Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Future of Free Speech - and Privacy

In an era when we have "weaponized narrative" and open warfare against every single knowledge or fact-based profession, my role as "Mr. Transparency" has mutated into fighting for the very concept of objective reality. And hence a break from our usual topics - science, science fiction and politice.

The Future of Free Speech: Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online: Pew released a report on social media and negative political trends with quoted bits from (among others) Brad Templeton and me. 

Yet, another Pew report  - The Future of Free Speech Looks Grim - dismally wrings its hands and declares there will never be a solution to the plague of trolls infesting the Internet. But you know me.  I find cynical gloom to be the surest sign of dullard minds.

How has awful human behavior been mitigated in the past? This report utterly ignores the lessons of 4000 years of human history, that the deterrent to abusive behavior is accountability. And sure, accountability that is pounded onto people from above -- by priests and kings -- became tyranny. Probably 99% of our ancestors suffered under either chaos - beset by bullies  around them - or else feudalism - repressed by king-lord-priest-bullies from above. But eventually we found -- (or stumbled into) -- a better way. Making accountability reciprocal so that it shines on everyone, including the mighty. 

In The Transparent Society - and in novels like Earth - I talk about how light is the great cleansing agent. Almost all harmful people - from industrial moguls to criminals to terrorists to trolls - are fatally allergic to it. On the first order, our solution is attributability, ending the cover of anonymity.

Oh, but there are second order effects. Much of the internet's charm and effectiveness comes from our ability to post or say some things safe from "being known as a dog." Must we lose that, in order to have accountability?


There are ways to get both... to have our cake and eat it, too. E.g. via mediated pseudonymity. But these solutions must start with rejecting the dour doomcasting of articles like this one.

== Spy fetishism... and a solution ==

Say hello to the camera; goodbye to privacy: A cogent article in the San Diego Union Tribune explores how Americans' compulsion to share everything online - especially video - collides with our concerns about privacy. I was interviewed for this piece, which features glimpses into our transparency-related anthology, Chasing Shadows. My co-editor of the anthology, Dr. Stephen Potts, and I were on radio (KPBS) discussing the book.... and the problem.

And you didn’t expect this? As if I haven’t warned you for night on 30 years? A hidden spy camera in an innocuous looking AC to USB wall charger plug.

And yet....   Founded by one of the fathers of the Internet, Vint Cerf, and MeiLin Fung, one of the pioneers of CRM software, People Centered Internet aims to assure that the Internet, and the data it creates, deliver economic, social and political empowerment, and permission-less innovation, for all humanity.  Envision a world where everyone is connected, and those connections, enriched by dialog and data, empower humanity’s thriving.

== Hazards & Worries ==

Charles Stross is a brilliant science fiction author, who also runs a cogent blog. Charlie combines these roles in a posting  that could make you laugh and cry at the same time. It takes the form of a rejection letter that he (supposedly) received for a novel proposal based upon the recent “WannaCry” ransomware exploit. The reviewer dismisses as implausible every single step along the path of this insanely hard-to-credit tale, from the NSA carelessly losing hold of its most precious tools, to the stunningly bizarre way that the thing mostly-ended, with the apparent discovery of a strangely unlikely deus ex machina off-switch.  And yes, life can be stranger than fiction!

What Charlie doesn’t mention is that those two cappers, the beginning and the ending ones, might have been intentional, all along. That opens up a whole 'nother realm of layers to the “real plot” of the story. Just sayin…

Still, have a look at this amazing way the WannaCrypt malware got substantially stopped by one white-hat fellow. An amazing tale and a prime example of why the default method for dealing with information age problems can only be transparency.

Meanwhile...

Facial recognition has progressed to a point where "dysmorphology" - the diagnosis of rare diseases - can be accomplished (initially) by computer analysis of a child's or adult's features.  This could be a valuable addition to the tools that were pioneered in the Tricorder XPrize contest, enabling quicker diagnosis and care in the field.  

Of course, it also raises chilling awareness of how far facial recog tech has come... and how utterly useless will be any vain efforts to ban or restrict the technology.  Especially when it becomes capable of some degree of lie detection.  These tools will either be monopolized by elites (leading to Big Brother forever) or else used by all of us to hold accountable lying politicians and so on (Big Brother never.)  You decide.

Tools to fake news: Reported on CRACKED… which is not The Onion, but should still be treated warily… “In November, Adobe demonstrated an experimental project they've been toying with called Voco. Voco allows you to "Photoshop" speech, changing what the speaker said to whatever you care to type. Based on a 20-minute sample of me speaking, someone could fabricate a pretty damn convincing facsimile of me saying, "I hate children" or "Earth should have a self-destruct button" or maybe even things I've never said.”  Oh, but if this is fake news it's cheap stuff, based on what we'll have next year. Or the next.

In chapter One of The Transparent Society, I talk about “The End of Photography as Proof of Anything at All: With sophisticated image processing, we may never again be able to rely on photos or videos as perfect evidence, but this may not be as calamitous as some fear.”  
This is just more of the same. No method other than openness and transparency can possibly solve it.

== Reality TV with a better than average premise ==

 Contestants try to drop out and hideas if being hunted… and they are!  By retired or profession cops and such, on HUNTED. Of course science fiction has been there.

While I find so-called “security expert” Bruce Schneier vastly overrated, and often flat-out wrong, I will gladly avow when he says something wise. In this article, he criticizes the way that market forces and laziness and cheapness have combined to make our rising Internet of Things horribly susceptible to hacking, botnets and such: Regulation might be a dirty word in today’s political climate, but security is the exception to our small-government bias. And as the threats posed by computers become greater and more catastrophic, regulation will be inevitable. So now’s the time to start thinking about it. We also need to reverse the trend to connect everything to the internet. And if we risk harm and even death, we need to think twice about what we connect and what we deliberately leave uncomputerized.”  

Alas, as usual, Schneier is very good at raising scary alarums… and stunningly vague in his recommendations.  Which basically amount to “get government to solve it!”  Riiiight. 

Encryption based security systems fail almost weekly, but this is a big one. A clever new way that hackers take over whole systems. “A rash of invisible, fileless malware is infecting banks around the globe.”

== Threats to Democracy ==

Daniel Dennett used to at least contribute value to the conversation, but that was years ago. This time (oh go read it!) -- Fake News Isn't the Greatest Threat to Democracy. Total Transparency Is -- his chain of assertions - any one of which is diametrically opposite to true - shows that the fellow's truly gone bonkers.  

Take this paragraph.: "Staying afloat in today’s flood of information means understanding the subtle relationship between transparency and trust. And it is not what you might think ― the more transparency, the more trust.The reality is the opposite: when everything is exposed, all information is equal, and equally useless. When no one knows things that others don’t know, and there are no institutions or practices that can establish and preserve credibility ― as is threatened today with the new dominance of peer-driven social media ― then there is no solid ground for a democratic discourse."

What a towering loony! Each and every assertion is patently false, and I mean every one! We already live in a largely transparent world, compared to our ancestors, and we have developed many systems for separating wheat from chaff, pearls from swill. In fact the whole "fake news" phenomenon and the deliberate lobotomization of the American Right depends utterly upon sabotaging all those systems. Systems that let us grant credibility to the credible and subtract is from the wrong or wrongheaded.

Fox-ism and Trumpism are part of a deliberate putsch to undermine the greatest tools humanity ever had, and the fact-using professions who wield them.  And those fact-professions -- from science, teaching and journalism to entrepreneurs and civil servants -- depend utterly on open flows of information.

Now as de-facto "Mr. Transparency" you might think I decry all secrecy, but that would be dumb. In The Transparent Society I repeatedly show that the few secrets that governments, businesses and private individuals really need - including privacy in the home and intimacy with loved ones - are far better protected if we live in a generally open world, wherein the skulks and voyeurs and spies and peeping toms are better caught! And where we can relax about abuse of power because the mighty face more light than the rest of us. 

Even when members of the Protector Caste are engaged in legitimate secrecy, there are ways to supervise and ensure that it stays legit.

Again and again, Dennett ignores the plain fact that we achieved almost all our modern miracles, including science, freedom, accountability and a cornucopia of wealth, because we are already more than halfway toward a transparent society, compared to every single other culture or tribe that ever existed.  He blathers that accountability and gradation of information is impossible, while ungratefully ignoring how much he has always depended on exactly those things, fostered and amplified by light.

Okay, I accept the sermon that he (unintentionally) preaches. That people who were right in the past won't always be. And pomposity is one of the warning signs.  So go to a mirror and tell that guy!  It's what I am about to stand up and do.

===========

Political addendum:

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to help the legal case against the outrageously treasonous cheat called gerrymandering. He’s teamed up with Common Cause to help Crowdfund legal fees for the court case, and he’s matching every donation!  

Among all the fervid money and action calls out there, I can think of few as important as this one. Other than recruiting women ("She Should Run"), scientists (314.org) and retired officers to run, this is the biggie. If Alito and Roberts weasel out of this decision, then we'll know that they aren't Americans, anymore.

98 comments:

LarryHart said...

The musical "Hamilton" on the Senate health care bill...

Jefferson and Madison:

You don't have the votes.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
You don't have the votes.
You're gonna need congressional approval, and
You don't have the votes!


Jefferson:

Such a blunder.
Sometimes it makes me wonder
Why I even bring the thunder.


Madison:

Why he even brings the thunder.

Chris Heinz said...

Awww. That is a pretty brutal takedown of Daniel Dennett. I have read all of both your all's works for decades, I love both of you. Was that really necessary? Your point was ... ?

David Brin said...

Chris H. Sorry but I am tired of Dennett's relentless howls. From Atheism to his take on Darwinism... and now declaring the light and openness are the ENEMIES of freedom? He is dangerous exactly because of his reputation, like a renowned doctor who suddenly starts prescribing arsenic lavages as a cure-all.

reason said...

While we are on transparency and reciprocal accountability, shouldn't some things about the presidency be on the radar. Like making financial transparency compulsory. Like ending the special status of presidency with respect to the rule of law. (Now personally I don't like the presidency at all, but I would settle for some reforms as a first step.)

Tim H. said...

Read something interesting on ignoring "Herr Drumph!":
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/the-case-for-paying-less-attention-to-donald-trump-w489765
While The Donald amuses and horrifies by ignorantly relieving hisself on electric fences, the sausage mills are running in most of the state legislatures.

LarryHart said...

@Tim H,

Regarding state legislatures, I wonder if the plan is to make most states intolerable for minorities and liberals to live in. They'll be free to move to New York or Illinois or the west coast, of course, which concentrates the liberal Senators and electoral votes even more than now. Meanwhile, there could be 40 or so states which essentially declare themselves White Christianist homelands and by sheer weight of numbers (of states, not of people) rule the country.

We seem to be edging ever closer to "When in the course of human events...", if not "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!"

Tim H. said...

@LarryHart, the pitfalls implicit in a state declaring itself a "White Christianist homeland" are alarming, Christianity has fragmented in the last two millennia, the fragments have splintered, and who will say what constitutes an acceptable believer? I believe it was the historical proximity of wars, with religion as a pretext that made the American experiment work as well as it has, nothing like a big bad example to get a point across. So much of what passes for conservatism these days looks like ill-informed nostalgia, gin-fueled BS sessions and "The Quest for the Big Rock Candy Mountain", IOW, Poli-Sci vaporware.
I continue to believe the Republic still has good bones, tolerance, charity and moderation might let us keep it.

Bob Neinast said...

The White House briefings have (at times) banned video and audio recording.

Given the small (and easily hidden) sizes of cameras and microphones these days, I'm surprised that we haven't seen videos of them anyways. Or maybe the new organizations are just too cowardly.

LarryHart said...

@Bob Neinast,

I would guess that the news organizations don't air surreptitious video because doing so wouldn't add all that much to the audio, and it actually makes the case against the administration more blatant to point out that they don't allow video.

Canadian comics writer/artist Dave Sim once said, "Sometimes, jumping on the bandwagon is the best way to demonstrate that the wheels have fallen off." I think this is one of those cases.

Laurence said...

Chris H. Sorry but I am tired of Dennett's relentless howls. From Atheism to his take on Darwinism

What's your view of "new atheism" then?

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

@LarryHart, the pitfalls implicit in a state declaring itself a "White Christianist homeland" are alarming, Christianity has fragmented in the last two millennia, the fragments have splintered, and who will say what constitutes an acceptable believer?


Judging from present behavior and rhetoric, credentials as a bona fide Christian would be based upon one's willingness to inflict harm on Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, women, gays, and liberals while loudly professing love for and submission to Jesus. I probably left some groups out, but you get the point. Jews probably have to be ostensibly included as part of a Judeo-Christian axis, and the political leadership would refrain from publicly bashing Jews, but in practice, there would be dog-whistles to the rank and file who would be as mean to Jews as they are to other non-Christians and non-Whites in their midst.

The current Supreme Court--and even more so if Republicans get to seat more of them--would have no problem interpreting "freedom of religion" to mean that states have the freedom to follow their own particular religious beliefs just as "persons" like Hobby Lobby does, and that the federal government may not prohibit States from exercising theor own religious freedom.

David Brin said...

I do not mind the New Atheists pointing out the hypocrisy of established churches claiming to have always preached love and progress, when the opposite was more often the case. And indeed, even well-meaning religions soon most-often offer rationalizations for the refusal to face facts or criticism.

Where I part company is:

1) the hyper-polemical and ironically zealous, missionary spirit of these proselytizers.

2) Their claim to have disproved God etc., when the actual effect of science has been vastly more interesting... to carve away vast zones of meme and causality where He cannot be. Including the models of deity offered by most religions... but NOT all conceivable scenarios. There are carve-outs that could be consistent. They get narrower by the day. But it is simply dishonest and overly zealous to proclaim they don't exist.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

As far as Voco goes, it appears to be real.

https://blogs.adobe.com/conversations/2016/11/lets-get-experimental-behind-the-adobe-max-sneaks.html

I'm frankly quite surprised no one has done it earlier. It's just not all that hard to extract information from recorded speech. If you know what's being said (and plain old voice recognition will do that pretyt well), you can figure out the pronunciation of the various phonemes, along with the formant data necessary to reproduce speech.

Incidentally, I expect a big usage of this will be to improve autotune. Current methods strictly shift the pitch, which is not how the human voice works. The human voice changes timbre when the pitch changes, and autotune doesn't account for that.

In any case, chain of custody will become a lot more important. Especially after the first few times it fails.

Lie detection is interesting, but there's always a way to defeat it. Believe the lie.

donzelion said...

"Making accountability reciprocal so that it shines on everyone, including the mighty."

We've gone over this, but I've never heard a theoretical answer: the first, most obvious limit to reciprocal accountability is tribalism (a point A F Rey and I were discussing the other day, which shouldn't be swept aside). Tribal allegiances may override 'rational' accountability mechanisms - and thus, transparency would limit the power of some but not all authorities.

Since tribal affiliations are a recurring feature of feudalism, it's worth spending some time addressing this: seems to me that shining a spotlight on power will be an ineffective check on power if what is shown in the light (a) advances one group's agenda at the expense of many/most other groups, and either (b1) the harms to those other groups are diffuse/complex/disbelieved, or (b2) the harms to those other groups are actually favored by certain other groups more than the harms they will themselves confront.

LarryHart said...

Off-topic, but of interest to Dr. Brin and this group:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/magazine/greetings-et-please-dont-murder-us.html


Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us.)

A new initiative to beam messages into space may be our best shot yet at learning whether we’re alone in the universe. There’s just one problem: What if we’re not?
...

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Lie detection is interesting, but there's always a way to defeat it. Believe the lie.


I suspect Donald Trump would pass any lie-detector test because he always believes whatever he is saying at the moment. Whether it contradicts the other things he also believes is of no consequence.

Me, I suffer from the opposite affliction. I'm going to fail any lie detector, even if I'm telling the truth. As far as I can tell, when interrogated by an authority figure, a part of me believes that they've got the goods on me and that they know I'm doing something wrong, even if I have no idea what that something wrong might be.

Darrell E said...

Dr. Brin,

You mischaracterize New Atheists.

1) Hyper-polemical and ironically zealous proselytizers? For speaking openly and unapologetically about why they think belief in gods is unwarranted and undesirable? Any proselytizing they have done is but a drop in the ocean in comparison to that of believers.

2) I've been listening and reading debates, essays, articles discussions, what have you, between / from New Atheist's and their opponents since before the term New Atheist was coined and I can't think of any one of them that has claimed to have disproved god in the way that you imply. I don't mean to say that no New Atheist has or would claim that, but if so it is rare enough that you've certainly mischaracterized them as a group. But, if it were commonly claimed by New Atheists that they had absolutely disproved God, what about that warrants such denigration? Aside from such absolutism being unscientific, i.e. everything is provisional to one degree or another, how unreasonable is such a claim? Weighing the evidence New Atheists offer for their claims, basically all of the findings of modern science, against all the evidence various religions offer for their gods' existence? And it's the New Atheists that warrant dismissal and denigration?

Even the most maligned boogie man of New Atheism, Richard Dawkins, has many times explained that he is not 100% sure that a god exists. What is typical of New Atheists is pointing out, exactly as you did, that science has left few gaps for religions to hide their gods in. They then point out that if so much of a religion's claims are demonstrably inaccurate what good reason is there to suppose that any of them are? What is unreasonable about that? That it offends people for some reason?

Another typical New Atheist claim is that it is the norm in nearly all societies for religion to be given a special respect not afforded to most other things. That it is taboo to criticize it. You seem to be exhibiting a bit of that attitude here. As if you have a prior commitment to religion, or at least a "supernatural" spirituality of some sort. Does CITOKATE not apply to this topic?

Zepp Jamieson said...

I never thought of Pew Institute as being "dullard minds"; they are one of the most incisive and thorough polling outfits around. And I note that they don't just wring their hands and declare all is lost: they present four options, including a third option that isn't so bad: "Things will get better because technical and human solutions as the online world splinters into segmented, controlled social zones with the help of artificial intelligence." I do agree trolls won't go away on their own, and most approaches to controlling them are flawed. But that's not the same as giving up.
As for "new atheism" and SF: You stand on the shoulders of giants. Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Del Ray and others were all atheistic, often aggressively so. I don't take offence when someone says he's a Believer (any religion you care to mention) but when he says I should be a believer, I feel free to explain why I am not. How is that out of line in any way?

sociotard said...

Milwaukee requiring permits for Pokémon Go developers to put Pokémon in public parks
 
The city is arguing that more people than normal were using there parks and leaving a corresponding amount of trash, and that Pokémon Go should be held responsible.

sociotard said...

oog, "their". Long day, sorry.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I put the question of the existence of gods (I find just one unlikely) in the same category as intelligent life in the universe; there just isn't any evidence either way, and any opinion on the matter is just wishful thinking.
Now, the biblical god is a different category. That entity, as depicted, is a logical absurdity on the face of it. Epicurus figured that out some 2500 years ago.

reason said...

Zepp Jamieson
(I'm not sure I even understand what the question of the existence of gods means. What IS a God exactly?)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi reason

IMHO a "god" is the being that created the universe - anything less is simply NOT a "God"

Which then gets into who created God? - then it's turtles all the way down

Jumper said...

Yo, reason stole my trick! This is to turn the question back on the asker: "You define god, then I will tell you if I concur." It comes in handy.

Duncan, each god could have their own universe. But the turtle stack is correct unless we allow loops whereby each god has time travel and creates the other.

"So who created the loop?" "Don't be superstitious. Natural causes!"

reason said...

Duncan - that won't do

1. What is a "being"?
2. Why can only one of them create the universe?
3. Can the universe be created?

Paul SB said...

It's funny how we have gotten fixated on the idea of creator gods, when throughout history creation was only one function of the gods. Most were considered to be factors in causation of all manner of natural phenomena, from earthquakes to thunderstorms and plagues of locusts. Modern science has dispelled all the old weather gods, the nature fairies, demonic possession, etc. But a creator god is harder to dispel for two reasons. One is a matter of physics - we can't travel back in time to before the existence of the Universe and see. The other reason is sociological - what is the function of a creator god? We presumably owe our existence to the creator god, which means we owe our lives, and therefore our obedience, to that creator god. But since the god never shows his/her face, what that really means is that we owe our obedience to whatever established authority claims to speak for the creator god. Thus the whole point of a creator god is to convince a populace to do as they are told and regulate their own behavior.

It saves a lot of money on surveillance and wages for secret police.

Shane Mallatt said...

It is interesting that the new atheists came up in the discussion of this posting. I say that because when I read the first paragraph I thought that it was going to go on to talk about postmodernism and the chilling effect that it has on free speech on college campuses. My mind went there because it has been of interest lately, and since the new atheists are among its fiercest critics I have been listening to a lot of their stuff. I like most of them and respect their opinions especially those on free speech and the vital role it has played in the development of western civilization and the advancement of science to the betterment of humanity. I however agree with David that many of them begin to resemble preachers, and that many of their fans resemble acolytes, which is definitely ironic to say the least.
As for myself, I have settled on the notion that God is the nothing upon which the universe writes its something, and that when refering to science or religion it is important to remember the words of Korbzynsky "The map is not the territory."

Zepp Jamieson said...

Reason, quite reasonably, asked, "What IS a God exactly?"

Hmm. I would say it's more of a classification than a species. Long-lived, sometimes immortal. More powerful than humans, sometimes omnipotent. Has supernatural origins and/or powers. Almost always likes to meddle in human affairs, often to our detriment.
And yes, I have been watching that HBO show, and thought it was marvelous.

LarryHart said...

Jumper:

Duncan, each god could have their own universe.


I think some monotheists specifically define God as "That which exists but was not created." But then they ascribe all sorts of other characteristics to that entity--consciousness, intent, omniscience, omnipotence, to name a few--as if they logically follow from the definition.

Saint Anselm's Ontological Argument is similar, in that he "proves" the existence of God by defining God as whatever happens to be the greatest thing in the universe, reasoning that something fits that definition. But again, whatever that is doesn't necessarily have the characteristics one typically imagines when discussing God.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Reason, quite reasonably, asked, "What IS a God exactly?"

Hmm. I would say it's more of a classification than a species. Long-lived, sometimes immortal. More powerful than humans, sometimes omnipotent. Has supernatural origins and/or powers. Almost always likes to meddle in human affairs, often to our detriment.


The question as posed really shouldn't capitalize "God". God with a capital G typically means The One Who is above everything else. The term "a god" with a small g can be pluralized as in the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Indian pantheons, to name a few. There, I join in asking (without having an answer in mind) what defines a god. What differentiates a god from any other supernatural entity such as a demon, a poltergeist, etc?

Zepp Jamieson said...

In many parts of the world (Japan, China, large parts of India and Africa) gods and demons are pretty much interchangeable. The notion that gods are benevolent and demons malevolent is largely a Christian thing; Loki is a good example of a malevolent god and there are many, such as Coyote or Asnasi, who are chaotic. Ifrit (Djinn) can be benign, or at least only mischievous. Of course, the Bigs (Odin, Jawheh, Zeus) tend to be completely amoral.

LarryHart said...

@Zepp Jamieson,

Dave Sim had an interesting take on the biblical YHWH (Jawheh). He thought that God and YHWH are two different entities. God was the Creator of the universe, while YHWH only thought that she was God (and Dave thought YHWH was feminine in nature). He once suggested that the whole point of reading the Bible and the Koran was to figure out which statements were from God and which were from YHWH who only mistakenly thought she was God.

I'm well familiar with Loki and other trickster gods. I don't myself maintain that the term "god" applies only to good guys. But I'm interested philosophically in what distinguishes "gods" from other supernatural entities. If you were to see something supernatural occur, does that prove that gods exist, or do you still have to determine if something else was the driving force?

I treat that mainly as a semantic question, because I don't personally believe in the supernatural. Or more accurately, I believe that anything that affects us in the real world is not supernatural by definition. If there is such thing as a supernatural being, and if it does something that has an effect on our world, then it must enter our world (become "natural") in order to do so. There was an interesting plot point in Grant Morrison's "Invisibles" comic in which we are told that reality was a trap that God created for all the malevolent beings who He knew would flock there to mess with Creation. Only once they had entered reality, there was no way for them to exit it again. They had become real.

donzelion said...

LarryHart/Jumper: An old professor of mine, a philosopher and NASA logic programmer before he became a minister, and then a professor, had a curious take on Anselm. The 19th century logicians who took his approach seriously - in the metaphysics realm - needed to invent a language of logic that 'improved' on Aristotle's old system, adding the 'universal' and 'existential' sets to the classical 'if/then' 'not' 'and' and the 'and/or' set of logical operators. They then devised ingenious mechanisms for using the 'exist/not exist' operator to conduct completely unrelated tasks, like performing basic arithmetic ('proving' 1+1=2 'rigorously').

Outside of the field, it was a bit of a joke and considered a wasteful enterprise, given more pressing concerns like a universal language (Esperanto!). And then...computers.

Arguing for or against the existence of God and doing it WELL - doing something unprecedented, inventive - could well be more interesting than the answer to the ultimate question.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: and to the politicos out there, here's an interesting tidbit from Bruce Bartlett, and one I think you'd actually like:

http://billmoyers.com/story/im-not-democrat/
]
Bartlett has some fair points, to say the least. His partial disavowal of Reaganomics, which he had a hand in originating, is a starting point for taking him seriously in my book. But these hit the nail on the head:

"Like the Republicans, Democrats are wary of apostates and are only receptive to those born into their church, it seems."
Yep. So far, in my approaches to the Democrats nearby, while they are very quick to take my money, they're slow to actually mobilize anyone to do anything. The donor-operator-consultants have little agenda beyond converting me from one-time donor to steady donor.

"I suppose the easiest way to get me to join is to find a decent leader and at least one tent-pole big issue — like tax cuts were for the Republicans — around which intellectual-types like me can help build a tent that would include us."

I hope 'science' becomes at least one of the tent poles...beyond that, he is right in his critique of Hillary: a thousand thoroughly-researched well-reasoned little ideas, but no big ones beyond 'Trump is a jerk.' A positive agenda is warranted.

Which leads me back to 'Transparent Society.' Is that a contender for a 'big idea' tent? Can it deal with issues of tribalism (and are such issues really a mortal blow for the contentions? Spero...sperat...

Laurence said...

I was a huge fan of Dawkins when the God Delusion first came out, but have had a bit of an on/off relationship with new atheism ever since. At best it seems to have been a movment with a very short shelf-life; it was probably quite positive that Americans became aware just how many of their fellow citizens were atheists, but there's only so many ways you can say "God doesn't exist and religion is bad".

The three surviving "horsemen" seem to have acknowledged this, at least privately: Dawkins hasn't really said anything that noteworthy about religion for years, and most of Sam Harris' output these days is on topics outside religion. I'm willing to bet Hitchens would probably have moved on to disccusing other things if he were still alive too, his autobiography hardly discussed religion at all. (I'd happly chop my own little finger off to hear Christopher Hitchens take down Trump) Among the rank and file, movement atheism seems to have just become another front for the unedifying online battles between "social justice warriors" and tha alt-right

Zepp Jamieson said...

@ LarryHart: Apologies if it sounded like I was trying to assign viewpoints to you. I wasn't.
Distinguishing between the various supernatural entities--tens of thousand of them world wide and probably hundreds of ones lost to cultural assimilation and genocide--is pretty much impossible. I've seen Loki described as a god, and as an imp of god. Is Superman a god?
Sims has a lot of odd beliefs, and while I don't share any of them, I don't regard them as any odder than, say, the Catholic Church. (What, exactly, is Jesus? A god? A mortal? A prophet? Accounts vary).
There is a joke amongst rabbis that you must make a profound study of holy writ for five years before you can become apikoros; that is, a non-believer. I have a character who becomes apikoros shortly after her bat mitzvah through a shortcut; a study of science.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Distinguishing between the various supernatural entities--tens of thousand of them world wide and probably hundreds of ones lost to cultural assimilation and genocide--is pretty much impossible.


I was looking more for a general definition. When you (or anyone) refer to a "god", what do you mean by that? Does it mean something more specific than simply "supernatural entity"? If one were to say, "Beelzebub is not a god; he's a demon," what does that sentence mean (whether or not you actually believe such things really exist)?


Is Superman a god?

As presented in the comics, no. He simply has powers that normal earthmen don't possess. He;'s no more god than the biblical Sampson, or a knight in armor, or Harry Houdini are gods.

But in Superman's case, that might be a distinction without a difference.


Sims has a lot of odd beliefs, and while I don't share any of them, I don't regard them as any odder than, say, the Catholic Church.


Dave Sim has his many flaws, not the least of which is his absolute belief in his own correctness on everything, but he does notice and point out things that others do not, and for that alone, he's worth a listen. Like, Even when I disagree with his assertions and conclusions, Dave has taught me valuable ways of looking at the world.

Shane Mallatt said...

Laurence, I second your notion regarding Hitchens. I never completely agreed with him on everything but he always made me think and more importantly made me laugh. Regarding Sam Harris, I listened to a very good two part conversation between him and Jordan Peterson that you might enjoy. Actually after rereading your posting I guess not since the SJW vs Alt right thing is one of the themes talked about.

LarryHart said...

From today's www.electoral-vote.com :

...his [Mitch McConnell's] sterling tactical reputation—has been built on obstruction. First, it was Senate Democrats that he obstructed, then it was Barack Obama. There's no question that he's good at it, but obstruction is a very different task—and, almost certainly, a much easier task—then actually getting things done.


Oh, why didn't they go with "but that's a different thing; in fact, the opposite thing."???

Zepp Jamieson said...

LarryH: "I was looking more for a general definition."

I did start with a general definition: "Long-lived, sometimes immortal. More powerful than humans, sometimes omnipotent. Has supernatural origins and/or powers. Almost always likes to meddle in human affairs, often to our detriment."

Can we use that as a starting point?

Deuxglass said...

Science can tell us how the Universe is but can't tell us how one should live. Science is a cookbook with all these nice tasty dishes but beyond that there is nothing to satisfy the soul. Only religion and philosophy can give us a hint on what is really important to the individual and what is not. Unfortunately I don't have the religious bone and I skipped most of my philosophy classes so I am now left with just skimming the cookbook looking not for revelation but only for things to amuse me for the moment. Science and religion/philosophy will never be complimentary because science answers how one lives and the other answers why one lives and they are more often than not mutually exclusive. We cannot replace why with how. Even an ant knows how but it takes a human to try to find out why through inner reflection.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

I did start with a general definition: "Long-lived, sometimes immortal. More powerful than humans, sometimes omnipotent. Has supernatural origins and/or powers. Almost always likes to meddle in human affairs, often to our detriment."

Can we use that as a starting point?


Sure, but that would seem to describe any number of supernatural types. I'm looking for some characteristics unique to gods that demons or vampires or whatever would not possess.

And sorry, but "sometimes omnipotent" doesn't help. :)

LarryHart said...

@Zepp Jamieson,

Maybe a better way to ask the question is this: "If you encounter a supernatural being, how do you determine whether it is a god or something else?"

donzelion said...

Edited for brevity...

Dr. Brin cites "How to Accidentally Stop a Global Cyber Attacks" is interesting; I recommend today's LA Times, "How a tiny L.A. cybersecurity firm pulled the plug on a global ransomware attack" for a lot more background. Tidbits:

(1) Rather than "one" white-hat fellow, a cluster of engineers collaborated to put a solution in place.
(2) Their collaboration depended upon law enforcement cooperation. Law enforcement would likely have nullified the 'kill switch' - but they worked together with the 'white hats.'
(3) Shouts out to NCSC/UK, FBI & ShadowServer, 2sec4u, and Microsoft from the author of Dr. Brin's article... Microsoft is fascinating. While not actively supporting the 15-year old Windows XP system, they released a patch even so...

So it goes. Lot of heroes in this story. Authority working with heroes.

Neino's take is prudent:

"Worry less about who did it, and more about the problems such attacks expose, he said."

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' logic in computer infrastructure nearly got a lot of people killed in the UK, among other harms.

Yet what consultant benefits from 'routine' updates? In 'transparent' society, one anticipates pitched battles between dueling tribes: cameras in position to sidetrack serious discussion with sexual antics and sideshow distractions. In 'transparent' society, one tribe will consciously steer thought toward averting 'crusades against windmills' - so that those adults capable of contributing are persistently distracted with inanity.

Berial said...

For some reason the debate over what is the difference between a 'god' and a 'demon' or other supernatural being made me think of the Japanese word 'kami'.

From Wikipedia:
"Though the word kami is translated in multiple ways into English, no one English word expresses its full meaning. In this way, the ambiguity of the meaning of kami is necessary, as it conveys the ambiguous nature of kami themselves. Kami is the Japanese word for a god, deity, divinity, or spirit. It has been used to describe "mind", "God", "supreme being", "one of the Shinto deities", an effigy, a principle, and anything that is worshiped."

So, starting there, would a definition of 'god' begin with 'anything that is worshiped' and then move into more specifics after that for splitting out 'demons', and other supernatural beings?

LarryHart said...

Berial:

So, starting there, would a definition of 'god' begin with 'anything that is worshiped' and then move into more specifics after that for splitting out 'demons', and other supernatural beings?


Hmmmm, that would make the defining characteristic of "god" completely external to itself. I'm not saying that's wrong, but it's not what I was expecting.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Disagree completely

If we allow the term God to just be an immortal with strange powers then our grandchildren may well become God's

The key and absolutely essential feature of a God is that he/she created the universe -
which means that he/she must be a singular

That is the "God" that I don't believe in -
There may well be Trillions of immortal (by human standards) entities with huge powers that we don't understand just a couple of star systems away

Paul SB said...

Deuxglass,

What you said is basically Stephen Jay Gould's "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" argument (NOMA for short), which is how I would get a bunch of mostly Catholic students to buy into evolution when I taught it. And I was pretty happy with the idea when I first learned about it years ago. However, I have been seeing more and more science that shows that a certain amount of human morality is built in, hard-wired into brains by genes. Since this is a genetic process, that means that every individual has an individual mix of factors, rather than there being a universal. But the current seems to be that the "why" is "us". We are alive and we have needs, and one of those needs is to help satisfy the needs of others. Science is getting the "how" down in neurotransmitters, receptor locations and methylation switches, but the "why" is coming along with the how. This shouldn't be too big a surprise. If you gave the plans for a car to an engineer, the engineer will understand how it works, but it will also be obvious what it is for.

Personally, I find this much more satisfying than any "why" that is imposed upon us by some angry father symbol in the sky. It's in our very (though variable) nature.

Paul SB said...

Larry & Duncan,

The difference between a god and other supernatural entities is whatever the minister says it is.

Aerial brought up translation with his /kami/ example. Words in one language can be translated into another very differently by different people, so one translator's /god/ is another translator's /spirit/, and which sticks in the popular imagination has more to do with the popular imagination than with the original intent and implications of the original language. And things just get more complicated from there, leaving us with a mess of memes that cannot be disentangled by strict logic. An historical linguistics approach might work, tracing words and concepts as they have evolved through time. Don't expect a neat set of definitions to resolve this.

Zepp Jamieson said...

LarryHart wrote: " "If you encounter a supernatural being, how do you determine whether it is a god or something else?"

Phrased that way, I would have to say it is almost entirely subjective, since it depends on an emotional reaction by the observer. A 15th century European might regard a 20th century European with a machine gun as a god.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Neil Gaiman defines gods as being entities that are worshipped, and when the last of the worshippers are gone, that god ceases to exist. I don't think he's ever address how particular gods get started in the first place, though. In American Gods, the inference is that gods arise as anthropomorphises of things that awe, frighten, or enchant humanity.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:


LarryHart wrote: " "If you encounter a supernatural being, how do you determine whether it is a god or something else?"

Phrased that way, I would have to say it is almost entirely subjective, since it depends on an emotional reaction by the observer. A 15th century European might regard a 20th century European with a machine gun as a god.


I'm still not quite communicating my question to you. That's in part because I dismiss the supernatural out of hand, so distinguishing between different species of supernatural entities is not something I internalized growing up.

But some people have done so, and to them, "Is supernatural entity really a god or is it just something else?" is a meaningful distinction. So I'm asking what that distinction is. Not "How can you tell if X is a god?", but "What significance does it have for you (or anyone) that X is or is not a god?"

What does X being a god imply?

David Brin said...

Yes LH, McConnel is outside his comfort zone, now. Likewise - Robert E. Lee was an over-rated general in that he had one scenario that he was very good at: exploiting the inherent advantage that an aggressive defender had in that particular era, against lumbering, giant armies that had the harder job of advancing along a broad front in perfect order, while lacking any means to communicate. Lee was superb at that…

… But at Antietam and Gettysburg, where he had to be the lumbering attacker, he proved inferior at every aspect of generalship and was rescued only by his opponent’s timidity.

reason said...

Paul SB
"which means we owe our lives, and therefore our obedience, "

We owe our lives to water - do we therefore owe it obedience? Strange logic there. (Just pointing it out, no ulterior motive, it's just that I hate poor logic - hence my tag.)

Paul SB said...

Reason,

The story I was told in Sunday school is that water and food (living plants and animals) were made by the Creator to sustain our lives - they are gifts of the Creator, as is life itself. We owe absolutely everything to Him (no one seemed to be capable of thinking of their creator god as anything other than a man). I was also told that we should feel no sympathy or pity for the animals, as they were all created for us to use. It his their purpose to be eaten (and no one seemed to be able to explain tigers). But logic and religion often part ways.

Larry,

The significance of godly vs. demonic status is simple - you obey one and you deny the other. It's an Us vs. Them thing. Anyone you don't like is a Satanist and anyone you do like is a good, God-fearing, upstanding citizen. I always found the phrase "God-fearing" to be very revealing. It comes from a mentality that is only motivated by fear, and can't tell the difference between fear and respect.

LarryHart said...

reason:

Paul SB
"which means we owe our lives, and therefore our obedience, "

We owe our lives to water - do we therefore owe it obedience? Strange logic there.


Paul was explaining, not asserting, that position. But underlying it is an assumption that God created us to obey Him. If I build a car (for example), I want that car to enable me to drive where I wish to go, not to bow down before me and tell me how wonderful I am. The Monty Python bit where God tells King Arthur that he hates when people bow and avert their gaze comes to mind. There is also an underlying assumption that God has given us instructions to obey. Typically, those so-called instructions benefit the authority figures telling us to trust that they represent God's will.

Nonetheless, several comics series have a protagonist who comes to discover that the humans who "created" his current form (after death) are evil, and the entire theme of the pieces is how a good creature rebels against his evil creator and does what a human should do despite no longer being human. Deathlok and Spawn come immediately to mind, and I think there are at least a few others. Son of Satan.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I always found the phrase "God-fearing" to be very revealing. It comes from a mentality that is only motivated by fear, and can't tell the difference between fear and respect.


I suspect that the term "God-fearing" in some other language really does mean something more like "God-respecting". Christians at least desire to go to heaven and be with God, but in the Old Testament, "meeting God" was seldom an event to be happy about. (Of course, that might be because that was really YHWH, not God)

Jumper said...

This must be the Earth religion I, as a good liberal, am supposed to believe in.
http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-secrets-of-the-wood-wide-web

Zepp Jamieson said...

Larry Hart said: ""What significance does it have for you (or anyone) that X is or is not a god?

What does X being a god imply?"

I was treating it as a mental exercise. Like you, I don't believe in the supernatural. So my answer would be that it makes no significance if a supernatural entity is a god, because zero plus zero equals zero.

Back about 25 years ago, I wrote a series of shorts about a character who had god-like powers. I danced around the issue of if he was a god, let alone THE God, The character, "Cosmic Charlie" had some pretty severe personality flaws and bad judgement, but in retrospect, neither quality disqualified him from being a god.

A.F. Rey said...

Maybe a better way to ask the question is this: "If you encounter a supernatural being, how do you determine whether it is a god or something else?"

Well, you could always ask.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffMnKoHPUKw

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

"What does X being a god imply?"

I was treating it as a mental exercise. Like you, I don't believe in the supernatural. So my answer would be that it makes no significance if a supernatural entity is a god, because zero plus zero equals zero.


Personally, I agree with that, but I'm trying to get at the meaning of words. If someone says a poltergeist is in their house, I know what they mean by that, even though I don't believe poltergeists exist. I have a clear picture of what a unicorn looks like even though there is no such thing.

It is in that sense that I'm asking what someone means when they discern that a particular supernatural entity is or is not a "god".

raito said...

If I had to put a definition to the supernatural (not god specifically), I might do worse than to characterize it as anything that can operate outside physical law. Naturally, this leads to the idea that our ideas of the supernatural aren't constant as we learn more. But it does point out how perhaps old event characterized as supernatural could have seemed so at the time.

I've said before that there's many who do not actually understand omnipotent or omniscient. One twist on that is to ask whether the Uncertainty Principal applies to an omniscient being.

As for religion, it can either make one better, worse, or have no effect. And that includes atheism. It depends entirely on just how the person's mental aikido functions.

And as Asimov came up, here's one of those quotes that says it better than I could:

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

donzelion,

Often, things only appear to be not broken. And yeah, Microsoft as a good guy (because the XP patch is definitely a good guy thing) is a bit dissonant.

As far as transparency adding side shows to distract, I do believe that will happen (erm, happening in the US). And I believe we'll adapt.

Berial,

'Kami' is definitely an interesting construct. Especially as there can be, for example, a kami for every tree, and a kami for the forest. Whether the forest kami is the aggregate of the tree kami (plus all the other kami for rocks, dirt, etc.) is uncertain.

One way to think of kami is that everything, because it exists in the universe, has its place in the universe, and the kami of that thing is the manifestation of that.

Hindu avatars are a bit more strange, at least to me. Kami I understand.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Larry Hart asked: "It is in that sense that I'm asking what someone means when they discern that a particular supernatural entity is or is not a "god"."

I think the answer to that is both personal and subjective. "What colour is the dress?" Answers will vary, and a lot of people won't even have a "why" handy to back their opinion.

On rare occasions, I've had pushy Christians who went too far in telling me what I 'should' believe to save my soul (and such types -are- rare, fortunately) and I've stopped a couple of them dead in their tracks by asking if Satan is a god, noting the extraordinary powers he has, and how in Job Jawheh treats Satan as an equal, a drinking buddy he can make bets with. The answer is "{Yes, No, Maybe} but he's not THE God"

I suspect nearly everyone has an opinion on the topic of gods, but I don't know if there is a single criteria on which everyone will agree. Even the most obvious one--Supernatural in nature--will be forcefully rejected by most Christians.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

On rare occasions, I've had pushy Christians who went too far in telling me what I 'should' believe to save my soul...


Vocal Christians, at least the type who argues with strangers about religion, seem to accept a notion that you can choose what you believe. They think atheists are uncomfortable with the possibility of God, so we choose not to believe in Him. Some people can do that (Orwell made that clear in 1984), but to me, that's a foreign concept. I can pretend to believe if the reward is sufficient, but I can't change what I do believe at will.

Specific to the kind of discussion of Christianity you allude to, the way I paraphrase their assertion is:

"I have to believe that I have to believe in Jesus in order to get into heaven in order to get into heaven."

And no, that's not a typo.

Darrell E said...

In my experience most people operate from an a priori assumption that everyone's default position is that some sort of god exists, or at least is obviously likely. They really don't get that some people never, at any time in their lives, believed in any kind of god or ever had the slightest inclination to posit any such thing.

Obviously a reason that this seems to be so common is that most people, in the US anyway, are religious believers. But even many people who do not self identify with any particular religion, people that merely "believe in belief," and even some atheists seem to do the same.

Shane Mallatt said...

I always wonder how these types of discussions would go if one substituted love. Does Love exist? Can it be measured? Can it be proven? I don't mean it as some trick to try to say God=love and if love exists then God exists, I just wonder if such a replacement would suck some of the rancor out of a discussion as to the value of non scientific concepts that effect the human condition. For myself I have determined that although I cannot prove it exists I will operate under the assumption that it does because it leads to a more meaningful life. I think for some belief in God is similar and when confined to an individual it can be a useful tool to enrich oneself and make better choices. It just seems that when beliefs are applied to a group of people violence is the inevitable result.

Jumper said...

I suspect the idea that people actually can believe what they want to believe is most upsetting of all.

I could only mock anyone to the extent that I must mock myself, too, when I ponder a certain irony in observing in our community here: we dissect the supernatural so well. Then we completely accept the possibilities of FTL travel, anti-gravity, and time travel; and have long discussions on them.

................................

The judo move, in asking proselytizers to describe their god before you answer whether you concur, suggested to me another exercise to try. I began asking people to describe their fast image they bring up in their minds as they ponder "God." Often a simple visual acquired in childhood. Examples are "I see the face of an old man with a white beard" or "a cloud. I think of a big cloud." Or "powerful rays in space."

A.F. Rey said...

A friend at work once told me that, when a couple of proselytizers would come to his door, he would first ask them to explain what God is before giving their message. That would pretty well take care of the call, because usually the two would end up arguing between themselves over the definition. :)

Zepp Jamieson said...

Jumper wrote: "Then we completely accept the possibilities of FTL travel, anti-gravity, and time travel; and have long discussions on them."

I can't speak for anyone else here, but I talk about the supernatural in much the same way I discuss FTL, anti-gravity, and time travel. They're entertaining possibilities that don't exist in real life. I bet everyone here, including our host, has written at least one "magic box" story, in which a device is used to defy those laws. I take the attitude that such boxes may exist one day, much the way gods may exist.

Anyone who says "Well that's different!" to you post needs to get the irony light on their keyboard checked. Your point is well made.

Zepp Jamieson said...

AF Rey wrote: " the two would end up arguing between themselves over the definition. :) "

I have an SF short story from some 50 odd years ago that you would absolutely love. Winston P. Sanders, "The Word to Space". One Catholic site describes it thusly: "Radio transmissions from the alien world Akron are detected from Earth, and scientists are excited to learn for the first time about an alien culture. Until, that is, the informative broadcasts are replaced by endless Akronite religious propaganda. A Jesuit linguist solves the problem for Earth and manages to do some reverse missionary work at the same time." It was a rare story for the time in that it depicted clergy as intelligent and resourceful, rather than as bufoonish guardians of the status quo.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion | 'proving' 1+1=2 'rigorously'

Yah. It’s good stuff. They taught it in my mathematics foundation class. Set theory underlies everything. Zero as a representation of an empty set and then a successor function implied if order is implied and so on and so on. You need that stuff to understand how big the earthquake was that Gödel caused. Good stuff.

Alfred Differ said...

I’ve never seen Dennett as all that zealous. More angry and willing to challenge taboos is what I see. Many of us were taught to conform to the ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ concept, but it doesn’t hold up well under close examination. Dennett IS a philosopher, thus prone to argue and refute. On this topic, I suspect he has a very low opinion of people who demand respect for an idea they haven’t taken the time to learn well or defend. He as much as says this in one of his books where he takes down people who think philosophy is easy to do.

I haven’t read him on the transparency topic, so I’ll refrain from pretending to know his arguments. I’m tempted to go look, though. I’ll be looking for semantic differences first since ‘transparency’ is not well defined. I’ll also be looking for his reactions to detractors using the non-philosophical approach of refuting him with assertions.

Having him in the opposing corner is a good thing, though. He really IS a philosopher. No matter what, if you conduct yourself as one, he will improve your argument and connect it to a variety of others.

Alfred Differ said...

As for the need for security regulation, I whole heartedly agree, but not because I think government can actually protect us. It is quite clear from history that when government could not protect traders from the consequences of fraud and other cheats, traders often found extra-legal ways to do it. Advocating for government intervention now would green-light many extra-legal ways that might work today that could be adopted later with formal regulations. Human legislation is an evolved thing and works wonderfully well when we have to courage to encourage ‘common law’ solutions. After all, fraud isn’t a crime because some regulation says it is. It is a crime because WE say it is and our government expresses our wish in the matter.

Security regulations that protect the largest expansion of the markets humanity has ever seen are necessary. Our markets are where innovations are born and the unfit are eliminated. Evolution is worth protecting.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Changing the subject
Voter Fraud
There is a big problem in the USA - not of voter fraud but of people messing about with your voter registration - politicians (mostly GOP) have been doing things like removing "double entries" - that were often NOT double entries but simply two people with the same name

But you already have a unique identity number - your Social Security Number

Why not use your SSN as a unique identifier for voter registration??

This would also have the important advantage of stopping people who try to use it as some sort of secret squirrel password - it's NOT - it can not be - and trying to use it like that just opens you up to fraud

To me using your SSN for voter registration would enable the system to be kept up to date incredibly easily


Erin Schram said...

David Brin said, But eventually we found -- (or stumbled into) -- a better way. Making accountability reciprocal so that it shines on everyone, including the mighty.

I am currently reading "Fix It: Getting Accountability Right" by Roger Connors and Tom Smith, who also wrote "The Oz Principle" on the same topic. I used to read books on teamwork before I retired. I have kept up the habit because the problems with teams reflect many problems in human relationships and human society. Connors and Smith's ideas are summarized in the article, "How to Create a Culture of Accountability<" at https://www.asme.org/career-education/articles/management-professional-practice/how-to-create-a-culture-of-accountability. Let me quote part of it:

Webster's defines "accountable" as "Subject to having to report, explain or justify; being answerable, responsible." Notice how the definition begins with the words "subject to," implying little choice in the matter. This confession-oriented and powerless definition suggests what we all have observed—accountability is viewed as a consequence for poor performance; it's a principle you should fear because it can only end up hurting you.

Consider the following new definition of accountability: "A personal choice to rise above one's circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results—to See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It."


According to their anecdotes, the accountability that comes from embracing ownership of overall goals leads to massive improvements in productivity. I have seen the ownership idea before; some of our teams used ownership of our goals. Selling ownership to the employees means a boss gives up some control in exchange for improved cooperation.

Perhaps we can have that kind of accountability to create fertile territory in the Internet, even if the safety of anonymity is lost. People in clubs and fandom have rallied together to protect their weaker members from the slings and arrows of outrageous outsiders. Perhaps we can nurture that same level of community online. This forum is an example: it is self policed by the regulars who want to have an enlightening discussion. These regulars are not afraid to contradict David Brin himself, because they know that he supports the goal of enlightened discussion.

Erin Schram said...

I should speak up as a Christian religious fanatic, so that you have an example of one. I proselytize more often about mathematics than about Christianity, but I will resist the bait of donzelion and Alfred Differ's discussion of mathematical foundations and try to stick to Christianity.

A.F. Rey said.
A friend at work once told me that, when a couple of proselytizers would come to his door, he would first ask them to explain what God is before giving their message. That would pretty well take care of the call, because usually the two would end up arguing between themselves over the definition. :)

God the Father is a voice from beyond the material world; God the Son is Jesus of Nazareth; God the Holy Spirit is a spirit who can be found in the human heart and maybe other places; and I have stuck close enough to the Bible to intimidate my fellow believers into not arguing with me in front of strangers.

That is a really good question, though. A lot of Christian thought tends to abstractify God, treating him as a basic principle rather than as a divine person. Some people will claim that God is love, when really he is an entity who loves people. There's a difference.

Jumper said,
I suspect the idea that people actually can believe what they want to believe is most upsetting of all.

I believe that my wife is very sexy, yet other people see her as average in sexiness. I acknowledge that being in love and 32 years of marriage has warped my perspective, but I see no reason to adjust my belief to match everyone else's. I like being married to a sexy wife.

Likewise, on my skeptical days I acknowledge that the Christian god is an outlandish notion. Yet if I accept this conclusion, what would it mean for my life? I still need a philosophy of life to guide my decisions. The Christian philosophy of love your neighbor is a good one, so I will stick with that. Add that the almighty creator of the universe might step up to help if I run into the pitfalls of loving my neighbor, and this philosophy is all the better.

On my more heretical days, I suspect that God created me as comic relief. Fortunately, God has a friendly sense of humor, so my life is full of amusing wonder rather than painful pratfalls. I am a freethinker about some aspects of Christian doctrine, but that ended up as comedy, too. Two years ago, only the pastor and I showed up to our weekly Bible study. I discussed my heresies with her, and she told me that my ideas matched official Lutheran theology, the intellectual kind that was seldom preached from the Sunday pulpit. So much for my career as a heretic.

If I wanted to proselytize about both math and religion simultaneously, I would discuss how superrational thought (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superrationality) can perform better than rational thought despite not being entirely rational.

David Brin said...

Zepp look up the sin called Manicheanism. Catholics deem Satan to have no physical creative power, only the power to delude. Most Jews don’t believe in him, at all…

..and that despite the story that he rode a tank, wore a general’s rank, when the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank.

Alfred, Dennett’s attack on transparency was stupid in every single sentence and indeed, every half-sentence. Yes, nobody’s perfect. But that’s a harmful area to be a reflexive ignoramus.

I would happily allow a major beefing up in voter ID if it were a negotiation that included (1) massive compliance assistance to help poor people, divorced women, the elderly etc to GET proper ID and (2) a national agency to vett and inspect every voting machine and ensure that it is both secure and paper-trail hand-auditable, and finally, an end to gerrymandering.

Dems should say: “Fine. You give in on those three things and we’ll consent to a massive, five year program to ensure all votes and voters have proper ID.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Re: Manicheanism. I'm fascinated. I just Wikied it, and I'm amazed, given the extent and influence the movement had, that I had never heard of it before.
It's ironic that while denying his ability to create, the Catholic Church calls that particular arch-angel Lucifer, "The bringer of light". Prometheus, in other words.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Zep

read James Blish - A Case of Conscience

Actually read the whole Trilogy - After Such Knowledge

Dr Mirabilis
Black Easter - The Day after Judgement
A Case of Conscience

Then you can explain the first one to me - I think I'm going to have to read it again!

Black Easter - The Day after Judgement and A Case of Conscience - are superb


LarryHart said...

Erin Schram:

A lot of Christian thought tends to abstractify God, treating him as a basic principle rather than as a divine person. Some people will claim that God is love, when really he is an entity who loves people. There's a difference.


Several Christians have asserted to me that "Jesus is the truth", as if those words mean anything in that order. They treat Pontius Pilate as an idiot because he asked questions like "What is truth?" when (as they put it) "the Truth was standing right in front of him." As if he only needed to look up and notice what was before his eyes was the answer to the question. None of that makes any sense to me, not in the sense of "I don't believe it", but in the sense of "I don't understand what point they're trying to make."

Laurence said...

Neil Gaiman defines gods as being entities that are worshipped, and when the last of the worshippers are gone, that god ceases to exist.

By that logic, Kim il Sung is a god!

David Brin said...

Erin Scham, you are most welcome here! (One of the oldest and most elevated communities on the web... one reason we get a remarkably low number of actual trolls.)
We do encourage a spectrum, though our resident conservatives have split into sub groups… one or two non-Randian libertarians (I occasionally climb that hill), a couple of honorable Ike-Reagan types who have lately admitted their party’s insane, but still rationalize residual (and sometimes smart) talking points… plus a couple of fellows who are unrepentant and deliberately provocative feudalists who despise modern, enlightenment civilization to its core. Needless to say, we’re a tolerant bunch, so long as provocations are couched intellectually and not as trollery.

Forgive if I am wrong to impute conservative leanings because of your avowed evangelism. The two weren’t linked even as late as the seventies. They will part company again, once sincere Christians hearken far more to the admirable teachings of Jesus than to the hate-drenched and loathsomely opposite-to-Jesus psycho rant called the Book of Revelation… whose grip on the Dominionist cult is probably the greatest threat to human life and civilization in existence, today.

Your paean to your wonderful wife speaks well of you both. As does your thoughtful portrayal of a mind that keeps questioning… because (perhaps) God made it that way and clearly does not want us to stop. (As all thought, freedom, ambition, argument, discovery, curiosity and growth would stop, cold, if the BoR ‘prediction’ ever came true. Those who want that are at-best unpleasant people.)

I obey the Great Sermon and hence live my life as if He isn’t there… but a large corner of me suspects that He is. If so, then he’s the author of Maxwell’s Equations. And hence a nerd who would want the enlightenment… and science fiction… to continue. He would hold no truck with the War on Science.

I expect we’ll have many colorful discussions of theology here. Indeed, some insights from this community made it into my growing monograph on “16 New Theological Questions” that’s getting some circulation these days, in those circles.

Erin Schram said...

I have been welcomed here every time I posted. I would respond more often, but the topic of discussion usually shifts while I take a day for proper consideration of my viewpoint. Yesterday, I wrote while up late waiting for my wife to return at midnight from a three-week drive to the west coast. I stayed home because on last year's ten-day trip I ended up overheated, dehydrated, and briefly hospitalized for a kidney stone the day we were supposed to return home.

I awoke at 4:30 this morning to the sounds of a thunderstorm and the pain of a second kidney stone. I imagine God saying, "Erin, you get kidney stones: it's your biology. But let's make the timing silly." My wife woke long enough for a few words of sympathy, but she needed to return to sleep for her own health. The pain faded to the ache of an internal bruise in two hours, during which I could contemplate this message but could not type.

I grew up a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, but have shifted to an old-fashioned labor union Democrat. David Brin's advocacy of FDR's progressivism helps me round out my political beliefs. The activists in my previous church attended county meetings to support affordable housing. Now I live near liberal hotbed Ithaca, New York, where I have waved signs for Planned Parenthood and marched for science. Nevertheless, I have many Republican relatives and can talk with them about their conservative views.

The vocal side of American Christianity has the failing of defining themselves by demonizing powerless opponents. The Bible has a hundred times the criticism of greed than of homosexuality, but opposing rich people would be too hard. The pastor I mentioned above recently posted a link to "Why Pastors and Priests Are Leaving the Church" (http://brianmclaren.net/why-pastors-and-priests-are-leaving-the-church-part-1/), which explains the weakness of the non-vocal Christians. Churchgoers seeking peaceful worship in a comfortable homogeneous setting are not inspired to the passion to be Christ-like. An unexamined religion is like the unexamined life criticized by Socrates. I encouraged my Sunday School students to tackle the hard questions, as Jesus himself did in his lessons. Surprisingly, those lessons, baking bread, and science-based crafts made me a popular teacher.

Can “16 New Theological Questions” be found now, or must I patiently look forward to its release?

LarryHart said...

Erin Schram:

The vocal side of American Christianity has the failing of defining themselves by demonizing powerless opponents. The Bible has a hundred times the criticism of greed than of homosexuality,...


That's another thing I've never seen a satisfactory answer to. What is it about Christianity that requires insistence on traditional sex and gender roles? To most political Christians these days, enforcement of traditional gender roles and opposition to non-marital sex seems to be the most important (if not the only) issue on the table. I'm not clear on how gender roles and religion even intersect in the first place. I've heard it asserted that feminism and gay sex offend God, but I've yet to see how we're supposed to know that.


I awoke at 4:30 this morning to the sounds of a thunderstorm and the pain of a second kidney stone.


What is it about this blog that attracts people with unusual health issues? I've got plain old type-2 diabetes, and I feel as if I'm competing at the Junior Varsity level here.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"By that logic, Kim il Sung is a god!"

In North Korea, he pretty much is. In due course, the regime will fall, as all regimes eventually do, and he will descend to the dustbin of history, of interest only to archeologists.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"read James Blish - A Case of Conscience "

I like Blish. I'll be happy to follow up on that.

LarryHart said...

My first exposure to James Blish was his adaptations of "Star Trek" episodes into short stories. It wasn't until later when I know that he was British that I understood why he did things like substitute "epinephrine" for "adrenaline" in dialogue. No doubt, had he adapted the later movie, Mr Scott would have helped invent transparent "al-you-MIN-ee-um".

A story in Blish's "Cities in Flight" collection suggested that gravity would be discovered next year, in 2018, having only been postulated for millennia before.

LarryHart said...

From today's New York Times...

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/30/opinion/congress-health-savings-accounts.html


“Obamacare was sold using the language of choice and competition, but it is actually reducing both,” a Wall Street Journal editorial warned back in 2010, when the law was months old. Health insurance doesn’t work when it isn’t allowed to operate as insurance: when it cannot tailor its products to the preferences and budgets of consumers, and when it cannot make business decisions based on considerations of risk.

You do not get to insure your house after it’s on fire. Why should Americans have the unalienable right to wait till they get sick (at least during open enrollment) before buying health insurance?


I'm not sure what the writer's complaint is here about Obamacare. The whole idea of the personal mandate is that people can't refuse to buy insurance until a situation comes up where they need it. They're supposed to have it all along. It's the Republicans who object to that provision and seek to repeal it. I don't know where he gets the idea that Obamacare encourages people to wait until they are sick to purchase insurance. That's what Trump-Ryan-Don't-Care does.

Secondly, no, you can't buy fire insurance when your house is on fire, but you can and do buy flood insurance when your house is on a flood plain. Universal health coverage would (to me) seem more like the latter than the former.



donzelion said...

Raito: "Often, things only appear to be not broken."
My view is generally, everything is fragile given sufficient time and energy working against it. But this -

"As far as transparency adding side shows to distract, I do believe that will happen (erm, happening in the US). And I believe we'll adapt."
I'm not so sure. One way of analyzing the last 100 years is the growth of industries designed to interact with cognition itself, first through advertising/marketing, but more importantly, to interact with cognitive-behavioral processes (e.g., 'measuring clicks' is the basis for one of the largest companies in America - and 'driving clicks' is the basis for Apple's own power). As 'we' adapt, the side striving to regulate and control adapts even more - and the interests at stake are different: we have generalized 'welfare' and 'resistance to oppression' as motivations, they have profit, survival, growth (hence, evolution has stronger imperatives driving their adaptation than than our 'well-being').

But here's a test: can a single troll distract the discussion in a room of 20 people seeking to achieve some task, simply by throwing in odd curveballs? Can doing so prevent actual work from occurring? Granted, the objective of this particular forum is just to talk and enjoy the pleasure of conversing - but to the extent there is any parallel, the conduct of our resident trolls and the likelihood of a response indicates just how easily a single bad actor can prevent good ones from doing what they mean to do. Now if that bad actor were paid to do so.......

David Brin said...

Erin, cool explanation. You articulate well. SOrry about the stones. There's hope that ultrasound will eventually help. I sleep near someone with the same problem.

And yes, pork-eaters have no business raving about Leviticus.

My theology monograph is a work in progress. If only I had that ditto machine!

onward onward

Jumper said...

Nice to know E.F. Rey is familiar wit super-rational concepts. I think the vaccine deniers ought to use this as a minimum. Honestly find how many free-riders are harmless to the system, then roll dice with that percentage-number of chances to opt out.

Of course they are still fools, so I don't expect a single one to actually do that...

Online Movies said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
donzelion said...

"And yes, pork-eaters have no business raving about Leviticus."

They're an odd lot. Acts gives extremely clear instructions that pork is permitted to Christians, and hence, kosher rules are abrogated for Christian communities. Acts also gives an extremely clear example of numerous Christian communities living in socialist collectives, where each gave all their property to take care of the whole. Hence, pick'n'choose theology arbitrarily driven...largely by the folks who pay the preachers/pipers and shaped their gospel for them.

That said, every time I see (a) a mule, (b) cotton/polyesther blended clothing, (c) modern agriculture that blends different types of seeds in the same field - I chuckle a little at the arbitrariness. Why do these folks have a problem with homosexuals, but ignore everything else? Because they want the excuse to bully someone without anyone intruding, and feel the Bible not only authorizes them to be punks, but enjoins them to do so - regardless of any tribal affiliation.

raito said...

Duncan Cairncross,

The SSN isvan astoundingly poor choice for a voting ID. Firstly, it is apparently NOT so that everyone has one -- there are some quite legal reasons one might not have one entirely unrelated to voting.

Secondly, its format is technically unsound to use as a unique identifier. A corsory search turns up ID Analytics, who deal with SSNs for other companies. In their databae if 290 million SSNs, they find that 40 million are attached to more than 1 name. And they find people with more than 1 attached to their name. Even controlling for estimated fraud, this is a lot.

The reason is that there's no correspondance between ahd if the digits. Not even a checksum digit like an ISBN has. This means that there's no way to make even a cursory check of a number's validity, which leads to clerical errors being baked into the system in a long term manner.

To be succesful, any voter id cannot be the current SSN. And it seems likely that the voter id must be explicitly barred by law from being used for nearly any other purpose, unless a bunch of other laws get repealed.

Donzelion,

Most people are insufficiently adapted. I've sat through a lot of committee meetings this year. Though it woukd be interesting ic the apparent rise in autism were nature's reaction to such shenanigans.

David Brin said...

raito, you are repeating a point that I made about the SSN way back in The Transparent Society, describing the difference between a name/identifier and a password.

raito said...

Yes, it's a reiteration (badly made as I fumble my tablet's keyboard). But still as true.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

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