Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A war against modernity

A little fame can be pleasant... until it's not. You'll get frustrated standing just a rung or two below influencing events, for example. Or see your ideas enacted without credit (lots of times that's just fine! We're in this together.) Or you can become a target of loony ankle-biters seeking to raise themselves by styling themselves as your nemesis. (Yeah, right.) Some of you have written to me lately about one of those three scenarios. 

My response, without getting specific? It is to speak of these matters as I do best... in abstract. Ignoring the piddling and instead taking the big, big overview.

I'll get to that, below. But first:

== The fundamental logic behind the war on science and all smart people ==

The open, all-out war by the confederate cabal against modernity is not centered, as some think, on racism. Oh, what silliness. Most confeds don’t view themselves as racist, even if they are. A majority have come considerable distance, in fact. 

No, if you distill for the common element in the Fox-led campaign against scientists, teachers, journalists, civil servants, and even law/intel military officers, it boils down to lava-hot spite toward Smart People. Smart people of all races/genders/types.
I've spoken of this before, but it bears repeating.

This cult is based on a two-part incantation:

1. We all know that being smart and knowing a lot doesn't guarantee that any individual is wise.

That's an Obvious. No living human would deny it. Oh, but then they warp that obvious-truth into a bizarro version: 

2. All people who are smart and know a lot are therefore guaranteed, en-masse to be unwise.

Blink at that a couple times. And yes, that's a precise distillation - an accurate paraphrasing - of how they aim to discredit every single profession of people who work with those inconvenient things called factsWithout ever making it explicit. Because, if stated explicitly, it is obviously insane.

Again, while individual smart/knowing people can be unwise, in general being smarter and knowing more correlates toward wisdom. Wise/smart/knowing folks built the first society ever to escape from thuggish rape-feudalism, challenged the factual basis of prejudice and unleashed fair-competitive-creative minds to assail a myriad challenges.

No one is demanding obeisance to expert authority. Our system wisely pits experts against each other! Scientists, especially, are the most competitive humans ever created. They are the first "high priests" to write popularizations and do PBS shows. Hence, when they reach "consensus" over a model, there's a good chance it's close enough that we should base policy on it... while still poking at it vigorously.

We must confront this lie! But remember, your confed neighbors have a deep supply of incantations.

Start by making #2 explicit! They seek to discredit half a million scientists, a million scientific workers, half a million "deep state" members of the intel/FBI/law/military officer corps, two million teachers. A quarter of a million journalists, a million civil servants...

...ALL of whom are supposedly in a great big conspiracy against “real” Americans while - um - creating nearly all the new wealth…

…and meanwhile who pays for these concocted, magical hate-incantations, spread by Fox etc? 
An oligarchy of maybe 50,000 aristocrats, casino moguls, mafiosi, inheritance brats, Wall Street parasites, Saudi princes and Kremlin connivers. 

They are all good guys. Just like the Civil War plantation lords who great-great daddy confederate fought and died for. Funny how their subsidized campaign against smart folks would remove the one obstacle to their total power.

Dear Idiocracy. We smart people have kids. You are our neighbors and we love you. But don’t think we won’t fight, if we must, if our kids' future is at stake. And remember that smart people know stuff. We number many millions, and like Dr. Bruce Banner we know lots and lots of stuff. 

== The wisdom of recent, multi-racial tolerance memes ==

Okay, this will seem an odd swerve, but bear with me. Have you been following the vibrant new movements in film?

One of the great things about the terrific movie ‘Black Panther’ (BP) - and seen now in magnificent Idris Elba's role as a cyber-enhanced terrorist leader in "Hobbs and Shaw" - is the liberation of ethnic actors to play meaty-deep villain roles. (It was even better-done in BP!) 

True, we're not done fully incorporating diversity into heroic imagery. (My very first protagonist, in ‘Sundiver’ (1979), was of mixed African/Native-American descent. (How many others from that era?) Minority issues feature in most of my novels. And the world is saved by many empowered autistic persons, in ‘Existence.’) Still, it's worth noting when we've come far enough that the most attractive and admired actor in the world can choose to be a delicious bad guy, now and then.

Of course our long range goal is to shatter Category Assumptions that limit any individual's right and power to prove him/her/their/aer/fiz-self to be an exceptional. Sure, along the way, we'll see "forward-lash" and over-reach. Those of us who lived "privileged" as white-ortho-binary males need to make clear what side we're on (I have, a myriad times, as you know), and even shrug aside some unfair lumping, from time to time. 

At my almost all-black 60s high school, I winced as occasionally friends lashed me as a "white devil"... then sheepishly came back to me while we both pretended it never happened. I’ve grown a thick skin... and part of love is patience. So long as the DIRECTION is an arc bending toward justice, we must shrug off some degree of unfair righteous (or self-righteous) overcompensation propelled by sincere passion for progress. 

What I'll not do is pretzel in apology for my own born-not-chosen categories... which include a category that suffered the worst genocide in the history of this planet, costing me all of my 3rd, 4th, 5th cousins and most of my 2nd. That fact doesn't give me "rank" over others in some hierarchy of oppression. Nothing does that*.

What matters is what you seek to do about the world's ills, starting from whatever platform fate planted you upon, and with whatever talents you can bring to bear. So link here to the simplest, easiest way to start:

Hence back to the topic of villainy. Just as you can be a hero even if born underprivileged, there is no cosmic-karmic law that says being a member of some rising category (minority, gender, ability, poverty) enshrines you personally, individually, in nobility and virtue. In fact, character is often orthogonal to such things. Yes, the noblest hero is the disadvantaged person who takes risks to improve the world. That doesn't vouchsafe others - privileged OR disadvantaged - from being recognized as villains, parasites, whiners or damned liars.

This is why the madness that has taken over today's entire right... and small-nasty islands on the far-left... so despises science, facts, burden-of-proof/testimony or even objective reality. Because most apparent villainy can be resolved either by negotiation (as Black Panther attempts to do with his angry brother) or else refutation-via-fierce-Truth, (as he is eventually forced to do, and we are now forced to do vs. Foxite aggression).

Mythmaking - via Hollywood or via sci-fi -- (congratulations Mary Robinette Kowal and other Nebula winners!) -- is helping us combat feudal-racist troglodytism to evolve ourselves toward StarTrekkian wisdom. So persevere!

Still, we must each, personally, choose how to calmly weigh plausibility and credibility and evidence as real life presents us with judgment calls. Dogma is not a reliable guide across a multi-dimensional minefield.

== Psychoanalyzing history ==

Powerful psychopaths are examined in a book by Dean A. Haycock, “Tyrannical Minds: Psychoanalyzing history’s meanest men.” The  key point unmentioned here: In light of how often psychopaths have seized power across history and gone on rampages, what prevents our current psychopath from exerting such power, here and now?  The answer is obvious. Donald Trump has been cauterized and almost completely neutralized by dedicated, professional civil servants, who have learned how to both ignore illegal orders and stymie legal-but-crazy ones with work-to-rule.

Of course, this protection is being chipped away at by the most dangerous thing Trump does, that gets almost no press attention, exercising his power over appointments and promotions. 

Already we see this in judicial picks. Indeed "judges and taxes" are the incanted words used by residually sane republicans to keep supporting what they can clearly see is unsupportable madness. (And of course that makes them the worst sort of knowing and deliberate traitors.) Were he to get 8 years, the effects on the civil service and the "deep state" intel/FBI/military officer corps (the men and women who saved us from Hitler, Stalin and bin Laden and now Putin) would become lethal to our republic. 

Dissected here are most of the many appalling aspects of Trump's 90 minute debriefing phone call with Vladimir Putin. Quote Richard Gayle: “In 1964, the conservative writer John Stormer wrote the book, None Dare Call It Treason, which postulated we were losing the Cold War because liberals were working hand in hand with the communists. Republicans made the book a classic.  How ironic that Stormer may well have been on the right track, just the wrong party. Who is working even more directly with a communist adversary than the leader of the Republican party?”

And finally... Mitch McConnell, gravedigger of democracy: Majority leader's shocking power grab.


* It's called "oppression bragging." Listing all the persecuted group categories you can check-mark, that give you superior virtue - in lieu of actual achievements - and make you invulnerable to individual accountability. To be clear, a certain amount of this is called for! To counterbalance ancient disadvantages and prejudicial reflexes that are still with us. (More in some than others.) Many kinds of "affirmative action" are still desperately needed! But on an individual basis, category bragging does not cancel out an asshole just being an aggressive asshole.


Bart Massey said...

Huh. No more anonymous comments. I will edit myself accordingly.

The last link (McConnell's shocking power grab) appears to be broken, pointing to a Gmail message rather than the intended destination.

Thanks as always for interesting content! I don't know how you keep up this volume with your other responsibilities.

TCB said...

That's the good link.

scidata said...

remember that smart people know stuff

Stuff that renders 8 trillion bullets entirely inert. This ain't 1861 folks.

How're you gonna keep them down on the farm, once they've seen the world through Darwin's eyes?

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ in the previous comments:

Suffering IS the purpose when you yourself are suffering some kind of oppression. (@#$@ flows downhill) ...

Unfortunately, beating them up over it doesn't help. It gives them more reason to flow stuff downhill.

I do take your point. It rankles, though, that the "Don't anger the deplorables" strategy only seems to be required of liberals. For decades of my life, the wealthy and powerful preached to us that black people should just uplift themselves the way the Irish and Italians did, and that poor people who the economy runs roughshod over should just buck up and adapt. The ones who really have grievances to air aren't powerful enough to poop downhill in any way that matters.

Only when the wealthy and powerful themselves have grievances are we told we'd better accommodate them or they'll harm the rest of us. And the irony that their grievance is that they--who have such power--are being victimized.

AD:"To stop it, someone has to choose to be the guy at the bottom taking it all and then cleaning up. Our biology discourages this."

"Supposedly, it happened once."

"Once? ~2000 years ago? 8)"

Yeah, that's what I was referring to.

Darrell E said...

I've been saying it for years now, Mitch McConnell is the worst person in the US. If our government functioned as it should McConnell would be removed from the Senate for blocking all attempts at legislation to oppose Russian meddling in US affairs. This is quite plainly criminal disloyalty to the state, or in other words Treason. Hang the bastard, metaphorically speaking of course. Actually hanging traitor scum like McConnell isn't the world I want to live in. But I do think he needs to be rendered incapable of causing any further damage to our nation.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

it boils down to lava-hot spite toward Smart People.

Thom Hartmann once pointed out--correctly IMHO--that when liberals talk derisively about "elites", they mean rich people, and when conservatives talk derisively about "elites", they mean smart people.

Larry Hart said...

@Darrell E,

McConnell most likely doesn't see his actions as treacherous but as loyal to the interests of the country, which he would see as synonymous with rule by his party. That tenuous grip on power is currently protected by the occupant of the White House, who McConnell, like William Barr, perceives as immune to charges of treason on the grounds of "L'etat? C'est moi!"

jim said...


Traditionally the start to wisdom comes from the recognition of your own ignorance, not proclaiming your expertise.

In my opinion smart people are a mixed bag with the value of their insights, balanced by an arrogant blindness. Both the wonders and horrors of the modern world can be laid at the feet of smart people.

Darrell E said...

Larry Hart,

McConnell may see his actions as loyal to the interests of the country but I have serious doubts about that. I make an effort to be aware of my bias to think the worst of him, but even so it seems very likely to me that McConnell does not have the country's best interests in mind. The only options that make sense to me is that he doesn't give a proverbial rat's ass about the interests of the country or he is purposefully working to destroy it, at least as a democratic republic founded in large part on Enlightenment ideas. I think the most likely is that he doesn't give a rat's ass. All he cares about accruing as much personal wealth and power as he can and the consequences are somebody else's problem. To paraphrase the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, McConnell is a danger to the species and needs to be removed.

And a point you often make, I wonder if Republicans, like McConnell, and their lackeys, like Barr, felt Clinton and Obama were the embodiment of the Nation? And will they concede such deification to the next Democratic POTUS come 2020? I'm laughing. What makes me want to cry is why so many can't see the blatant cravenness in this particular tactic, not to mention so many others.

Larry Hart said...

Darrell E:

And a point you often make, I wonder if Republicans, like McConnell, and their lackeys, like Barr, felt Clinton and Obama were the embodiment of the Nation?

Of course not. Trump is not above the law because he's president. He's above the law because he's a Republican president. In those guy's worldview, the very notion of a Democratic president is itself an abomination. A Democratic president is considered a traitor almost by definition.

It's scary how consistent and understandable their anti-democratic worldview is once you accept the fact that it doesn't even try to be consistent with the ideals the country was founded on.

Gator said...

"Traditionally the start to wisdom comes from the recognition of your own ignorance, not proclaiming your expertise."

Maybe you should read up on the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In my experience, the smart and educated are pretty aware of their own ignorance. This is exactly how smart people become educated.

jim said...

The guy who invented tetraethyl lead and CFC's was completely unaware of the incredible damage his inventions would cause.

Look at how all those smart men in lab coats reacted to Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring.

Or Check out how all those smart people at the big banks and wall street caused the great recession.

Or think about all of those smart people who think that economic growth is the answer to the environmental problems cause by a large and growing economy.

Smart people are still people, and we all are working with souped up monkey brains that make tons of mistakes.

Larry Hart said...


Just for perspective...

The dumb people didn't know any of those things either.

David Brin said...

"Both the wonders and horrors of the modern world can be laid at the feet of smart people."

And that is why we set it up so experts compete, adversarially, which I stated clearly in the article and you ignored for reasons of dogma reflex.

jim... your cherrypicking simply shows that what I said about reciprocal and adversarial accountability is true. I helped those who held the Ethyl Corporation accountable. Your dogma cripples your ability to follow even a two-part chain of reasoning.

David Brin said...

Oh BTW jim, do you think you are smart people? Actually curious.

Larry Hart said...

more perspective...

If there were never any smart people inventing and applying technology, it's not like we'd all be living in the Garden of Eden. We'd still be in that world in which the horrors, and yes the wonders too, are largely outside of our ability to predict or control.

It's to the credit of smart people, on behalf of the human race, that we can say plausibly that the horrors and wonders that we face are of our own doing--that our fate is in our collective hands. That could not have been said for most of human pre-history, nor can any other species make that claim.

jim said...

I don’t think that the scientific name we gave ourselves is accurate. We are not homo sapiens (wise men) we are pan narans (story telling chimps).

So yes Larry, I do know that people who are not book smart make plenty of mistakes.

David, I do score well on IQ tests and consider myself book smart, but I also know I make plenty of mistakes. It seems to me that very narrow, tightly focused questions are best types of questions to ask experts. The more broad the question, the less valuable the input from experts.

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk in the previous comments:

An orange cat has reason to be smug: it's just caught a poor house mouse in a circular pool of something that flows downhill.

The mouse can run faster than the cat so, if can get to the edge before the cat can get round, it can escape, However,a little bird tells me that the cat is super athletic, and able to run four times faster than the mouse can swim.

Things are looking more perilous than peachy for the rodent, but are they? Can the mouse escape?

I'm not sure this is the correct approach, but I'm drawn to the words "flows downhill". If the entire mess is picking up speed as it goes (carrying the mouse with it), then the entire circle might reach a speed at which it stays ahead of the cat, while the mouse swims to an exit point and then runs away.

The other way I thought of is that the mouse head-fakes the cat into speeding to the other side of the circle, and then does a 180 and jumps right out onto solid ground. But the "picking up speed going downhill" thing actually works against that solution.

BTW, with your mention of birds and cats, I thought you were going somewhere else with this--a joke whose punchline is "Not everybody who sh**s on you is your enemy, and not everyone who gets you out of sh** is your friend."

David Brin said...

jim exhibits very well statement #1 in my posting.

He absolutely and obstinately refuses to consider anything that I actually said about this re: adversarial-competitive systems that we use to overcome expert bias, even though every single example he cited exemplifies my case. And even though he is reflexively EXHIBITING that very habit, trained into him from an early age.

The self-doubt that he brags that he is capable of happens to be the core catechism of science, but he essentially asserts that he (and maybe some pals) are the only ones capable of it.

In fact, jim, your apparently utter inability to grasp this concept - or comment on how it differs from the patterns of all other priests and expert castes across history - truly is significant. It does suggest that in your case the correlation between boo smarts and wisdom truly is false.

Alfred Differ said...


I'd be more inclined to rename the chimps and bonobos by putting them in with the hominids than moving us into their genus... especially the bonobos.

Gator beat me to the mention of Duning-Kruger for you. Educated people are often inclined to understate their own capacities because they know enough to know how much more they don't know. In your specialty(ies), you probably qualify for that affect.

As for tetra-ethyl lead, I don't recall the people to invented the stuff thought of its later use. As I recall, it was a chemical that got shopped around for an economical use. One was eventually found by the commercial folks during a period when the consensus was that too little of it would be used to present a health challenge to the population. They thought they knew how it would be recycled out of the environment.

THAT is what turned out to be wrong. If mother nature had a natural sink for the stuff, Patterson, while trying to figure out the age of the Earth, wouldn't have encountered so much lead as a distortion in the geo-chemical signal he was trying to detect. He might not have been able to avoid some of the distortion by using old ice samples.

Smart people make mistakes and other smart people might catch them at it. When I was a physics student at UCDavis, some of the faculty used to tell stories explaining how they got samples from the accelerator building to their labs in the basement of the building where our classrooms were. Long sticks with baskets were involved with students and staff running material between buildings before too much of the sample had decayed. My generation of students heard those stories and made it clear we would not do such things, but WE knew better because of experience acquired by previous generations. We could do more than spell leukemia.

It's not stupid to make mistakes and learn from them. It's stupid to make mistakes and not TRY to learn from them. It takes a community to work the learning processes, though, because individually we are too inclined toward delusion. If I'm not smart enough and wise enough to know that I don't know what I think I know, perhaps my lab partner is.

A.F. Rey said...

On a completely off-topic note: don't think of it anymore as natural gas.

It's now Freedom Gas! :)

LeadDreamer said...

"David, I do score well on IQ tests and consider myself book smart, but I also know I make plenty of mistakes. It seems to me that very narrow, tightly focused questions are best types of questions to ask experts. The more broad the question, the less valuable the input from experts."

Way to define the problem out of existence!! First statement is exactly what every scientist/expert/scholar says of themselves, all the time. The latter two are just broad assertions of no evidentiary power whatsoever. There are engineers and scientists that specialize on very narrow subjects; there are scientists/scholar who specifically study the broader systems and their interactions. You do not have the power to simply "define" scientists as narrow, and dismiss them.

jim said...

Obviously, I need to work on my communication skills because the “jim” in your brain is so different from me.

I don’t know why you think that I think I am the only person capable of self doubt when I clearly stated that there is a tradition (you know lots of people of a long period of time) that states the start of wisdom is the recognition of your own ignorance. And yes, I do know this principle is at the heart of science. But you also see this openness to questioning in classical Greek religious traditions, in Taoism, some forms of Buddhism, Jewish scholarship and possibly many other religious traditions to one degree or another. The real innovation in science was to find that you can systematically test some of your ideas in the real world and reject those ideas that fail to be useful.

Alfred Differ said...


which he would see as synonymous with rule by his party

Well… since we are trying to see things through the eyes of others… I’m going to disagree a bit. What I think he is doing is defending a culture… which he sees as the typical position his party takes… which means rule by his party is preferable. It’s the culture that is worthy of protection (as he sees it), though, so the synonym has to pass through a few links in a chain to work.

"Don't anger the deplorables"

That’s not really the strategy I support. Two-year old children can be quite deplorable, but if we avoid angering them, they don’t grow up into anything even remotely resembling a sane, responsible adult. Somehow, most of us manage to raise our two-year olds and make decent people of them. How?

Anger in response to punishment can be effective in changing behavior (rarely) when the causal connection is understood. Behavior -> Punishment. That’s no easy feat for a child and still very tricky for adults. That connector arrow implies the existence of a perception model for the world in which the behavior takes place. Expand it and you get Behavior -> Consequences -> Punishments. Expand the second arrow a bit to insert the perception model of an onlooker to see further. Behavior -> Intial Consequences -> Onlooker impacts -> Onlooker Behaviors. Doing all that requires good modeling skills and the ability accurately detect the perception models of others. None of that is likely to happen with a two-year old. It’s still hard at 52 years old.

There is a trick, though, that works as someone builds the skills to model and detect models. When an onlooker offers replacement behaviors along with threats of punishment, the angry originator has an option. They can pay the usual prices for their choices, or they can try the alternate and avoid punishment even if they do not understand WHY they get to avoid it. With two possible behaviors to choose and two possible outcomes, the modeling process practically begs its way into our brains. Even for people who avoid that much thinking, though, they might choose to live a life with less anger directed at them. That’s enough to matter in a close election.

For the social science folks, this is just a paraphrasing of my ABA training that California thought all parents of autistic children should experience. There is a lot more to ABA especially around collecting data and testing hypotheses, but the underlying theory is close to what I’m describing. Autistic kids have a heck of a time with perception models as they often can’t process the social hints the rest of us handle with ease. Finding another path to help them do it is the point of trying and I’ve found that experience applies to a FAR larger group of human beings than kids like my son. 8)

Alfred Differ said...


The real innovation in science was to find that you can systematically test some of your ideas in the real world and reject those ideas that fail to be useful.

That's the typical one people point to, but I don't agree. It's a big deal, but not the biggest one.

The real innovation was the liberalization of of the 'knowledge market'. We dignified those trying to create knowledge, let them try their ideas in the 'market', and let them try again after a suitable thrashing when they got something wrong. The 'market' makes use of the natural world to provide tests much like commercial markets makes use of profits to determine which innovations get to remain. These systematic tests aren't so systematic, though. They exhibit the order one typically finds in our other markets.

Larry Hart said...


I don’t know why you think that I think I am the only person capable of self doubt when I clearly stated that there is a tradition (you know lots of people of a long period of time) that states the start of wisdom is the recognition of your own ignorance.

I think it was your "Smart people are responsible for the world's ills". And I know that's not exactly what you said, but I think that's what most people heard.

scidata said...

IMHO the real innovation in science is the search for beginnings of wonderful journeys. Before the scientific age, the stories were mostly about endings and consequences. Not knowing the answer (yet) is almost a state of grace.

“Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science.”
- James Clerk Maxwell

Jon S. said...

I'm reminded of a quote I read some time ago, so long that I don't even remember who said it first:

If you don't make mistakes, you're doing it wrong.
If you don't correct those mistakes, you're doing it really wrong.
If you can't accept that you're mistaken, you're not doing it at all."

David Brin said...

The notion that we belong in the same genus as pans chimps and bonobos is flat-out dumb. Members of a genus have at least some chance of hybridization, even if sterile. But humans have 46 chromosomes. Monkeys,chimpanzees, and Apes have 24 pairs for a total of 48. We are blatantly spectacularly different in more than brains. Ask a chimp to throw something. Now watch human kids play little league. Not the same league at all.

Now ask a chimp -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to run for hours under a burning sun, then dive into a river and swim across.

LeadDreamer is right about jim’s: “It seems to me that very narrow, tightly focused questions are best types of questions to ask experts. The more broad the question, the less valuable the input from experts."

And in fact this is exactly the “boffin” effect that allowed the aristocracy in Britain to confine geniuses like Turing and Russell to their academic categories so that blue-blood classics majors could continue to run things. It is diametrically opposite to the California way, which is for nerds and inventors to realize that business and law are (comparatively) easy - take a few classes -and the inventor should be master of the new company that forms, instead of its slave.

The US -Canadian bachelor's degree is 4 years because a whole year of breadth is required and it makes all the difference. But the enemies of our experiment want to turn nerds back into narrowly defined boffins again.

There are no ways in which this assertion of jim's leads to wisdom. It is calamitous and horrible. People can be creative and useful outside of their credential zone. They can also be stupid and clueless. But as a very rough general trend, I have found that people who are smart in one area tend to also be wherever they feel it matters. Every 1st rank scientist I've known had artistic passtimes they performed at a near professional level, Einstein and his violin, Feynman and his painting and his bongos for example.

The answer is not credential-ism, but criticism and accountability.

jim, I concluded that you think you invented criticism because you were acting that way! As if the lead problem and other bad effects were never discovered, criticized and corrected. Of course that’s silly of me. They were. Or else you would not have known of these problems in order to cite them! Or in order to utterly ignore the corrective forces, when you did cite them.

duncan cairncross said...

I am going to disagree with Alfred and scidata

The "real innovation" was a sort of "critical mass" - suddenly we knew enough to actually make a lot of changes/improvements possible

We gradually built a skill set - a toolkit - until the tools we had were useful and able to accelerate the process

Alfred Differ said...

24 pairs vs 23 pairs. Yah. Enough to block hybridization.
Our chromosome #2 split just right looks like two of theirs, though. Close.

Big brains solving baseball game PDE's on the fly aren't enough to impress me. Take an human fetus, damage its brain just a bit in early development, and they can't do rapid sensory integration later that is needed to play baseball. I'm pretty sure that's what's up with my son, but that big brain of his does other stuff just fine. I'm not planning to try to get him to produce a chimp/human hybrid [ 8) ] but there are times when I see him doing things that just look too much like what I've seen chimps in the zoo doing. As a result, I can't quite stomach watching the chimps anymore. They look back at me and I see my son's untrained emotional responses in them. That could just be me, of course, but I'm doubtful. They seem close.

Doesn't really matter. Their names are what they are and there are enough millions of years between us that it matters. Wouldn't it be something, though, if the first meddling someone does with a chimp genetic line involves fusing those two chromosomes so they have the same number of pairs we do? Heh. Now what do you call them? 8)

Alfred Differ said...


You DO like your toolkit metaphor. 8)

I'll point out that we've been growing our toolkit for ages and have experienced numerous 'phase changes' as a result. I can accept that kind of description for us, but I don't think it explains the 'innovation' that fundamentally changed the field of philosophy that we call science today.

One phase change I think that DOES fit your metaphor occurred in the 1950's when everyone except the US was rebuilding from WWII. English vocabulary exploded about then suggesting a fundamental change in the Anglophile world in how we were thinking about things. Since terms of a language ARE tools in the kit, I think any change from that period might be explainable in your terms.

Darrell E said...


Yes the packaging is slightly different but the DNA is much less different. And chromosome differences like this aren't always a completely effective barrier to reproduction, just almost always.

David Brin said...

I suspect the DNA differences are larger. Genes are one thing... the ones that make proteins. Regulatory DNA is another.

Alfred, the brain systems that aren't used for one thing (e.g. throwing) are often re-applied to something else.

Ahcuah said...

Horses have 32 chromosome pairs; donkeys have 31.

Just sayin'.

duncan cairncross said...

Throwing is the critical thing
IMHO throwing rocks was the "Killer App" that brought in enough extra food to "pay for" the calories needed by the larger brains

Death at a distance! - 20 apemen with half bricks

And the "victims" would probably have needed generations to learn to worry about it

David Brin said...

Bob Neinast you got me! Well sorta. Since horses and donkeys can breed, sorta. Attempts have been made chimp human. Grotesque but true.

Duncan, see William Calvin's THE THROWING MADONNA.

David Brin said...

Earlier I wrote: "As if the lead problem and other bad effects were never discovered, criticized and corrected. Of course that’s silly of me. They were. Or else you would not have known of these problems in order to cite them! Or in order to utterly ignore the corrective forces, when you did cite them."

But there's the rub! It's not the mistakes that were noticed/criticized and fixed that will kill us.

It's the mistakes that were noticed/criticized and NOT fixed that will kill us.

Or else it's the mistakes that WEREN'T noticed/criticized - because we sometimes DO engage in mass uncriticized delusion. And it is the habitual reflexive critics who search endlessly for such things in whom our salvation may lie. Alas, that means putting up with their 99% bullshit.

And that is how smart people become (overall) wise.

Alfred Differ said...

ah well... the real reason I came in on the chimp/human discussion was to point out that I'd rather lift Pans than demote Homo. Neither option really appeals to the biologists, so it's mostly empty talk except when we look at our motivations for doing so. I'm probably guilty of anthropomorphizing chimpanzee behavior when they look back at me and someone taking Jim's position is probably underestimating just how much difference it makes having a 4x advantage in brain size.

I'm probably over-modeling the chimps, but when the average human can model (thus remember) complex behaviors of a couple hundred people to distinguish them fairly well in future interactions, that 4x advantage shows itself much better than with them throwing and catching rocks.

Still... we are pretty odd for apes. There were other hominids with large brains like ours. We do something odd even for hominids.

duncan cairncross said...

The Throwing Madonna was interesting but unconvincing
At least the Madonna bit
The different numbers for the skills and "handedness" was pretty convincing and adds weight to the "death at a distance" "Killer App"

The larger brain does give some advantages, but in the early days those advantages would NOT have paid for the 20%? penalty in food requirements

You need a good SOLID advantage to cover the costs of the brain - IMHO it was the rock throwing PLUS your 20 mates throwing rocks along with you

In the early days the apemen would probably NOT have the level of skill required to hit and kill a small timid animal
BUT it would take a lot less skill to chase a carnivore off it's prey or to kill an animal large enough to be wired to ignore something human sized

This also ties into the human (large) size - a 3ft tall human would be throwing a stone a quarter the weight at half the speed - a 1/32nd of the "killing power"
We are probably close to the minimum size for a rock throwing beast

David Brin said...

Driving half-sated predators from carcasses was one thing. Another was hurling lots of stones at water-fowl rooking in shallow waters. Or newborn calves in a herd. Lost of opportunities where almost no one will miss hitting something.

Add to this the ability to use binocular vision plus digging sticks along the shallows at low tide, where you can access shellfish that no other hunter can find or pry loose. See Elaine Morgan's Aquatic Ape hypothesis.

duncan cairncross said...

I like Morgan's "Aquatic Ape" - or really "Littoral Ape" hypothesis - it does seem to answer a lot of questions - but there is no fossil evidence

On the other hand a "littoral Ape" would be living in an environment that would not be conducive to fossilisation

The shellfish is the main problem - while the apes would not be good candidates for fossilisation their "middens" of old shells would be - and as far as I know have not been found - although they may not have had middens - maybe they smashed and ate the shellfish as they went

Laurence said...

The notion that we belong in the same genus as pans chimps and bonobos is flat-out dumb. Members of a genus have at least some chance of hybridization, even if sterile.

We don't know for certain if a Chimp/human hybrid is impossible. Soviet experiments in that area were quite haphazard and unscientific, and no-one has done any research since.

Darrell E said...

duncan cairncross said...

The larger brain does give some advantages, but in the early days those advantages would NOT have paid for the 20%? penalty in food requirements"

A hypothesis that has been holding up rather well among relevant experts is that high intelligence confers an advantage in highly social groups and that high sociality in turn confers a survival advantage. Features like strong and accurate throwing, target tracking and solving intercept solutions are indeed things that humans excel at but they aren't things that necessarily require large brains and high intelligence.

There are plenty of organisms with much lower cognitive capacity than humans that have capabilities that rival or surpass the computational requirements of human throwing capabilities. Jumping spiders (fascinating story there), bats (evolved a much better method of target interception than humans), birds (even the "dumb" ones) and many others. Evolution has hit upon ways of solving many problems in ways that take much less computational resources than the solutions that human engineers and scientists have devised to solve similar problems. Each of those animals I mentioned above are notable examples of that, namely route planning, target tracking and obstacle avoidance.

But notice that all of the highly intelligent species on Earth, with possibly one exception, are also all highly social. Humans and other closely related apes, parrots, corvids, cetaceans and elephants. The possible exception, octopuses. It takes a lot of brain power and lots of cognitive subsystems to model social interactions at the level of complexity that we and these other highly social species do it. At the moment the science suggests that doing it well conferred enough of a survival advantage to create selection pressure for high intelligence, and that this happened several times independently.

jim said...

I prefer Pan Narrans because clumping humans in with the other chimps emphasizes our deep connections to the rest of the living world. Splitting us off into our own separate category encourages the idea that man is separate from nature, and the whole “Man the Conqueror of Nature” attitude that was pushed by many clever people and helped get us into our current ecological crisis.

Wise men would not be destroying the living world that they are a part of and depend on for their very existence, but clever, story telling chimps, they can fool themselves into doing almost anything.

scidata said...

The solution to the mistrust of and spite towards smart people is inclusion. Envy melts away when we're all in it together. As I've said before, I'm nobody, but I take personal pride in Michael Faraday's life! It's that simple. BTW this is why it took me so long to figure out the whole Union vs Confederacy theme in here.

For me, it's citizen science. For others, it's empathy on a more visceral level.

The NBA finals are big in Toronto at the moment. Many story lines are buzzing. One of the pics that's making the rounds is of one Raptor, Marc Gasol, sitting in a rescue boat in the Med, cradling a dying african woman refugee. His other job. I'll probably never be an elite NBA player, but I fully grok that moment.

David Brin said...

Good thoughts. Proud to know you lot.

Alfred Differ said...


emphasizes our deep connections to the rest of the living world

Oh. Okay. I was over-reading you then. Demoting us for being ignorant at times doesn't sit well with me, but you were trying to connect us to the world which I can enthusiastically support. 8)

What I do when I walk through the zoo and see a chimp or ape is think "cousin". That's part of my effort to connect.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm of the opinion that the hypothesis connecting large brains to the need for social skills in the only plausible one left. Social skills are an obvious survival advantage, so when your potential mates are all selecting on them, you better have a brain capable of delivering them.

My suspicion is the calorie argument applied long ago when our ancestors still had big guts and had to decide whether to be herbivores or omnivores. Herbivores need large guts and the blood flow associated with them. For any fixed body size, therefore, gut requirements impact brain demands. Big gut... no big brain.

Besides, last I checked, the calorie requirement for the average Neaderthal was at least double ours yet our brains weren't all that different in size. We simply didn't have the muscle mass they had. What we DID have was an inclination to trade outside our kin groups. Two equally social human groups where one has a broader base for trade are not equally capable of responding to environmental changes. One has an advantage in the division of labor needed to perform as they do. Put both under stress and one is more likely to successfully reproduce.

Alfred Differ said...

ah... I should add one more thing. Our common ancestor with chimps lived a long time ago. I also suspect that many of the hypotheses discussing advantages are ALL correct, but at various points long the timeline. Stone throwing leads to bigger brains? Sure. Collective stone throwing leads to even bigger brains? Sure. Collective actions requiring more social skill computing leads to even bigger brains? Sure. Calorie limits imposed by food sources lead to gut/brain trade offs? Sure. The full narrative linking us to that common ancestor is probably multi-threaded and I have no doubt it involves shellfish (littoral apes) at multiple points along our history. Cheap sources of protein and fats would be a BIG deal to critters selecting for large brains.

So... I don't really disagree with any of the tested hypotheses except where along the timeline they might be applicable. I tend to focus on the part of our history after the appearance of Homo Erectus and our use of those hand-sized stone cutting tools. That hominid isn't known to be a trader outside its kin groups, but it takes a lot of evidence to be certain of that and we aren't there yet. For me, I'm mostly interested in what separates our version of hominid from the other hominids. Why are we successful? That's why I tend to look later in the timeline.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

And finally... Mitch McConnell, gravedigger of democracy: Majority leader's shocking power grab.

In an actual functioning democracy, competing interests such as the pros and cons of adding the "citizenship question" to the census would be addressed and debated in good faith. One side could show that there are good reasons to want to have an accurate accounting of citizens in addition to the Constitutionally-required accounting of all persons, and advocacy groups could assert that the question makes people less likely to want to participate in the census, and we could attempt to solve one problem without creating another.

Instead, we've got a party in power which desires to discourage participation in the census because they can't hold onto power on the merits of their values, so they have to cheat. Every Republican is complicit in that the fact of their party's cheating doesn't change their support for that party. They'll claim out loud that their motives are benign and their lame excuses are legitimate, but the subtext is obvious to even the most obtuse by now, "Their ability to cheat effectively is a reason we do support them. As long as we get lower taxes, less regulation, and make liberals feel bad, why upset the apple cart?"


Larry Hart said...

Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station) again. There's much more than this snippet, but it is relevant to discussions we've had about critical thinking:


And the majority of Americans aren't equipped to even recognize this as nonsense.

The news media, the average citizen, lets nonsense -- literally "no sense" -- like this just roll on past without question, without any deeper examination. Liberals reject it because it's Trump, conservatives embrace it for the same reason. But they don't even know why.

It's just nonsense. Faulty thinking. Failed reasoning.

This is why problems don't get solved.

This is why shit keeps getting worse.

This is how some moron like Trump gets elected and why 60 million morons think he's some sort of genius.

Because as a people we are deliberately incapable of critical analysis on even a fundamental level. And that’s the real tragedy. It’s not rocket science. It’s the basics. When you break it down, examine each piece, drug smuggling, drug deaths, legal trade deficits, all of these are highly complex problems that may or may not relate to each other in complex ways -- but not in the manner Trump describes. And that should be obvious, even if you don’t understand the complex issues underneath. But for too many Americans, it’s not.


Alfred Differ said...

Arthur Laffer on the schedule to get a Presidential Medal of Freedom next month for you know what.


Larry Hart said...

Inspector Javert and Alexander Hamilton had it right.

The world is upside down.

TCB said...

The other day, I found a mind-boggling bargain in the bins at my local thrift store. Cover damaged, spine missing, and the paper has some foxing. But for about 2 dollars I got what appears to be a real-deal 1849 second edition copy of Michael Faraday's Experimental Researches in Electricity, Volume 1 of 2. You can bet your ass I dug around to see if there was a Vol. 2 in the bins. Also a nice 1924 2nd edition of Niels Bohr's Theory of Spectra. Both owned by one Benjamin B. Dayton who attended MIT in the 1930's. (I think I would have really liked this guy.)

TCB said...

@ LarryHart: I'd say the reason #ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans is that the really bad ones haven't been punished for it in over 40 years.

I've been thinking about John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators. I gather that their conspiracy was (perhaps) approved at the highest levels of the Confederate 'government' and that they received funds from a particular bank account which could only be drawn upon with Jefferson Davis's signature. In any case, he seems to have intended to create chaos in the US government by killing the top three in presidential succession: Lincoln, vice president Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward, third in line. Seward was stabbed but survived. Lincoln, of course, died. Johnson? His would-be assassin chickened out; BUT.

It sure looks to me like the plot succeeded better with Johnson left alive!

Here's a reasonable sounding synopsis:

"After Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson took the oath of office on April 15, 1865. Two profound questions faced the nation. First, under what conditions should the Southern rebel states be readmitted into the Union? Second, what rights should the freedmen, or ex-slaves, have?

A little over a month after becoming president, Johnson began executing his plan for reconstructing the South. Johnson pardoned all rebels except Confederate leaders. He also restored all rebel property except for slaves. Finally, he authorized each rebel state to call a convention of white delegates to draw up a new constitution. Once completed, a new state government could then be formed, and the state could apply for readmission to the Union.

"During the summer of 1865, the rebel states held their constitutional conventions, followed by elections to choose state and federal government representatives. None of the new state constitutions allowed the black freedmen to vote. President Johnson himself opposed the idea of ex-slaves voting. "It would breed a war of races," Johnson said."


I ask you: Could Jeff Davis have chosen a better successor to Lincoln, than Andrew Johnson, to carry on the treason?

David Brin said...

Alfred. Fire. Protected us, warmed us, enabled much smaller chewing jaws, increased nutritional value of food, required brains to tend it well. Best scene in the history of cinema was the “realization scene” in Quest for Fire.

Larry Hart. I am rarely unimpressed with Jim Wright, but on this occasion I am. It comes off as superior and dismissive. Sure, the “good side” in the civil war contains many Americans who want a more rational society but haven’t a clue how. OTOH, it includes almost everyone who DOES have a clue how.

Where the dems are clueless is the art of persuasive polemic. The number of potential judo moves they could do…

TCB kool find!

Lincoln’s previous VP — radical republican - wanted harsh punishment of the south, which would have led to an Ireland situation up to today. Alas, Lincoln should have gone middle ground.

Ahcuah said...

I have to admit that I did my chromosome research for my original comment in the shallow end of Wikipedia.

Regarding a human/chimp mating, I rather figured that the ethical issues associated with such a thing meant it had not happened (or at the least, nobody would admit to it). Could you point me to a place where I can read more about the attempts? Laurence mentions haphazard Soviet "experiments".

Regarding a human/ape mating, from my point of view, that happens all the time. As far as I'm concerned, by any reasonable taxonomy, humans are apes (which kind of references the pan narans discussions), so humans mating are also apes mating. If an advanced alien suddenly arrived and started doing a taxonomy of Earth's creatures, it's not clear to me homo and pan would be classified into separate genera.

scidata said...

@TCB Wonderful find. There's a PDF copy at the University of Waterloo (here in the heart of Quantum Valley) Faraday

The gating of the flow of electricity, beginning with Ampère and Faraday, and culminating at Bell Labs in 1947, is at the core of my 2011 piece on computational Asimovian psychohistory. That is no shit, hands down, the goddamdest thing I ever saw (from "The Abyss" 1989).

TCB said...

@ scidata, Dr. Brin, et al: The Faraday book has a section of pull-out plates at the end, and a great many sections within, explaining exactly how he made his own batteries and dabbled with electroplating, fields in copper coils, and such. It's a real Ur-text.

Re: our ape cousins, Dr. Frans de Waal has written a great deal on how sophisticated they are in the realm of social interactions, keeping track of foes and friends and so forth. I think they are very nearly our equals in that realm, while we exceed them in throwing, swimming, running in hot weather, making our own batteries, etc.

And I recently saw this: Do we actually NEED certain intestinal worms? We understand now that many gut bacteria are essential to our health, and this author says intestinal helminths may protect us from such things as allergies, MS, and inflammation. Each of us is a colony of organisms, and perhaps it's an error to think of homo sapiens as only homo sapiens. I can picture a giant, far-flung space ship filled with Earth colonists on its way to Somewhere, its resident scientists frantically to understand why its genetically perfect human crew are so sickly, when the real reason is that their forebears extirpated all the germs and 'contaminants' they could identify...

scidata said...

@TCB vital germs - the premise of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds"

locumranch said...

And this, my friends, is the Prayer of the Nerd:

(1) That brains should outrank strength, health, beauty, bravery & popularity as admiration and emulation-worthy qualities;

(2) That elite intelligence should grant breeding rights; and

(3) That the smart & cunning, although a statistical minority, are the rightful rulers of all mankind.

Which, btw, is a woefully ELITIST, UNDEMOCRATIC and UNENLIGHTENED position for our fine host to take as he proposes nothing less than tyrannical rule by an unelected intellectual aristocracy.

Revenge of the Nerds is an American comedy franchise. The series revolves around a group of socially-inept students (the nerds) trying to get revenge on their harassers. The series began with the autonomous 1984 film and was followed by three sequels: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise (1987), Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation (1992) (TV), and Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love (1994) (TV).


Larry Hart said...


In any case, he seems to have intended to create chaos in the US government by killing the top three in presidential succession: Lincoln, vice president Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward, third in line. Seward was stabbed but survived. Lincoln, of course, died. Johnson? His would-be assassin chickened out; BUT.

It sure looks to me like the plot succeeded better with Johnson left alive!

Maybe it's the comic book reader--or the binge-watcher of Designated Survivor-- in me, but it sure sounds as if the plot was to appear to kill the top three in succession, but for Johnson to "miraculously" survive with the perfect alibi. How could he be suspected as a traitor when the traitors had tried to kill him?

And the main reason #ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans is because the ones who had any integrity or patriotism have either left the party in disgust or been purged for not being sufficiently deplorable. The best of the remainder are those who are personally upset by Trump's antics and Congress's submission, but who won't do anything to alter course lest they lose the Petulant White Man vote. They may not be personally deplorable, but they're actively complicit.

At this point, it matters little to me whether they are evil, stupid, insane, or any combination of the above. Usually, one is more dismissive of the harm done by others if that harm is not intentional because it's not likely to be a regular, repeated thing. But even the non-deplorable Republicans have made it clear that they intend to keep on causing harm in order to hang onto the reins of power, or in order to keep liberals from having any.

It almost makes me wish I believed in Hell. Then, there might eventually be justice. But no, there's just us.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin, re Jim Wright,

I see your point that he seems to be lumping all Americans together with the troglodytes. But I also see the point when he says something like:

as a people we are deliberately incapable of critical analysis on even a fundamental level.

Maybe he should have said that our culture discourages critical analysis. It's not that all individuals are bad, but that the good ones aren't accomplishing the change that we desperately need.

Larry Hart said...

Oh, just what we frickin' need.


Larry Hart said...

Bob Neinast:

Regarding a human/ape mating, ...

And I got grief for bringing up the topic of zero-gravity sex.

David Brin said...

The mating is happening now, in secret labs in Siberia and Sinkiang, where human genes are inserted into chimp ova and vice versa (ligament attachment points, for super strength.)

locum's back. The scenario he describes is articulate and a cool sci fi story. But in THIS reality, the enlightenment has empowered and unleashed fair competition for the 1st time in history. His (lickspittle-adored) feudal lords made one criterion for power: family cheat-wealth. We have scores of dimensions a person can strive to succeed across, from looks (entertainment) to strength and speed (sport), to charisma all the way to inventiveness and or clever symbol manipulation.

In other words, while he is articulate, locum as usual lies. He bald-faced and deliberately and openly lies. For the sake of his lords, he concocts a magical incantation lie about both the intent and effects of the liberation of smart people to compete with each other in a dozen dimensions...

...while hypocritically using the computers, web, fridge and electricity etc that those nerds gave him. Ah, welcome back, son.

scidata said...


Popular Vote 2016:
Hillary Clinton 48.2%
Donald Trump 46.1%

Can you go back to the pornocracy quips? That was the good stuff.

Larry Hart said...

In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter prompts Clarice to consider the essential nature of the serial killer she's after, and then instructs her that "His essential nature is, he covets."

Likewise with your returning prodigal. His essential nature is, he lies.

reason said...

I think homo sapiens an absurd name, wise is one thing we definitely are not. I think the correct name should be homo credulus. Our ability to believe (almost anything) is our defining feature.

As to trading distinguishing us from say the neanderthals, i think that might just have been a function of density and climate - the neanderthals were heavier and stockier and so more dispersed and less mobile because they developed in a colder environment. But as an interesting speculation in the Scientific American pointed out humans form big coalitions joined by only abstract ideas. Homo credulus.

scidata said...

reason: coalitions joined by only abstract ideas

I agree with your call for a more modest species name. However, credulity can sometimes be a selection advantage, especially in early times. Scary stories about particular poisonous snakes and spiders could be believed or ignored by little ones. Those that believed them are our ancestors.

locumranch said...

It's nice to return to Lake Wobegon now & again, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve", where the intelligence of the average citizen is (miraculously) above average.

That the West has become incapable of critical and/or scientific thinking, there is no doubt, as exemplified by this Real_Clear_Science article wherein 65% of Americans Think They Are More Intelligent Than Average.

Either you lie or you delude yourselves when you misrepresent Rule by Intelligentsia as anything other than rule by a tyrannical & non-representational minority, for even rule by pornocracy would be preferable to this alternative.


Ahcuah said...

Well, when we were talking about "mating", I thought we were talking about, um, mating. Full cross-breeds. While there are issues about whether a human/chimp mating might work, I don't think we would really know unless it were tried. And regarding that, there are both ethical issues and the fact that adult chimpanzees can be really, really violent. (Maybe human/bonobo?) I am not aware of any attempts (partly because, if it was tried, the ethical issues might preclude announcing it).

Regarding inserting portions of DNA into other species, either to/from humans, while there are ethical issues, I don't feel that those are as strong. In this story, Ethically Fraught Experiment Has Produced Monkeys With Added Human Brain Genes,

at least one can make the argument that by better understanding how the human genes work, one can help with or correct human disabilities.

And of course, on this blog, there is always the quest to learn how to do Uplift.

David Brin said...

That locum cannot see the self-referential irony of his latest is what makes it ironic.

David Brin said...