Saturday, August 27, 2022

Science fiction - Reaching for the future

As the World Science Fiction Convention is about to stage and rage in Chicago, let's pause to glance at the genre of wonder, the literature that deals with the one 'eternal verity'... change.


First ... a look at how far science fiction has come in achieving respect at its high end. From The New Yorker: “Can Science Fiction Wake Us Up to Our Climate Reality?Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels envision the dire problems of the future—but also their solutions,” as in his latest release - The Ministry for the Future.


Harlan Ellison distilled the essential question. "Our duty is to make a world that's even just barely good enough that our kids do better. And theirs and theirs. Till super generations come who look back at us as monsters. Monsters who somehow rose above both their natures and their times....


“…even if barely enough."  Or as Roman Kznaric put it, more succinctly in his non-fiction book: The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking, our duty and task is... to be Good Ancestors.

Those of you reading my Out of Time series, about teens from varied eras yanked into a future utopia-in-peril, in order to save it with their ‘grit,’ know I borrowed the term from that movie, of course. But so did these neuroscience researchers: "Uncovering links between grit and cognitive function". Unless one of them is a fan who borrowed it from me!  

== Good Quick Reads ==

A series of quick-read hard-SF novellas by Laurence E. Dahners is worth a look. Lively  fun is the "Stasis" series where a young physicist makes a way to freeze time. Book 1: A Pause in Space Time


Sarina Dahlan's novel RESET offers a pretty unique take on how we might flush away the grudges that so often poison our lives.


Speaking of time... The “Out of Time” (or “Yanked!”) series: Only teens can teleport through time and space! Dollops of fun, adventure & optimism for young adults. Five Out of Time novels offer free first chapters… and five more are in the pipeline!


== YouTubes and Lists beyond the beyond ==

Tune in! Isaac Arthur has among the best sci-future podcasts - Science & Futurism - that explores in amazing detail the implications and ramifications of every permutation of the ‘alien’ you can think of… while poking as zones where we can’t! 

This episode cogently discusses what might happen if we head out there into the galaxy and find one or more less technologically advanced alien races. 

Are we behooved to act according to a Trekkian Prime Directive not to interfere? Can that even be enforced on all individuals who might disagree?  All of his riffs are detailed, logical and interesting… though this one features my books at 27 minutes in, offering big discounts for purchasing audio versions from Audible!

Just in case you never knew about this side of me... Eight outstanding David Brin books sci-fi fans need to read,” from The Portalist.


From Mental Floss: “Twelve novels that won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards,” with a mention of Startide Rising..


And from The Washington Post: Let's talk about the beasts of Sci Fi and Horror: a look at fictional animals, from Clifford Simak's City to Stephen King's Cujo.


== SF & Hollywood ==


Caltech physicist Spiros Michalakis and Hollywood writer/producer Ed Solomon (co-creator of Bill & Ted) speak with Caltech science writer (and sci-fi fan) Whitney Clavin in this video about how they collaborate to make science shine in film 


My original Salon article denouncing Star Wars was not my most hate mail-producing piece! It did lead later to a book: Star Wars on Trial. I was the 'prosecutor' and one of Lucas's novelizers the defense attorney. We called witnesses, cross-examined... huge fun! 

My later, upgraded case is one of the chapters in my recently released collection of essays on SF movies - Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood.


And this article preceded the later proof that Yoda is (by sheer death count) decisively the most-evil character in the history of all human stories and mythologies, combined. So there.


See the trailer for the Tom Swift spin-off.  And Neil Gaiman discusses the trailer for The Sandman series, based on his Sandman graphic novels. The series has been released on Netflix.


== Dark visions ==


As the Ukrainian literary magazine Chytomo recently covered in a disturbing article, “Since 2009, Russia has been actively publishing books on war between Russia and Ukraine in the fantasy genre, as well as historical and nonfiction literature about the collapse of the Ukraine project and mocking the independence of the non-existent Ukrainian people and artificial Ukrainian language.”


This article discusses a rather scary sub-genre of sci-fi, based upon an earlier wave of “Spetznaz fantasies” featuring Russian super soldiers shooting down especially Americans like mown grass. To be clear, our own nutter right has relished similar masturbatory fiction-fetishes, all the way from the marginally mainstream Red Dawn to the outright treasonous/fascist Turner Diaries.  And it is a common trope in war-inciting propaganda going back all the way to the Iliad and Roman epics vilifying Carthage. Today, as we speak, there is a major genre of “wolf warrior” tales and movies promoted by a certain Rising Power in the east.


But we are now witnessing the kind of calamity that can happen in the real world, when such agitprop seizes the imaginations of resentful (often incel) males.


== And more... ==


Do you miss old-fashioned, “classic” sci fi? Startling Stories is aiming for a revival of the pulp magazine (of the same name) which ran from 1939 to 1955. The title kinda says it all!


With Forkpoints, Nebula Award winner Sheila Finch (Reading the Bones) delivers an impressive, career-spanning collection!  Stories like the wistful “The Old Man and C,” which imagines a world where Albert Einstein followed his talent for violin instead of physics. Fans of Finch’s Xenolinguist stories will enjoy encountering the author at her lyrical best in “Sequoia Dreams,” about alien visitors who have a profound ecological message to convey, and “Czerny at Midnight,” in which a marine biologist’s autistic son communicates with an octopus through music. 


In her new anthology, The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer, Janelle Mon√°e presents a collection (inspired by her album Dirty Computer) of vivid dystopian stories of the near future, of humanity and society adapting to changing technology.

Finally... Chicon, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention will be held from September 1 to 5 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, with Author Guests of Honor (and our dear friends) Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due. (Have fun!) And see their new graphic novel collaboration, The Keeper.


Awards will be announced for this year's Hugo Awards for best in SF&F (nominations listed here).


130 comments:

matthew said...

Minor quibble but it is "Jenelle" Monae. And y'all should be listening to her music, stat! She's a great one.

Treebeard said...

I saw my name mentioned in the previous thread. I’m still around, I just don’t spend much time blogging these days, though I do browse this one occasionally. I guess I got tired of it; the same people with the same basic worldviews, reinforcing them post after post, insulting and condescending to anyone outside the Body, just ain’t that interesting.

What do you call a species, or a group within a species, that decides their primary purpose in life to “rise above their own natures”, “become gods”, call their own ancestors “monsters”, etc.? Self-hating? Delusional? Insane? I am so perplexed by this worldview; as if some abstract ideal of what you imagine you could be trumps all reality and history, and you judge yourself simultaneously the world’s saviors and its monsters. Some real schizoid thinking, imo.

Imagine some mouse who got it into his head that his purpose in life was to become an eagle, that mice were pathetic little monsters, really, and he was gonna save mousekind by learning to fly. So he starts running toward a cliff, flapping his little arms, but before goes over the edge a perplexed eagle swoops down, plucks him off the ground and devours him. Maybe there are eagles out in the cosmos looking at us the same way. The only SF that has any flavor of reality to me are stories like that, more Lovecraftian in nature, rather than childish fairy tales about hubristic mice taking flight or whatever, which is what your “optimistic” SF amounts to. It’s the literature of hubris. Even if its physics is solid, its metaphysics is absolute rubbish.

David Brin said...

What fun! Treebeard does grouse at us in a different voice than L or our occasional drive-by critics. Slightly less predictable, though again always strawmanning.

In fact, the issue he rants, while bizarrely oversimplified and tendentious, is also an important one raised cogently by Heinlein in BEYOND THIS HORIZON. One technology --- projecting outcomes from unions of sperm and ova from husband and wife - results in most couples choosing such pairings that will result in offspring with high strength, health, endurance etc... but crucially a child they MIGHT have had, anyway. No gene meddling allowed. Kinda hard to find a moral objection...

...though the governmentoffers major cash incentives for couples NOT to avail themselves of the tech!. In order to maintain a "control natural" population. Those bribes keep having to be higher.

Now, it's easy to see how our ent would rage against this and Heinlein would shrug: "Fine. Don't use it!" But of course, there will be a drift toward demigodhood, as with any such tech. It is a role of sci fi to explore possible land mines across any such paths.

Likewise in my Uplift Cosmos, much of the oceans have been ceded back to natural life including fallow dolphins. The uplifted ones are a new path not excluding the old.

Of course I am giving Treebeard way too much time because the topic is far more interesting than his own masturbatory rage incantation about it. Clearly something's gotta give, or unaltered humanity will sear away all higher life from the planet. I hope it will be a solution of diversity, peace, sagacity and non-finality that allows for everything good or average about our past to move into the future, as well.

As for my 'literature of hubris'... har! I do dire warnings too. All you could write, sir, is the literature of Oscar the grouch.

scidata said...

I'm not an SF writer, but occasionally I do get painted with the 'childish-optimistic-Pollyanna brush'. I like to reply, "99.99% of all creatures that ever lived died of dehydration or were eaten alive." Even Lovecraft didn't dream of such horror. Skeptical optimism is not facile naiveté.

 Ashley said...

Ah, ha... Russian MilSF, who would have thought?

I wrote a series of novelettes featuring the Russians fighting an invasion by Ukraine who were supporting Belarus in having democratic elections. Along with help from the Baltic states and Visegrad group.

The SF content being AI cybertanks developed by a German scientist who had ulterior motives of his own that had little to do with war, but rather seeding AI algorithms onto the world wide web.

I made the Russians the protagonists, not because I thought of them as the good guys, but because being defeated by cybertanks was more fun to write. Also, a slight nod to Sven Hassel who wrote 'The Legion of the Damned' that followed the defeat of the German war machine on the Eastern Front.

I thought it would make a nice change to write about a Russian civil war than another American civil war. One could at least feel a certain frisson of there but for the grace of god etc.

The series has not sold. No interest in theme, and probably my writing is not sufficiently entertaining to generate any word of mouth. But I can claim to trying a different take on the trope.

Alan Brooks said...

Treebeard,
“same basic worldviews”?

What would you expect? All sorts of worldviews here, most everyone squabbling with invective? Would you tolerate a cacophony on your blog?
But there’s a grain of truth in what you write on a mouse yearning to be an eagle.
If we’d remained in the Garden of Eden, life would be peaceful. Good weather year-round; no washing machines or dry cleaners. No need for fruit vendors.

Larry Hart said...

Alan Brooks:

If we’d remained in the Garden of Eden, life would be peaceful. Good weather year-round; no washing machines or dry cleaners. No need for fruit vendors.


Same if we remained in the womb all of our lives. But accepting the creation paradigm (even metaphorically), I doubt that was what we were made for.

Larry Hart said...

Sorry, gotta rag on Bill Maher again.

First of all, he insists that it is now an uncontested fact that the news media and social media engaged in a conspiracy to quash the Hunter Biden laptop story, which is now undoubtedly a real thing. I'm much more in the Hal Sparks camp. He asserts over and over that There is no Hunter Biden laptop. There are copies of copies of what is supposedly a hard drive from a laptop (which no one has ever seen), with some e-mails which have been so obviously tampered with that they could never be considered evidence in a court of law.

And yet again, Maher exhibited how insane any mention of COVID mitigation makes him. He asked his guests (Rob Reiner and Senator Amy Klobachar) why, if the pharmaceutical companies are the bad guys when it comes to raising the prices of epi-pens or negotiations over drug prices with Medicare, why we're just supposed to do whatever those drug companies want us to when it comes to COVID. Seriously, that's the dynamic he sees in play?

Dirtnapninja said...

Hilarious. So you are saying that the war in Ukraine wasnt caused by the festering donbass situation. It wasnt caused by American interference into a vital and existential security interest of Russia. It wasnt caused by the American oligarchy turning Ukraine into American Manchukuo. No, it was caused by incels incited by the Russian version of cheap Tom Clancy novels.

locumranch said...

But of course, there will be a drift toward demigodhood, as with any such tech. It is a role of sci fi to explore possible land mines across any such paths. Likewise in my Uplift Cosmos...

For someone who has spent years denouncing "Romantic claptrap about demigods and mystic warriors" in order to promote democracy & equalism, this is a remarkable admission, as remarkable as having a proponent of diversity denounce raciation.

Raciation (noun)
Differentiation of local infraspecific groups within a population through continued selection for ecologically useful variations under conditions of at least partial isolation; the evolutionary development of races.


It's the progressive conundrum, this compulsion to 'build back better', to improve ourselves, to unleash the 'better angels of our nature', to enhance our capabilities and to remake ourselves as gods, by the process of deracination and the thorough eradication of our root differences.

Has no one read 'Slan' ?

As in Brin's UPLIFT novels, those damn dolphins did't just 'uplift' themselves -- they were the product of selective breeding & deliberate raciation -- proving once again that the human 'way forward' is MORE differentiation (not less) & LESS equalism (not more) if we truly wish to remake ourselves as gods.


Best
_____

Alan_B asks Would you tolerate a cacophony on your blog? Possibly, if you were a proponent of competition who was willing to challenge & expose yourself to criticism and different modes of thinking. Why are you here, Alan?

Paradoctor said...

Brooks, Hart: my take on the Eden fairy tale* is that Eve was the heroine, she and Adam did nothing wrong, and they were not punished. They wanted the bad news, and Yahweh gave it to them himself. Hey Eve, sex is dangerous; hey Adam, you gotta work for a living; and both of you, you're gonna die! That was the bad news. The good news was: you're grown up now, there's the exit, you're free to go.

* Don't get me wrong; I like fairy tales, I write fairy tales.

Unknown said...

Dr. Brin,

Heinlein's genetic "control population" faced the same prejudice depicted in the movie "Gattaca", necessitating the bribe money. The backstory for the novel was revealing, though: humanity had divided itself into "sheep" and "wolves" through gene therapy and had a world war, with the wolves besieged in North America (surprise!) and winning through unspecified means. There's some implied genocide, too, because nearly everyone alive is a "wolf".

SF is the stuff of dreams and nightmares - like all fiction. I ran into a novel years back that was Confederate revenge porn - some gang of bushwhackers tricked out with period rapid fire weapons chopping up a designated patsy "NY Lancers" cavalry regiment somewhere in the Western TO.

Pappenheimer

P.S. that kind of thing sells. Someone pointed out a long time ago that a movie titled "Star Peace" would not have made much money.

David Brin said...

Pappen, the first half of BEYON THIS HORIZON was utter crap and the 2nd hald was all talk and fabulous.

Usually in RAH books the 1st (action) half is far better. Not in this case.

----

Locum: “For someone who has spent years denouncing "Romantic claptrap about demigods and mystic warriors" in order to promote democracy & equalism, this is a remarkable admission, as remarkable as having a proponent of diversity denounce raciation.”

Except my schtik is about FLATNESS and sharing the advances so we don’t fall back into stoopid feudalism. When power and knowledge are widely dispersed, then a myriad demigods hold each other accountable. And WE HERE NOW are ‘demigods’ in any practical way, compared to the ancestors who struggled to get us here.

Seriously, do you ever, ever play out the silly things you say, in order to pre-find the blatantly obvious answers?

Silly me, of course you don’t.

“by the process of deracination and the thorough eradication of our root differences.”

Har! In the era of ‘diversity identity!” When the left (irritatingly) insists on emphasizing differences? feh


David Brin said...

Ashley interesting scenario. I would have recommended Ring of Fire Press… but they just folded. Alas!
======

Dirtnap, I am (in a tiny way) pleased to have amused you. But I’ll not be lectured by hypocrites like Putin who spent their early lives reciting Leninist catechisms 5x per day, calling for a universal proletarian revolution against tribalism… a man who later restored every czarist emblem and chauvinist symbol and goal, who erects statues to Nicholas II and extols Russian tribal-nationalism as the highest virtue.

This former socialist idealist handed all of Russia’s wealth over to a new caste of boyar-lords, whose main goal was to smuggle trillions of rubles out of country and educate their kids in Britain. Meanwhile, the RF’s birthrate has plummeted and young men are dying by the thousands, yet you believe Putin’s made-up stories to justify aggressive war of conquest.

Read what Solzhenitsyn (a Russian nationalist) said about the feelings of Ukrainians, even back in the 1950s. He recommended a method for gradually increasing Ukrainian affection for Russia. Putin has done the exact opposite and now there is zero chance Ukrainians will ever forgive Muscovites for what they have done, while obedient to a tyrant.

NATO was slowly dissolving away, especially with the USA controlled by Putin’s asset. Now it is stronger than ever and more determined. What does that say about Putin’s brains?

scidata said...

Seeing Artemis on the launch pad brings back all those nervous, emotional, for all mankind, Apollo feelings from my youth. Perhaps I am a bit of a Pollyanna.

Larry Hart said...

Paradoctor:

my take on the Eden fairy tale* is that Eve was the heroine, she and Adam did nothing wrong, and they were not punished.


That might be even better than Dave Sim's take on Genesis. In his reading of the KJV text, only Adam was kicked out of the Garden. Eve was never expelled at all. She still lives there!

Larry Hart said...

Speaking of fairy tales, our resident troll thinks that by accurately describing events in Russia and Ukraine, he's pointing out absurdities. No, you've nailed your countrymen's gullibility pretty accurately there.

Alan Brooks said...

LoCum,
“Why are you here?”

Until several yrs ago, thought SF was more/less fluff. But the realization set in that SF influences S and, naturally, vice versa.
As for diversity at CB, a few months ago after reading over-the-top comments from someone with a Ukrainian (possibly false-flag) handle, became somewhat less interested in free expression here.
As for you, your comments are worth reading; however the trajectory is nebulous. A few of your themes can be gleaned, though:
•Tyranny of the majority
• Reverse discrimination
• Urban versus rural values.
Perhaps your postulations are so loftily broad, that understanding them is similar to reading the writings of philosophers over one’s head.

Larry Hart said...

Alan Brooks:

A few of your themes can be gleaned, though:
•Tyranny of the majority
...


Close, but in loc's particular case, it's more like "Tyranny of the way things really are when I want them to be different"

Larry Hart said...

Did you think I was making this up? Directly from Genesis 2:22-24 (emphasis mine) :


And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

David Brin said...

LH Gloria Steinem and her Ms crowd did more harm to English language and to civilization than can possibly be tallied, by ruling - without allowing any discussion - that the word "man" could stand only for males. The harm done by that arrogance is immeasurable...

... and the same attitude is behind most language policing nowardays.

They assume their leapt-upon chidings represent wisdom. And never, ever, ever do they say: "Hey t'know, let's call a CONFERENCE to hear many sides and weigh them in deliberation, the way scientists and legislators do."

If such a conference happened in 1970, some feminists might have said "let's claim the right to be MEN and not render sexist and obsolete every important piece of literature in human history."

scidata said...

Jacob Bronowski's "The Ascent of Man" was a cute play on Darwin's "The Descent of Man". Almost nothing of it survived the onslaught of "sexist!" taunts. Not the deep love of science, art, literature, and humanity. Not the modest kindness. Not the warnings about dogma and fascism. Not the breathtaking journey from the savanna to the moon, which belongs to every soul that ever was or ever will be.

Re: Bill Maher
Don't have a strong opinion either way, but you have to admit the actual straw-man in the chair that he argued with was clever and funny.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

Point taken about "man" or "mankind" including women.

But that particular section of the Bible is talking about two individuals, one man and one woman. In that context, when it refers to the man, isn't that rather specific?

* * *

@scidata,

The straw man was cute, and at first, he used it correctly to say, "Let's stay on point and not get distracted by silly diversions, though I think he devolved into knocking down any disagreement with him as a straw-man argument.

I consider Bill Maher an ally in many ways that count. But he has some very annoying blind spots, and COVID-mitigation has become one of them. I'm also very tired of him asserting, "That's because you only watch MSNBC," when what he really means is "That's because you don't watch FOX". One does not have to be a left-wing fanatic to not give equal consideration to differing views on whether or not President Biden stole the election. And in this case, one does not have to be a left-wing fanatic to have recognized from the start the absurdities of the Hunter Biden supposed-laptop "scandal".

Jon S. said...

Larry, when discussing what exactly was meant in Genesis, you'd need to consult with someone who can read Hebrew, the language the passage was written in. Trying to interpret its precise literal meaning through an English translation of a Latin translation of the original Hebrew seems like a chump's game to me.

Larry Hart said...

@Jon S,

So I don't suppose you believe that the King James translation itself was Divinely inspired? Because millions do. :)

Seriously, I don't have a dog in that fight. I only commented on what Dave Sim said that he believed. My thing is, though, the words actually do say that "the man" was expelled, not "the woman" or "the humans". So there is that. "Once a thing is seen, it can't be un-seen" (which is another Dave Sim pearl of wisdom).

I do have a tangential thought on the subject of Scriptural inerrancy. I'm not a subscriber to that concept, but if one accepts it to be true, what exactly does that imply? For example, after Cain kills Abel, God asks Cain where his brother is, and Cain replies that he doesn't know ("I'm not my brother's keeper."). So if every word, every jot and tittle of the Bible is true, then does that mean Cain really didn't know what had happened to Abel? Or just that the Bible accurately records what Cain said when he was lying?

I ask rhetorically because I'm sure there are examples that evangelicals throw out at us all the time as absolute truth which might in fact simply be accurately-recorded lies.

Paradoctor said...

I think Steinem was right that using the word 'man' for both men and women is inaccurate and prejudicial. Also, I think that she, and other women, are justified in taking exception. _You_ would mind if it were the other way around. That's _my_ vote.

On the other hand, languages are hard to change by reason or fiat. Ask the French Academy for details.

Alfred Differ said...

I suspect a debate on the language wasn't the point she felt had to be made in the 70's. She wanted a fight over it, no? Well... whether she would have said that, I don't know. Choices show what we really want, though, and that choice led to a fight for the liberation of women that likely would have been completely different if we weren't also fighting over words.

I don't mind fighting over language. They are human constructs that emerge from competition and cooperation. Sometimes we get silly and mis-attribute motivations to authors of previous generations, but other times we reveal how language IS how we think.

------

My first lesson in why these fights have to happen occurred when I was young and my mother reacted badly to certain US Football terms. Defensive 'blitz' made use of a German term that had special meaning to a little girl who grew up with bombs falling on her in London. She preferred I not use the term even though every American kid who cared about the sport did use it. I found a way to do it eventually... I just didn't use it around her.

Does it matter whether I use 'blitz' that way? No. The real life lesson I got from this (took many years and other lessons) was to get inside other people's heads and anticipate their reactions to what I might say. That skill is essentially 'to love' at its most clinical level. Picking it up changed my life for the better in so many ways I lost count.

So... when someone wants to engage in language policing, I spend a bit of time trying to get into their head. What I find there is usually a powerful desire to love and be loved. What's really bugging them is a perception that others do not dignify them as human beings. Well... that's easily solved, no? When I do that, they usually stop trying to police my language.

David Brin said...

"I was a free man in Paris...." Joni Mitchell 1976

Try reading Eleanor Roosevelt, almost all of whose writings are rendered obsolete and sexist by the Steinem Solution. Iwould have hargued for the other path at a deliberative conference.

But it is the absolutele unwillingness to hold such critical conferences and expose assumptions to scrutiny that makes utter hypocrites of these reformers.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry and Jon S,

I had the pleasure of finding someone many years ago who treated his faith as more than 'how he felt.' He took to it in a scholarly way no doubt thinking a theology degree with help make him a better person all around. He was (mostly) a nice guy to me, so I took a bit of time to ask him questions about Genesis and how scholars went about dealing with it.

The important points he drove home were straightforward.

1. Don't interpret it literally from English no matter what. English has changed enough on its own to make this a fools path.

2. It has been translated through several languages.

3. There are old debates about its historical underpinnings and completeness that are hand-waved away by various sects claiming divine insight to justify their choices.

4. In the oldest languages for which passages can be found, authors didn't use alphabets like we have today. Even Greek translations used syllabets*.

5. Context is terribly important.

6. This is all The Word Of God, so you won't understand without his help.

I was with him on most of his points, but considered the last one to be garbage. It reminded me of point #3, so I pondered his blindness to his own hand-wavy justifications.

Anyway, I was specifically interested in the passage describing Adam being created in God's image. It took days for him to lay the groundwork, but after that I had a better understanding of an old Christian schism regarding iconography. God's "image" meant different things to different scholars depending on how they came down on the east/west orthodoxy schism.

I stopped asking questions at some point and thanked him for satisfying my curiosity. My take away lesson from all that effort was to assume a speaker to be delusional if they went hunting through God's Word thinking they'd understand original meanings without a theology education and a scholarly community willing to help weed out erroneous ideas. There's no reason communities can't spring up and work at these tasks, but in doing that they self-educate and weed the idea garden. Sole hunters seeking divine inspiration struck me to be like numerologists looking for patterns in the Bible. Which Bible? (See point #3)


What was really need about this guys explanation of the scholarly community in which he was embedded is that it worked essentially like Science except for one crucial difference. Scientists have a rough agreement on what can disqualify an entire segment of scholarly work. Most scientists will pull away from theories which repeatedly fail to avoid falsification tests. Experiment is the agreed upon Arbiter instead of God… and it doesn't matter if some think God does that too.


—————
* My term for his longer explanation where characters represent syllables with assumed vowels. Remember... written languages and spoken languages are NOT the same thing. As writing has become less expensive, they've trended toward each other. That we think of written and spoken English as the same thing is a VERY recent change.

Hard to believe for Americans who don't know any other language besides American English, but obvious to someone who "knows" Chinese.

Alfred Differ said...

absolute unwillingness to hold such critical conferences

I get it. Obviously they chose "Fight Mode".

I was still a kid as that was happening. (18 in time to see Reagan elected) There choice certainly does have long range consequences. My wife is still in fight mode.

Maybe in another generation we can swing back toward something a little more nuanced. Okay... maybe two generations. 8)

David Brin said...

I understand fight mode. But it can be stupid not to appaise and re-appraise the effectiveness of tactics.

Alas, fools always mistake those who question tactics for opponents, instead of allies who might be offering better paths to success at shared goals.

Jon S. said...

Honestly, Larry? I consider "divine inspiration" to be completely unconnected to "accuracy". IMO, much of the point of the tale of Noah and the Flood (a direct rip-off of the tale of Utnapishtim from the Epic of Gilgamesh, btw) is missed if you spend all your time trying to justify the literal accuracy of a ship the size of a modern-day destroyer carrying representative samples of every single species on Earth. It's supposed to be about faith, not ecosystems. Same for trying to figure out what species of "fish" exactly was supposed to have carried Jonah - the point there was supposed to be that once you have directions from God, trying to avoid them is pointless, not that there was some titanic piscine taxi service in the Mediterranean.

Besides, "literal accuracy", especially with the English version, goes right out the window when comparing the two tales of Creation in the first and second chapters of Genesis (not to mention the conflicting instructions given Noah in two chapters of Genesis, or the minimum of three different last words supposedly uttered by Jesus at His crucifixion).

Alfred Differ said...

mistaking allies for opponents

Happens a lot among zealots.
So much I think it is a defining trait. 8)

So... I wonder if such a conference/debate would be useful today... and I can't see it doing any good. Those of us who would be their allies would spend too much time pointing that out. Zealots demand more than they listen.

It's a fever that should burn out after a while. We catch them now and then. Some good... some bad. Eleanor Roosevelt won't be forgotten anytime soon.

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

Honestly, Larry? I consider "divine inspiration" to be completely unconnected to "accuracy".


Hey, you don't have to convince me. I just like engaging in indirect proof.

Larry Hart said...

Paradoctor:

I think Steinem was right that using the word 'man' for both men and women is inaccurate and prejudicial.


There's a difference between deciding not to keep doing something and attempting to retroactively change history. The Declaration of Independence asserts as self-evident that "all men are crated equal." Is Steinem's position that it should have used language that included women, or that because of the language, it doesn't include women?

I'm ok with not using the "n-word" going forward, but I'm not in favor of banning Huckleberry Finn. Or Blazing Saddles for that matter.

Larry Hart said...

In other words, "This sophont is dangerous."

https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2022/Senate/Maps/Aug30.html#item-2

...
that would mean that the Governor [DeSantis of Florida] was willing to send 20 people—most of them Black, "coincidentally"—to prison for years just so he could get a couple of days' worth of helpful headlines. Not out of character for him; many Floridians are now dead because of policies he pursued in relation to COVID-19. We try to be evenhanded around here, but sometimes you gotta call a shovel a shovel. And this is a very dangerous and frightening man

Larry Hart said...

A re-do election because the FBI influenced the result? Ok, but we do 2016 first.

https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-truth-social-post-new-election-1737803

"So now it comes out, conclusively, that the FBI BURIED THE HUNTER BIDEN LAPTOP STORY BEFORE THE ELECTION knowing that, if they didn't, 'Trump would have easily won the 2020 Presidential Election,'" the former president said Monday in a Truth Social post. "This is massive FRAUD & ELECTION INTERFERENCE at a level never seen before in our Country. REMEDY: Declare the rightful winner or, and this would be the minimal solution, declare the 2020 Election irreparably compromised and have a new Election, immediately!"


scidata said...

Larry Hart: Ok, but we do 2016 first.

Including damages and reparations for hundred of thousands of COVID deaths, massive theft of treasure, trashing of ancient allies, and possibly much more after a proper investigation. Litigation, thy name is 2016.

Tim H. said...

LH, the controversy over Hunter Biden's MacBook Pro seems to assume he used an older less expensive model, the last MacBook Pros with spinning disks were the 2012 generation, subsequent models used a SSD through the PCIe bus which, if memory serves, were encrypted by default. One more way the story seems unlikely.

Larry Hart said...

scidata:

"Ok, but we do 2016 first."

Including damages and reparations for hundred of thousands of COVID deaths, massive theft of treasure, trashing of ancient allies, and possibly much more after a proper investigation


Not to mention the retroactive reversion of the supreme court to pre-2016 membership, and the annulment of any intervening decisions.

* * *

Tim H:

One more way the story seems unlikely.


Because I listen religiously to Hal Sparks on WCPT radio, I understand that no one has ever produced an actual laptop. Just copies of a hard drive purported to be from a laptop. Containing some "suspicious" e-mails that have been so obviously tampered with that no judge would touch them as evidence.

I remember exactly where I was in October 2020 when I first heard this story come out--on the road driving down to Visit my daughter at the University of Illinois. My wife and my mom were in the car. And our immediate reaction was: "Are they kidding? No, really, this is their big October surprise?" And then we all chuckled at how lame the attempt is. Nothing I've heard in the intervening (almost) two years has changed that assessment.

Darrell E said...

Alfred Differ said:

"I stopped asking questions at some point and thanked him for satisfying my curiosity. My take away lesson from all that effort was to assume a speaker to be delusional if they went hunting through God's Word thinking they'd understand original meanings without a theology education and a scholarly community willing to help weed out erroneous ideas. There's no reason communities can't spring up and work at these tasks, but in doing that they self-educate and weed the idea garden. Sole hunters seeking divine inspiration struck me to be like numerologists looking for patterns in the Bible. Which Bible? (See point #3)"

Two thoughts that come to mind. (Inspired by your comment and earlier ones by Larry and Jon.)

1) For outsiders to be able to discuss the Bible with believers we don't need to be able to figure out the "true" meaning ourselves (Granting that one even exists.). All we need to know is what the believers we are engaging with say it means. Of course, that does lead to the problem that according to what various believers do say it means, any given phrase in the Bible can mean just about anything. You engage with what one group says something in the Bible means and a different believer comes along and claims you don't know what you're talking about. Actually it's often the same believer. Humans do excel at holding to any number of contradictory beliefs at the same time.

2) They (believers) have had thousands of years now to clarify what everything in the Bible means. Again, after orders of magnitude more words than in the Bible itself have been generated by revered religious thinkers and leaders on the meaning of it, instead of a clear consensus we have something like 33,000 different sects of Christianity. All those schisms inspired by differences in interpretations of what the Bible means. And the claim that the only way to really understand it is to get right with the big guy so that he will tell you, or enable you to understand, or infuse you with meaning in some way (that sounds a bit salacious), is just a cop out. A common one sure, and one that is contradicted any number of times by revered religious figures.

Neither of these things helps me respect any tut-tutting by a believer that outsiders such as myself don't understand the Bible. I have no problem with the question of what a given passage in the Bible meant from the point of view of the original author who wrote it down (or perhaps bard who composed it), but that is a question that doesn't have anything to do with religious scholarship per se. It's a question for a variety of academic disciplines such as Linguistics, Literature, Archeology, Anthropology, and perhaps a few others. Just as understanding any other ancient writings from Chaucer's to the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Long story short, I admire your patience with your acquaintance with the theology degree.

Larry Hart said...

Darrell E:

And the claim that the only way to really understand it is to get right with the big guy so that he will tell you, or enable you to understand, or infuse you with meaning in some way (that sounds a bit salacious), is just a cop out. A common one sure, and one that is contradicted any number of times by revered religious figures.


Except for a brief stint of militant atheism in my late teens, I don't try to dissuade religious people from their personal beliefs. It's when they try to insist that I am bound by their personal beliefs that I'm tempted to argue. And when they actually inflict those beliefs on me using the force of the law, then I consider "But your source material doesn't even actually say that," to be a legitimate beginning to a discussion which doesn't even get into the question of whether I'm subject to the authority of their religion.

Alfred Differ said...

Darrel E,

I was honestly curious how that "in God's image" phrase could be interpreted since it obviously couldn't mean painting, photograph, or many other connotations that implied modernity. He initially suspected I wanted a fight, but after we got past that it was educational for both of us.

The exercise we worked through taught be what 'exegesis' means far better than a dictionary ever could and how to go about it in a scholarly way. It also taught me that non-science studies use many of the same techniques I was taught when I learned physics. Many... but not all. I walked away with a much better understanding of how natural philosophers diverged from the general pack of philosophers. (We mostly agree on what can falsify a theory.)

My friend was obviously a Charismatic because he had no qualms with the big guy talking to any of us. Another good friend of mine from about the same time was not a charismatic. His faith was strong and it showed in his daily actions. I never saw any hypocrisy from either of them, but the non-charismatic spent more time worrying about whether he was talking to himself. He argued it was really difficult to know if the big guy answered. (I thought my second friend made more sense on that point.)

------

Out of all this, I've learned to respect people who approach it all in a scholarly manner as long as they have an error correction technique that doesn't require divine intervention. I'll politely interact with them and remain respectful.

Everyone else is at risk of raising my suspicions, though, if they talk about it openly. I'm fairly typical of Americans who see religion as a private matter. Talk openly and I'm still inclined to look for ulterior motives. 8)

Darrell E said...

Larry Hart said...

"Except for a brief stint of militant atheism in my late teens, I don't try to dissuade religious people from their personal beliefs."

I can understand that. I've never had the urge to try and dissuade anyone from their religious beliefs. Well, that probably isn't quite true. I've probably had the urge a few times to try and engage with a friend or family member with the aim to dissuade them, but I never have.

"It's when they try to insist that I am bound by their personal beliefs that I'm tempted to argue. And when they actually inflict those beliefs on me using the force of the law, then I consider "But your source material doesn't even actually say that," to be a legitimate beginning to a discussion which doesn't even get into the question of whether I'm subject to the authority of their religion."

I might be inspired to argue with a bit less provocation than you. I figure any time they splash their beliefs about in my vicinity that they are fair game to argue against any time I feel like it, no different than any other category of belief / claim / rationalization / argument that might be splashed about in my vicinity.

David Brin said...

LHI find that wager demands shut down such jerks... and no one... not one person of prominence on ghe Union side... not even one... ever even tries it.

Among the bets for that guy, let's tabulate how often each side howls "Don't look at us!" I'll pay iof it is not 20:1 gop.

Darrell E said...

Alfred Differ said...

"Out of all this, I've learned to respect people who approach it all in a scholarly manner as long as they have an error correction technique that doesn't require divine intervention. I'll politely interact with them and remain respectful."

Yes, I do think that's best. I know it can sound trite, but I really do make a distinction between a person and their beliefs. Years ago I made effort to train myself to purposely do this so that hopefully it became habit. I respect people, for a variety of meanings of the term. But I don't feel it is necessary to respect beliefs.

"Everyone else is at risk of raising my suspicions, though, if they talk about it openly. I'm fairly typical of Americans who see religion as a private matter. Talk openly and I'm still inclined to look for ulterior motives. 8)"

I mostly agree. Religion should be a private matter. I'm not entirely happy with that, though I think it is the best approach, i.e. that's the kind of society I want to live in. But it seems quite evident to me that a commitment to religious beliefs, even when kept decorously private, leads many people to act in ways that are detrimental to society. I'd never claim that religion is unique in this way, it surely is not, but the major religions in particular are possibly the most effective institutions in our history at creating, and maintaining against outside influence, their beliefs / ideologies / attitudes as deemed appropriate by their authorities. For this reason I look forward to the continued liberalization of religions, though here in the US we still have a long way to go there compared to most of our "peer" nations.

David Brin said...

Did the Creator possess a navel?

At least the Mormons TRY to get past that one.

Unknown said...

It does bother me that the same people I met who considered the Bible (usually KJV) inerrant had to to some frantic tap-dancing around the fifth commandment, especially as some of them were active duty military. I understand that the Islamic use of slave soldiers (Janissaries, Mamelukes) owes something to that issue. I was not really aware of all this religious foofaraw until my college freshman year, when in a dorm discussion a guy said "it's in the Bible" in answer to one of my questions and was really confused when I asked why that settled the matter. Complete mutual incomprehension.

Pappenheimer

Of course, my high school reading included Mary Renault. Have to admit that one could do worse than offer to Athena, though the rest of her family had some serious issues.

Unknown said...

Dr Brin:

Omphalos!

An English naturalist decided that Adam, at least, had a navel, and wrote a book around his realization that the first man had to have been created with biological evidence of his prenatal development and birth; ergo, the entire universe was created OLD, so off with your fossils and strata!

An Air Force weather captain on deployment had independently come up with the same idea and seemed puzzled by my comment that if so, God might have created Earth and all the Heavens last Tuesday - adding in all our memories. Well, of course He could! He did not see that as "God is lying to us, and if so, we can have no trust in our senses."

Pappenheimer

Larry Hart said...

Pappenheimer:

It does bother me that the same people I met who considered the Bible (usually KJV) inerrant had to to some frantic tap-dancing around the fifth commandment, especially as some of them were active duty military.


Heh. The "inerrant" Bible can't even get the commandment numbers right.

The way I learned them in Sunday school, "Thou shalt not kill" is the sixth commandment.

On the old "Cerebus" board, a discussion revealed that Jews, Catholics, and Protestants seem to parse the commandments slightly differently from each other.

In Judaism, they are numbered as such (descriptions abbreviated)
1) I am the Lord thy God
2) No other Gods before Me, no graven images
3) No taking name in vain
4) Remember the Sabbath
5) Honor father and mother

6) Don't kill
7) Don't commit adultery
8) Don't steal
9) Don't bear false witness
10) Don't covet anything

The Protestant version combines the Jewish 1) and 2) into a single first commandment, but then splits the Jewish 3) into separate commandments against graven images and swearing. So the first three are parsed differently, but 4) thru 10) are the same. This way actually makes more sense to me ("I am the Lord thy God" isn't really a "commandment" as such), but it's not the way I learned as a kid.

The Catholic version is the strangest to me. Like the Protestants, they combine the Jewish 1) and 2), but they keep the Jewish 3) as it is. So every subsequent commandment moves up a notch. That's why "Thou shalt not kill" is the Catholic 5th commandment but the Jewish 6th. So, in order to keep the number of the counting at 10, they split the last one (coveting) into two separate commandments--one to not covet your neighbor's wife and one to not covet anything else of your neighbor's.

I'm not sure why that makes sense. Fans of Blazing Saddles might have suggested repeating the one about adultery twice instead. :)

Larry Hart said...

Pappenheimer:

An English naturalist decided that Adam, at least, had a navel, and wrote a book around his realization that the first man had to have been created with biological evidence of his prenatal development and birth; ergo, the entire universe was created OLD, so off with your fossils and strata!

An Air Force weather captain on deployment had independently come up with the same idea and seemed puzzled by my comment that if so, God might have created Earth and all the Heavens last Tuesday - adding in all our memories. Well, of course He could! He did not see that as "God is lying to us, and if so, we can have no trust in our senses."


Oy, did we discuss that sort of thing on the Cerebus list as well. :)

God could have created the universe at any time with initial conditions exactly mimicking the way they would have been if said universe were billions of years older. No possible experiment could suss out a difference between a universe 13 billion years old and a universe created exactly as it would be had it been in motion for 13 billion years.

But that works the other way around as well. If the universe was created in 4004 BC, but it is in exactly the condition that it would have been were it 13 billion years old, then all of our scientific conclusions based upon the 13 billion year figure are going to yield correct predictions. There's no point in worrying at all about the actual date of creation when the apparent date of creation has been mimicked so inerrantly.

I do wonder why God would create a universe that (for all intents and purposes) is billions of years old, but then leave us a book that claims it to be 6000 years old. Even funnier if He did create the universe last Tuesday with false memories intact and a book that gives yet a third creation date instead of the real one or the apparent one.

Jon S. said...

I always figured, if He's presented us with a universe that appears to be about 13-14 billion years old, and a planet that appears to be about five billion years old, and evidence of all these life forms evolving on it up to everything we can see today - well, who am I to call Him a liar?

David Brin said...

Jon S exactly. The willingness of fundies to disobey the Creators obvious intent that we see a universe 13.8 B years old is appalling.

Alfred Differ said...

No possible experiment could suss out a difference...

That is true IF the universe is 'closed' in the sense that there is enough 'initial condition' information to determine deterministically all future events.

I think it is pretty clear that the universe is open.


One of the things I find most annoying about many faith positions held by smart people is they can't imagine that there isn't enough initial condition information for determinism to work.

Popper wrote a whole book on this topic. Not one of his well known ones.

Tony Fisk said...

Requiring a degree in theology to understand the word of god sounds like a variant of that old definition of religion: I'll see it when I believe it.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: they can't imagine that there isn't enough initial condition information for determinism to work

The main reason why I struggled mightily with statistical mechanics (and Boltzmann too apparently), and why Asimov spent decades modifying the precepts of psychohistory. Determinism is a possible sibling to zero-sum thinking. It's not nice to anthropomorphize Mother Nature.

Darrell E said...

As best I understand, modern physics indicates that determinism (i.e. that events are bound by causality) is true, at least locally, and at least at the scales that humans exist at. Whether it is true at all scales appears to be still somewhat of an open question that may have to wait until we achieve a better understanding of what QM means about the true nature of our reality. Probabilistic or still deterministic after all? Depends on the interpretation of QM and regardless of strongly held positions we don't know yet which, if any, are accurate.

Lots of people find the idea of being a mere meat puppet somewhere between distasteful and offensive. The meaning intended to be conveyed by that term is definitely contrary to our inner experience. But one thing is a sure bet. Whatever the bounds are, human cognition is bound by the same constraints as all the other phenomena in our universe.

GMT -5 8032 said...

The Sixth "utterance" translated from Hebrew is more like "You must not murder." Very different from the King James Version.

Observant Jews recognize 613 commandments. Even though I am Kohen, I can't name them all. Such fun.

Larry Hart said...

Darrell E:

Lots of people find the idea of being a mere meat puppet somewhere between distasteful and offensive...


It's my day for revisiting conversations from the "Cerebus" list. :)

That attitude confuses the map with the territory. Without recreating long arguments, I'll make two points:

1) Determinism including human motivation would imply that circumstances in the universe causes you to want to do predictable things. The fact that you then act on those predictable desires is not in conflict with you exercising free will. Unless one finds offensive that one is unable to do other than what one wills himself to do, given the circumstances.

For example, when I asked my then-girlfriend to marry me, God might well have truthfully said, "I knew you would do that." That doesn't mean that the universe forced me to do anything other than what I wanted to do.

2) Everyone assumes that one is able to build a four-dimensional model of time-space and therefore see everything that will ever happen in a deterministic future. This is what I mean by confusing the map with the territory. Who's to say that the part of the model that represents the future actually exists in the present. Instead of simply following the model as we move forward in time, perhaps we are building that model for the first time (to the extent that "first time" means anything here) as we move through time.

David Brin said...

In order to justify Seldon's 'laws' of psychohistory being valid across a galaxy for morte than a single month, Bear, Benford and I (mostly I) had to concoct re-stabilizing forces, the biggest of them (of course) being aggressive suppression of variation by secret robots.

Isaac did not make clear that Daneel and the Giskardian bots were doing this, but it is so poerfully implicit. Otherwise how could there be galaxy-wide amnesia about human history and zero technological progress that might change parameters in the Prime Radiant?

A few thousand robots, racing around the galaxy lobotomizing researchers and writer would not be enough. You need a restoring force of massive magnitude... the Gray Order of bureaucrats, whose main job is to use the resurces of the state to govern well and ease pain... but that includes pain caused by outbreaks of CHAOS.... any renaissance that threatens a breakout from stable empire. (And incidentally rendering the Seldon Model moot.)

After working on this for some time, we realized that non of it would work on the humanity we know! But it could work if humanity had changed, very likely long ago, and we see signs of exactly that in THE CAVES OF STEEL.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

After working on this for some time, we realized that non of it would work on the humanity we know! But it could work if humanity had changed, very likely long ago, and we see signs of exactly that in THE CAVES OF STEEL.


So, the humans of the Foundation galaxy aren't really human, and haven't been for hundreds of centuries? At the risk of ticking you off, doesn't that turn the whole series into a variation on Childhood's End?

Darrell E said...

Fascinating peek at the inner workings, as it were. Thanks for sharing Dr. Brin.

"After working on this for some time, we realized that non of it would work on the humanity we know! But it could work if humanity had changed, very likely long ago, and we see signs of exactly that in THE CAVES OF STEEL."

That does seem to fit! Of course I never put it together before but I always thought there was something oddly off about humanity as depicted in THE CAVES OF STEEL. The entire arc of Asimov's Foundation stories always struck me as about as dystopic as anything I've ever read. Interesting, but eons of gloominess.

David Brin said...

The notion that nearly all of humanity would become... well... a lot like Asimov, diving indoors and avoinding sunlight in steel catacombs... is one helluva blatant hint.... not a hint but a loud declaration... that something had happened to us. I'd posit perhaps a war of retroviruses, one that made Earthlings conformist agoraphobes fearful of robots and one that made Spacers claustrophobes. The agoraphobia proved treatable but not the other traits, making humanity much easier to control by Daneel and his cabal.


Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

The notion that nearly all of humanity would become... well... a lot like Asimov, diving indoors and avoinding sunlight in steel catacombs... is one helluva blatant hint.... not a hint but a loud declaration... that something had happened to us.


Don't we tend to forget how certain it seemed in the 1950s that nuclear Armageddon lay somewhere between the present and any far-future tale of Earth? I mean, as early as the 1980s, Asimov felt he had to retcon a different reason for the radioactive zones in The Stars Like Dust, but when he wrote that novel, wouldn't the readers have just taken for granted that a nuclear exchange or two had occurred in the interim?

It's been decades, but when I first read Caves of Steel, I think I just assumed that a nuclear holocaust had driven surviving humanity underground.

Larry Hart said...

Oh, and as is my wont to point out, tonight, we go to sleep at the end of the six consecutive months with less-than-seven letters in their (English) names, but tomorrow, we awaken in the six consecutive months with seven-or-more letters.

By the time that situation reverses in March, we should know if America can still keep a Republic.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: other traits

Any or all of which could be incorporated into psychohistory. That's why I was enthralled by FT's interplay between Seldon and the various robots, AIs, and chaos-ridden humans. A self-reference wrapped in a feedback loop inside a mirrored-hall.

Alfred Differ said...

Tony,

I don't think the degree is important, but a willingness to be curious about one's beliefs and occasionally test them for errors IS on my list of demands for earning my respect. A degree shows at least some willingness as long as it isn't from a diploma mill.

scidata,

Determinism undermines our desire for free will to matter. No matter how one tries to define it, in a purely deterministic cosmos, free will is a moot point.

Popper's "open universe" concept argues that a "closed cosmos" isn't consistent with what we know. You need past and future conditions to work out consequences. Initial conditions aren't ever enough.

Alfred Differ said...

Darrell E,

Determinism is similar to causality. In English they are essentially synonyms. In physics, they aren't quite.

Causality is an observation about how information in the light cone behind (proper time) an event is all that matters to what happens at the event.

Determinism is a belief that if you could collect enough information about conditions in the past light cone, you can determine events in the future light cone.


Imagine two universes where a coin is flipped and one want to know the outcome. That outcome is the event between the two light cones. Causality says only information in the past light cone can determine the coin flip, but DOES NOT say that it determines the coin flip. Determinism says it is possible to collect information from the past light cone AND determine the coin flip.

In one universe, determinism applies… so causality will too. Know enough and you'll know how the coin lands.

In another universe, causality applies but we say nothing about determinism. In this case, we build probabilistic theories because that's the best we can do. You can't know enough to know how the coin lands. (This isn't strictly limited to quantum scales. There are macroscopic consequences.)


Popper's "Open Universe" book points out just how little we know and how impossible it is to rely strictly upon information coming to you via the past light cone. There is a certain class of physics problems where past information turns out to be enough, but the general problem of prediction doesn't lend itself to anything so simple. It's amazing that we CAN determine as much as we can, but we should be cautious about extending our models too far.

locumranch said...

we realized that non(e) of it would work on the humanity we know! But it could work if humanity had changed, very likely long ago

This is a common (perhaps the MOST common) progressive assumption:

From humanity's golden purpose to its glorious future, none of it (as currently postulated) would work on the humanity we know, forcing the conclusion that humanity requires immediate alteration & correction.

It's an exercise in circular & tautological reasoning to deduce that (1) change mandates change, (2) movement demands movement and (3) becoming requires becoming.

It's a magical incantation that eliminates sexism, racism, inequality, violence, climate change & what have you, the only problem being that it does not actually change or alter anything to simply state & restate that change must occur for change to occur.

In this sense, there are 3 basic types of science fiction:

(1) Change is ASSUMED as 'a done deal', and the storyline describes the consequences of some new circumstance or invention. This is science fiction at its most common & facile. What I've read of Danhers falls into this category.

(2) Change is DESCRIBED in recipe form, and the storyline depicts the subsequent trials & tribulations that necessitate said change. This tends to be exposition heavy, more concerned with logical process than outcome. The least common type. Gordon's 'Utopia minus X' falls into this category.

(3) Change is PRESCRIBED, retroactively, in order to justify or condemn a specific outcome, and the storyline emphasizes dystopia & utopianism but neglects process, causality & human nature. Prescribed changes are often idealized and unlikely. Brin's Uplift Series & Card's Worthing Saga fall into this category.


Best

David Brin said...

Lordy lordy what utter tendentious nonsense. Skimming I do see a grouch's response to SF being largely about change. Alas, his dissection is so limited as to be absurd. sigh

Alfred Differ said...

Looks to me like he utterly missed the point.

Humanity as it exists today would be resistant to being controlled, so a controlled humanity portrayed in the stories had to have changed between today and that future day.

Instead he barks about progressives wanting to change humanity.

Unknown said...

Humanity IS changing. Socially and genetically. Genetic diseases that would have killed their hosts in prior centuries are cured, leaving the genes in our makeup. Rape is no longer an acceptable means of spreading your genes, even among foreigners. Then there is this:

"A new study—citing genetic evidence from a disorder that in some ways mirrors elements of domestication—suggests modern humans domesticated themselves after they split from their extinct relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, approximately 600,000 years ago."

https://www.science.org/content/article/early-humans-domesticated-themselves-new-genetic-evidence-suggests

(interesting, but not conclusive)

I doubt we are done. For all that recent centuries have seen horrific wars and massacres with death tolls in the millions, the percentage of humans who die violently has gone down. Factions are now considered to be at peace unless they have declared a state of war. In Alexander the Great's time, war (raiding more than invasion) was the default setting, while peace had to be secured by treaty.

All of that could be reversed in the coming years, of course, depending on how catastrophic our choices - or refusal to make any choices - turn out to be.

Pappenheimer

P.S. Is there a plan? Some guiding Illuminati that has used Babbage Engines and their successors to engineer a path to survival (and, doubtless, their own enrichment)?

Well, it made for interesting SF in Flynn's hands.

Larry Hart said...

Pappenheimer:

Humanity IS changing. Socially and genetically.


Loc seems to be lobbying for what a Republican officeholder recently insisted upon a "Constitutional right not to have things change". Like the North-going Zax and the South-Going Zax* who expect the world to stand still in the wake of their individual stubbornness.

Change happens. In Neil Gaiman's Sandman, change is the very essence of time.

"What's the word for that thing that lets you know time is happening?"

"Change."

"That's what I was afraid of."


And as circumstances change, so must any organism or group if it is going to survive. Eight billion humans cannot live by the same rules that allowed a few hundred thousand to thrive.

Although I am an out and proud liberal, I have often noticed that humanity needs both conservatives and liberals for much the same reason that it is healthiest with both dominant and recessive genes. I'd even say a ratio of 90% conservative to 10% liberal might be optimal (by which I don't mean Trump "conservatives"). Conservatives understand what already works, and has worked over long enough periods of time to have proven itself. Conservatives keep us from rocking the boat, upsetting the applecart, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, pick your analogue. But conservatives can be too stubborn and ossified in the face of changed circumstances which the old ways are not equipped to handle. Liberals are more prone to cope with change rather than futilely rail against it.


But of course, the whole world didn't stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through.
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax,
And left them there standing, un-budged in their tracks.



Alan Brooks said...

If LoCum’s alarmism is warranted, we might have to fear the Apocalypse; which would mean stocking up on provisions. Problem is, for a family: a great deal of victuals would have to be obtained—and storage is another problem.
A bunker would have to be flood-proof; In some areas, hurricane/ tornado-proof. Guns and plenty of ammo would be needed to fend off food-seekers. Clothing and blankets have to be washed somehow. Antibiotics and bandages would be needed. And if the expiration date of stored food arrives before the Apocalypse, what a waste!

Darrell E said...

Larry Hart said...
"Darrell E:

Lots of people find the idea of being a mere meat puppet somewhere between distasteful and offensive...


It's my day for revisiting conversations from the "Cerebus" list. :)

That attitude confuses the map with the territory. Without recreating long arguments, I'll make two points: . . ."


I think the confusion you mention with respect to the two points you made is a consequence of the common human intuition that we, our conscious minds, are fully in control and capable of making decisions free of any constraints. Shorter, our uninformed intuition is that we have contra causal free will, because it often feels like that. But if you really start thinking about it, and you accept the well verified findings of modern science, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that of course contra causal free will can't be true.

Similar to the points you made, people are often disconcerted by findings that demonstrate that some aspects of decision making happen without us being aware it, in other words they happen unconsciously. There are solid, replicated, experiments that show that we make certain types of decisions as long as several seconds before we are aware of having made them. When people use these experiments to claim that "we" aren't the masters of our own decisions / actions, that we are just meat puppets, I argue that that doesn't follow at all. All these sorts of experiments demonstrate is that "you" aren't what you thought you were, but it's still all you. All of the cognitive processes that lead to your decisions / actions take place in your nervous system, whether or not you were conscious of them. It's all, the conscious and unconscious processes, still you.

Many of the concepts we use don't stand up over time as our knowledge increases. They have to be adjusted on occasion. The past couple of decades have seen some significant progress in human cognition research (long way to go yet though) and the results so far suggest that some of the long held concepts for terms like me / I, decision / choose, need to be tweaked a bit, at least in some contexts. Me / I really are a real thing, and deciding / choosing really are real processes, but they aren't necessarily exactly what you thought they were.

Larry Hart said...

Darrell E:

Similar to the points you made, people are often disconcerted by findings that demonstrate that some aspects of decision making happen without us being aware it, in other words they happen unconsciously.


When debating this point, I'm willing to talk purely in terms of conscious decision-making. My stance is that you have free will to make choices, but what choices you will make are based upon external circumstances, previous experiences, and current conditions like whether you are hungry or have to pee. So it is not a paradox to assert that you are free to choose your decisions, but the decisions you will make at a given time are predictable.

Easy example: Given a choice between voting for Donald Trump and voting for Joe Biden back in 2020, I was free to make whichever choice I wanted, even though one did not have to be God to know with 100% certainty what my choice would be. Does that mean I don't have free will--because I was not "free" to cast my vote for Trump? To me, the argument against free will in a causal universe are arguing just that. "I'm not free if I can't make choices contrary to the choices I want to make!"

One might just as well point out that God can't create a rock so big that even He can't lift it.

Unknown said...

"Why does God need a starship?"

"well, see, there's this rock I created..."

Pappenheimer

Larry Hart said...

Darrell E:

Me / I really are a real thing, and deciding / choosing really are real processes, but they aren't necessarily exactly what you thought they were.


A while back, someone here was really rude and in-my-face trying to insist that I don't really exist, and that I obviously didn't know anything about science if I thought I did exist. I found particularly humorous that he seemed so driven to convince "me" of the fact that there is no "me" to convince.

Larry Hart said...

I think there's a confusion between "predictable" and "determined". When I asked my wife to marry me, or when I voted for Joe Biden, God could truthfully have said after either case, "I knew you were going to do that." That doesn't mean I was forced to make either choice against my will.

The argument that causality negates free will seems to boil down to the assertion that your will is not free unless you can do something which surprises God.

I actually think some of the most egregious human behavior (like mass shootings) are attempts at metaphorically surprising God. That is, attempts to do something so beyond the pale that the metaphorical director will metaphorically be forced to shout "Cut!" and come out from behind the scenes to re-arrange the set.

Alan Brooks said...

Yes; also there’s:
“since I’m going to die someday, will take a bunch of people with me and go out in a blaze of glory. Goodbye cruel world.”
At any rate, skepticism, even pessimism, is to be expected. However alarmism/panic is frequently based on self-pity.
“Woe is me, am going to die—thus the world must be ending, as well. When Armageddon arrives we will all go down together to our just desserts.”

Treebeard said...

Not sure how selective breeding is gonna turn mice into eagles, or humans into demigods. Different breeds of dog have different levels of ability, but none of them can fly. As for Heinlein, I’ve never read him, except a story called “The Gulf”, where selective breeding has produced a super-intelligent sub-species who form a “benevolent” secret society that rules the world. Sounds like a blueprint for some of our soi-disant superior technocratic experts, who talk a liberal game but clearly see themselves as a superior sub-species who deserve to rule. Fortunately it’s pure fantasy.

The problem with wanting to be judged monsters by your descendants is that for all you know, your ideas about progress and becoming demigods are monstrous, and will be judged so by them. This idea that you can figure out what is “good or average about our past and move into the future” is pure hubris--as is the idea that you are gonna will yourself to become demigods to prevent your own kind from “searing away all higher life from the planet.” What an insane way of thinking. I guess all this civilization, industry, technology and science wasn’t so great if this is where it has taken us. Anyway, nature has no problem handling a species that is too rapacious, hubristic or crazy for its own good; it becomes your Nemesis, in the Greek sense, and the problem is solved. Always doubling down on hubris, like always doubling your bet against the house, will eventually break you against a house with an unlimited account.

Alan Brooks said...

Would you say that Putin and Xi qualify as monsters?

Larry Hart said...

Senator Tom Cotton is a stupid idiot. This was his post on Twitter whining about Sarah Palin's loss in Alaska:

Ranked-choice voting is a scam to rig elections.

* * *

60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion—which disenfranchises voters—a Democrat "won."


So 60% of Alaska voters are Republicans, but not enough of them even included Palin as their second choice, so the Democrat won? And this is somehow unfair?

And if there has not been ranked choice voting, then the Democrat would still have been first past the post, since the 60% of voters who are Republicans didn't all vote for the same Republican?

So he doesn't even know what he's whining about.

Larry Hart said...

Alan Brooks:

Would you say that Putin and Xi qualify as monsters?


I know you weren't asking me, but I hold that truth to be self-evident.

David Brin said...

"I actually think some of the most egregious human behavior (like mass shootings) are attempts at metaphorically surprising God."

A terrific scene in BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. Also in CAT'S CRADLE. Vonnegut may be where I refined my theological stance of "I got a LOT more questions than worship."

Treebeard just demolished his credibility by admitting he doesn't know crap about science fiction.

Locum, in contrast, is very widely read... tho predictably drawing weird, tendentiously wrong conclusions from almost every story he's cited, here.

Cari Burstein said...

The best part about Tom Cotton's comment is the complaint about ballot exhaustion. These same people who keep claiming that there's no reason not to put additional restrictions in place to make it harder to vote are complaining that making the ballot itself require slightly more effort to fill out is the real problem?

Larry Hart said...

Cari Burstein:

complaining that making the ballot itself require slightly more effort to fill out is the real problem?


No, he's complaining that the process of elimination which led to a Democrat winning is unfairly flawed.

I don't see any scenario by which his preferred candidate would have won. If the election had been held the old fashioned way, the Republicans would have split the vote and the Democrat would have won with a plurality.

What he seems to be saying is that 60% of the voters are Republican, so a Republican should have won. That would be the case if those 60% had each listed one Republican as their first choice and the other Republican as their second. It didn't work out that way because enough Republicans rejected Sarah Palin. Sounds to me like democracy worked.

(It's the same as in 2020 when Republicans were screaming "Stop the vote!" in states where they were ahead and "Count all the votes!" in states they were trailing at the same time. I doubt Cotton thinks it was unfair that Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 when well over 50% of the voters wanted a liberal (Hillary of Jill Stein). No, what he's really saying is that if a Republican loses an election, it was inherently unfair.)

Paradoctor said...

Treebeard forgets that evolution turned some small mammals into bats. I grant that bats aren't eagles, and evolution contains natural selection instead of intelligently-designed breeding. Nonetheless ground-runners did turn into flyers. Other land animals turned into fish-shaped ocean swimmers. Life adapts.

For Dr. Brin, I have good news and bad news about future human evolution. The good news is that future hominins will be far superior to us in intelligence, resilience, wisdom, empathy, cunning, and disease resistance. They will be multi-lingual bards and lightning calculators from an early age. They will possess deep spirituality, robust sales resistance, and an amazing sense of humor. That's the good news. The bad news is that they will need all of those superhuman traits to survive long enough to reproduce.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

"I actually think some of the most egregious human behavior (like mass shootings) are attempts at metaphorically surprising God."

A terrific scene in BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. Also in CAT'S CRADLE. Vonnegut may be where I refined my theological stance of "I got a LOT more questions than worship."


Breakfast of Champions was my first Vonnegut novel. I had noticed my dad reading it several years earlier (in hardcover with the Wheaties box imagery), and when I was assigned to read a Vonnegut book in high school, that was the one I picked. I still think it's my favorite of all his books.

I was referring to an anecdote told by comics writer Alan Moore of Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame. He related a tale of how, when he was 10 or so, his mother was hugging him, and behind her on a desk lay a pair of scissors. It occurred to young Alan that he could grab the scissors and stab his mother to death. He made clear that the thought wasn't Freudian in nature--he didn't actually want his mother dead. It was just the realization that he could easily do such a thing just as easily as any other innocuous thing. His sense as a boy was that by doing such an incredibly outside-the-script action, it would force the director to come out from behind the scenes shouting "Cut!" and start the scene over again. That's where I (ahem) stole the wording from.

I think there is some validity to the thought that people who rail at their inability to escape fate actually do commit outrageous actions in the hope of defying destiny. Not that it works--the outrageous act simply becomes part of history just like anything else does.


Locum, in contrast, is very widely read... tho predictably drawing weird, tendentiously wrong conclusions from almost every story he's cited, here.


He does seem to have spent an awful lot of time reading books he doesn't like.


Larry Hart said...

Paradoctor:

The bad news is that they will need all of those superhuman traits to survive long enough to reproduce.


I have thought for some time now that natural selection will give humans a bulletproof hide. Maybe not fast enough, though.

David Brin said...

LH see Niven's story about infinite parallel worlds: "All the myriad ways." There is some world where every sudden impulse was obeyed.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:
There is some world where every sudden impulse was obeyed.


Multiple-world theories seem to me to be a way of avoiding moral responsibility. "If I don't rape that girl, another 'me' will do it in his universe anyway." That sort of thing.

Tim H. said...

Interesting:

https://www.electoral-vote.com/#item-4

Also not mentioning IQ45 so often. I think it'll take more than that to dissipate the odor of "Drumph!" that's become associated with their party.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure the "one universe for each decision" fits in with probability. If there were a Monte Carlo run of universes, most of them would look pretty similar. Also, given the rate at which universes would be splitting at an atomic level, I imagine the fate of most parallelonauts would be colliding with each other's alternative parallelomobiles. I prefer the worlds of the Long Earth (Pratchett/Baxter), where humans are so unlikely that we have one (1) timeline.

Piper's Aryan-Transpacific timeline is now the victim of updated archeo/anthropology - the Aryans did head east (too), but got submerged in other folk wandering. Of course, the idea that a bunch of chariot-riding yahoos would conquer the rich lands that are now China and THEN build boats and either sail straight across the N Pacific or somehow go Great Circle along the barely habitable Aleutians...even less likely than Stirling's Draka. And S. M. admits his boyos are a reach. Fortunately.

Pappenheimer

Alfred Differ said...

Treebeard,

Turning hippos into whales isn't good enough for you? oh. That was natural selection. Instead, we've turned wolves into servants (smart and dumb) and domesticated enough other species to turn a large fraction of mammalian biomass into our larder.

As for us turning into demigods... well... we did. All of us. I don't think our ancestors expected Olympus or any other Hall Of The Gods to have 8 billion of us, though. Well... Maybe some south asian cultures did.

Jon S. said...

"All the Myriad Ways" sat poorly with me because I never did understand how the fact that someone who was kind of like me did something different in a divergent timeline at all invalidated any of the decisions I made in my timeline. He's living with his consequences, I'm living with mine, and he is not me. The story seemed to assume that just because someone else made a dumb decision, everybody will decide to do the same dumb thing because "why not?", and that all those other decisions for some reason meant that Our Hero's choices were irrelevant. That never made the least bit of sense to me.

locumranch said...

There's an old joke about a traveller who, after exiting a motorway, gets lost & asks about the best way to get back on the motorway, but is told that he 'just can't get there from here', even though he just 'got from there to here', obviously.

It's a bad joke with a sad punchline, I agree, but that didn't stop Dr. Brin from retelling it when he admitted (in his own words) that 'none of (his additions to Asimov's Foundation series) would work on the humanity we know', but required the assumption that 'humanity had changed, very likely long ago', instead.

This, then, is the problem I have with the third type of Science Fiction wherein 'change is PRESCRIBED, retroactively, in order to justify or condemn a specific outcome', as it's a kind of cheat to gloss over an unnatural & inorganic storyline.

We must assume that the humanity described is different from the humanity we know in order to justify the preferred narrative.

And, this we are asked to do, over & over, in order justify the current progressive narrative of the day...

Communism, Humanism, Idealism, Elitism, Appeasement & Diversity:

All of these historical failures are 'great, really great', as long as we assume that the humanity described is different from the humanity we know.

Treebeard says as much, in his own way, when he condemns this 'idea that you are gonna will yourself to become demigods' as pure hubris, specifically because of your insistence that your humanity is somehow 'more enlightened' and 'different' from the humanity we know from empiric observation.

Again, this is why I prefer natural & organic storylines, ones that follow logically from initial assumptions, especially when those narratives take us somewhere dark & unpleasant where we do not wish to go, even as you (cough) "Battle for the soul of the nation" in a purely non-violent, lackadaisical & unrealistic manner.

And, for all his poetry about how we've already become gods, poor Alfred forgets that the gods of yore were also incredibly irrational, immoral, corrupt & vindictive.

I wonder how this story will end?


Best

Alfred Differ said...

Ha! I assure you I haven't forgotten how inhuman many mythological gods were. If three beautiful goddesses walk up to you and ask you to choose which is most beautiful, you are screwed, no?

The only thing keeping this world of demigods from turning into a giant ball of plasma is there are several billion of us. I can't on a whim roast your ass for insulting my wife (not that you have) because... consequences for which I lack the power to avoid. There is also the not insignificant fact that the demi-gods of this world work together in factions and pool their time and power.

I'm not inclined to roast anyone for insulting my wife. I might pour a beer all over them, though.


I treat much of mythology as romanticism we keep around for how it satisfies an old urge within us. Zeus left a wake of pregnant bellies and then played games from Olympus to favor his sons. How are those stories NOT related to old urges within us.


Nah. Demigod-hood doesn't make us angelic. Some of us are closer to that ideal than others, but on average we are still human. That doesn't mean the definition for human hasn't been drifting toward kindness, but I suspect a better description for the drift is 'away from whim'.

Cesar A. Santos said...

The Russian kleptocracy have been preparing for this for a decade only to show the biggest display of military incompetence since forever.

They have (or had) enough firepower to crush Ukraine resistance in three weeks. It would be over before any western help could be sent, but bungled it up fantastically and are now on the run.

They will never recover from this.

If the USSR had shown a fraction of this incompetence in WW2 the German army would have reached the Pacific in 2 years.

I wonder what is going on inside Dictactor Pooh Bear relating Taiwan.

‐-----------------------------------------------

In other news, we rather achieve AI-assisted Godhood in the near future, go back to a hunter-gatherer society in a dying world depleted of almost all animal life or go deservedly extinct after destroying all.

In the end Mankind (just to spite the word police) goes up there or show the same level of competence as Russian brass at keeping existing.

Larry Hart said...

locumranch:

Again, this is why I prefer natural & organic storylines, ones that follow logically from initial assumptions...


Hey, I gotta call them as I sees them. I'm with locumranch on this one.

(Pause while the universe explodes and Hell freezes over)

I can willingly suspend disbelief to enjoy a story with a sciencey-but-fantastic premise-- like time travel, or the existence of Superman--as long as the story makes sense given the premise. I am not a fan of the modern trope which twists itself into pretzels trying to explain how the premise actually follows from the non-fictional world. To me, that's what Dave Sim refers to as "a kind of reverse alchemy, turning gold into lead."


Ibut that didn't stop Dr. Brin from retelling it when he admitted (in his own words) that 'none of (his additions to Asimov's Foundation series) would work on the humanity we know', but required the assumption that 'humanity had changed, very likely long ago', instead.


One of Dr Brin's greatest strengths might also be an Achilles heel--he knows too much about too much stuff. A plot point that you or I or the nerd on the street might accept uncritically and get on with the story, his brain goes, "Hey, that can't happen for reasons X, Y, and Z". And once a thing is seen, it can't be un-seen.

Since Vonnegut just came up in conversation, this reminds me of the character in Bluebeard named Dan Gregory--a fictional Norman Rockwell-type artist whose devotion to realism borders on the psychotic. One reference I particularly recall is that when he painted a train scene, he made sure that the mud spattered on the side of the train corresponded to the type of dirt that would be found on that train's route, "so the painting wouldn't be ruined for a railroad man." That sort of thing is admirable, but it also consumes so much energy on the part of the artist that it can be paralyzing. In the Vonnegut book, the modern abstract art movement came about because after Dan Gregory, there was nowhere else to go with realism.

Darrell E said...

Cesar A. Santos said...
"The Russian kleptocracy have been preparing for this for a decade only to show the biggest display of military incompetence since forever.

They have (or had) enough firepower to crush Ukraine resistance in three weeks. It would be over before any western help could be sent, but bungled it up fantastically and are now on the run."


I think many people had been, still are to some extent, deceived by Russia's propaganda efforts over the years to build and maintain an image of Russia as a military super power. Perhaps only because of their nuclear arsenal they are a military super power in some context, but not in the context of conventional forces. Not remotely.

1) The Russian government is a thugocracy. It's a contentious alliance of organized crime bosses that have been busily stealing everything they can from their country for decades. All of their institutions are thoroughly corrupt. Including their military. Among other things this means commanders selling fuel and other supplies to buy themselves BMWs and lying through their teeth to their superiors about their readiness.

2) Putin, the central crime boss, is an old school KGB trained operative. Guess what the KGB considered to be the 2nd greatest threat to the USSR? The Soviet Military. This view leads to military leaders being advanced due to loyalty imposed by fear of death rather than competence. Competence is under negative selection pressure.

3) Russia's GDP, which is pretty much impossible to conceal in this day and age, is less than several US states. Less than many much smaller countries, for example Italy. You can't build or maintain a conventional military to rival NATO, or even just the US by itself, with a GDP like that. Money don't lie.

4) As has been observed by military experts many times, in particular in modern times given the examples of Vietnam and Afghanistan, a smaller force can hold out against even a major nation's military as long as they are being supplied by other actors from outside the conflict area. There was never any chance that Ukraine wouldn't receive aid. Even if only from their neighbors. As it happened it's much worse than that for Russia. Damn near the entire rest of the World is sending aid to Ukraine, materials, intelligence and economic sanctions against Russia.

In the early weeks people said things like, "Well, Russia hasn't sent in their front-line forces yet." Hogwash. Nobody, not even Russia, kicks off an invasion using their back up players. The facts are they did use front line forces. Many of them were their elite. And they all failed to meet their objectives, and they nearly all got their asses handed to them.

Lots of people also said things like, "Wait till they send in their T-14's, and Su-57's, and hypersonic missiles!" Except the truth is that all these advanced, cutting edge weapons systems are a sham. They are propaganda to build and maintain an image of Russia as a leading military super power. They are a sham in that they are not operational weapons systems. They are a small number of prototypes that don't have the maintenance and logistical tail that a operational weapons system needs to be useful in real world applications. Russia can't afford to develop them into that. That's why we haven't seen any of these advanced weapons having any impact in this war. Heck, Russia can't even achieve air superiority over the parts of Ukraine they occupy, and Ukraine is right next door to them.

Ukraine was Putin's worst mistake in at least three ways. 1) He inspired NATO to turn a 180, overnight, and become stronger than it has been in decades. 2) He revealed for the entire world to see that the Russian military is shit. 3) He severely miscalculated Ukraine's capabilities, both military capabilities and morale. He became detached from reality and began believing his own propaganda.

Larry Hart said...

Darell E:

He became detached from reality and began believing his own propaganda.


George Orwell told us what's what (emphasis mine) ...


The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

Unknown said...

Cesar,

The Red Army showed (luckily, in some ways) its incompetence in the Winter War against Finland in 1940 - they were in the middle of a frantic reorganization when Nazi Germany invaded in 1941. Darrell pointed out some of Putin's unforced errors above, but the most important one is that he believed his intelligence services when they told him the lies he wanted to hear. This has been the Achilles' heel of dictatorships and monarchies throughout history. (Stalin, for instance, refused to believe internal and British reports that he was about to be attacked and seems to have suffered a breakdown when the invasion occurred.)

There is no other way to explain why elite airborne units were lost trying to seize airports deep in Ukraine. Someone had told Putin that only a show of force would be needed, and there would be minimal resistance to the armored relief columns - who had, if the stories are true, brought their parade uniforms for the triumphant marches through Kyiv.

I think that if the Oracle at Delphi were still in operation, Putin would have read her message favorably - "If you attack you will destroy a great empire".

Pappenheimer

Larry Hart said...

Pappenheimer:

I think that if the Oracle at Delphi were still in operation, Putin would have read her message favorably - "If you attack you will destroy a great empire".


Maybe his new BFF, Xi, gave him that one in a fortune cookie.

Alan Brooks said...

Lately, Russian dissidents have been slipping on banana peels and falling out of windows.

Unknown said...

It occurs to me that the few female monarchs I read about tend to be relentlessly realistic, canny and shrewd. Is this all just testosterone poisoning?

Pappenheimer

matthew said...

Frank Drake has passed away. RIP.
https://twitter.com/nadiamdrake/status/1565712880602730497?t=t6ntXRZW_MASwliSpd8JVw&s=19

We spend a lot of time here talking about ideas that he formalized. A trailblazer has left us behind.

David Brin said...

I was about to say “Wow, Treebeard is unusually balanced and cogent today!” Then I realized the comment only had “Treebeard” as a salutation (by Alfred) and not source. Well well, My mistake, though it did suggest that I am genuinely more influenced by content than by source.

I did go look at where ‘he condemns this 'idea that you are gonna will yourself to become demigods' as pure hubris, specifically because of your insistence that your humanity is somehow 'more enlightened' and 'different' from the humanity we know from empiric observation…’

And of course, as a color-blind flatlander he cannot (still) comprehend the notion of positive sum. Like poor locum, he insists on viewing us as beings like himself. Zero or negative sum. Prescriptive and controlling. It does no good to explain over and over that Enlightenment Civilization is about increasing the range of possible permutations, creative alliances or competitions so that the species and civilization can try out a wide range of possible paths to see which one work in the short to long run.
Of course that will entail

-1 reduction in the unearned privileges that made 6000 years of competition-suppressing feudalism cesspits of stagnation and suffering

-2 practical enhancement of the COMPETITION that their cults betray, while they hypocritically offer lip service to that word
-3 replicating the fecund creativity of evolution but with FAR LESS blood on the floor or suffering or nature’s incredibly profligate inefficiency, doing this by allowing those who fail in our markets multiple 2nd chances to try something else

-4 refutation, retirement into yawnworthy irrelevance of notions or models that prove repeatedly to be just plain wrong.

——
LH: In Tim Powers’s THE DRAWING OF THE DARK (a great novel!) an artist keeps ‘perfecting his mammoth charcoal mural till it is entirely black.

Cesar: much ride upon our hopes that you are right.

Darrell: The most significant outcome of Putin’s war has been the stunning revitalization of NATO and Europe and the West.
He sent the very best airborne special forces to capture the Kiev airport and they got smashed. In part due to US provided intel, which supports my theory that our intel folks were coiled like a spring, secretly ready for a new president to unleash them, way back in early 21

If we follow your logic, then Moscow becomes a military R&D satrapy of a major eastern Rising ower.

Larry Hart said...

locumranch:

There's an old joke about a traveller who, after exiting a motorway, gets lost & asks about the best way to get back on the motorway, but is told that he 'just can't get there from here', even though he just 'got from there to here', obviously.


Well, much as I'd like to get back to 1977, I can't get there from here, even though I just got from there to here.

Just sayin'

David Brin said...

Well, this article suggests I was wrong. That Ukraine was talked out of a broad front counter offensive by US advisors. It seemed to me (on paper) that the Ukrainians' biggest advantage was not HIMARS or even NATO satellite and other intel, but rather a quarter million motivated infantry volunteers, now basically trained and far outnumbering their low morale RF counterparts, a rare kind of numerical advantage for the underdogs, allowing a very broad front counter-offensive to probe for weak points...

...but then, what do I know? Unless, this article itself is distraction feint propaganda... Or else... am I?

https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/31/politics/ukraine-us-wargames-counteroffensive/index.html

Larry Hart said...

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/01/opinion/rings-of-power-amazon-tolkien.html

The desire not just to read about but go to Middle-earth is so strong that decades before Peter Jackson’s early 2000s film adaptations, enthusiasts were sewing costumes, learning Elvish languages and envisioning Middle-earth through fan art, poetry and fiction.


I don't know how many of you have read what might have been the very first Star Trek novel, James Blish's Spock Must Die from the early 70s. In that book, the Enterprise is caught behind enemy lines in a sudden war with the Klingon empire, and the crew is afraid that any transmissions they make to Starfleet could be decoded by the Klingons. Uhura comes up with the idea to send the messages in Elvish and hope that someone on the receiving end is enough of a Tolkien fan to understand.

Darrell E said...

When I was a teenager I put together all the references scattered throughout the books and appendices and figured out how to right in Dwarvish runes and Elvish script. But only in English. Figuring out any of his languages was more work than I was interested in.

CP said...

Parody Project made much the same point regarding the Russian military:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRrUasGDN80

Cesar A. Santos said...

Seems to be the case that Russia was always a paper tiger with relatively good propaganda, and it made the fatal mistake of believing it themselves.

Alfred Differ said...

Cesar A Santos,

Nations are prone to displays of military incompetence if you a patient enough to wait. Happens most often after a large gap in time where they haven't had to defend themselves from a non-trivial opponent.

As for Russia, their corruption is standard practice at least as far back as when they got free of the Mongols. The core 'nation' is old Muscovy. Everyone else is a captured culture making do as best they can. Without unity, their State (Russian Federation) is really a core nation dictating to others who can't get away. It's been that way a LONG time, but with a border that shifts determining who is captured and who isn't.

———

I don't think you three options for the near future cover the range of possibilities. We won't go back to HG nomads because we shall remember what we lost. Read our host's POSTMAN or maybe watch the movie version. It's not a stretch to argue that the next generation will refuse to abandon everything it seems to have lost.

What WILL happen if this civilization collapses is the death of billions… and they won't go peacefully. Extinction IS a possibility depending on how feisty the hungry billions get.

As a side note, I've noticed one of the cable content providers play Costner films lately. I've seen the Postman movie pop up on my schedule guide many times in the last few weeks. It's almost as if someone in charge of their schedule is trying to remind us we can recover from situations worse than the one in which we find ourselves right now. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

There is a prediction I read about 15 years ago. Roughly. The author was looking ahead about 100 years (meant to imply the 21st century) and showing how geopolitics as a field of study works. The author was George Friedman and he was pretty good at his prediction accuracy over shorter periods mostly by not making predictions where he felt he lacked enough information.

One of the predictions involved another war between the US and Russia set to take place in the early 2030's or so. He argued that a weak Russia in the post-Cold War era was an aberration. They'd return to their usual ways in a generation and try to extend their borders like they usually do. It was an opportunity for the author to explain how to make predictions using his brand of geopolitics and made for an interesting read.

This war wasn't a sure thing. It wasn't clear whether it would be hot or cold. What was clear to him is tensions would return with a new 'iron curtain' that would enclose certain former Soviet states, but not include nations they took in WWII. IF it turned hot, it would result in some very massive spending by the US because fighting a land war in Asia is hideously expensive for us. Manhattan Project kind of spending. On what? Anything that protected our supply lines. Friedman argued that meant space development.

Anyway, the general trend Friedman predicted is largely coming true. Putin even managed to revitalize NATO, though Friedman's prediction anticipated a smaller alliance mostly involving eastern Europe with the US backing them. Close enough, though. Even Sweden was moved by what Putin did.

Friedman's prediction for this coming 'war' suggested the outcome was mostly a foregone conclusion. This version of Russia won't be able to afford to fight anymore than the Soviets were. They will oppress their people in order to fund the fights as usual, but they'll collapse for the same reason the USSR did.

How? Manhattan Project level spending ending our dependence on fossil fuels. Old Muscovy has nothing if we collapse prices in that market segment. In the book, they end as Old Muscovy having lost Siberia, old Soviet states, and access to the Caspian. Game over… if they try to fight a war they can't afford to fight.

David Brin said...

Alfred, the factor not pondered by George Friedman was the immensely rising power to the southeast - which certainly is looking greedily at Siberia.

Alfred Differ said...

I recall him arguing that China went through cycles involving strong center vs strong coast. When the center is strong, the empire is impoverished. When the coast regions are strong, the empire is fractured and at risk of coastal invasion.

I know he pointed out two distinct things about China.

1. They'd return to strength as a regional power.
2. They would never get around the fact that they are a geopolitical island. That means controlling more distant lands (e.g. Siberia) will impose considerable costs the coastal elites won't appreciate... but will suffer as long as the center is strong.

That book by Friedman predicted a future conflict between us and Japan allied with what Turkey becomes when they return to Ottoman inclinations. He pointed out how laughable that seemed at the time, but noted that Germany and Russia bounced back after horrible losses in WWI.

None of these predictions were of the kind that said "it has to happen", though. However, it would behoove the US to ensure Japan's interests and ours remain largely aligned. Turkey too at some point... if we can.

Treebeard said...

LOL @ Alfred: your “expert” is suggesting that the US is gonna fight a land war in Asia against Russia and prevail? Maybe he’s trolling you? Do the Western peninsula of Eurasia and/or its heavily armed exceptionalist offshoot, drunk on hubris as usual, need a refresher in why “never fight a land war in Asia” is an old military adage? It’s almost like Russia’s appointed metaphysical role is to teach Westerners the perils of imperial hubris about once a century. Napoleon, Hitler… Biden? Nah, I actually give Biden more credit than that. But who knows what unhinged, exceptionalist nut might come after him (from either party). Someone upthread accused the Russian military of being a paper tiger and victims of their own propaganda, but surely that applies far more to the US military, which vastly outspends everyone else, constantly tells the world how invincible they are, assured us that Iraq was “mission accomplished”, Afghanistan was in no danger of falling to the Taliban, and loses war after war. Not to mention their new wunderwaffen of mandated gender-neutral pronouns to “improve their lethality”. So I wonder who is more gaslit here, Russians or you?

Alfred Differ said...

Treebeard,

You might want to look up who George Friedman is before wading into this.

His father's family was from a little corner of Eastern Europe where the borders shifted often enough to make nationality somewhat irrelevant. He describe a joke wherein when he was young he thought his father was amazing with how many languages he knew. Turns out his father knew a few phrases in each of the commonly used languages, but not enough to be fluent. The punchline was that he knew how to say "How much for this chicken?" and "Please don't shoot!"

Fighting land wars in Asia is generally a stupid idea for the US, but we've done it at hideous cost. We are primarily a sea power, though few Americans think of us that way. Still... we waded into three world wars in the 20th century and won them. Find another Great Power that managed that.

Friedman wasn't trolling. He worked through his scenarios as an exercise showing how the field of study worked. New information would always help revise future predictions, but it was important to start from a reasonable foundation. Think of a 'state' as having interests and motives and many of the traits of an organism. Realize the difference between 'nation' and 'state'. Note that in many ways, leaders act in their 'nation's' interest no matter what their personal ideologies might be.

As for the current version of Russia/Muscovy, I think people give it far too much credit for military strength. I suspect there is a lot of hype much like there was at the end of the Soviet era. Turned out they weren't as resilient as we imagined they were back then. I suspect some of the same is going on now.

In fact, I suspect the conflict Friedman suggested would occur has actually arrived, but in a different shape. If this war with Ukraine continues... and I think it will... it will impoverish Russia's reserves and motivate European adversaries. We may wind up with NATO involvement or some other, smaller alliance forming and acting.

It is hideously expensive for the US to get into a land war in Asia. That is NOT the case for us when we get involved through local proxies. Russia's neighbors HAVE beaten them in the past and could become motivated enough to do it again. That's how the US prefers to fight in these kinds of conflicts. We may be seeing it unfold again.

Treebeard said...

Well Alfred, whoever he is, your expert does indeed sound laughable with predictions like a US vs. Turkey/Japan war and a land war in Asia. I'm afraid the days of US fighting successful major wars on the Eurasian landmass are over; BRICS countries and others are building a new system, you could say a new world order, and the colonial hegemons of the previous age are the odd men out. The fact that most of the world is NOT condemning Russia despite the West's shrill demands and are continuing to do business with it, including rising great powers China and India, is a sign of things to come. Hell, even ex-arch-neoliberal Jeffrey Sachs is preaching the new BRICS order, pointing out that a small and declining fraction of the world's population, wealth and resources can no longer impose itself on the rest of the world as it has in the past. So it looks like the new multipolar era is here, though the "golden billion", still mentally stuck in a 20th century "we are the world", "what we say goes" exceptionalist paradigm, are gonna be the last to wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe a cold winter will jolt them awake.

Alfred Differ said...

The point of the Turkey/Japan conflict exercise was to break readers out of old assumptions regarding a bipolar world. Most of history has several nations able to engage in conflict of some sort, so it's good to engage in a little mental sweat if one takes the field seriously.

Which I don't think you do. I'm guessing you prefer your fantasies. May do and that's okay by me.

The US is likely to remain the dominant player in a multi-polar world this century. It's not inevitable, but it is likely.

A big part of our counter-reaction to Trump's idiocy is he broke a rule about serving the nation's best interests. We can tolerate criminals at the top (to some degree) if they serve as well as profit. He didn't, thus lost the support of the so-called Deep State which often doesn't care if a Democrat or Republican leads. This time they did.

reason said...

Alfred,
Trump didn't only not serve the nation's best interest, he went out of his way to antagonize the FBI, the CIA and the top brass of the military. I am surprised they have been so slow to react. I'm not sure he would even be still alive in many countries behaving that way.

Alan Brooks said...

Agreed. And it isn’t so much Trump himself but, rather, those working for him/following him who are more aware than he. We can’t say that Trump is both an aware person (which he is not), and a deluded old businessman/TV host (he is). His people put him up to it.
To this day, I talk to followers of his who insist that the Fugitive Slave Laws were justified because “at the time slaves were legitimate property.” And that the South had the right (even Divine-right) in claiming the Western territories to be future slave-states.
Trump is a figurehead—nothing more or less.

scidata said...

Artemis - already old and rapidly aging engines mean it may never fly. The danger of the 'all your eggs in one basket' 20-year plan.

Alfred Differ said...

Reason and Alan Brooks,

I agree. Trump was actually serving the interests of the Russian Federation. Many in the GOP are also doing that right now. To some degree he was also serving Chinese interests.

The best I can figure regarding FBI response is that a counter-intel operation is underway. They can't talk about that kind of stuff without revealing sources and methods. I have to hope that's what's going on, though. I might be wrong.

As for the CIA, I have to hope they are using the situation to feed false information abroad. We won't know that either. Not for 50 years at minimum.

I have no doubt classified docs were sold to foreign agents. No doubt at all. If any of their contents were the real thing, he's done considerable harm to our nation's interests and not just the interests of liberals.

I expect to see him and others in his orbit in our training materials at work (some day) that describe how people are coaxed into becoming assets owned by foreign intelligence agencies.

Alfred Differ said...

scidata,

We have more than one basket now. Centrally planned space engineering construction will eventually go the way of five year economic plans the Soviets used to tout. They'll simply lose to market-oriented economic activity planned by decentralized 'actors'.

It's already happening.

Treebeard said...

A big part of our counter-reaction to Trump's idiocy is he broke a rule about serving the nation's best interests. We can tolerate criminals at the top (to some degree) if they serve as well as profit. He didn't, thus lost the support of the so-called Deep State which often doesn't care if a Democrat or Republican leads. This time they did.

Right, Trump broke the rule about serving the imperial deep state's best interests, which should be distinguished from those of the nation. By not starting any profitable new wars and suggesting that America should focus on its own problems, he delayed the program we're seeing now of ramping up aggression toward the Empire's challengers across the globe. It's hardly coincidence that pretty much every rabid neocon was a Trump-hater and Biden supporter. They just switched parties, hence we have Biden's "America is back", which really means "the Empire is back", ready to start to new wars and feed endless billions into black holes like Ukraine that could've been spent on Americans. But as with everything neocons touch, this one is likely to end in disaster, and another big "L" for the Empire. It's amazing how Americans learn nothing from history, keep getting bamboozled by the same gang of grifters and keep making the same mistakes. I guess that kind of stupidity goes along with the hubris and exceptionalism that is the essence of Americanism. As Morris Berman likes to say (and this blog proves), "in America, even the smart people are stupid."

Treebeard said...

And on that point, I wonder what Eisenhower would think if he were still alive, seeing how his prescient warning about the unwarranted influence of the MIC back in ‘60 went totally unheeded. Yeah, he probably wouldn’t care for Trump, but he’d probably also see that the far bigger danger is the one he described:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”


Now imagine, as a thought experiment, if this complex was threatened by a popular leader who was bold enough to call them out on their failings and suggest giving peace a chance; what would their response be? Wouldn’t it be much like the campaign we’ve seen to discredit and remove Trump from office, using every trick in the book short of assassination? It’s bizarre that people feel so threatened by a fairly inept outsider demagogue like Trump, when an imperial monster that controls almost all media and levers of power is so clearly in possession of much greater unwarranted influence. Alan Brooks asked upthread if Putin or Xi is a monster. Maybe, but the far bigger monster is the state behind them--as Nietzsche put it, “the coldest of all cold monsters”. America’s deep state may not have a single face, but it is surely as cold a monster as anything on this planet.

David Brin said...

I’ve posted a new blog. But a couple quick responses.

- Yes it’s been a mistake to plunge into Asian land wars. Vietnam was hubris and Afghanistan/Iraq were planned heists of a $trillion by the Cheney family and friends. Still, the amazing thing is not that USA suffered pain from those land wars, but that we went in and weren’t destroyed for doing so.

Oh, and till 6 months ago, the US had 95% of the troops on the planet who had tested themselves and advanced equipment in battle. I do not expect conventional challenges soon.

- Friedman is often right… and totally incomplete. Example. The Empire he appraised has one disadvantage above all others. Nobody likes them. Or ever, ever has. When they are an empire, they stomp and demand obeisance. And they never notice that across 3000 years they only ever had one friend. One that helped them over and over and over again. In whose eye they now spit.

- Treebeard, cripes. You think a NATO vs RF fight would be like Napolean or Guderian? Mired in mud and snow?

- We’ll see where India and Brazil go with all the BRICS talk.

- reason: “Trump didn't only not serve the nation's best interest, he went out of his way to antagonize the FBI, the CIA and the top brass of the military. I am surprised they have been so slow to react.”

I doubt any of those classified documents contained truly harmful info, 4 years into a treason presidency. What Alfred said.


- Neocons were pathetic nerds used for a while by the Bush-Cheney-Saudi oligarchy and then jettisoned without thanks as the Putin blackmailers took over the GOP and Fox veered it into rabid anti-intellectualism. A few neocons have slapped their foreheads “What have I don?” Erudite morons who no one trusts.

But the ent’s fundamental idiocy is refusal to face the blatant fact that ALL of our social and political divides boil down to a mad confederacy’s all-out war against all fact professions and all smart people who actually know stuff. ALL of them. And when a nation does that, Toynbee says it is committing suicide. In this case at behest of the blatant owners of the GOP confederacy. Saudi princes, casino moguls, inheritance brats, Wall Street parasites and Putinists.

THAT is the divide now, goomhah. Yammer all you like. But when it is that clear, I think I’ll pick all the smart folks who know stuff and want accountable enlightenment civilization that’s been good to us all, over a pack of mafiosi imbeciles trying to restore feudalism/
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onward

onward