Sunday, February 20, 2022

Environmental matters and a brighter future? And... There is no Lion King! And why that matters.

Dismayed by rumors of war? I'll try to distract with a dive into longer term hopes and existential threats. Fair?

Still, let me pause to note that exactly 79 years ago today, Soviet (mostly Russian) armies liberated Kharkov (now Kharkiv) from Nazi occupation. It was a highwater moment for that winter offensive which started with the victory at Stalingrad and brought Russian tanks to the banks of the Dnieper. The river that V.Putin clearly wants to serve as the new border with a rump and castrated Ukraine...

... moreover there are many 'war fronts' less mentioned in the news. Like this month's possible final swallowing by Russia of all but figleaf independence for Kazakhstan. Or threats to the world's subsea fiber cables below and satellites overhead. Or hints of a surreptitious struggle of Cool War, for which the "Havana Syndrome" might be the iceberg's tip. (See Jim Benford interviewed about it, on tonight's (Sunday's) episode of 60 Minutes.) Indeed, a year of retaliatory counter-strokes may (one could hypothesize) underlie Mr. Putin's apparent, frantic state.

And while what follows is a segue into today's main topic... do note the overlap.

== Earth, Herself, is boss ==

Want a vivid reminder of nature's power? 

The recent Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha-apai undersea volcanic eruption sent plumes of ash and dust 30 km into the atmosphere, causing tsunami warnings along the Pacific coast, severing communications lines... as we await news of the full effects on island nation of Tonga. See the stunning before and after photos

And yes, I talk about Her power, in Earth

== Environmental problems & solutions ==

The island nation of Tuvalu is looking at legal ways to be a state if it is submerged in an era of rising sea levels. In fact, I know exactly how to do this and depict it in my novel Existence. Happy to consult if they get in touch. The fundamental baseline for such nations is... a law firm.

Meanwhile, as rising sea levels threaten low lying lands, millions of inhabitants may be displaced over the next few decades. Researchers in Bangladesh have seen some success in seeding oyster-encrusted reefs as a living defense against coastal erosion. Though how could anything be more ironic than the fact that is is the Olde Confederate South that is the US region most threatened by climate change?

There is evidence that animals across the world are miniaturizing as temperatures rise. Bird specimens at Chicago's Field Museum have lost 4% of body mass over the last four decades.

Progress on the environmental front. France just banned all 5 of the neonicotinoid pesticides that researchers are blaming for collapsing bee populations. The move follows the European Union’s ban of  the three worst offenders — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — in crop fields starting last month. Studies have shown that neonicotinoids cut bees’ sperm count and scramble their memory and homing skills. 

Also bees can develop a dangerous addiction to the insecticides, much like smokers for nicotine. The ban is celebrated by beekeepers and environmentalists. I am in one category and hoping to return to the other soon. And hoping my neighbors will stop spraying these noxious, harmful poisons, soon. Bees!

== More nature weirdness! ==

Okaay, this seems weirdly - even sfnally - related to how we started this posting. I hope hunger and sex can overcome this allure: 
Brown crabs seem to have an odd attraction to underwater power cables. The cables for offshore renewable energy emit an electromagnetic field which attracts the crustaceans and causes them to sit still. Researchers even found that exposure to higher levels of electromagnetic field strength changed the number of blood cells in the crabs' bodies. Or else they may join the next story…

Community member Timothy Bruening notes: The and Wildlife Service is declaring 23 species extinct! We should urge Biden to have some sort of big, splashy memorial service for those 23 species! I envision 23 stones, each with a name of the extinct species.  The purpose would be to draw attention to the climate change crisis.  How is this for Judo?”

Next item? If this works, it could be among the biggest Earth-savers since solar cells and LED light bulbs. In its first investment into the lab-grown meat space, the USDA awarded $10 million to Tufts University to establish the National Institute for Cellular Agriculture. Rapid advances in lab grown meat

Essential to food security, urban farming doesn’t have to be horizontal. The 51-story Jian Mu Tower built in Shenzhen will contain offices, a supermarket, and a large-scale farm capable of feeding up to 40,000 people per year.

As depicted in Existence.

== There is no lion king! ==

There is absolutely no 'lion king.' It’s an important observation in light of 6000 years of propaganda that monarchy/oligarchy/aristocracy are ‘natural.’

 In fact, Nature herself does not like pyramids of power. In natural ecosystems, there is no lion king! Lions may be top predators, but they live in fear of roaming bands of young male cape buffalo, who hunt and corner and kill unwary lions and trample their cubs, an event that grows more common if lion populations rise too high. 

Now we see documented the same thing in the oceans. The ‘top predator’ orcas are often thwarted by big, tough humpback whales who smack orcas with their long pec fins to protect not only smaller humpbacks, but grays and even seals!

That this pattern has been so persistent and consistent, across every past and present complex system for a billion years, is demonstrated time and again by Multilevel Selection (MLS) Theory, which partitions natural selection into within- and between-group components. It means that the universe is filled with realms that within seem fiercely competitive...

...but when the competition has a chance to form complexities, higher orders appear that seem cooperative. And it is an observation that would be AI-lords would to well to note. 


scidata said...

Of course I never have or will pen anything as vast and brilliant as EXISTENCE. I did however write a short essay once on how nature has a 'threaded' nature to it, in which evolutionary processes proceed on multiple levels simultaneously (before I ever heard of MLS Theory), so I can appreciate the gratification of 'getting it right'.

Off topic: Proxima Centauri b
There's been some scuttlebutt about Webb being aimed at Proxima b early on. That planet is tidally locked, so life would have to be on the dark side. They'd need artificial light, and massive LED generation has been suggested. It'd light up like a Christmas tree (quite literally). The NIRISS detector can be tuned, at least partially, for LED spectra. My thought: why not also look for regular time cycles - that would be a serious tip off. Such a discovery might provide a 'Silent Night' moment, where armies in the field stop fighting to look towards Centaurus (if it peeks above European horizon).

David Brin said...

Both good remarks scidata. The nested, layered way that competition and cooperation interplay was a major theme in EARTH.

Civilization on a tidal locked world could be all over the dark side, yes, but not at first. Until tech, there'd likely be clustering along "The Twilight Zone."

duncan cairncross said...

Would civilisation on a tidal locked world cluster on the dark side?

The light side has oceans of easily available power - with lots of power its probably easier to cool the living areas than it is to heat them on the dark side

We currently are set up to use "compounds" - compounds that are close to us and that we can chemically separate and use to make the materials we want

The next stage - with LOTS of available energy - would be to stop thinking about "compounds" and think instead about elements

People talk about "water" on the moon or Mars - but almost every rock is an Oxide - so Oxygen is everywhere and Hydrogen compounds are also quite common

The "lightsiders" would have plentiful energy and elements
The "darksiders" would have easy access to compounds - but energy would be expensive

Tony Fisk said...

JWST configuration is proceeding nicely, with 18 separate images now arranged neatly in a concise hexagonal pattern.
Now to focus them all...
(Currently working in a company making medical instruments. The smoothness with which several hundred actuators and stepper motors launched into position a million miles away are being handled has me awestruck.)
Elephants also keep a firm lid on the lion population.
One of the summertime delights of sitting in our courtyard is hearing the steady drone of foraging honeybees punctuated by a louder interloper.
It is a native blue banded bee, a solitary type that appreciates lavender, and tomato flowers.

From last post: I think the trickle up effect should be considered.

David Brin said...

Sorry Duncan, I don't see it. The full-day side is blistering and subject to the massive flare activity of red stars. And it is FAR easier to control your closed environment in a cold place than a hot one, if you do have some supply of useful energy.

gerold said...

@DB: I'm curious regarding your approach to human uplift in your novels. Is genetic debugging/improvement a sensitive topic because of the ubermensch angle?

We shouldn't let Nazi stupidity control our thinking, especially regarding something as vital as this.

Are you familiar with the idea of mutational meltdown? This is why cave spiders lose their eyes: in the absence of selection pressure eliminating harmful mutations in the genes for vision, eyes no longer develop correctly. I don't know how many generations are required to produce noticeable degradation, but it may be that effects are already being seen in human populations (increasing rates of autism?) but they will appear at some point if not arrested, either the old fashioned way or by future engineering.

David Brin said...

Guys self-uplift is referred to here and there in Uplift. But it's not the topic! That is, till BRIGHTNESS REEF where layered qualia of being become very much the topic!

David Brin said...

Yes, atrophy of less-used qualities is a phenomenon. Also reversion-to-mean, when selctive pressure is removed, which may help explain the rise in autism and non-binary stuff.

But the harsh thing is if we are as good as it gets. Look at the Huxleys, who bred for generations for genius... and rates of congenital illnesses like near blindness became rampant. There are so many anecdotes suggesting that breeding for intelligence takes you ever close to a minefield of side effects. What if we've only seen a foretaste?

And what if it also applies to AI?

Alfred Differ said...

Larry, (cont'd from last thread)

Don't they also reflect the profit the lender might expect to gain from some other use of that money?

Of course. The usual thing compared is 'risk free lending'. For all practical purposes that means lending it to the US government in the form of buying their bonds and notes. It's not actually risk-free*, but that's what they call it.

For an example not using money, imagine you sold pizza by the slice at baseball games. If you realized some day you could make more with calzone, you'd put your ingredients to a new use OR raise the price on your pizza. Maybe a bit of both.

* This is where I think progressives inclined to get government involved in lots of things do unintended harm. If your government program borrows money, some rentier just might lend you a billion to do it. In serving your target group, you've just slowed the velocity of money and made it easy for them to remain rich AND dodge taxes. "Risk Free" lending only happens… as they say at PBS… "From Viewers Like You".

Alfred Differ said...

There's no reason we couldn't experiment on isolated chimp and dolphin groups AND fix some of our genetic quirks.

This would be socially tricky, but I have no doubt we'd find supportive parents-to-be who wanted to avoid passing along certain defects of theirs.

1) How many of us would opt for an X-chromosome patch for elimination of common forms of color blindness?

2) Maybe a patch on chromosome-4 altering how we produce the alcohol dehydrogenase IB enzyme would be interesting? Some of our ancestors unintentionally patched that one in the early ages of agriculture. Their modern offspring might want to take their futures in a different direction.

3) Maybe you'd rather your offspring could handle lactose digestion later in life. If you have issues with milk sugars now, you know what suffering might be avoided.

My favorites, though, will be found among the epigenetic switches. OMG are we going to change when we get our paws on those.

Alfred Differ said...

I suspect when it's all worked out, autism will be found to be a family of injuries suffered by fetal brains when their immune systems trigger early and a bit too strong.

Autism rates ARE high (my son is solidly on spectrum), but the bigger epidemic is auto-immune responses. We have a lot to learn about our own immune systems and what we can survive with and without strong reactions from them. I'd bet every penny I have that autism will be shown to be a family of responses within the larger epidemic.

My like heavy metal poisoning at very low levels is survivable, small fetal brain injuries can be worked around producing a viable adult. At the fringes, though, heavy metals do just enough damage at those low levels to impact the fringe population. Just enough to notice. That will be what they say about autism in decades to come. Just enough to notice.


As for life on a tidally locked world, I'm sure it would expand into the cold as it learned to exploit larger distances and temperature gradients. Entropy change dS is proportional to heat change dQ and inversely to the system temperature. Life 'seeks' dS.

I remember an article I can't find anymore that discussed how we'd know whether life existed on another world if that life was organized different than our known Terran examples. Their argument was all about entropy. We'd parse our samples and ask whether or not our observations were likely. Entropic oddities were the markers they suggested we seek.

gerold said...

DB: inbreeding is a blunt instrument, the kind of method used before the genetic code is deciphered.

I don't think it will be possible to achieve genetic fluency with human intelligence or human-created algorithms. I think we'll need trans-human AI to reach the necessary level. Self-uplift is sort of a contradiction; we haven't even deciphered Etruscan, the language of dna is way beyond. But we can build a tool to decipher dna - the only problem is that "tool" will be smarter than we are. It won't be a tool anymore, it'll have its own agency. That is scary, especially for people still stuck in the Terminator fable.

It's much easier to create problems than solutions. We're creating them at a furious pace, and showing little indication of being able to solve them. We're going to need some help.

duncan cairncross said...

Dr Brin
Your last few words are the key "if you do have some supply of useful energy"

I can't help thinking that on a tidal locked world "solar power" would be so much superior to almost anything else
Solar is leading the game here where the sun MOVES and hides for half the time

GMT -5 8032 said...

Just read a column about Frederick Forsyth and about his influence on spy thrillers. I’ve read several of his novels…close to the time they were originally published. Fascinating.

New profile photo. It’s an oldie of me, but a goodie.

reason said...

Alfed - you can't look at one side of puzzle and ignore the other. If they buy government bonds rather than houses or Picasso's they are still parking money. But if the government spends money progressively and taxes progressively that WILL increase the money velocity directly. Ultimately, what drives real investment is end demand. You need to spread money about for it to do good - like manure.

(And you know that even Milton Friedman thought the government should effectively print some money - i.e. borrow from the Fed - it is much better way to increase the money supply as needed that relying on private borrowing only. Read "Between Debt and the Devil".)

David Brin said...

In BEYOND THIS HORIZON parents cannot ALTER their sperm or eggs but they can pick WHICH ones to combine, after extreme pre-modeling. That way what emerges is one they might have had anyway , hence natural. till, there is a cash bonus for those who do it the old fashioned way as “control naturals.” Because who knows? There may come a time when only the color blind escape alien hypnosis, because they can’t see the trick. Or avoiding lactose could benefit… some future generation?

DC: actually it’s energy GRADIENTS that provide power, and those are very steep at the day-nigh borderlands.

reason is mostly right: Lefty spending CAN be wasteful. But when it both builds stimulative infrastructure and elevates poor kids to be competitive WHILE stimulating demand and money velocity, it is a damnsight better use than the rentier hoarding and asset bubbles that are what Adam Smith accurately said that the rich do with big infusions like Supply Side.

locumranch said...

Who told you that 'Life, the Universe and Everything' should, ought to & are supposed to be FAIR?

That Putin & his empire-building aspirations should be subject to Marquess of Queensberry Rules, or that volcanic eruptions & rising sea levels can be countered by petty human legalisms?

Yet, strangely enough, Dr. Brin and I are in complete agreement when it comes to these figurative truths:

(1) There is NO Lion King; and
(2) Nature abhors pyramids of power.

In fact, I would go a step farther and argue that (beyond Natural Law) THERE ARE NO RULES AT ALL, no fairness, no heaven, no expert know-it-alls and no hell, just the slightly better, the slightly worse, and the implacable rule of fitness, belly, tooth & claw.


The problem our fine host has with Human Uplift (imho) is twofold, the first being the eugenics-based 'Nazi Supermen are our Superiors' ethic (or the lack thereof) and the second being that Human Uplift would simultaneously dismiss the Human Equality Myth and re-introduce scary no-holds-barred COMPETITION into the Human Condition.

I've said it before, I'll say it again, our host values CONFORMITY and fears COMPETITION as evidenced by his own very vocal hatred of cheaters & rule-breakers, since 'compliance with standards, rules, or laws' and 'behavior in accordance with socially accepted conventions or standards' is the textbook definition of CONFORMITY.

The 'Reciprocal' part of his 'Criticism' mantra is a synonym for 'mutual, complementary, shared, cooperative & communal'; and the 'Fair-Flat-Open-Equal' modifiers that he likes to apply to 'Competition' are synonyms for 'civil, courteous, even, equal, equivalent and accessible', all of which are incompatible with conflict, playing-for-keeps, inequality or merit.

And, then, there's CITOKATE, a good idea which fails in practice, mostly because those who could most benefit from criticism refuse to accept it, as they know (deep down) that they are RIGHT and all those who criticize them are WRONG by definition.

But, who am I to criticize? I am very wrong, deplorably wrong, as our host will surely tell you, while Team Progressive is mostly right. Yay, CITOKATE!!


Larry Hart said...

Interesting way of putting what we already know...

It is not hard to be a Christian in America since the majority of Americans identify as Christian and virtually every public institution bends over backward for us. But it is hard to live a Christian life — to exist as a person who has a belief in an eternal savior but spends a lot of time wondering what that really means.

Jon S. said...

Alfred, the "heavy metal damage" hypothesis has long since been disproved. Sadly, this has not stopped some parents from damaging their children's health, or even killing them, by attempting to chelate metals the kids don't have...

Gerold, as an autistic, I must say that I'm rather offended by your implication that autism is a genetic error on par with malformed eyes. In what appears to be the majority of cases (those whose communication skills are sufficient to allow us to "pass", with great effort), autism is only maladaptive because so very many allistics decline to acknowledge that there might be methods of communication that don't include body language, "eye contact" (which turns out to mostly be watching mouths, not eyes), and passive-aggressive behaviors such as "meaningful sighs" (if I sigh, it's because I need a little extra air, not because I'm trying to express disappointment with someone - if I'm upset with you, I'll tell you, like a grownup). In fact, analysis of information about historical figures tends to suggest that autism may have been more widespread in earlier eras, with subjects becoming inventors, lone explorers (as Baron-Cohen notes, the "symptoms" of autism tend to vanish when the autistic person is no longer required to interact with allistics), or village witches/sages/weirdos. We just can't go be lone explorers that much any more, as there are so few places that can be explored by a single person in the modern world.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm not opposed to government borrowing. I'm pointing out the dangers well-meaning people create and the self-inflicted harm.

Use With Caution

The reason parking money with bonds becomes asymptotically problematic is it unites wealthy people with our do-gooders as a political block that channels enormous sums of cash. We do better with our power blocs divided and opposed. Government is less corruptible when they aren't so attractive as enormous sums of cash.

Parking money in houses and art isn't as risk-free because power blocs are not united. Parking money with government paints a bullseye on them inviting the well-meaning people and the nastiest people among us to engage in behaviors that are coherent.

Use with Caution.

As a general note, I'm of the opinion that ALL money is debt. We think of it the other way round, but it's just stuff we trade for with the expectation that others will turn it back into what we want later. Money has a price as much as any other commodity.

David Brin said...

Jon S. Temple Grandin gave me a blurb for EXISTENCE with FIVE varied autistic folks. Technology will liberate them as it did housewives…


Again with L's imbecilic strawmanning? Yeah, no one could be this dumb and string words together syntactically. He’s having us on. Sighing: Sure, nature is red in tooth/claw. Nature used competition to ‘advance’ - (though archaea might disagree) and competition made us. (Lefties who deny that competition is the universal creative power are as crazy as the MAGA nutjobs who CLAIM to support competition, while undermining it with desperate zeal.

(Note how he raves that our prevention of cheaters from killing/repressing potential competitors means that WE are anti-competition? STEP UP fool with wager stakes whether any neutral panel of any kind would call that anything but insane.)

Still, for you guys: Feudalism showed one of the traps of NATURAL competition, when males gang up to shunt evolution down paths of peacock tails and elephant seals and kings and lords and priests. A path that always rewards those males but eventually punishes the species itself. (Nature doesn’t care!)

Adamsmithian/Periclean enlightenments remove the power of sperm-obsessed male cheaters and elevate COMPETITION to levels never seen in nature. FAR less blood and death! Competitors get many, many second chances and vastly greater numbers get to creatively compete. Cheating is suppressed and outcomes measured. Positive sums - seldom seen in nature - abound!
But those words are wasted on locum, who cannot even conceive what they mean. I typed them for you guys.

The rest of his rant is a spew of filth aimed, fortunately, at stances and positions I have never taken. So WTF cares what a dope thinks?

Don Gisselbeck said...

Translation: "If you can't compete, die."

David Brin said...

DG - except that Preiclean civilization eliminates 99.999% of the 'die" and replaces it with "If you can't find some way to compete, then let's remove obstacles like poverty, prejudice and ignorance, so your kids can, in a variety od fair and open and eclectically creative ways.... or find decent jobs helping set things up for others to compete."

duncan cairncross said...

Jon S
The "heavy metal" problem is very very much still valid!!

Lead at even low levels has had and is still having major effects
"The authors produced several different results based on different statistical techniques, and all of them show a significant association of high lead levels with high levels of juvenile delinquency. Their primary estimate is that those relying on private wells had a 21% higher risk of being reported for any delinquency and a 38% increased risk of being reported for serious delinquency after age 14."
In 1980 and 1988, the property crime arrest rate peaked at age 16.
In 1980, the age-16 property crime arrest rate was 6.3 times higher than the arrest rate for ages 30-34.
In 2019, the age-16 property crime arrest rate was 5% lower than the rate for ages 30-34.
The collapse of the age-crime curve was not sudden. It happened gradually over the last 20 years, tracking earlier birth year trends in lead exposure.

the "heavy metal damage" hypothesis has long since been PROVEN to be correct

However the second part of your comment about kids being damaged by "Chelation" is unfortunately true!!

Larry Hart said...


In fact, I would go a step farther and argue that (beyond Natural Law) THERE ARE NO RULES AT ALL,

Except that one, I assume.

no fairness, no heaven, no expert know-it-alls and no hell, just the slightly better, the slightly worse, and the implacable rule of fitness, belly, tooth & claw.

There is no justice. There's just us.


"The world only makes sense when you force it to!"

What you fail to recognize is that societies do force it to, or at least make some attempt at it. Some better than others. Hitler tried and failed. Putin is trying and may or may not succeed. My money is against, though, as his vision is one in a long line which tries to pretend that reality is whatever he declares it to be. The Enlightenment does a better job of forcing it to because it takes into account understanding how reality actually works, such as what inevitably happens if you drop a hammer on a planet with a positive gravity.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

As a general note, I'm of the opinion that ALL money is debt. We think of it the other way round, but it's just stuff we trade for with the expectation that others will turn it back into what we want later.

I've maintained forever that whoever dies with the most money loses, because he has (presumably) done work or otherwise traded away value without ever claiming the prizes that that value afforded him. It's the one who dies with a large mortgage which he has already spent on luxuries who "wins".

Money has a price as much as any other commodity.

And that's where I disagree with you that inflation is theft. Money is subject to entropy just like any other commodity. If I bury a million dollars in my back yard for 20 years, why should I expect it to be as valuable at the end of that time as it was at the start? After all, I could not have buried a stack of pizzas for the same period of time and expected them to retain their value.

gerold said...

@Jon S: I'm glad you weighed-in regarding autism; I'm certainly no expert so it's good to hear from someone with first-hand experience.

As I understand it autism is a diagnosis covering a huge span. Everyone's favorite flavor are the savants with very high intelligence or some spectacular skill, but not all are so lucky. Many never learn how to communicate with other humans, or feel compelled to engage in compulsive repetitive actions, or fail to ever live on their own. I can't see that as "differently-abled" because they aren't able at all.

One nice thing about civilization is how it expands the number of viable niches for differently-abled people. Near-sightedness may have been a death sentence for H-G hominids but in civilization it's no big deal. High-functioning autistics can be very successful, but an inability to communicate with other humans is a liability in any culture - not to mention lonely.

Are increasing autism rates caused by an accumulation of genetic mutations? I find it an intriguing hypothesis but it's still an open question.

Jon S. said...

Duncan, I think you might be a bit confused. Alfred was setting forth the idea that autism is caused by damage to fetal brains by heavy metals, which originated in a very bad misreading of the effects of autism as compared with mercury poisoning. That's been disproved.

On the other tentacle, yes, heavy metals can indeed damage humans, and lead is well-known as one of the primary causes of heavy metal poisoning (hence the oft-advanced but never-so-far-as-I-have-learned hypothesis that the fall of the Roman Empire may have been due in large part to lead-lined water vessels and aqueducts). That's why we developed chelation in the first place - it's highly dangerous, but still preferable to letting people die of poisons.

gerold said...

@locum: you seem to be arguing that playing by the rules makes me a "conformist." I don't think I've ever been called that before.

According to this logic criminals are the ultimate non-conformists and anyone who doesn't cheat is a patsy. That does seem to be the Republican "ethic" these days, but a society where criminals become the majority is not a nice place to live.

You may be right however about why Dr. Brin shies away from human uplift. Worthy goals like improving human genetics have been tainted by Nazi evil, but I think it's time to move on. Evolution is all about improving our genes, only now we're on the verge of being able to steer it ourselves rather than relying on a drunkard's walk. I've already got a number of enhancements in mind.

Alfred Differ said...

Jon S,

I'm not defending the heavy metal hypothesis. I agree it has been trashed as a cause for autism. They almost sucked me in years ago with an offer of false hope, but I read the papers underlying the science. Hypothesis A would be promoted, tested, and results wouldn't match close enough to expectations. Hypothesis B would then be promoted, tested, and fail. After a few papers like that I got the feeling someone Believed in the heavy metal theory strongly enough they weren't accepting falsification. The final straw for me came when the mercury preservative was removed from most vaccines and autism rates did not reflect that in the data.

The Belief continues, but if I were a believer in a higher authority, I'd wonder if there was a special circle in Hell for those who promote quackery that creates false hope in grieving parents. I'm not a believer, though, so I'll just wish them a flat tire and cracked engine block on a deserted road deep in the desert in summer.


The damage I suspect is there is the kind our own immune systems can do to us.* Fetal brains are sensitive in many ways. A small screwup can lead to impaired capabilities of the newborn. Those impairments can lead to certain functional paths either not being created or culled from disuse. Infant brains have way more synaptic connections than they'll keep, so I suspect functionality we have gets culled in autistic boys because of a bit too much damage to an enabling capability

For example, I noticed early in my son's years he wasn't imitating certain things I tried. Lots of kids learn speech sounds by making noise and honing in on the kinds people around them make. I was trying to teach him how to pronounce the letter F. Stood right in front of him so he could see my face make the motions and emit the sound. He didn't get what I was trying to do. I tried lots more times and it just didn't click for him. He found other ways to learn phonemes later, but in the mean time his brain was culling unused synaptic paths to favor other well-used paths. I began to wonder back then what he was losing and how much time I had to prevent it. That's why I'm upset now and the heavy metal damage advocates. To me they ALSO represent lost time.

This theory I hold to is not comforting. Not even a little. It tells me the best I can do for my son is help work around blocks toward a future he finds 'happy enough'. That's mostly about establishing a safe environment where he manages how he interacts with people. I can do that easily enough.

* I didn't always frame it as auto-immune damage, but I believed it was something kinda like that. I had my own near-death experience in 2013 when my immune system turned on me and that changed how I see things quite a lot. The tiniest little hiccups can get you killed quick or make you suffer terribly for 20 years. I'm looking forward to a future where we better understand our immune systems and can tailor individualized actions like "Learn about Virus C" and "Unlearn Virus B".

Alfred Differ said...


Technology will liberate them as it did housewives…

Yah. That's what got me to quit lurking a few years ago. I was looking at your patent idea and pondered turning it inside out as a way to help autistics manage what impinged on their attention. Parameterize how gisting works and then let the platform learn about the discomforts of the person being served. Learning would cause parameters to be tweaked somehow reducing discomfort. {Lots more hand waving goes here especially regarding useful figures of merit for learning algorithms.}

With enough users, we'd discover parametric ranges covering different types of diagnoses. DSM-# tests for each could be updated and refined.

Lots of hand waving, but it struck me as possible… and a 'good' thing to do.

As you might expect, though, I couldn't see how to monetize it with commercial funding. The idea is squarely in the academic research arena where grant money is the life blood, thus far from my arena of expertise.

So… onward to the next idea.

Andy said...


Problem is when some folks like Theodore Sturgeon RADIATE an aura of 'wisdom" and are in fact spectacularly unwise.

How was Sturgeon unwise? I've only read a couple of his short stories - Microcosmic God was fun - so I don't know much about him. Although, he died the day before I was born, which I found an interesting coincidence.

On the topic of orcas, I just saw an article today about a pack of them taking down a blue whale... kinda disturbing:

David Brin said...

re Ted Sturgeon I did not know him well. But my hackles went up, hearing him give "sage advice" knowing nothing about the person he was talking to... and later heard many stories aboput grievous damage done.

While I brag repeatedly about my role at age 19 in helping get lead out of gasoline... in fact I fret that other pollutants are wreaking damage on sperm counts and possible gender effects and (recently) a steep decline in reported rates of intercourse.

"You may be right however about why Dr. Brin shies away from human uplift."

I've discussed it many times over the years. Indeed my latest talk for defense agencies (and in April in Champagne-Urbana) is about "Human Augmentation" which I portry for well and ill in The Postman. And EARTH is the ultimate tale of getting BOTH human enhancement individually AND in synergy with a civilization. So... another deeply dumb ass strawman by guess who.

scidata said...

I was talking to someone about the upcoming TV series "Strange New Worlds" a few days ago. I was surprised to hear the list of characters making a comeback, one of which is T'Pring, from TOS "Amok Time", written by Theodore Sturgeon. I had forgotten what a dark road TOS went down at times. Those who accuse Trekkies of being Pollyanna dreamers should watch some of this weird and scary stuff. I can sort of see why Asimov was less than enthusiastic about Star Trek.

Alan Brooks said...

“ ‘...But it is hard to live a Christian life’...”
To exist as a person who believes in an eternal savior, but spends a great deal of time wondering what that means.

The meaning is all-too-clear. The scriptures clearly state that it means the Genuine Christian is to give up their life for God, for Christ. (God and Christ living at the same address.)
“Choose life so that you and your descendants might live.” I interpret as: if you life the godly life you might live a long life, and your descendants might carry on your legacy. ‘Might’ can be interpreted as Could, rather than Shall. I’m not sure about that hermeneutic, though.
At any rate, The Genuine Christian’s name is written in the Book Of Life, as being a faithful servant of the Lord, Creator of the Cosmos.
It is.not impossible to be Christian—but painful. Such as being thrown to a lion!
Thus people know what it is like to have an eternal savior: the savior was sacrificed painfully on a crucifix; the Christian is to be painfully self-sacrificing, and accept persecution. Book of James says even to rejoice in sacrifice.
Would-be Christians know the meaning, but turn a blind eye to it because the meaning is masochistically painful.

Alan Brooks said...

At the UN, Russian ambassador Nebenzya employed over forty words referencing the Russian liberation of Ukraine in the ‘40s, and how some Ukrainians fought for the Nazis.
But now Putin is a Hitler—and the Russian army is the new Wehrmacht.

Alfred Differ said...

I neglected to mention that I also read up on chelation techniques. It didn't take long for me to get freaked out concerning the damage they do in drawing toxins out. "Read more than once source" is my rule and I kept coming across descriptions that spoke of all the other things sucked out of your body before the heavy metals finally succumb to the technique. OMG. Not something to be done unless absolutely necessary. Certainly not something to be done without a clear understanding that you might be killing your kid.


Years later in my battle with my immune system I was on a chemo-drug. At the 30,000 foot level I could describe it much the same way. It caused slaughter at the cellular level within me, but succeeded at killing certain elements of my immune system while failing to kill me outright. Not something to be done unless you're going to die anyway doing nothing.

That's kinda how the immune system operates too. Read up on how it kills invaders and you'll piss your pants. The reason certain gut worms don't get exterminated is our immune systems would have to ramp up so much it would kill us too. Parasites were tough enough to survive what we threw at them... until recent medical advances found even more awful things. 8)

The end result of all my experience with this is I'm now more squeamish. I kinda wish I didn't know.

Alfred Differ said...


Money is subject to entropy just like any other commodity.

I don't know if it is entropy, but I'd agree if you used the word 'price' instead. Whether you bury a million dollars or an equivalent mass of gold today, there is no reason to believe it will fetch the same price 20 years from now.

The fans of gold believe it is MORE LIKELY their gold will fetch a high price (meaning trade for more stacks of pizza) than fiat dollars would. Over 20 years, they are probably right because inflation will destroy the value of those fiat dollars.

Example Time:

An inflated dollar from 1976 is almost $5 today. Instead of burying dollars or gold in the yard, imagine you buried gasoline you bought at the going rate in your town in 1976. Unearth it today and ask yourself if it's value is 5X higher. It might be close.

What about gold? We have to be careful with that since there have been times when it was a controlled commodity. That dramatically impacts prices.

A million dollars from then would buy about $200K of stuff today, unless they were silver dollars because they would trade at the price of silver instead of their old fiat value.


Inflation is a form of theft WHEN government money printers plan for it to happen* in order to erode the impact of their borrowing. A 50 year treasury bond issued in 1976 will come due soon and be payable with dollars worth about 20 cents. How high does the bond's interest rate have to be to make up for that?

THAT'S what sets prices on these things more than anything else. Whether it is inflation eroding value or borrowers defaulting, risk exists that payments will be made for pennies on the original dollars.

When inflation theft occurs, it's the little guy who can't defend himself. Big lenders adopt inflation-adjusted clauses in their bond purchase demands. The rest of the mere mortals have to demand inflation adjustments with their employers. We know that runs into problems.

*Don't believe this has happened? Look at the historical value of the pound sterling after WWI and WWII. France defaulted to wipe out war debts. The UK inflated. Both did it intentionally.

Der Oger said...

Re: "Lion King": The original fables, IMHO, were veiled critiques of the current rulers and social conditions. The Lion is depicted as exactly the type of predatory oligarch usually criticized by OGH. If any, he is less bad as others around, like the Wolf or Bear.

Tony Fisk said...

Species usually evolve from isolated populations but, in his natural history of Europe, Tim Flannery mentions the genetic benefits of occasional species inter-breeding.
Interestingly, the converse was touched on by Babylon 5. The Centauri wiped out their counterparts the Xon. Another race did the same thing and belatedly discovered they had doomed themselves to a gradual degradation of their gene pool.
Heavy metals are needed as catalysts for some biochemical reactions, but are exceedingly rare in the natural environment. Hence the ravenous uptake when they are encountered.

Today's Russian pantomime suggests to me that vee pee has lost it.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Indeed my latest talk for defense agencies (and in April in [Champaign]-Urbana) is about "Human Augmentation"

Is that a lecture that will be open to the University of Illinois students? If so, I'll try to steer my daughter toward seeing it. She's in the biological sciences, so might be interested.

locumranch said...

Not once but twice in this thread, Dr. Brin argues (in effect) that 'High Order Positive-Sum Competition is indistinguishable from Cooperation'.

In support of this argument, he asserts that FAIR Competition affords "FAR less blood and death (and) Competitors get many, many second chances and vastly greater numbers get to creatively compete".

Now, I admit that this is a very sophisticated & interesting argument that merits further exploration, so I will reply with similar sophistication.

Q: When is a War not a War and a Door not a Door ??

A: When combatants eschew combat & merely refuse to perform essential services, in much the same way that a Door becomes Ajar.

See what Dr. Brin & I both did there?

Dr. Brin equates Competition with Cooperation (Competition = Cooperation) and I equate War with Not-War (War = Not-War) and, interestingly enough, we are both correct, as we both used wordplay & sophistry to define words in terms of their putative opposites, like Orwell's 'Freedom = Slavery'.

So, if any of you progressive dopes & dupes are still concerned about the West's Ongoing Civil NOT-WAR, there's a story about it, penned by Robert Heinlein back in 1940, and it's called 'The Roads Must Roll' (link below).

Just play it backwards until you realize that Urbanites have already lost.



Like it or not, one who remains in 'compliance with standards, rules, or laws' and/ or practices 'behavior in accordance with socially accepted conventions or standards' is a Conformist by definition.

Of course, you too can 'pull an Orwell' if you're willing to bastardize the English language until words lose all meaning. You could call yourself a 'Friendly Adversary', 'Civil Savage' or 'Non-Conforming Conformist' if you so choose.

Or, like the CDC during COVID, you could always go full 'Jabberwock' & just make up frambosuperlicious nonsense.

Paradoctor said...

Dr. Brin:

I fret that other pollutants are wreaking damage on sperm counts and possible gender effects and (recently) a steep decline in reported rates of intercourse.

I too fret. Perhaps future civilizations will look at our use of, say, plasticizers, the same way we look at the Roman use of lead.

But maybe these effects are Nature's way of limiting human reproduction when the population density is high. Perhaps our hormones switch away from mass-producing breeders.

That could be the result of economic pressure. Loss of interest in sex and marriage has become notable in crowded Japan.

Larry Hart said...

“I wouldn’t say it is a fully fledged invasion,” Mr. Borrell said, “but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil.”

I'm wryly reminded of former congressman Larry Craig of Minneapolis airport bathroom fame, saying "I'm not gay. I just like to have sex with other men."

Or Homer Simpson, "And it's a victimless crime. The only victim is Moe."

GMT -5 8032 said...

I got involved in the lead paint litigation during the discovery phase. I used to be very good friends with an attorney who had been an associate at a law firm defending the lead paint industry during the litigation. This experience soured me on mass tort litigation.

Lead exposure dropped dramatically after it it was removed as a gasoline additive. After spending months sifting through documents provided by the State of Rhode Island in response to lead paint industry document discovery requests, we found memoranda from state officials where they knew that the harm caused by lead paint exposure from paint (as opposed to other sources) was minimal and best further limited by encapsulation.

But the politicians disregarded this and for years we saw many buildings demolished because the cost of remediation was less than the cost of demolition. Even with careful remediation, demolition resulted in much more release of lead into the environment. More recently, we’ve seen saner policies where existing contamination is contained and encapsulated.

Then Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse (or I should say, his senior staff) knew what they were looking for and did not let the evidence change their beliefs.

David Brin said...

der Oger: “The original fables, IMHO, were veiled critiques of the current rulers and social conditions. The Lion is depicted as exactly the type of predatory oligarch usually criticized by OGH. If any, he is less bad as others around, like the Wolf or Bear.”
Tolkien and so many in fantasy pose good-vs.-evil as the handsome deposed prince vs the ugly usurper. zero sum feudalist propaganda.

locum thinks he is being clever, but all he shows is that his mind is in Flatland and he cannot perceive the 3rd dimension of positive sum. Where I demonstrate - with many examples - how cooperation and competition synnergize at multiple levels, all he can see is cooperation crushing competition, while he prefers fake-feudal ‘competition’ crushing actual competition to force cooperation from peasants.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I don't know if it is entropy, but I'd agree if you used the word 'price' instead. Whether you bury a million dollars or an equivalent mass of gold today, there is no reason to believe it will fetch the same price 20 years from now.

I do mean the same thing you mean. But the terminology is a bit strange. See below.

The fans of gold believe it is MORE LIKELY their gold will fetch a high price (meaning trade for more stacks of pizza) than fiat dollars would.

Usually, the "price" of a commodity is the number of dollars (or whatever currency) you would have to trade for it. I get how you're using the term "price" to refer to the number of slices of pizza one would need to trade for a dollar. It's just an unusual way of putting it. Almost like using "bid" to mean "ask".

Over 20 years, they are probably right because inflation will destroy the value of those fiat dollars.

Probably right, but not always. Dollars buried in 1976 would buy a heck of a lot more computing power now than those same dollars would have in 1976. Just sayin'.

An inflated dollar from 1976 is almost $5 today.

I think what you mean is that it would take five dollars today to buy the rough equivalent of what one of those dollars would have bought in 1976. I know the point you're making, even though what you said was almost the opposite thing.

Instead of burying dollars or gold in the yard, imagine you buried gasoline you bought at the going rate in your town in 1976. Unearth it today and ask yourself if it's value is 5X higher. It might be close.

This is why I was using the term "entropy". I wasn't thinking so much of the dollar amount I could sell that gasoline for today vs 1976. I was thinking more of what that gasoline is worth to me as a commodity. I would expect to get a certain mileage for my car with my hoard of gasoline, but after 45 years in the ground, it might have degraded chemically so that it's not nearly as valuable (for useage) as it would have been had I just put it in my car back then. That's definitely the case for food. Even with refrigeration, there's only so long I can store food for future use before its value (as food) degrades.

My argument is that money represents wealth in that I can trade it for a certain amount of pizza or gasoline or whatever today. The gold bugs want to claim that if I stick it in a lock box for 20 or 50 years, it should retain its buying power. But unless someone has been refining more gasoline or baking more pizza in the interim, that money won't buy anything useful when you dig it up. That's nobody's fault, not even the Romans'.

Inflation is a form of theft WHEN government money printers plan for it to happen* in order to erode the impact of their borrowing.

This might surprise you, but I'll agree with you on this point.

I just disagree that that covers the entirety of what inflation is. The current round which is being blamed on Joe Biden seems to be more about scarcity of goods to buy than it is about printing too many dollars. Those scarce commodities would command higher prices in gold or bitcoin just as they do in dollars.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

I don't know if you noticed above, but your mention of a talk you'll be giving on human augmentation in Champaign-Urbana (I presume on the University of Illinois campus) caught my eye. My daughter is a biology student there, and she might well be interested in the subject if your talk is open to students or to the general public. Do you know if it will be?

David Brin said...

It is almost 2 o'clock (Pacific) on TWOsday. Be sure and note when it's 22:22.2/22/22 tonight at 22 mins after 10pm.

Hope it's not unlucky!

Der Oger said...

@ Dr. Brin:
Tolkien and so many in fantasy pose good-vs.-evil as the handsome deposed prince vs the ugly usurper. zero sum feudalist propaganda.

I did not mention Tolkien (though I would somewhat agree on your verdict) nor C.S. Lewis nor the Disney flic or musical. Also, just a generation later, authors like Leiber, Moorcock and Vance created worlds that showed a different perspective, culminating in the Machiavellian Game of Thrones and Joe Abercrombies series.

I thought of those authors through the ages from Aesop to Goethe who described contemporary persons and manners and used animals to escape persecution.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

...TWOsday. ...

Heh. Almost as good (bad) as my daughter's Bat Mitzvah being on "Pi Day". 3/14/15.

Or "Star Wars Day" on May The Fourth.

DP said...

We need an antidote to Tolkien and all other feudalistic propaganda.

Which is why I would love to see a movie adaption of "The Last Ring Bearer", a Tolkien parody by Kirill Eskov, where the Orcs are the good guys. From the Wikipedia article:

>Eskov bases his novel on the premise that the Tolkien account is a "history written by the victors".[2][3] Eskov's version of the story describes Mordor as a peaceful constitutional monarchy on the verge of an industrial revolution, that poses a threat to the war-mongering and imperialistic faction represented by Gandalf (whose attitude has been described by Saruman as "crafting the Final Solution to the Mordorian problem") and the racist elves.[2] For example, Barad-dûr, Sauron's citadel, appears in chapter 2 as

...that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic. The shining tower of the Barad-dûr citadel rose over the plains of Mordor almost as high as Orodruin like a monument to Man – free Man who had politely but firmly declined the guardianship of the Dwellers on High and started living by his own reason. It was a challenge to the bone-headed aggressive West, which was still picking lice in its log ‘castles’ to the monotonous chanting of scalds extolling the wonders of never-existing Númenor.

P.S. After the return of the King, did King Aragorn send his new prime minister Faramir eastward to complete genocide (or at least ethnic cleansing) of the Orcs?

DP said...

Wouldn't the biggest object to a civilization on a tidally locked planet be the hurricane force winds that continuously blow from cold side to hot side?

DP said...

Would the Vulcans of Star Trek be considered an extremely high functioning autistic species?

DP said...

Alfred - parasites and gut bacteria would plug a major plot hole in HG Wells WOTW.

(Spoiler alert)

The Martians die from unknown Earth microorganisms.

But a civilization 1,000s of years more advanced from our own would know all about germs in the Earth's environment.

But not inside humans.

They fed on captured humans like cattle, feasting on their blood.

So it was something the Martians ate.

Robert said...

"Star Wars Day" on May The Fourth.

As opposed to events happening on that date 103 years ago… :-)

I wonder a bit how history might have developed differently if the Chinese contribution to WWII (roughly eight divisions of labourers) had been recognized at Versailles, rather than having German Chinese territories handed to the Japanese.

Paradoctor said...

For 2sday lovers:

Don Gisselbeck said...

Maybe "Let the weak die" would be a better translation?

Alfred Differ said...

I don't think locumranch gets what 'higher order' means to someone with experience with mathematical physics. 'Perturbation expansion' as a concept might be a bit elusive.

Without the mathematics, it probably translates as 'meta' or 'elite'.

David Brin said...

DD those hurricane winds are a HUGE and easy to use source of power! Any species adapted to the twilight zone would adapt to using them.

Trek’s Vulcans were shown by writers to NEED logic more deperately than humans do. But see my twist in THE ANCIENT ONES! The Ancient Ones:

Robert you meant WWI. But look up Anson Burlingame.

Alfred Differ said...


Inflation blame gets assigned to the powerful by the out-of-power like anything else.

I also agree that this round is likely about scarcities since a lot of supply chains are quite disrupted. When we began to lock down, I expected 'bad news' in the numbers a year later because that's how we measure these things. Inflation is a year over year metric. Supply shocks happened, so price shocks were going to ripple out, so… inflation. Very predictable.

One qualification is we also printed a lot of new money in the US. I'm not saying we should have refrained. I'm saying it has impacts. A good Keynesian would look to remove some of it later.


I get what you mean by entropy now. The economists make a distinction between durable and non-durable goods. Pizzas are non-durable. Modern cars tend to be durable.


"Bid" and "Ask" depend heavily on POV. They point out a fundamental feature of markets that in a science vocabulary would be called hysteresis. Real trades aren't reversible until bid and ask get really close and trade volume is high. Watch what happens to stock option prices after markets close and you'll see the impact volume has.

Ultimately, though, sellers "ask" and buyers "bid". It doesn't matter in what the trade is denominated. Dollars, bacon, pizzas, you name it.

Try different denominators to stretch your brain. For example, what is the price of gold (troy ounce) in terms of pounds of refined copper? Lots of people track them in terms of $$, but Au/Cu is an interesting metric some use to hint at future recessions.


But unless someone has been refining more gasoline or baking more pizza in the interim, that money won't buy anything useful when you dig it up.

Well… yah. Gold would be worthless if markets collapse. So would most everything be.

They presume too much about a post-collapse world. I seem to remember a story someone wrote where the post-apocalypse people used $2 bills and a toothbrush was a highly valued item. 8)

Alan Brooks said...

LoCum is the right man—for the 19th century. He would’ve enjoyed the romanticism of the year 1848.

Jon S. said...

"Instead of burying dollars or gold in the yard, imagine you buried gasoline you bought at the going rate in your town in 1976. Unearth it today and ask yourself if it's value is 5X higher. It might be close."

Its value would be zero. Even with stabilizers, gasoline can only be stored for about three years or so before it degrades to worthlessness.

That's the problem with these comparisons - what is a pearl beyond price to one generation may well be mere oyster snot a half-century later.

Re: Vulcans - their virtual enslavement to what they think is logic is an adaptive behavior. Vulcans are more emotional than humans, and nearly destroyed all life on their planet in a series of petty wars that often devolved to nuclear exchanges before Surak had his breakthrough philosophy of devotion to the principles of logic. Over five thousand years, of course, the original philosophies have shifted a bit...

gerold said...

@locum: your definitions of cooperation and competition are too limited, what might be called zero-sum reasoning. If you look at complexity theory you'll see that complex adaptive systems (CAS) such as human brains or cultures are composed of a large number of agents who all cooperate and compete to reach a decision.

That's neither Orwellian doublespeak nor elementary jabberwokian. It's how the world works. (See Complexity by M Mitchell Waldrop for a full explanation.)

A conformist is one who follows arbitrary social conventions not because they find them congenial but in order to avoid being singled out from the herd. Nonconformists choose to deviate from those conventions because they disagree with both the premise and the resulting effects.

According to your definition criminals and raving lunatics are the ultimate nonconformists. That's a lousy definition - but maybe I feel that way only because I detest conformity so much. I choose to eschew conformity for the same reason I obey some laws but not the ones I don't agree with.

Robert said...

Robert you meant WWI.

I did.

Although the Chinese contribution to WWII is also not insignificant, holding down so much of the Japanese military…

But look up Anson Burlingame.

Interesting. I do note that as usual the treaties he negotiated were broken or ignored…

"A treaty forever your senators sign
They do dear lady, they do dear man
and the treaties are broken again and again"

David Brin said...

-AB: 1848 Europe cam THAT close to toppling the absolutist aristocracies and installing parliamentary rule across the continent. We know which side L would be on.

Robert look up the WWII Cairo Conference… before FDR and Churchill flew on to Tehran to meet Stalin, they met with Chiang Kai Shek and FDR insisted on calling him the 4th of the Big Four. One of a DOZEN times that America was Chia’s best - and only ever - friend.

Burlingame did not always win. But he fought for China, representing our better American Angels.

scidata said...

Some think they understand history when they read (or simply possess) textbooks* written by the victors, analysts, or bystanders. But that's not psychohistory, which lives and evolves in a vast mindscape of myriad 'models of reality'. It's not zero-sum or cyclical. We should remember this lest we fall into the trap of epicycles.

"We must wait for the official history of the Chinese Revolution to record in greater detail the invaluable work of our Japanese friends." - Sun Yat-sen

* I've always loved Faraday's notion of 'toy-books'. It's a harbinger of "Why Johnny Can't Code".

Alan Brooks said...

Perhaps LoCum can visualize yin yang as a way of comprehending that opposing forces can be complementary.
Idealism is necessary, yet billions take it too far. Religionists have their ‘laws of God’; Marxists have faith in the ‘laws of history’—and so forth.
A totalitarianism of the mind.

Larry Hart said...


According to your [locumranch's] definition criminals and raving lunatics are the ultimate nonconformists. That's a lousy definition - but maybe I feel that way only because I detest conformity so much. I choose to eschew conformity for the same reason I obey some laws but not the ones I don't agree with.

That's the whole point there. You and loc both think of "non-conformist" as a good thing and "conformist" as a bad thing, so "Criminals are the ultimate non-conformists" presents you with a lot of cognitive dissonance. I'd put it a different way. Criminals are indeed the ultimate non-conformists, and that demonstrates that even non-conformity can be taken too far. It's simply not an unqualified good.

Likewise, conformity doesn't always connote sheep-like, unthinking acquiescence. There are norms which people voluntarily conform because doing so makes life better for all involved. The negative connotation of "conformist" comes only from societies with rules so rigid that people are ostracized without good reason.

Following the rules blindly without regard to their negative consequences can be a bad thing, but that doesn't mean following all rules is a bad thing, nor that breaking all rules is a good thing.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

America was Chia’s best - and only ever - friend.

Looks like they've got themselves a new bestie now, though.

David Brin said...

LH: "Looks like they've got themselves a new bestie now, though."

Not even slightly. Russia is now a Chinese dependency/satrapy. They had plenty of those.