 year-old self tended to keep very quiet), but at my older brother. At the time he had been obsessively watching old WW 2 movies and for some reason decided he really loved the British Army and the RAF. People told him he should go to Russia (notice how the sapling latched onto that one, fitting your 'poor marksman' analogy as well as loci so often does). My point was simply that if a person comes up with the same arguments that from the mouths of 11-year olds, just how worthwhile is it to debate them? Not worth getting your BP up. In an ideal world I would never give up on anyone, but having knocked heads on bark that thick, you eventually have to concede that there are no vascular tissues in their to get flowing.

Paul SB said...

My other missive was inspired mostly by something our host said to Donzelion, though I remember seeing another reference in there, somewhere.

"I do believe we make imperfect models of the world - delusions - as a set of processes woven into our natures, that help us to passionately pursue certainties. That passion is the thing propelling reproductive success. ... but it could kill us all."

It is not that I do not agree with the sentiment here. I like how he used the term "set of processes," which shows a better understanding than what I hear from most people. We have all been taught that instincts are some kind of "program" as if they were these unshakable, automatic systems. The more we learn about genetics, neurology and endocrinology, the less this conception works. Think of instincts more as capacities. They set up ranges of behavior that are possible for an organism to choose from. When birds fly south for the winter, it is not like their wings just start flapping, taking their little brains along for the ride. It is more that the decrease in seasonal sunlight lowers the serotonin levels in their brains, making them uncomfortable. They find that by flying south their can raise their serotonin levels (obviously they have never heard of serotonin, but they feel better).

With humans, their larger, more flexible brains gives them greater capacity to make choices than anything else native to Earth. Those delusions are within the capacity of humans to choose in an effort to make themselves feel better. This is why people believe things without any evidence. The choice to believe is based on how that belief will make the human feel. Will a belief comfort them? Is the belief shared by other people who will comfort them if they share the belief? How much actual truth matters depends on how highly evidence is valued by any particular community of humans.

This way of thinking about instinct is very different from how we have all been taught. It is a little like the idea that the brain and the body are different, opposite things. This idea is obvious garbage. The brain is part of the body, not opposite, but the idea fits our stereotypes about dumb jocks vs. eggheaded weaklings. Likewise for logic and emotion. These are two sides of the same coin (sorry Spock! Sorry Plato!). Logic can tell you how to get what you want, but logic cannot tell you what to want. Emotion drives motivation, as is clearly seen in Parkinsonian patients whose dopamine levels are so low they just sit and have to be fed, dressed, bathed and changed because they know how to do these things, but feel no desire to do these things. This way of thinking would integrate your logical frontal lobes with your emotional, supposedly "instinctual" limbic systems. The latter directing behavioral capacities humans share with much of the Animal Kingdom, while the former a dramatic expansion of behavioral capacities.

I hope I am making sense. Writing thoughts down make them more salient in your own mind (exactly why the Common Core Standards place so much emphasis on writing), but I don't know if they are more salient in anyone else's minds.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: When you're better, we really ought to meet and have that yogurt you mentioned a few months back, seeing as how we're both in the same township.

"Cynicism is an easy habit to fall into, and an easy mode to emulate (competitively, in the Veblen sense), but it is self-destructive."
A kind thought. I tend see it as a self-defensive habit, the crust that grows to mask empathy, but which if it grows too thick, kills off the empathic core it was originally created to protect. So it goes with many critics of many things that are precious: a critique offered with a depth of love and passion is not the same as a knife in the back. Therein may lurk a fitting corollary for CITOKATE - the most important error to avoid is that which destroys hope and passion. Have I read that sentiment somewhere or other? ;-)

Jumper: "Wow, I realized, donzelion, how awful that sounds." It wasn't awful, just an expression of frustration on your part. If my own calling attention to your thought made it feel more awful than it actually is, then I misspoke myself as well. The problem is never with the question - but sometimes, the questioner asserts seemingly profound questions without any intention to search for an answer, but merely to shrug off the pursuit of answers at all. That sort of context is a cynical escape from honest inquiry. I did not intend to imply any such accusation of you though.

David Brin said...

Creigh G. You ar welcome here. Oh and hadend I offered a suggestion at the very end of the last comments section.

donzelion, I would have pointed at the real villains, the terrorists who brought down the plane… those BIRDS!!! Seriously, this is not an american tale good for 90 minutes/

Paul SB. Thanks. Every women scientist I know to have read GLORY SEASON loved it, including the feminists. Every single radical feminist in the sci fi community who was not scientifically grounded scratched her head, tried to parse which polemical point I was preaching, found only lesser-and-qualified ones, and thereupon decided that if I was not railing the party line, then I must be against it.

Yeah, Maia was one of my favorite characters. I get similar feelings when I think of her.

I considered romance for Maia then realized… way back in the 20th Century!… that it’s all to easy to make female characters all about their relationships. But maybe someday.

I’m glad your commenting software is working better!

Mr. Sills… Zowee!

Jumper said...

Great comment on instincts, Paul SB. (BTW my remark on sounding awful meant I didn't want to appear like many who preach against reductionism as a tool. It's a great tool.) Also pointing out I need to realize social reality is a lot different from reductionist /scientific definitions.

Jumper said...

Looking for drama in Sully's tale, perhaps when they cut his pay and pension (like all the pilots.) Look for drama when he was in the pilots' union. Or elsewhere earlier in his life.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

but having knocked heads on bark that thick, you eventually have to concede that there are no vascular tissues in their to get flowing.


The point of arguing with ideologues is about influencing third-party listeners.

That's what an actual debate is about too, whether in high school or at the presidential candidate level. Neither Hillary nor Trump is going to convince each other to change their minds. The point is to demonstrate to the viewers whose argument is convincing.

LarryHart said...

continuing the thought...

It's how the adversarial court system works as well. No one "wins" just because they can come up with an argument that supports their position. If human history tells us anything, it's that you can come up with an argument to support any position. The point is for a judge or jury (or debate viewer) to decide which of the competing arguments is most plausible and convincing.

locumranch said...


This for David: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-37460682

And, this for the rest: "Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist"[George Carlin].


Best

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

Your experience w/ female scientists vs. gender partisans doesn't surprise me one bit, but I can see how it would make you proud. It's a fine piece of work for that very reason.

"I considered romance for Maia then realized… way back in the 20th Century!… that it’s all to easy to make female characters all about their relationships."

That's exactly what I meant by it being too obvious. The funny thing is, our society has this stereotype that stories about women should always be about romance and relationships, and yet stories about men almost always end with the hero 'getting the girl' in the end. On a similar note, the stereotype of gay men is that their stories should be just like women's, tat they are obsessed with romance and relationships. But thinking about figures like Oscar Wilde or Michel Foucault belie that one. Our relationships, romantic or otherwise, are vital aspects of all our lives, but commercial drivel in just about all creative venues have focused our collective attentions on pretty much one thing - the pursuit of sex. This is not something I think is a very healthy canalization. Maia needs a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, but she also needs her cadre of peers, chums, drinking buddies, an egghead or two to mull over the hard thoughts with, and probably a mentor of some sort (Naroin, or perhaps a reconnection with her father, though he is probably too old to break out of the traditional (non) relationship fostered by that culture.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

And, this for the rest: "Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist"[George Carlin].


I recommend a re-viewing of "Casablanca".

LarryHart said...

If a conservative is "a liberal who's been mugged," then a liberal is "a conservative who's been outsourced."

Paul SB said...

Larry,

I get the viewership argument, but any viewers passively reading this blog will mostly see that any little t-bomb results in a fury of knee-jerk chaos, like dropping a cherry bomb on an ant hill. Yes, important ideas merit discussion, but it looks bad on us when it only takes a little simple-minded shock jockery to get us all up in arms. It feeds in to the 'Left and Right are both just as bad' narrative, at least for the many who tend to see issues in B&W and sniff at all things political - which is a whole lot of people. It's like we are trying to be honorable knights jousting with dastardly opponents in an age when people roll their eyes at such conceits. No offense - I love that you have those instincts - but it just lowers us to their (11 year old) level.

Paul SB said...

Jumper,
I'm glad someone found something useful there. Sometimes I feel like all my babbling is but a tale told by an idiot, full of ... well, full of something, signifying little.

Add to the idea how myelination turns habits into compulsions, and you can see how a disappointed idealist turns into a cynic, then slowly evolves into a nasty, bridge-lurking curmudgeon. But myelinated pathways can be demyelinated through concerted effort. Humans have that capacity, birds (angry or otherwise) much less so.

If I still flew in academic skies, I would try to publish a paper. As a society, we could really use some new ways of conceiving things. "Instinct" has always made a convenient excuse to dismiss and justify ugly behavior. Boys will be boys, right? And gods will be gods.

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

Your conception of cynicism as a crusty protective shell is a common one, but I think it is so common because it is so true. Your CITOKATE corollary is therefore a wise move. Are you a fan of old Oingo Boingo?

Skin

This is someone else's story
Someone that I never knew
This is someone else's body
Am I getting through to you
If you peel away the armor is something underneath
If you look below for hidden treasure underneath another layer
Are you hiding underneath the skin

If you peel away the skin is there anybody there
If you peel away the skin is there anybody there
If you peel away the armor is it too late to begin
Is there anybody hiding if you peel away the skin

A fro yo date would be amenable, though hard to schedule. Right now you wouldn't want to encounter my viral cloud. Halloween might be fun, since we can home on costume. I always dress for it, since I'm in a public school. This year I got a set of octopus pajamas (kigurume) and am equipping it with pirate accoutrements. I'm just hoping the temperature will drop by Halloween, because the octopus by itself is a sweat box.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

I love that you have those instincts - but it just lowers us to their (11 year old) level.


No, it doesn't.

Monty Python aside, ok sometimes it does. I get your reluctance to argue the same points ad nauseum. I also think the point I made this time--that the "skittles" comment was not offensive for comparing people to candy, but for implying that Muslim immigrants carry a risk as if others don't--needed to be out there, and wasn't going to be unless I was the one putting it there.

I'm sorry, but if staying above the fray was a winning strategy, we'd have had President Kerry in 2004. Poisonous assertions have to be responded to or they become accepted as truth.

In "Hamilton" terms, if you're Aaron Burr asking:

Why do you write like you're running out of time?"

then I'm Hamilton going:


Burr, I'd rather be divisive than indecisive.
Drop the niceties!

Ilithi Dragon said...

Hadend,

International or not, you come across as aggressive, which colors everyone's perception of your post, and you seem to respond to challenges to your assertions with more snark than supporting evidence. A little more effort to be civil, and stay focused on presenting supporting evidence vs snarkly snapping at people disagreeing with you will go a long way. This isn't Facebook or a YouTube comment thread, or some low-brow news or political blog comments section, the vitriol-laden conventions of Internet argument are vastly reduced here, in favor of (mostly) civil discourse and a focus on supporting evidence. It's one of the reasons why I've always loved this community.

Also, that supporting evidence bit is important, along with the ability to accept other people's evidence and recognizing when it supports their argument more than yours. For example, you've been stuck on repeatedly insisting that billions of dollars have been funneled through USAID to Russia, but when others present the highly detailed and thoroughly vetted USAID budget and note that there is no record of billions leaving the country, let alone being funneled to Russia, you seem to be just upping the insistence with which you make your original assertion.

I'll admit, I stopped reading your posts in their entirety because of this, so maybe you clarify further towards the bottom of your posts and I missed it in skimming, but the point still remains: you need to focus on that stuff more and less on the snark. Start with the evidence, followed by the clarification of it, if necessary, and everyone here will be more inclined to listen to you.

Paul SB said...

Okay, Larry, I'll concede the point. I participate in it as well, though more obliquely. If I remember, though, your skittles comment was self-generated, not a response to our friendly neighborhood bridge-lurkers, It garnered a very juvenile response from one of them. You could have let him eat static or engaged as you did. Notice that what happens with them is that when they can't come up with a counter argument they crawl back under the bridge, only to jump out again a week or two later when the subject has changed and everyone has forgotten their last failure.

On a completely different subject, I just got back from the grocery store, where I was looking for something new to staunch the mucosal flow before heading back to work tomorrow. when what to my wondering eyes did appear but a new inhaler that actually said right on the front of the box that it contains a gluccocorticoid. Nice! Now we are going to be squirting stress hormones up our noses, and doubtless less than 0.01% of people would have a clue what that word means. If it works, it works, and people will buy it, and use it over and over again, clueless about the side effects. Just shrug and dismiss them, no one will take them seriously, and it's their own damn fault anyway if they didn't go to med school and get an advanced degree in biochemistry before buying our products!

Yep, greed is good! Really good!

Does anyone wonder why Peter Gecko was named for a very cute lizard, and not some uglier, more vicious-looking reptile?

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

If I remember, though, your skittles comment was self-generated, not a response to our friendly neighborhood bridge-lurkers,


It was.

It garnered a very juvenile response from one of them. You could have let him eat static or engaged as you did.


No I couldn't. (Again with the Monty Python)

Because his response, meant to prove I was wrong actually demonstrated that I was right, and that point had to be made. You think I should have just let it stand as self-evident? I'm not inclined to do so, especially coming up on an election in which so much is at stake.

Notice that what happens with them is that when they can't come up with a counter argument they crawl back under the bridge


So, isn't that what you want?

There's no pleasing some people.
(D'oh!)


Does anyone wonder why Peter Gecko was named for a very cute lizard, and not some uglier, more vicious-looking reptile?


Wasn't it Gordon Gecko? Because I always assumed the alliteration was intentional.

And talk about unintended consequences. I believe Oliver Stone meant for the whole "Greed is good" thing to be a display of villainy, and instead, it caught on as a characteristic to nurture and emulate.

donzelion said...

LarryHart "[Debate is] how the adversarial court system works as well. No one "wins" just because they can come up with an argument that supports their position."

Don't neglect science itself operating this way. It's not like the 'experiments' prove themselves, and scientists all nod in agreement once the super-duper experiment pops forward. Peer review isn't about scratching backs and nodding in agreement. At least, it's not supposed to be.

And that's one reason why hatred for Plato/Aristotle is misplaced. The Greek system of conflict resolution (through public debate) is the origin of a lot of very good ideas. (But Plato was right as well: the mere fact that a debate occurs does not mean that one side will fall closer to the 'truth' - it is just as likely that the better debater will win...at least, in any specific debate.)

Paul SB said...

Larry,
My point about them crawling back under their bridges is that they are only temporarily vanquished. They keep jumping back out at us again and again. If they were ignored, they would eventually give up and go after more easily riled goats elsewhere. But your point about the looming election is more than just valid. I, personally, am just really sick and tired of having good conversations with cool people go all to pot because of some supposedly grown man indulging his inner 11 year old playground bully. They sling crap they wouldn't dare say face to face because the internet lets them get away with it.

On the subject of cool people, I expected our draconic contributor to have chimed in by now. Hopefully there were no firing range accidents the other day!

As to movie reptiles, I suspect your memory is better than mine. That's another one on my haven't-seen-in-decades list. Most of what I remember is just how creepy Christopher Walken was, which makes the idea that his quotable line became so popular with the Wall Street crowd. Makes me wonder if they really think of themselves as supervillains.

Donzelion,

When I was in grad school I used to subscribe to Current Anthropology, which is among the few peer-reviewed journals that actually publishes the peer reviews. It was fun and instructive to read those reviews, and read between the lines. No, there wasn't a lot of back scratching. Anonymity in peer review makes it harder, since you don't know whose back you're scratching until the article gets published. What generally happens, though, is that back scratching becomes paradigmatic. Cultural Materialists favorably evaluate articles that fit within their paradigm, while slamming anything that seems too Structural-Functionalist, and they go ballistic against anything that sound Post-Modern (and vice-versa). Still, I'll take Peer Review over Innuendo Amplification, the standard operating procedure in political debate.

Aristotelian debate is certainly part of the origin of our scientific ideal, which is why it is ironic that he and other Ancients were used as intellectual bludgeons by Western Christendom for so many centuries. Sophistry is part of the price for free debate, but if our value system makes logic and courtesy more rewarding than charisma and victory, our neural & hormonal reward systems will lead more people away from those temptations. Likewise for honest vs. ruthless business.

donzelion said...

Speaking of debate...anyone else notice Donald Trump's 'veer to the center' on the issue of maternity leave?

Hillary Clinton's plan focuses on (1) up to 12 weeks of paid family/medical leave, (2) an additional 12 weeks to recover from serious illness or injury, (3) both of which are payable at 2/3 of current wages (rather than the amount unemployment offers, (4) none of which is paid directly by business, (5) paid for through a tax hike on the 'wealthy.'

Trump's brand new (as of September) plan focuses on (1) up to 6 weeks of paid family leave, (2) all of which comes out of unemployment, (3) paid for by cracking down on unemployment fraud, which means (4) it'll really be paid for by businesses (particularly small businesses), and coinciding with (5) a tax cut for child care costs.

donzelion said...

Paul SB - re Gordon Gecko - "Most of what I remember is just how creepy Christopher Walken was..."

Michael Douglas is FUMING to hear you make that attribution. And I am chuckling.

"I believe Oliver Stone meant for the whole "Greed is good" thing to be a display of villainy, and instead, it caught on as a characteristic to nurture and emulate."

They did a LOT of sly things to make it clear that "something wasn't right about this guy." Like striped cuffs and collars, which no real gentleman would wear on Wall Street. Except after the movie came out, that became THE fashion sensibility, and so the effort was a spectacular failure (by contrast, whenever films show men with short sleeves and suspenders, they add a pocket protector and other gadgets to make it clear to audiences "this geek is not someone the cool kids will emulate!" - except now the cool kids are themselves the geeks).

Ilithi Dragon said...

Paul,

I appreciate the concern, though I'm not sure I'd count myself among the coolest of denizens here. Also, I did chime in, a couple posts above yours. I haven't really had much to add to the conversation that wouldn't just be rehashing things already said by others, and with more knowledge than I can muster at this juncture.

I was also spending a lot of time yesterday working on a mod for space engineers with a friend, and was up entirely too late last night playing with that. To the point that I've been sitting here on the pier (on duty today, means spending the day and night on the boat), alternating between catching up on the comments here and reading a book, and falling asleep doing both.
} : = 8 )

An amusing aside, one of the interesting little sub-challenges I've found myself dealing with is the need to censor myself, because this community has a substantially higher level of civility than the average, especially on the Internet, which is added on to the already substantial difference between military and civilian discourse. On the one hand, I really enjoy getting to use big words, which I rarely get to use or hear in my day job, on the other hand, I often find the need to translate the course, abbrassive, and often brutally blunt, invective-filled phrasing of a submariner into regular people language. For example, this delightful little album popped on my FB feed the other day, and I found it to be remarkably and delightfully on point. Caution, contains strong language :
https://m.facebook.com/CONUSbattleDrills/albums/1238570082831158/

Jumper said...

The origin of the quote "Greed is good" reveals what and whom director Oliver Stone was lampooning.
http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/greed_is_good

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

"Michael Douglas is FUMING to hear you make that attribution. And I am chuckling."
- Damn! I knew I should have stayed in bed today! Of course, you this will just add fuel to my fire about over-the-counter stress hormones and how the effect the brain. Rationalize an embarrassing gaff, oh no, not me!

Ilithi Dragon,

"I did chime in, a couple posts above yours."
- Damn! I knew I should have stayed in bed today! As far as being among the cooler denizens, your posts have been mostly pretty cool and level-headed, so I am using /cool/ in its older sense, as an antonym for /uptight/. Humble Pie is a much better dish, I my perhaps less-than-humble opinion, than the Anchovies of Arrogance (pew!).

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

My point about them crawling back under their bridges is that they are only temporarily vanquished.


Not trying to vanquish. Trying to refute.


They keep jumping back out at us again and again. If they were ignored, they would eventually give up and go after more easily riled goats elsewhere.


(You keep feeding me Monty Python lines, but...)
No, they wouldn't.


But your point about the looming election is more than just valid.


Glad to agree on something.


I, personally, am just really sick and tired of having good conversations with cool people go all to pot because of some supposedly grown man indulging his inner 11 year old playground bully.


I, personally, don't mind the conversations turning political. I don't consider those conversations "go all to pot." I also disagree with your assessment that the playground bullies are best ignored. That just makes them think they've shut us up, and might convince some listeners that they've got a point. Better to refute the point while staying out of the gutter oneself. And if the point can't be refuted, then that tells me something too, right. So, gotta try.


They sling crap they wouldn't dare say face to face because the internet lets them get away with it.


In 1804, we'd have to be challenging each other to duels.

Tony Fisk said...

Balance is all, and I gather the great debate is to become a mass debate as the moderator will not be doing truthiness checks. As someone on Twitter quipped: "We're going to need a bigger Snopes."

wrt cute lizards, shouldn't it have been 'Gordon Gila', perhaps? The references to people emulating Gecko's styles and mannerisms goes to show that narcissistic monsters only double down in the spotlight. Transparency alone isn't enough to make them get back in the box. A willingness of observers to rap firmly on the window and boo is also needed.

donzelion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Ilithi thanks for instructing hadend about why this blogmunity is different. But there is one more aspect… that one can be right without being more than 75% right. Meaning that the perspectives of even almost-alway-wrong locumranch sometimes make me pause and go: “Huh! That was enlightening, even if wrong.”

David Brin said...

Paul SB, when i was fighting for my academic career, I submitted a paper to the top astronomy journal in the world, Astrophysical Journal, expecting to thereby get useful criticism from the unsigned referee reports and then move on to the second-best journal, and so on. When the package from ApJ arrived I tore it open and nervously scanned the refs’ reports. I noticed at once that one of them was signed…

…and by one of the gods of comets. I flipped and found the second one signed, by another of the greatest authorities on comets. And I mused, in my fluster: “Wait a minute. Signed reviews… that means something! But what….”

The third review was also signed. Then I flipped and saw the phrase: “A milestone in the literature.” And Breakthrough in the field.

There was more. But at that point I sorta figured I was gonna have a paper in ApJ. And it made a difference in what you guys call me.

===
donzel, Oliver Stone is a profoundly dishonest man. But he now and then makes a strong picture.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Larry didn't feed the troll. Instead, he fed upon the troll. It was skillfully done. 8)

I was told they taste bad, regenerate, and had to be completely burned, but maybe he has a good recipe book.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

Sounds like that was a huge day for you, and it shows how the peer review process helps to make science a democratic rather than an aristocratic venture. Merit matters. Thanks for sharing that one. It's the kind of thing I try to share with my students, so they understand why science.

Jumper,

I looked at that link, and found the very last bit about the MBA program especially interesting. The references to Reagan and other people of that era were unsurprising (I'm assuming the Joe Biden reference was a negative), but more surprising to me was the fact that the phrase could not be traced to any time earlier than 1977, given some of the crassness of 19th Century Robber Barons, and the blatancy of Herbert Spencer.

Larry,
Please put the flintlocks back in the velvet case (at least until Halloween), and if I start bitching about the bridge lurkers again, just bonk me on my Dory brain and remind me that we have been down this road before.

I am much more interested in what you have to say about my attempt to retool the idea of instinct, anyway. I know, you're not a neurologist or an endocrinologist or anything like that, but you're smarter than the average duck and I value your thoughts. I spent years training in a social science, surrounded by people who, while they did not necessarily think the same thoughts, saw significance in the same issues. Does the idea sound compelling in any way, or doe sit just sound so academic no one but an ivory-tower egghead could have any reason to care?

Paul SB said...

Alfred,
Either his kung-fu or his culinary skill are better than mine, or maybe I'm just chronically tired and have let my skills go to pot.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: (again)

Did the box happen to say which glucocorticoid it contained?

You have an issue with people suppressing their immune responses from a position of ignorance? Heh. During the 80's I carried an inhaler to cope with asthma during the month of May. Epinephrine does amazing things to convince the body that breathing is important, but the world would have been a lot safer if I had been able to suppress my immune system instead. When I was dosed up, I was quite certain every dark bush contained an attacker.

Oh wait. Your issue was companies selling us the stuff to do it and profiting from our ignorance as we injure ourselves. Yah. We can do a lot of harm while ignorant or a new drug, but absent a cosmic answer book, I don't see a way around the need for humans to try stuff on each other including things we know fail in other settings.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA). (For Halloween fans, I went into the hospital on a friday the thirteenth.) Treatment involved cyclophosphamide and high dose prednisone to force remission and then lighter weight immune suppressors later. I'm still alive, but if you look up what cyclophosphamide does it is a wonder that anyone survives it. Wickedly nasty. Apparently DNA can be 'felted'. I'm not looking for a pity party anymore than you were days ago, though. I'm just pointing out that the poisons we discover have their uses. The trick is to find out what they can do.

One of my sisters has her own autoimmune issue and it is a kind they don't have a solution for yet. I lucked out in that the doctors knew which poisons to use and how to stop short of killing me. She isn't so lucky, but the doctors are trying that DNA felting poison on her to see if it helps. So far, it is stalling progression. Maybe other research will find an answer in time. Maybe not. Until then we raise money for research efforts on every scientific front. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Is Trump's plan the one his daughter was pitching?

Can we vote for her instead of him? 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Guys

Re - Instincts
I have always though to them as "tilting the table"
They give a "push" to a certain behavior - but in humans it's not a very big push

In simpler organisms it's a bigger push - or the same size push but a smaller table

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

You have to find out how chemicals affect the body one way or another. In your case experts were trying out something under supervision, as was my case. It's a problem when someone just throws things out there for general, over the counter use without any expert supervision, especially when they already know there can be dangerous side effects. The profit motive explains why they are doing this, but if they were doing it out of pure sadism it would hardly change the ethical equation.

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

You've got the idea, in one sense. Instincts aren't so much "programs" like computers as they are nudges that push organisms in specific directions. They do this by giving pleasurable feelings, withholding those feelings, or sending pain signals (and pain signals can mean ennui, annoyance, loneliness, not just physical pain). So in that sense they are a bit like programs, in that the conditions that will cause these sensations are predetermined. But they are not like programs in the extent to which they control behavior.

As a model, something needed is a way to rate the power of each influence. Just how powerful and influence, for instance, would x level of serum testosterone be over the choice to commit a violent act? If something like that could be quantified, it could be useful in court. However, we are probably a long way from being able to do somthing like that, because it is not just about how many micrograms of any specific hormone is in the blood. There's also the issue of how many cells in an individual's body have receptors for that hormone, and how they are hooked up to respond to it.

Complicated. As usual, general rules of thumb are too general to apply in specific cases. It's like arbitrarily deciding that all people are mature enough to handle alcohol at exactly the same age. Everyone knows they aren't, but we do it anyway because our science has yet to find an objective way to measure that.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

Larry,
Please put the flintlocks back in the velvet case (at least until Halloween), and if I start bitching about the bridge lurkers again, just bonk me on my Dory brain and remind me that we have been down this road before.


It wasn't you I thought I'd have to duel with.


I am much more interested in what you have to say about my attempt to retool the idea of instinct, anyway. I know, you're not a neurologist or an endocrinologist or anything like that, but you're smarter than the average duck and I value your thoughts. I spent years training in a social science, surrounded by people who, while they did not necessarily think the same thoughts, saw significance in the same issues. Does the idea sound compelling in any way, or does it just sound so academic no one but an ivory-tower egghead could have any reason to care?


I wouldn't go quite that far, but the fact is that it's not an area I've spent much time learning about.

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

@Paul SB: Expert supervision? Heh. When I was lying on a hospital bed, it could be argued I was under expert supervision. Once I was released, the argument gets weak. I saw one doctor once a month until they had weaned me off Prednisone, then two doctors once a month until I was off the DNA felting agent. Supervision stretched out to one doctor every couple of months and now to every four months after that. Now it is more about keeping a watchful eye on a few of the blood test results. The doctors trust me to supervise myself mostly, and that works well in my case.

The profit motive explains why they are doing this, but if they were doing it out of pure sadism it would hardly change the ethical equation.

Maybe for some, but you are painting with a broad ethical brush here. Please remember that some of us are rather libertarian when it comes to drugs. We prefer to make our own decisions, thus the people who sell them to us are doing us a service we appreciate. Perhaps they are motivated by profit, but that means the Invisible Hand is working correctly. When vices are unknowingly turned toward service, it is a very Smithian thing, hmm?

I get that you would like to protect people from the consequences of decisions made in ignorance. Laudable. I suggest that you are doing others harm if you enforce your preference, though. Is it worth it? Where is the line? People like me do not hold you responsible for another’s ignorant decisions unless we hold you responsible for teaching them not to be ignorant in the first place. Sounds to me like you might be interpreting your profession a bit too broadly. 8)

bigsteve said...

Thanks just order " Children of Time " . All technical people I worked with or know read science fiction. I have since I was in my early teens. I remember listing to Dr. Asimov years ago on a radio interview. He thought the kind of mind that read science fiction was more intelligent than average. He had to cater to that as he wrote. My how the old masters of science fiction have passed away. BTW Dr. Brin I have order some of your books from Amazon because I want to support you and like your work.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

@PaulSB: The corticosteroid nasal sprays have been on the market and widely used as a prescription item for those of us with severe nasal allergies for about three decades. They have very little systemic absorption. They have worked wonders for thousands of people, even preventing the need for a lot of nasal and sinus surgeries.

Nasal corticosteroids reduce the immune response, so they are generally only for allergies and are not recommended for people with any kind of viral or bacterial infection. They must be used every day, and they do not begin working until they have been used for several days. Two brands went over-the-counter (in 2013 and 2014) so that people with severe allergies would not go without them while they were waiting for a doctor's appointment (which would also be a waste of the doctor's time for established patients).

The main companies that have benefited financially from the switch to OTC status have been the insurance companies since they no longer have to pay for the OTC medicine. I used to get my nasal corticosteroids for about 5 dollars a month. Now it costs me closer to 25 dollars.

I do have a bit of a problem with nasal corticosteroids being sold OTC, though. They really should be sold by pharmacists "behind-the-counter" without a prescription.

In Mexico and many other Latin American countries. Nearly all medicines, except narcotics, are sold by pharmacists in the pharmacy without a prescription. Only a few things like aspirin are out on the shelves. This seems like a much more rational system than in the United States.

I would also like to see the FDA's drug division reduced to an advisory agency. The FDA should get half of the label on the bottle of medicine. The manufacturer should get the other half. FDA-unapproved medicines should be available for sale "behind-the-counter" directly by the pharmacist if the patient is willing to assume the risk.

Jumper said...

"science has yet to find an objective way to measure that"
No, we do it because there is no convenient way to outlaw the 3rd drink while leaving the first 2 legal.

Lat said...

Just started rereading my hardback copy of "Otherness."

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Two decent beers is enough for me not to be driving.
Two watered down beers aren't enough, but I'd still rather not.

However, Paul was going on about measuring a person's maturity level and not about how much alcohol they could handle. Maturity demands we know our limits whether they involve one drink or three. There is no objective way to measure that.

I'd rather use the BAC, though, and ditch the drinking age nonsense. Parents should be doing what parents should be doing. Yes... I met a 10 yr old alcoholic once. Blame landed squarely on his father's shoulders.

Jumper said...

I don't care who has two drinks, kids, teens or what. Much. Yeah, I don't want the 12 year olds drunk, that's true. French style child raising doesn't bother me. I don't want a teenager to be drunk driving, and they'll do it, you know they will.

LarryHart said...

Lat:

Just started rereading my hardback copy of "Otherness."


I don't remember if that's the one with the story called "Thor Meets Captain America", but I hope so, because that's one of my favorite Brin short stories.

And it's not what the title makes you think it is.

David Brin said...

bigsteve and “Lat”… glad to have you around.

Paul SB said...

Jerry,

Have I thanked you for all the times you have shown up here with very appropriate information, especially on medical matters? In all the time I have been shooting my keyboard off here, you have mostly been fairly quiet, but there have been so many times when you took the time to share with us very relevant information (less opinionated, more informative than many). I am not a doctor, nor have I been a patient very often, so I know my own knowledge is very incomplete.

Thanks again!

I like your idea about the Latin American model, and the labeling, but I have some qualms about letting people take FDA unapproved drugs on their own cognizance. It's like Alfred's libertarian ideals - for the most part I agree with them. When I was growing up, if I or my brothers did anything stupid, my mother's usual response was "Tough turkey tits!" (When speaking with my students I use a milder version, replacing the mammary reference with "toes.") If this were any century before the 20th, I would agree wholeheartedly. But things have become much too complicated for most people - even well-educated people - to be able to judge on their own. Look at how people treated the old Surgeon General's warning about tobacco back in the 60s, and how many still do today.

For me it boils down to where we are going, historically and prehistorically. Tough turkey tits sounds very Darwinian (or really Spencerian, since Darwin got that the rules don't work quite the same way with humans). But our big, flexible brains suggest to me that we can, and maybe should, be looking at ourselves in different ways than we look at nematodes or fungi. Survival of the fittest does not mean the same thing for a social animal that has an unusually large learning capacity. Most animals will learn at least something from their own mistakes, but humans have the capacity to learn from other people's mistakes, and as a species they are better for it. Bottom-lining everything down to individual choice is a failure mode with today's technology. How do you learn from a mistake if you have no way of knowing what caused the foul consequences you are suffering?

Roman emperors had fresh Appenine water piped into their homes from the aqueducts. In their minds this was a great thing, making life for the Patrician classes so much better and (it was supposed) healthier than the Plebians. Little did they know that the lead in their pipes was having slowly debilitating effects on their minds and bodies. What are we - intentionally or inadvertently - putting in our bodies that might be doing the same? I look at those mad Roman emperors and find it hard to swallow the argument that the test of individual choice with individual consequences is good enough. The choices may be individual, but individuals don't act in a vacuum, and the consequences of individual actions fall rarely on the heads of only those who made the choices.

Maybe I should have addressed much of this to Alfred, shouldn't I?

Anyway, thanks again for taking your time to share that. You're a gentleman and a scholar.

Paul SB said...

Larry,

If I had ended my flintlocks comment with some smiley emoticon thingy, perhaps I would have avoided prompting this: "It wasn't you I thought I'd have to duel with." I knew you were referring to the troll-pack, but I thought it was funny. Oh well!
:] : / or is it :[ ?

As far as the other matter goes, I was hoping you wouldn't say, "... but the fact is that it's not an area I've spent much time learning about." It's your non-expert opinion I was after, because ideas and, more to the point untested assumptions, about human nature are so commonly used to arm-twist people into doing things that are often questionable at best. But okay, if you don't want to go there, I'll shut up about it. It's not like I'm submitting this to a peer-reviewed journal.

Paul SB said...

Jumper,

Where you said: ""science has yet to find an objective way to measure that"
No, we do it because there is no convenient way to outlaw the 3rd drink while leaving the first 2 legal."
It looks to me like we are kind of saying the same thing. We want people to have the freedom to get spiffed if they feel like it, but we don't want it to turn into drunken disorderly or asphalt carnage. If we had a scientific way to measure each individual's tolerance, maybe something like those battery test strips where a bartender or liquor store clerk could clearly see an individual's intoxification status, it would improve the situation.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, your tenacity, if nothing else, is admirable! :]

By DNA 'felting' are you referring to HDAC Inhibitors? If that's the case, I know what you are talking about, but would advise that you not get your hopes up too high if these drugs are, like most early versions, broad spectrum rather than targeted to specific DNA sequences. Last I knew, we weren't even close to being able to do that, yet. But hey, you gotta play the hand you're dealt right? And if it has dreadful side-effects sometime down the road, tough turkey toes! ;]

I really have to get back to work, now. Did okay with my first couple classes, but by the middle of Period 3 I was croaking like Muddy Waters.

I am ready, ready as anybody can be
I am ready, ready as anybody can be
I am ready for you, I hope you ready for me

Creigh Gordon said...

As an example of "things Government does right" the Fujutsu NRAM mentioned in the last post was technology licensed from Nantero corporation of Woburn, MA. Nantero's NRAM tech was partially developed under a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract sponsored by the Air Force, which needed memory for satellite electonics that didn't upset in a space environment. RAM that uses a stored charge becomes susceptible to ionizing radiation even terrestrially as devices are scaled down. Most semiconductor technology, not to mention the internet itself, has antecedents in DOD R&D.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul/Alfred

Even if you could objectively measure drunkenness I'm not sure it would help, people choose to get legless - it's not an accident (mostly)

The other part is that your judgement changes as you get drunk
When SCUBA diving the excess nitrogen acts like a drug (in extreme nitrogen narcosis) so we were always taught
DO NOT change the dive plan! - what seems a good idea at 20m may not actually be a good idea

So "sober you" may decide to get a little pickled - but "little pickled you" may decide to get wasted

Hi Creigh
That sounds like a prime example of government doing it right and then private industry (the market) making the main benefit available to other countries and not the USA

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Heh. All I have to do is recall some of my brother's friends when we were teenagers. One showed up at our bedroom window (shared room in those days) quite stoned on something. He couldn't help but stare at the main light in the room and couldn't tell me that he wanted to talk to my brother, though it was obvious he did. Little pickled brain thought he knew what he could do, but didn't have a clue. 8)

One doesn't even need drugs involved like you said with the scuba story. Mine involved heat exhaustion on the desert. I thought I could do one more task without hiding from the sun for awhile. I was hopelessly wrong, but couldn't think straight enough to know it.

These are all important lessons to parents to instill in children. Friends too. Teachers? Yah, them too. Everyone.

Alfred Differ said...

Paul SB: Cyclophosphamide isn't so bad until it gets metabolized. After that happens, the metabolite interacts with the DNA inside your cells and literally creates cross-connections. The pretty double helix gets hopelessly tangled, so genetic expressions come to a stop. Cell death occurs in short order. That makes this a chemo-drug.

The reason this toxin works beneficially is it is slightly better at killing certain cells issuing certain immune 'statements.' The autoimmune disorder I had fell into the correct category for this drug which turned a toxin into a therapy. It's a tricky thing, though. Side effects include high risks for bladder cancer, so modern use of it involves a cocktail of drugs to reduce the risks of that one and all the others too. I had mixed feelings when one doctor told me I had a 90% chance of being alive at the 5 year mark and a 90% chance of suffering from an unpleasant side effect.

Fortunately, there is a better drug on the market today, so anyone getting diagnosed within the US will probably not get the felting drug. The new one has a better set of numbers for five year survival/complications, but it hasn't been around long enough for 10 year numbers. When I was diagnosed it had recent FDA approval, but no 5 year numbers. I got to make a choice and did the best I could with the advice I got.

What doctors can do nowadays is amazing.
What they can't do nowadays is sobering.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: (again) Tough turkey tits sounds very Darwinian[, b]ut our big, flexible brains suggest to me that we can, and maybe should, be looking at ourselves in different ways than we look at nematodes or fungi. [snip] Bottom-lining everything down to individual choice is a failure mode with today's technology.

Hmm… Do we really bottom line everything down to individual choice? We might say we do, but I suspect we don’t. Families cut in at some point and protect individuals from their own stupidity… at least some of the time. Communities do it too for failure modes that are common enough.

Our collective desire to protect people from their own ignorance gets expressed across a continuum. Unloving monsters populate the extreme where one advocates against any protection. Smothering monsters populate the other extreme. To complicate matters, what we want for ourselves need not match what we think others should experience.

Humans are certainly social animals with individually large brains. Anyone who reduces our ethical options to those faced by nematodes and fungi should be introduced to what a life like that feels like at least for a brief time. When they snap out of their silliness, we let them out of the small cage and congratulate them. I suspect the people who need some cage time are rare, though. Most of them are probably strawmen.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Paul SB,

One way to more safely phase in the marketing of FDA-unapproved drugs is to require a special license for patients to purchase them. One would have to pass a test showing a basic understanding of medicine. It would be illegal to sell or otherwise transfer FDA-unapproved medicines to people without this special license.

The big problem with keeping FDA-unapproved medicines completely off the market is that, once the patent runs out on a substance, there is rarely a company interested in submitting it for approval. (This is in spite of the fact that the FDA does grant a period of exclusivity in marketing without regard to patent status.) A prime example of this is metformin, which is now the first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes. Metformin was discovered in 1922, approved in Great Britain in 1958, Canada in 1972 and in the United States in 1994.

As complex as medicine is becoming, and considering that all of us will sooner or later be faced with using medicines and having medical tests, a course in basic medicine should be required of all high school students in their last year. The problem, of course, is how do you fit a course in personal medicine into an already crowded high school curriculum? Perhaps it will have to be delayed until the first year of college.

I know that I am quite paranoid about being handed a prescription for a "mystery medicine" by a doctor. I will rarely take it before I've looked it up in the Physicians Desk Reference. I will also never allow a doctor to look at a blood test of mine and just mumble something like "It's all OK." I want to see the numbers and to be sure I know basically what they mean.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

If I had ended my flintlocks comment with some smiley emoticon thingy, perhaps I would have avoided prompting this: "It wasn't you I thought I'd have to duel with."


No, you might have avoided it by shortening the paragraph about dueling.


As far as the other matter goes, I was hoping you wouldn't say, "... but the fact is that it's not an area I've spent much time learning about." It's your non-expert opinion I was after, because ideas and, more to the point untested assumptions, about human nature are so commonly used to arm-twist people into doing things that are often questionable at best.


Look, knowing that you want my opinion, I'll try to pay more attention. But the fact is, when people on this list (not just you, but yeah, you too) get too into the weeds about specifics on a subject I don't know about, I end up skipping to the next post. I'm not trying to get everyone to only talk about what interests me, but I also don't feel obligated to insinuate myself into conversations that go over my head.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Dr. Brin said...

But there is one more aspect… that one can be right without being more than 75% right. Meaning that the perspectives of even almost-alway-wrong locumranch sometimes make me pause and go: “Huh! That was enlightening, even if wrong.”


This. Very much this. I've failed to put this onto words for so long, but this is exactly one of the biggest problems, and cognitive failings, I have ever had to deal with in communicating with people.

Soon many people fail to grasp the concept that somebody can be MOSTLY right, and still be worth listening to and taking advice from, despite the fact that they're not 100% ABSOLUTELY right or correct. Allow too often, even just 1% error is read as 100% error. Nevermind the fact that no one person will ever be 100% correct about everything, or even most things. But OMG, they got one little, inconsequential fact wrong, that was just as likely slip of the tongue or transposition of words, and suddenly their whole argument is absolutely and 100% wrong and false, and they might even be a bald faced liar.

Political organisms shamelessly use this cognitive failing to great and terrible effect, undermining whole arguments and political positions and thousands of scientific papers with a combined millions of person-hours, just because someone made a mistake equivalent to a typo or minor grammatical error.

Same thing applies to honesty. Hillary is a politician, and the nature of her job means she'll never be 100% perfectly honest (nevermind the fact that NOBODY is, and we all lie all the time, usually to ourselves and to others with little white lies or mistrust that make conversations or stories flow better). But OMG she wasn't 100% perfectly honest, so that makes her equivalent, nay worse than! The most dishonest, pathalogically lying, scheming rat to ever poke his nose into modern American politics. Because she wasn't 100% perfectly honest or right or accurate about everything, all the time, ever.

/rant

Ilithi Dragon said...

Grammatical errors due to my phone, because my internet is out for unknown and not-immediatly-solvable problems.

LarryHart said...

Ilithi dragon:

Soon many people fail to grasp the concept that somebody can be MOSTLY right, and still be worth listening to and taking advice from, despite the fact that they're not 100% ABSOLUTELY right or correct. Allow too often, even just 1% error is read as 100% error. Nevermind the fact that no one person will ever be 100% correct about everything, or even most things


Asimov wrote an essay that impressed me, in which he pointed out that the image of what earth looks like in popular imagination has gone from (essentially) "flat" to "round" to "pear shaped" to "lopsidedly pear shaped". As more information and better theories come along, the old theories are improved upon, but that doesn't make the old theories completely wrong. Each one was closer to the truth than the previous one.

He argued against the notion that "All of the previous theories were wrong, so this one is probably wrong too."

donzelion said...

So, brain trust: who "won" the debate?

My take: America lost. We got 90 minutes of sound bites and barbs, and almost nothing about plans and actions (except "go check out my website"). The bar for Trump was set so low that stepping across it required little more than a pulse. The bar for Hillary was set so high that unless she strangled Trump without mussing her hair, she'd lose.

And both bars stifle the real world work that has to be done for America.

Paul SB said...

Larry,

You mean you don't read every single word I write? I'm hurt, Larry! Really hurt! Sad puppy face! Back to Muddy Waters & gin ... devastating ... (am I overdoing it a bit here?) ;)

LarryHart said...

I liked the assertions that NAFTA and the Iran deal were both the worst deal ever made in any country ever. Also, that the return of Iran's own money after they released our people was "the Iran deal". Or that Hillary and Obama are responsible for things that have been happening "for 10 years or more".

But my favorite assertion of Trump's was that he'd create millions of jobs by instituting...Supply Side economics!

Certainly no already-decided voter had his mind changed by this debate. The question is whether they made any converts from the undecided. Any thoughts on either candidate's efficacy in that regard?



donzelion said...

LarryHart - "The question is whether they made any converts from the undecided. Any thoughts on either candidate's efficacy in that regard?"

Skeptical that it made much difference. Clinton's still got the 'likability' problem, which is an impossible situation. Land too many blows, and she looks 'unfeminine' and turns off voters. Don't land enough blows and she looks weak, and turns off voters.

Bernie would have flipped Trump's supply side claims on their head: "Of course you'll create millions of jobs with this tax cut, just as you did with the last cut. Except almost all those jobs will be in China, Mexico, just as they were with your last cut!" Would love to read his review of the debate.

David Brin said...

So much to comment on.... So many things she could have done so much better. For example... One fascinating thing from this debate... D Trump essentially backed my claim that the Mexican middle class is rising spectacularly and largely due to NAFTA. And to be clear, the Mexican middle class is rising vastly, vastly *more than the American middle class has suffered,* and most of the US suffering was not due to NAFTA but allowing our oligarchs to seize passive wealth, hand over fist.

It is the stunning US accomplishment no one will talk about, but which should have been - and is - among our highest national priorities, because a middle class, prosperous Mexico -- another Canada -- is more in our interest than almost anything else. A fantastic accomplishment of the American Pax... and never mentioned by anyone.

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets-economy/062416/economics-mexicos-middle-class.asp

Um, some logic here? Isn't it better and easier to defend Mexico's narrow border with Guatemala than the huge US-Mexico one? (BTW that is happening right now, as the US assists Mexico beefing up its southern "wall." And Mexico is eager, since their rising middle class is now complaining about illegal immigrants from the south, stealing jobs.)

Those in the US who screech "those should be OUR jobs!" are just dumb. These are mostly jobs that would have otherwise gone to China. And where one was lost in the US, it was with a multiplier of dozens in Mexico.

Seriously, you think a rising Mexican middle class is a ZERO SUM situation? Idiots. They are already buying more US products, by far than when they were poor. And that will only skyrocket. Moreover it helps to explain why net immigration from Mexico - especially illegal - has plummeted across the last 8 years and gone into reverse!

And not mentioning THAT... and similar stats... showed that Hillary badly needs to get different debate coaches.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin - re your "claim that the Mexican middle class is rising spectacularly and largely due to NAFTA." "These are mostly jobs that would have otherwise gone to China."

In the 4-6 years after NAFTA, manufacturing increased in America. That's a long-enough period of time for a treaty to have shown effects on investment activity; the effects NAFTA showed were the opposite of what Perot prophesied (and what Trump now claims). BUT the labor Dems were hostile to NAFTA, and their persistent version of the facts makes them (and young ones who weren't politically conscious during the '90s) quite susceptible to this sort of distortion. Trump bringing up NAFTA is a means of targeting the Berners and driving them away from Hillary. So far, that seems to be working.

"Those in the US who screech "those should be OUR jobs!" are just dumb."
I would say, 'misled.' A lot of them are quite smart, but they're missing a bigger picture. But Hillary will have a very tough time selling herself to the Bernie faction, which rolls its eyes whenever she speaks. They're cynical and/or scared, and she doesn't reassure them. Those people have heard words like 'positive sum games' - but see little reason to believe the mantras.

occam's comic said...

Wow, I just never would have believed that Trump would look so weak, dishonest and scatter brained.

Clinton did really well, but she need to start using this gimick :
Ask everybody in the audience if they payed any federal income tax last year, then say you probably paid more in taxes than Donald Trump a man who said he made 694 million dollars!? That is wrong! and I am going to change it!

Zepp Jamieson said...

" Brin 2 "
Dare I ask what became of Brin 1?

i_/0 said...

Notable cynic General Wesley Clarke, although be warned, not for the faint hearted:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RC1Mepk_Sw

PaulSB said...

NPR did a nice little fact-checker on the debate last night.

http://www.npr.org/2016/09/26/495115346/fact-check-first-presidential-debate

Tony Fisk said...

@zepp
" Brin 2 "
Dare I ask what became of Brin 1?


Aren't you asking him?

(Either that, or Brin 1 went off somewhere, leaving everything to the green guy. Just don't make him angry...)

Being in a different time zone to when certain debates occur can be a wonderful thing.

LarryHart said...

Because of a minor plumbing emergency last evening, I missed about 20 minutes of the debate. Apparently, I missed Trump's appraisal of the benefit he bestowed upon the country in general, and black people in particular, by hounding President Obama into releasing his birth certificate, thereby "putting to rest" the birther controversy.

By the same logic, Trump himself should be hounded into releasing his tax returns. One nice thing Hillary did was to openly speculate on the possible reasons he's hiding them. Trump really can't refute any of that while continuing to hide the evidence.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: we've gone over the tax returns thing here already, several months ago. The reason one doesn't publicly release tax returns when undergoing an audit is NOT because the IRS prohibits it, but because doing so limits your options should the audit result in legal action/trial.

Trump may not even have that much to hide, but a few public statements after his release could cost him hundreds of millions of dollars (more than this campaign is costing him), even if none of that is lost to government asset recovery actions. In the real estate world at the billions of dollars level, counterparties can squeeze him if they smell weakness (normally, they squeeze the smaller fry, because it's much easier to get that sort of knowledge/leverage against them). Trump, doubtless, doesn't want to call attention to the fact that there are billionaires who could eat his lunch.

i/o: Wesley Clark did run as a Democratic candidate for president in 2004, and was railroaded out of the military by other generals (esp. the Rumsfeld crowd) who hated him for what he did in Serbia. It's 'bad form' to bring down a dictator without U.S. troops shooting him, or picking the jury that will hang him.

That said, there are always plans to bring down 'bad governments' - multiple departments review and record these plans as 'options' for a later time. Lebanon's government actually did fall, Somalia's barely exists (so easy to be 'brought down'), and nobody will mourn the end of the Omar Bashir regime (easily the most vile dictator in the world - directly responsible for multiple genocides and civil wars).

Jumper said...

Were there factors that prevented U.S. companies from operating new plants in Mexico prior to NAFTA? If so, what were those?

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

Jumper: Coca Cola had been in Mexico for many decades prior to NAFTA, and every major American bank had links there. The problem was that under Mexican law pre-NAFTA, foreign investments could easily be forced to be transferred to Mexican ownership (most often indirectly, through special rules targeting foreign-owned factories).

For example, a Mexican populist wants to freeze out Foreign Co., so he enacts a minimum wage hike of 400% for "all companies with between 3000 and 4000 employees unless they are owned 51% by Mexican nationals). Foreign Co is the only foreign-owned company with 3500 employees. It can lay off 501 workers, or sell a stake to Mexican owners. Normally, they'd just sell that stake (creating a Mexican oligarch), especially if the workers might go on strike or otherwise hurt the company.

Lots of laws target foreigners and exempt nationals through such measures. For example, the U.S. "dolphin safe tuna" rules forced Pacific tuna fleets to register in Washington DC, but omitted Atlantic tuna fleets (to protect Maryland and other American tuna fishermen). Activists asserted that "the WTO wants to kill dolphins!" - but really, the WTO action was about fairness (if the U.S. wants to protect dolphins, then they can do so - but only if they protect Atlantic dolphins as well as Pacific dolphins by adopting uniform rules for everyone - and once that decision came down, the whole regime crumbled because it would bankrupt a lot of American tuna boats).

WTO and GATT don't touch on this sort of law, but it is extremely common practice. The older treaties focused on tariffs mainly because tariffs are intimately linked with war: the only remedy for a tariff structure is to invade and overthrow the country imposing it. By the way, the tariff that Trump proposed last night would piss on this regime - bypassing the work of decades that made the world less prone to global conflicts. In essence, Trump's populism, like other populisms in the past, could be an effective strategy IF one believes American troops should be fighting and dying to make billionaires richer.

donzelion said...

So, a confession: I come here, in part, because both science and science fiction make my day brighter. I read stories like this one, about a 25-year old grad student working on killing bacteria that have gained antibiotic resistance - and whether the research pans out or not (who can say?) - the methodology makes me envious.

Waking up at 4 am, fighting to figure out a way to kill killers who've learned to fight off the antibiotics we use now? Can it be that this is the real 'killer app' for nanotechnology: not 'bots that take over the world - but meds that work where old-fashioned meds no longer do?

There are dozens and dozens of stories like this, researchers working on projects like this, devoted to a task with very important implications for humanity - who are paid grad student wages (at best) and struggling for their next pizza. She's not fixating upon billions in potential profit (that would distract from the lab work).

The world of science fiction is full of dystopias and dystopic reasoning (yes, the med may work - but what if those nano-designed peptides cause cancer and turn us into zombie cannibals? what if corporations use them to control us all?). But it makes me feel good that even as politicians bash away at each other, and businessmen scramble to extract the next dollar - even so, many thousands (millions?) of scientists are painstakingly doing the real work that matters.

LarryHart said...

Never mind Donald Trump. My wife just scored "Hamilton" tickets!!!

David Brin said...

Yeow LaryyHart married well!

onward

onward

debate aftermath

onward

Moz said...

Minor fact-request:
The U.S. almost always scores among the top three in “adult science literacy” and often number one. I explain this elsewhere

Where do you explain it? The first couple of links a search turned up suggest the USA ranks out of the top 10.

https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=1 says 14th, may be school kids though
http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Education/Scientific-literacy also says 14th, appears to be adults

Search: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=adult+science+literacy+international+comparison

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