Saturday, October 29, 2022

The way to save the world is forward. About progress and PHILOSOPHY

A long (and somewhat intellectual) one, this time. But first an art-note.  My wife & I once visited one of the artist Christo’s massive (and massively wasteful-but-impressive) installations … the ‘umbrellas’ he erected north of Los Angles around 1991. The posthumous event in Christo’s honor - ‘wrapping’ the Arc de Triumph - looks to be impressive – this time made from recyclable materials, supposedly. Another artist - Stuart Williams - similarly large scale art installations can be viewed here. In some ways better!  

Today we’ll discuss pragmatic philosophy… as opposed to those who would use philosophical blather to justify an all-out war against science and pragmatism. 

Specifically, UCSD Professor Benjamin Bratton - author of Revenge of the Real: Politics for a Post-Pandemic World - is fighting for us on a front that would seem obscure to 99.9999%, but is actually very important.

One of those fronts is that of philosophical abstraction – for example the campaign waged by 'postmodernist' philosophers against the very notion of verifiable objective reality. I’ll get to that part down below.

But first I want to talk about a new effort that Bratton is heading, that aims at getting modernist civilization to buck up! To restore its confidence and can-do spirit.

== The way to save the world is forward ==

Without question, the greatest innovation of the Enlightenment Experiment has been unleashing millions of free citizens and competing interests to criticize. Because each of us has trouble perceiving their own delusions, but we are avid at pointing out each other’s!

Here’s my summarizing aphorism – familiar to many of you –

Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote to Error… 

...or CITOKATE. 

For 6000 years, kings and priests suppressed criticism, and thus imposed unquestioned whim-delusions on whole nations, leading to the long litany of horrific errors called history. We only started getting positive-sum outcomes – with progress lifting nearly all human children out of starvation, ignorance and filth – when systems to inherently favor criticism were established. These include not only freedom of speech and mass education and divided power and competitive markets…

… but also a mythic system that encourages each new generation to point and shout at the mistakes of the one in charge.  A mythic system that I talk about in Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood

Alas, no good thing happens without shitty side effects. And so, while our young folks in the West are perfectly right to chide their elders about everything from troglodytic gender assumptions to drug laws, to slowness at ecological action – (we must heed Greta Thunberg and obey!) – one toxic side effect is a demolition of our sense of confidence. Our can-do spirit that the problems they raise can be addressed. Even solved.

This problem seemed crippling to many of us. For example: Whole Earth maven Stewart Brand a decade ago pushed for efforts to develop new, safer forms of nuclear power and was savaged for it… until now Greta T herself has made the topic of nuclear power legitimate in a recent speech. (Assisted by EU concerns over a cold winter and the Ukraine War… and by some research we funded at NASA’s Innovative & Advanced Concepts program – NIAC.) 

Another example: any and all discussions of geoengineering - taking assertive steps to ameliorate global warming - were derided as judas-goat distractions from the puritan prescription of only curbing carbon emissions… 

...until soot from last year’s Australian fires showed that ocean fertilization can vastly expand fisheries and whale habitats. And till the Biden Administration – with recently earned environmental cred – just this week funded full bore research into ways to reflect stratospheric sunlight enough to cool Earth’s torrid poles.

In other words, solutions to save our world may involve positive-sum combinations. Both breaking those old, polluting habits and taking a hand in guiding the future, technologically. With science. And care. By utilizing Mother Gaia’s only source of science and care and forethought. Her prefrontal lobes.


== Moving forward with Antikythera ==

And so, now, we get back to Benjamin Bratton and his Antikythera Project.

“Instead of reviving ideas of nature, we must reclaim the artificial — not fake, but designed. For this, human-machine intelligence and urban-scale automation become part of an expanded landscape of life, information and labor. They are part of a living ecology, not a substitute for one. Put more specifically: The response to anthropogenic climate change will need to be equally anthropogenic.” 

Readers of my 1990 novel Earth know that I have both been a staunch, Gaia-preaching environmental activist and a champion of pragmatic, science as part of the solution. And while that notion conflicts with the generally self-flagellatory mien of some guilt-addicts, it resonates with one of the most-moving works by the great 1960s poet Richard Brautigan – perhaps the most optimistic future vision of all, until Luc Besson’s film Lucy… 

…the Brautigan poem “All watched over by machines of loving grace.”

To advance this idea, the Berggruen Institute has joined with Bratton to incubate a project he calls “Antikythera,” named after the “first computer” used by the ancient Greeks around 200 B.C. as a device to navigate the known world based upon the celestial movement of planets and stars. The project's aim is to discover how today’s “planetary-scale computation” in 2022 A.D. can align with and contribute to the kind of self-regulation of terrestrial space proposed by the late French thinker, Bruno Latour. 

(And yes, not every contemporary French philosopher is anti-modernist. The noisy bullies just make it seem that way.)

As explained on the Berggruen magazine site Noēma: “Latour’s project was to dismantle the conceptual division between humans and nature in the modern mind and understand the world as one hybrid “terrestrial” unity that includes animals, plants, topography, climate, the biosphere, human invention and the interactions among them. 

I mentioned Stewart Brand, whose new biography by John Markoff is inspiring. Brand's endeavors like the Long Now Foundation have long had similar aims. Also Neal Stephenson has led (I’ve helped) a campaign to promote optimistic, can-do science fiction via the Hieroglyph Project, sponsored by Arizona State’s Center for Science and Imagination.   And then – of course – there’s my Out of Time series of novels offering such of can-do spirit to YA readers.  

“From this new perspective, he saw that the influence of human endeavor within the terrestrial space had grown to such proportions that it was upsetting the self-regulating natural system of the planet — “Gaia,” so named after the ancient Greek Earth goddess — that had maintained homeostasis for the last 3.5 billion years.

Bratton’s hope is to one day reach what he calls “planetary sapience” — in essence, the synthetic intelligence of all lifeforms that are part and parcel of one self-regulating system.”

In other words, everything I portrayed in EARTH!

So yeah. Deserving of a closer look and support.

== Bratton’s Abstractions ==

In his life as a philosophy prof, Ben takes on another battleground, one whose airless heights would deter all but the best-trained and most dedicated warriors. I refer to the ongoing effort by 'postmodernist' philosophers (especially on French and US campuses) to denounce and discredit science, democracy, so-called 'facts,' or indeed the very concept of objective reality. I recommend his article for those who would blink in amazement over Ben's depiction of the rage-howls that fulminate from elite subjectivity spinners, who demand that their incantations get paramountcy over the evidence and models we laboriously build out of a clay called 'reality.'

 I was only familiar with a fraction of the names he cites… though utterly enmeshed in the same overall fight. At times I was reduced to amazed blinking over Bratton’s eloquent descriptions of how deeply mad that clade of physics-envious intelligentsia has gone.

(Decades of sampling postmodernist anti-science jeremiads prepared me as I stumbled through his essay… the same weekend that I attended  a zoom-festschrifft for recent nobelist Roger Penrose, proud that I was able to follow notions at the fringes of physics. Talk about a challenging weekend!)

I love many of Ben’s zinger turns of phrase, e.g. “Even so, the reckoning with legacies of his and other related projects is long overdue. His mode of biopolitical critique blithely ventures that science, data, observation and modeling are intrinsically and ultimately forms of domination and games of power relations. Numbers are unjust, words are beautiful.”


== daylight romanticism? ==

Okay, then. At risk of extending this post too long, may I explain why I call the cult of spite toward objective reality “daylight romanticism?”


A major schism in the West has long been between two powerful currents.  One of them - historically-rare, though provisionally dominant today - is evidence-based rationality, rooted in contingent and perpetually evolving models of objective reality. Models that are always assumed to be at least partly wrong or incomplete - a system that has long ago proved not only its explanatory power and spectacular productivity at addressing human needs…

…but also encouraging an egalitarian openness and - yes - utility at improving overall justice, by allowing long-held social prejudices to be challenged by devastatingly convincing counter examples. (e.g. the way just the existence of a person like Frederick Douglas shattered every incantation that supported Confederate slavery.)


 Impudently, this system transfers the locus of better humanity from its long held throne in some purported past golden age to a series of future times when our wisdom will be greater than it is now, then greater still, and hence all current incantations will at-best be recalled with indulgent smiles. 

It is hard to overstate how disturbing this reversal of the depicted time flow of wisdom has been to the other, much older set of ideation/incantation reflexes. Even if one seldom sees it discussed the way I just put it.


In sharp contrast, Romanticism in varied forms dominated most tribal and agrarian and feudal societies and seems to be a human default. It is, as Bratton describes, often a wallow in nostalgia and the paramountcy of emotion over rationality. “Will” triumphing over mere evidence. There were no more romantic movements than Naziism, Stalinism and the Confederacy… you have only to listen to their music and read their favorite stories. (Mark Twain blamed the Civil War on the novels of Sir Walter Scott!)

Side note: you all know that a lot of Eastern Mysticism chidings proclaim that these two parts styles of thought - rationality and romanticism - should be blended… but they should NOT! Nor should one extinguish the other! I’ll explain.

== Romanticism has its place… after dark ==


Given how I just polemically put my thumb on the scales, in favor of rational contingent-pragmatism, I will now surprise you by saying I would never root-out or expel the romantic side, even if I had that power! 

Indeed, a wholly-imagined plot by rationalists to do just that - and turn humans into robots - is one of the top, raging plaints one finds in romantic screeds like "The Gernsback Continuum" -a 1981 science fiction short story by William Gibson, and in Iain Pears’s novel “The Dream of Scipio,” which I reviewed and compiled in Through Stranger Eyes

The notion that one must kill one side of ourselves, in order for the other to flourish, is zero-sum (or even negative-sum) thinking at its very worst.


Very few scientists I know want that! In fact, many are devoted to artistic pastimes!  Indeed, I believe it is their polymath breadth that most daunts the postmodernist incantation-weavers, knowing we can do their thing, while they cannot do ours. 

As you know, I make plenty of use of my romantic side… mostly at night, when I get down to pounding out some story filled with emotion or terror, things that we’d forsake only at peril of ceasing to be human!  


So yes, I revere romanticism as the most deeply human part of us. 

But I also know where I stand if/when I must choose. Because romanticism can be deadly and spectacularly unjust. It has long been the paramount source of rationalized injustice. 

Romantics controlled policy for 6000 years, used incantations to justify every power-abuse, and wrought only hell-on-Earth for the peoples and nations of those benighted centuries. Indeed, it is their desperation not to look at that dismal track record at governance that most disqualifies these fanatics from prescribing to us now. 

Sure, Romanticism gives us great art! And we need that! But romanticism deserves no part in our ‘daytime work’ of striving to treat each other fairly, arguing decently, negotiating, experimenting, improving our models of the world, discarding the untrue and coming up with incrementally improved policy! 


As Benjamin Bratton so eloquently expresses, it is the ‘daytime’ realm of fact-informed exploration of the contingent that led to our modern projects in expansion of horizons of inclusion!  Indeed, the meme-generating system that is arguably the vanguard of this entire endeavor is science fiction - a genre dedicated to gedankenexperiment ponderings of "How might we change? or “What might it feel like to be the other? Or even more other?”


Alas, those who would bring romanticism back into command over the daytime activities of fact-adjudication and negotiation and justice and policy include nearly all of today’s mad right, of course, as well as elements of the left that you all know very well, if you pause and strive for honesty. 

These are champions of an old, old zeitgeist that will only bring us all crashing down in desperate pain… 

...while they sing about how glorious it is to feel! 

And of course, in order to feel, there must be vast amounts of pain. Right?



locumranch said...

I've been thinking about the nature of human authority:

In the very beginning, we chose human leaders on the basis of merit, superiority & might_makes_right because the leader had to be stronger, bigger, better, smarter & more capable than those who would either follow or challenge for authority.

By definition, this leader was a tyrant who enforced his will upon his followers, but he tended to toward benevolence because his fortunes rose & fell with the fortunes of his followers and, in the spirit of CITOKATE, his authority was constantly challenged by younger & more ambitious males who would kill the king and take his crown.

Next, came Theocracy & Representative Government:

There were those who claimed to represent a greater, the greatest & the most divine authority and they secured three major benefits for themselves:

They could deflect any criticism to said greater authority; they could rule with impunity because they claimed to represent unquestionable & intangible authority; and they insulated themselves from direct physical challenges by hiding behind an impenetrable abstraction.

AKA Divine Rule, this tactic was quickly adopted by what our host describes as Feudalism, a system wherein would-be tyrants would claim that they were CHOSEN BY GOD to lead & rule over others without the preexisting consent and/or the permission of the ruled. They did so by invoking the three major benefits of divinity as listed above.

This led to other would-be tyrants & leaders who have seized upon these 3 major benefits of divinity to either enrich themselves directly or, in a more indirect fashion, to satisfy their lusts & preferences by 'healing the world' through ill-defined good deeds.

Western Democracy came next, an earnest but short-lived attempt at representative government, stripped of both theology & tyranny, but this was also captured by the very same pseudo-religious abstractions that allows our many false, meritless & incompetent representatives to (1) escape criticism & physical consequence, (2) lead with impunity (3) hide behind abstractions of authority.

Well, no longer.

In the West, we have always elected our public officials as our REPRESENTATIVES, not as our leaders, because our elected representatives exist only to serve the will of 'We The People', insomuch as those who wish to lead & rule over us tend to be the most faithless of tyrants.

Forfeits, criticisms, consequences & corrections: This is the fate of all tyrants.


So many interesting concepts, so many assumptions, so many poorly-defined terms.

What is the exact definition of a good deed? Does abortion qualify as a good deed? From whose perspective? From the perspective of the doer, the recipient, the collective, the race, the climate, the future, the divine, and so on & so forth??

The same issues apply to the concepts of merit, better, best & worst. Specify your perspective & define these terms if you can. Or, would you rather talk about the semiotic ghosts that are more real than many of your most cherished beliefs?

scidata said...

Re: French Philosophers

There's a strange inversion in Quebec, possibly because they never took the 1789 off ramp. The leader of the Canadian effort at 'planetary-scale computation' is driven by the physicist Dan Desjardins. Similar examples in American-French too, eg Bernard Chazelle. They seem to hearken back to a Laplacian philosophy - quite Asimovian in fact. All important sources in my computational psychohistory efforts.

David Brin said...

Scidata interesting. I never said ALL french phiosophers are postmodernist science haters.

Locu is articulate today. A series of formulaic platonist assertions that (like in Platonic dialogues) sound separately each maybe 70% truthy, but fall apart when strung together with the connective tissue of "good deeds'... which has nothing to do (much) with the actual western breakthrough of accountability to lateral criticism.

What's the motive? Why cyclical history again, of course.

I did not dwell on it long, given awareness of the sick underlying motives. But as entertaining as the attempted incantation was, at points, it all led to: "Western Democracy came next, an earnest but short-lived attempt at representative government, stripped of both theology & tyranny, but this was also captured by the very same pseudo-religious abstractions..."

Bah. You wish.

Tony Fisk said...

This talk of antikytheras of loving grace has me thinking of the case put forward in Bruce Pascoe's "Dark Emu". Far from being brutish bare-subsistence dwellers, he presents Australian aborigines as being in tune with an environment that they had created over sixty thousand years. Imagine forms of agriculture so embedded into the landscape that European explorers couldn't comprehend them as such, although they described what they were seeing as 'tended' and 'garden-like'.
Today's bush is quite different. Unkempt. Overgrown. A fire hazard.
Almost as if a keystone species has been removed from it.

I've commented on this before, and have been told pe-colonial America was similarly described. I suspect for the same reason: long (as in tens of milkenia long) association with a country. By contrast, whites have been a bit shiftless: being pushed westwards by succeeding waves of invaders. (For whatever reason, possibly volcanic) It seems we haven't had time to put down roots.
Anyway, whatever you think of this ramble, I recommend Dark Emu as a thought provoking read.

Larry Hart said...


What is the exact definition of a good deed? Does abortion qualify as a good deed? From whose perspective? From the perspective of the doer, the recipient, the collective, the race, the climate, the future, the divine, and so on & so forth??

"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good.
The news may be bad for one Argentine Lad,
But it's good news for Argentine flies."

David Brin said...

Earth rejoices as Brazilians do their duty. Now you do yours. POUND anyone you know who whines excuses not to vote.

Tony I just now finished a zoom call-talk to your defence establishment college. About human augmentation. And yes, the anthropology of aboriginal pastoralism is fascinating, even if (likely) inflated.

Alfred Differ said...

While I am inclined to be our HG nomadic ancestors knew their regions far better than we realize (especially those encountered by exploring Europeans), I no longer accept the 'bare subsistence' or pastoral ideals anyone uses to describe them.

I'm fairly convinced that humanity turned to agriculture only because it had to when the ice melted. Climate was utterly disrupted leaving our ancestors with little choice but to move and conflict with others already there OR stay put and adapt/domesticate anything within reach.

Australian aboriginal people couldn't move far, let alone get back to a receding Asian coast. Adapt was the only realistic option. They weren't the only human groups cut off that way either.

Unknown said...


A lot of anthropologists agree with you - Marvin Harris way back when made it plain in his works that intensive agriculture is a step down from hunting and gathering in climates like most of Europe and the Near East, in terms of human health, longevity, and leisure time. He posits population pressure as the main cause - hunter/gatherers need a lot more ground. He also noted, very cogently, that converting to sedentary agriculture allows social stratification - you can no longer easily leave the group if you don't like the current leader, because you are likely to starve in the game-denuded wilderness (agriculturalists don't STOP hunting, they just can't rely on hunting for a large amount of their protein unless they are upper class with leisure time or have the wealth to hire huntsmen*.) Also, settlements are stationary targets for still-mobile bands or other, larger settlements, making conquest and enslavement easier. Harris suggests that skeletal evidence indicates overall human health didn't recover from the switch to agriculture in Europe until the 1800's - or so I remember.

Not suggesting a Golden Age - warfare over territory is a real thing even if tribes don't occupy all their territory all the time. They protected their meat lockers.

*and gamekeepers to ward off poachers


Unknown said...

Australia is a special case as little of it is climatically suited to classic intensive agriculture, as a lot of drought-stricken European settlers have found out.


duncan cairncross said...


The big problem with Australia and "agriculture" was that there were no native plants that were domesticatable
Even in the rest of the world its surprising just how FEW plants we managed to domesticate

You don't need to assume a change to make agriculture viable
The fact that a given area of land can support a LOT more people means that a "tribe" that uses agriculture is going to end up with more people than one that does not
The individual farmers may be smaller but there are more of them
So they WILL take over your land

Tony Fisk said...

No 'domesticable' plants in Australia? Look up 'yam daisy', or even 'macadamia'. (Also what I said about 'recognised' agriculture)
Aboriginal culture has been systematically squashed until recently, so I can't blame Pascoe if he trowels it on a bit in compensation. To add some weight to his arguments, he quite deliberately drew from 'authoritive' European accounts like Mitchell, and so, predictably, the main criticism has been that he didn't ask aborigines themselves. At the end of the day, Pascoe claims to be just glad to get a conversation started.

Whatever systems were in place, it can't be denied they proved singularly fragile to European contact. In the wake of the last round of catastrophic bushfires*, a review of firestick management is only just being reconsidered. Fire authorities are understandably nervous...

* not the best way to scatter carbon into the south pacific gyres

duncan cairncross said...

Hu Tony
Neither of those was "domesticated" - they were wild plants that (at best) were "encouraged"

Alfred Differ said...


So they WILL take over your land

No debating that.
There is also no debating the fact that the people doing it were chronically malnourished and many parents didn't survive long enough to see more than the first of their children into marriage.

I still think a change was needed, though. Agriculture took many generations of hard work that made no sense to our ice age ancestors. We know that because they didn't do it. If even one group had, their population would have grown and we'd know it from the genetic record written in us all.

That agriculture meant larger populations was the only reason we stuck with it. Generations grew into it and couldn't be permanently displaced by the shrinking fraction of us who were still HG nomads.


I'd put the turn-around at about 5-6K years ago. At some point the Y-chromosome bottleneck peaked and then began to recede. That could only have happened (I not so humbly think) once we had domesticated grains and community mills that worked well enough for second and third sons to stand a decent chance of living to have children of their own.

That "event" occurred in our pre-history, but only just barely. After that we began some very serious changes that led quickly to us writing some of our history.

Larry Hart said...

[ The Bulwark's Johnathan V. ] Last is praying that Musk screws up badly and Twitter dies. He's not the only one.

I'll second that emotion.

scidata said...

Social Media platforms are boneyards for narcissists. Psychology is vastly underrated and underdeveloped. John Kemeny, perhaps the closest thing the world has seen to a real Hari Seldon, lamented the paucity of scientific study of psychology. The similarities between neurology and computers have led many to believe that they grok psychology. Umm, no.

My biggest lament is what that 44B could have done for space exploration.

Larry Hart said...


Marvin Harris way back when made it plain in his works that intensive agriculture is a step down from hunting and gathering in climates like most of Europe and the Near East, in terms of human health, longevity, and leisure time.

Way back in the 80s, I read a book called simply Entropy (whose author I can no longer remember) which made the case that just about every so-called human social advancement was actually a less-efficient system adopted by necessity when the older ways no longer worked.

Agriculture was one example. So was the move from burning wood to burning coal when Europe's forests were depleted. The book even mentioned the industrial revolution as a less-efficient system compared to slavery, although in that particular case, I personally think that energy efficiency isn't the most important measure of the advancement.

Howard Brazee said...

A cost of allowing criticism is Qanon.

Figuring out how to lower that cost and still have the benefit is difficult.

scidata said...

Musk should have bought the AI company I founded in 2000 (dormant for 15 years, but still existent). I would have sold it for just 4.4B, or even 440M, or even 44M, or even 4.4M.

Or even given it to someone who cares about psychohistory half as much as I do.

Alan Brooks said...

Rifkin wrote ‘Entropy’.

Unknown said...


Warfare changes, too. There were no professional soldiers in tribe/band society - every able-bodied male was technically a warrior, and probably some of the women too, (I don't know much of the origins of the Sarmatians). But it's hit-and-run. Only settled agrarian societies develop the numbers to replace losses from the grinding, toe-to-toe battles the Iliad depicts, and have the need to protect their grain stores that partly motivates hoplite style warfare. A HG tribe that tried to compete that way would die out, and many probably did.

There's an intermediate society that's just as mobile as HG but can achieve greater numbers - pastoral nomads. With the right elements - horses, chariots, archery - they can dominate settled societies to the point of becoming a ruling class.

as an aside:
An idealistic friend back in my college days showed me the Catal Huyuk reconstruction (first settled ca. 7000 BC) as a wall-less settlement, indicating peace. I had to point out that it's a pueblo - stepped, linked houses. It's ALL wall with no doors to the outside, just ladders. Perfect for raid defense.


David Brin said...

" not the best way to scatter carbon into the south pacific gyres". Of course not. But from such accidents can come inarguable outcomes.

We have two macadamia trees doing very well in our clay soil. But if I could send a message back in time 30 years to myself, I'd say "rip out all the eucs!!!"

duncan cairncross said...

Re Musk and Twitter
Three possibilities

(1) - It will crash and burn
Musk can afford the money - and I suspect that he has put good enough people in his essential companies that they will continue to grow and advance

(2) - It will continue as it has in the past
I think this is unlikely unless Musk just keeps his hands off - otherwise as (1)

(3) - Musk will turn lead into gold and convert Twitter into his "Universal App"
With anybody else I would consider this incredibly unlikely
With Musk???

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding $44B one might wish had been spent otherwise, remember that money in such amounts is rarely in the form of cash. It's usually a mixture of debt collateralized by stock, bonds collateralized by whatever, and a little cash so the lenders know the borrower has skin in the game.

Whether shares of Tesla got sold or not, they are likely in the leverage mix. Tesla will continue forward whether Musk owns X% or (X-x)%, so lamenting money misspent depends on a misunderstanding.

Ponder how SpaceX was initially funded and how future rounds of funds were raised. Some of that information is in the public domain. What you'll see is a lot of the same finance methods involving a lot of leverage.

Underneath it all, the primary asset being leveraged by Musk is his reputation. People with money they are willing to risk to make more money don't much care if you like Musk. They care whether he will make them money and whether is collateral is good.

Alfred Differ said...


Warfare changes, too.

Agreed. Lots of things changed once there were enough people to justify specialization not possible among HG nomads.

I imagine the Mongols qualified as one of the intermediate societies you describe.


I've seen that settlement approach in a few places. They are ALL about defense. Early examples of the cost of 'urban' warfare and how residents make their lives too costly to take.

Fields can't be defended the same way, but geographical bottlenecks can. Water supplies can occasionally.

Alfred Differ said...

I encourage all to take great care in using science analogies... especially the concept of entropy. In my experience, the most misunderstood physical concept is probability in how it is used with quantum mechanics. A VERY close second is entropy because we have two distinct descriptions for it. The oldest involves changes of heat in a heat bath. The newest involves statistical mechanics and probability.

When someone wants to use 'efficiency' in how humans interact, my BS meter pegs. They might mean well, but efficiency is a measure of work done relative to 'heat' generated in a process that feeds upon an energy gradient separating work from a heat flow.

Dig into the analogies may strive to build and you'll discover they are hollow. Efficiency as a concept might make sense on a small scale, but it can't be defined on a larger one... if humans are involved. It's not that we are human that does it. It's that we are aware of the flow, make predictions regarding itb and change our behaviors to redirect the flow. We introduce non-linearity that isn't (can't be) in the original thermodynamics model.

Don Gisselbeck said...

Again I ask, why is it a good idea to let people motivated by greed and lust for power effectively unlimited wealth and power?

Don Gisselbeck said...

I hope people who love powerful men take time to watch this:

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Don

The argument is that

A powerful individual can do things to advance society and humanity that will NOT get done by companies operated by “beancounters”

Unfortunately for that argument the ONLY one of todays Billionaires who is actually doing that is Elon Musk

So is a “single individual” the example that “proves” the argument or does the fact that there is only one disprove the argument??

Larry Hart said...

Don Gisselbeck:

why is it a good idea to let people motivated by greed and lust for power effectively unlimited wealth and power?

"It's not a question of 'letting', Mister!"
- Captain America #177

locumranch said...

CITOKATE is Dr. Brin's mantra. It's a short, to the point, accurate & pithy summation, and I agree completely:

Criticism is the only known antidote to error.

But what happens, pray tell, when the recipients of said 'criticism' ignore it and proceed blithely upon their willful, erroneous & faithless way in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people & polity?

NO ONE in the USA has ever voted for economic hardship, travel restrictions, nuclear brinkmanship, runaway inflation, fuel crises & escalating food shortages; EU citizens have NEVER agreed to be ruled by unelected tyrants like Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum & Ursula von der Leyen; and NO ONE, in the history of the world, has ever voted in favour of Biden's promised “winter of severe illness and death”.

I will therefore be direct & unambiguous:

IGNORED criticism is not the antidote for error but, either luckily or unluckily, there's a much more time-honored method for dealing with tyrants & those 'smart people' who, in the mistaken belief that they 'know better', deliberately ignore the will of the people.

This solution, she comes, and you're all doomed (and your actions also doom tacitus & myself) unless you heed these many warnings, repent & imitate the people of Nineveh.

@DB: Pastoralism is a hoot, practically a fetish, on par with the clean energy people who want everyone to drive EVs, even though we currently produce less than 1/5th of electricity needed to power those EVs, while the vast majority of that electrical 1/5th comes from (gasp) fossil fuels.

@Tony_F: A. Bertram Chandler told that Aussie tale long before your Emu fellow. I'll even bet you dollars to donuts that you are the same colour as those evil colonial invaders were.

@Larry_H: Thrilled that you've quoted Evita & embraced your inner antihero or, better yet, your inner 'antihera'. Quite impressed that you have no problem with everyone you love becoming fly food too.

@Howard_B: While it's true that 'A cost of allowing criticism is Qanon', it's also true that the cost of ignoring criticism is often death. Again, it's quite impressive that you & your family are so eager to meet the ferryman.


scidata said...

Alfred Differ: Tesla will continue forward whether Musk owns X% or (X-x)%, so lamenting money misspent depends on a misunderstanding.

FWIW, I've been a Musk booster here and elsewhere for years, partly due to his Canadian connections. I freely admit that he plays chess while I play checkers. And yet, I find the thought of he and his friends 'leveraging' instead of straight up investing somewhat troubling. I don't possess a trustworthy BS meter, but I do have basic spidey senses. I once wrote a piece arguing that leveraging is evil, and bootstrapping is good. Firmly rooted in Forth programming philosophy of course.

David Brin said...

"Again I ask, why is it a good idea to let people motivated by greed and lust for power effectively unlimited wealth and power?"

Um, duh? Have you ever seen me rail against feudalism? Also denounced by Adam Smith. But balance it with the proved fact that wealth rewards to work as good incentives for a lot of competititive enterprises.

None of us knows which banks/individuals are brokering Elon's arbitrage re twitter. Some as risk investment and some using Tesla stock as collateral.

Locum, we don't 'ignore' you. But you have almost zero credibility, the factor that's a multiplier on criticism. You are articulate, but also a nutter who absolutely refuses all evidence that there are realms you cannot see... colors and directions. And the strawman thing... OMG you think I stand... waaaaaaay over there?

I have a keen eye for crit that I dislike but that can prove useful. Yours almost never is, because you smash your credibility down to atoms that you then incinerate. Alas, because there is some articulate intelligence there. Which is a cautionary tale about what the multiplier of insanity does to basic cognitive ability.

Alfred Differ said...


We all leverage our assets to some degree. The danger comes from 'unreasonable' risks.

Musk isn't playing a different game from the rest of us. The difference is found in his risk appetite and the belief others have in his ability to deliver what he aims to deliver.

Except for those legally barred from participating in credit markets, we can all play the same VERY non-linear game. Much like being a famous author, there are huge numbers of people who try to be, have decent skills, and simply don't convince people to turn them into multi-millionaires. Luck augments some talented risk players and tears others down.


The markets around you would crash and burn if all they were allowed to do is bootstrap. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Don Gisselbeck,

effectively unlimited wealth and power

You are starting from an erroneous assumption. Wealth and power come about due to the actions of many. People motivated by greed and lust for power must convince an army to join them and that requires persuasion skills.

The argument for tolerating them (up to a point) is that those skills get used in pursuit of opportunities seen only by those individuals. All of us have local knowledge of truths and opportunities not available to the community, but we don't all act upon what we know. When more of us do, though, the community is more likely to benefit in ways unimaginable to most of them.

You are not required to like everyone in your community or tolerate everything they do, but you should beware of your own limitations in perceiving truths and opportunities and consider putting up with a bit of greed and lust for power to gain access to what they might produce.

Don't give up your sense of right and wrong. Don't give up definitions of good character demonstrated through virtues. Don't be too rigid, though, when enforcing justice. You'll kill the occasional golden goose and never realize it.

I'm paraphrasing F.A. Hayek. Probably poorly. "Individualism and Economic Order" brings a number of his essays together of which the first few should be widely taught and debated. I always come back to the fourth one (The Use of Knowledge in Society) whenever ANYONE thinks they know what's best and would be tempted to enforce it.

Another 'book' of his I rely on for these arguments is "The Constitution of Liberty" and it's follow-on "Law, Legislation, and Liberty" which comes in three volumes. The first volume of the follow-on is worth considering not as a blueprint for how we should reshape society, but as a measure for how we already operate while certain social structures distort things into the legal, commercial, and judicial systems we have today. The distortions are historical in nature and not easily set aside, but they show how far we've come in the US since our nation was founded.

Alfred Differ said...


Your criticism (and mine) are worthless without some skill in persuasion.

You and I were making progress in revealing the underpinning beliefs that fuel your arguments. I was interested in seeing them laid out for people here so they would stop expecting certain stereotypical intentions... if those were not your actual intentions.

To get there, I had to persuade you to be more clear in the language others here understand. We were making progress, but you halted it with an incantation (regarding peat of all things!) and turned away for several days.

So... your lecture regarding ignored criticism is hollow and hypocritical. Your credibility is lacking. Put your big boy pants on and resume the discussion if you have the courage.

Don Gisselbeck said...

Elon Musk's wealth and power are effectively unlimited compared to, say, a Montana rancher who is at least half as skilled and hardworking as he is. I have no problem with proportionality of outcomes. Perhaps I have watched too many Thunderfoot videos, but the power of such wannabe feudal lords needs to be actively limited.

duncan cairncross said...

If we had "limited" Musk back when he had $180 million we would be 20 years behind in electric cars and alternate energy and we would STILL not have any re-usable rocket boosters

There are problems with "limiting" as well as advantages

scidata said...

Alfred Differ,

Everyone, from zombies to polymaths, has their own particular toolset. They use it to grok and explain the world in familiar terms. Mine is bootstrapping (via diversity not doctrine) and iteration. I also use movies, books, and TV shows as allegories (layman). For example, THE MARTIAN is a good illustration of the power of bootstrapping (telecommunications, chemistry, agriculture, Newtonian mechanics, etc). This Venns with your (erudite) toolset a bit as it seems you use physics, markets, and iteration. WALL STREET is a good illustration of markets (facetious attempt at humour).

Not sure I agree with 'we can all play the same ... game'. A- because we don't all begin at a common starting line, and B- because nobody (including market masters) achieved reusable rockets before Musk.

BTW what you said about statistical mechanics vs humanity was admitted by Asimov in the years and books following the FOUNDATION trilogy. And a comparison of the lives of Ludwig Boltzmann and John Kemeny is a good intro to computational psychohistory. Much of future history was written at Los Alamos, and I'm not talking about fission.

Larry Hart said...

In short, between the issues we noted yesterday and the ones we note today, Musk has bought himself a giant headache. And for the vast majority of us who don't much care for Twitter, and don't really like what it's done to public discourse, it will be entertaining to sit back and watch as we see if the platform sinks faster than the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Completely agree.

And it's not that I want Twitter to fail because of feelings about Musk. Rather, I want Musk to fail (at this one thing) because I agree with the above assessment of Twitter. In fact, the most pro-Musk hope I have is that he's channeling Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit--that he's buying Twitter to dismantle it.

Larry Hart said...


NO ONE in the USA has ever voted for economic hardship, travel restrictions, nuclear brinkmanship, runaway inflation, fuel crises & escalating food shortages;

Really? 70 million Americans voted for just those very things in 2020. Ok, maybe not runaway inflation, but Trump practically ran on those other things.

there's a much more time-honored method for dealing with tyrants & those 'smart people' who, in the mistaken belief that they 'know better', deliberately ignore the will of the people.

Has it ever occurred to you that the will of the people is not necessarily the same as your own desires, and that your belief that you know better is the mistaken one? That maybe tolerance for those who are different-but-not-harmful is the will of the people rather than justification for political violence, which is itself your answer to everything because your only tool is the hammer wielded against Paul Pelosi?

@Larry_H: Thrilled that you've quoted Evita & embraced your inner antihero or, better yet, your inner 'antihera'. Quite impressed that you have no problem with everyone you love becoming fly food too.

Uhhh, that lyric was my paraphrase of your assessment that no incident is either good or bad except for the arbitrary POV of the observer. So, y'know, Rubber meet Glue.

Larry Hart said...

Gail [Collins] : Even as a listener, I’m not somebody you’d want to consult on music. But Ye’s [ Kanye West's ] antisemitism surge is on a different level and very disturbing to me. The recent column you wrote on it was a terrific reminder of how threatening it is. Have you gotten a lot of reaction?

Bret [Stephens] : A ton. Most of it was positive, and it’s good to see a wave of national revulsion wash over Ye. But too many of the responses were simply frightening. For instance, one reader wrote: “Jews are not anymore criminal or dishonest than any other people, they are simply better at it.”

Gail: Good Lord.

Bret: We have to reckon with the fact that there is far more antisemitism out there than many people realized, and that it is coming from multiple directions, not just the usual suspects on the far right.

Kanye West isn't on the far right? Could've fooled me.

Unknown said...


Not sure how firm the correlation is, but mental illness/mental decline and conspiratorial thinking do seem to match up. Perhaps it's an attempt to simplify a world that is no longer making sense? If so, the simple (though wrong) answers of the radical reactionaries would appeal.

Of course, if you break it down to the REAL underlying conspiracy, it's the Templars. I've given up reading him, so has Loc mentioned them yet?


P.S. Dibs on the Gnomes of Zurich.

toduro said...

Pappenheimer, with your "Gnomes of Zurich".

OK, Gnomes of Zurich was a coffee-spewer. Templars was a good setup. Well done.

locumranch said...

Alfred explains: Your criticism (and mine) are worthless without some skill in persuasion.

Got it. Thanks for the clarification.

So, technically speaking, it's not really 'criticism' which is the antidote to error because it's not just 'criticism' when only 'credible, reputable and persuasive information' can be said to be the antidote to error.

May I therefore suggest the following new & improved acronym ?

CRAPIITATE: It's the term you use when only 'Credible, Reputable and Persuasive Information is the Antidote to Error'.

CRAPIITATE: It's the assumption that really smart people make when they conclude that everyone who questions their genius is an ignoramus.

CRAPIITATE: It's the process wherein criticisms ignored allow for the eternal perpetuation of error.

Best ;)

Decrapiitate (verb)
1. To remove those leaders who refuse to listen to their lessers who may or may not be heavily armed.
2. To destroy, incapacitate or decrapiify a government or organization by removing its leader or leaders.

David Brin said...

Ay carumba... he wants ALL criticism to be equal! Not at all affected by credibility. Which is utterly consistent, actually, since his cult absolutely rejects fair competition, the c-word that used to be central to conservatism.

I have many, many critics. Those who are useful to me in helping me correct my errors gain credibility multipliers. And I change my mind when facts demand it. And As Benjamin Disraeli then asked: "What do you do, sir?"

Given that L's 'criticism' of me is always masturbatory, aimed at some strawman way over there, it has never proved to be of any practical use. And hence the multiplier is near zero.

And hence I skim. Then emit a wan chuckle and move on.

Larry Hart said...

Stating the obvious...

Republican leaders of yore, such as Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and both Presidents Bush — though they courted white voters opposed to civil rights — rarely tolerated in public the extremism and conspiracy theories that routinely pass for rhetoric among Trump-supporting candidates. In this regard, what it means to be a conservative has changed, and political violence has accompanied it.

Der Oger said...

Stumbled over Sabine Hossenfelder's take on Longtermism yesterday ...

... and wonder if this is the next great radical political movement, blending corporate neofeudalism, conservative birth control policies, the Great Space Race and uncaring and reckless scientific progress* into a new ideology...

... a quasi-religion, with each CEO advancing a self-serving messianism that does not care if billions die to reach the great goal** ...

At least, it gives me some insight why Elon, Thiel & others do what they do, and Longtermism makes for a good motivation for Sci Fi prota- and antagonists.

*I am not averse against scientific progress, but I sometimes think I see it like Jules Verne: In the wrong hands, it is as much a danger than a boon. Maybe Verne even foresaw a technology-based great filter.

** In the backstory of the BattleTech universe, after WWIII, Earth's government put vast resources into the construction of colonies in the solar system and the first FTL drive ship, at the expanse of fighting poverty and hunger at home.

Larry Hart said...

Adam Kinzinger speaks truth about his party...

“By the way, Liz [Cheney] and I are not courageous,” he said. “There’s no strength in this. We’re just surrounded by cowards. And then [in] complete contrast to cowardism [sic], it looks like courage when it’s just your bare duty."

locumranch said...

Consider me properly chastised.

I have realized the error of my ways and, from now on, I will only accept criticism from those who agree with everything I say & do.

It's the perfect recipe for a self-perpetuating bubble of error & delusion.

I'll check in again sometime after midterm elections.


David Brin said...

I'm waaaaay over here, strawman screecher. Nothing L just wrote bears any relation to what I said... as if it ever does. And that is why he has no credibility at all. Go or stay, either way.... zzzz

Paradoctor said...

Please stop calling them "conservative". They do not conserve.

Larry Hart said...


They do not conserve.

Isaac Asimov once wrote (paraphrasing from memory),

"We've known for centuries that 'oxygen' is a misnomer too, but what can you do?"

Paradoctor said...

"Oxygen" was an honest mistake, not intended to mislead. "Conservative" is a double-think Big Lie, designed to deceive. Here's what you can do: call them out, and call them right. Thus, "pseudo-conservative", or "reactionary", or "authoritarian". Or "fascist" to save syllables, or "semi-fascist" if you're Biden. "Anti-democratic" is fully justified, and it means there are two factions; Democrats and Anti-Democrats.

Larry Hart said...


"Conservative" is a double-think Big Lie, designed to deceive.

I don't think it was always thus, even in my lifetime. No, the Trumpists somehow managed to take ownership of the word by co-opting the Republican Party.

and it means there are two factions; Democrats and Anti-Democrats.

And today's anti-Democrats seem proudly so in all senses of the word. I mean, who'd have thought the Party of Reagan would become the Party of Putin?

I'm kinda fond of "self-servative".

reason said...

Double think seems to have taken over, at least part of the Republican Party. They call themselves conservative and Christian but are neither, and clearly neither (they aren't Republican either).

Alfred Differ said...

Parties change over time. They aren't the first one to have been taken over by an internal faction.

This is pretty common and how we kinda do what others do in parliamentary governments. Our governing coalitions are formed by forces that move them well before elections occur.

Tim H. said...

The (Formerly) GOP did change over the years, until their madness over FDR & LBJ drove them into the southern strategy, than they were possessed. On a positive note, one can feel quite subversive reccomending books like Ulysses S. Grant's autobiography to folks who imagine the party was always this way.

Larry Hart said...

Tim H:

The (Formerly) GOP ...

I don't use GOP any more, because the party is neither Grand nor Old (in the positive sense of storied, venerable).

I suppose that "Geriatric Old Party" might still be accurate.

I'm more fond of GQP though.

David Brin said...



Larry Hart said...

let’s note that the push to slash major benefit programs may be the ultimate example of an elite priority completely at odds with what ordinary Americans want.

And for some reason, locumranch doesn't have a problem with leadership on the right forcing their agenda upon an overwhelmingly unsupportive populace. No calls for guillotining Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy if they dare refuse to listen to the will of the people.

No, he only thinks political violence is justified against smart people trying to logically get from point A to point B. Cruel people reveling in causing pain get a pass. In fact, cruel people are the only ones who count as "the will of the people", no matter how small a minority they actually are.

* * *

All too obvious...

The message of all the chuckling about Paul Pelosi is clear: The right believes its enemies have no rights, and no longer sees the need to pretend otherwise. Donald Trump taught the Republican Party that it needn’t bother with hypocritical displays of decency, that it can revel in cruelty, transgression and the thrill of violence.

Larry Hart said...

Oh, just missed the


Cafe said...

Hasn't this dichotomy of human internal striving been with us for a long long time?

I first came across it in Ancient Greek times where it is couched in terms of the battle between the heart and the mind (feels v reason). So it has been long recognized and the struggle between the two is fraught with a balance being a desirous.

A spectrum on which we, as individuals and also collectively as a society (or species), choose to sit.

While I bemoan the current "choose your facts" spot on the spectrum where many dwell, it also brings a certain tension to the culture to inflame the mind and (hopefully) bring us back from the brink of introspective, unadulterated romanticism.