Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Auto Added by WPeMatico

Pinker versus Taleb

 

Rebel Yell has said that a communist can live with a national socialist as long as they have the same ideas of cleanliness and tidiness. I incline to agree, and it is in this irenic spirit that I declare my willingness to live with Steven Pinker, but NOT agree with him. We are not as far opposed as two totalitarians, but we have our issues.

I have just read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Skin in the Game; they make a fascinating contrast in styles. The issue between them concerns two different and largely incompatible ways of knowing the world.

I had heard that Taleb had written incendiary reviews of Pinkler’s previous work, The Better Angels of Our Nature, wherein Pinker argues that we have entered an era of declining losses by death in war, the Long Peace, following World War 2. Taleb thinks this is nonsense; the post world war 2 peace is just an artifact of not having had a serious war in 70 years, which will most assuredly come, says Taleb, we know not when, but we had better not bet against it.

Pinker is a Montreal-born professor of psychology who teaches at Harvard. He opposes political correctness, disparages the blank slate idea of mind, upholds the reality of group IQ differences, regards Islam with a baleful eye, and rightly considers that we are living in and age of unprecedented, widespread and increasing prosperity. His main axis of attack is against the prevailing catastrophism and cultural negativism at universities and in modern culture more generally. His books demonstrate that the world is getting better for everyone, rapidly. So far so good.

Taleb says in effect, not so fast, dude. On the main contention of The Better Angels of Our Nature, that human propensity for violence is declining, Taleb maintains:

we as humans can not be deemed as less belligerent than usual. For a
conflict generating at least 10 million casualties, an event less
bloody than WW1 or WW2, the waiting time is on average
136 years, with a mean absolute deviation of 267 (or 52 years
and 61 deviations for data rescaled to today’s population). The
seventy years of what is called the “Long Peace” are clearly
not enough to state much about the possibility of WW3 in the
near future.

Pinker’s cheerful reasonableness really grates in Taleb, and I can see why. Taleb comes from the Dark Side: his formative experience was growing up in Lebanon’s never ending civil war in the 1970s, whereas Pinker’s folk came from the Snowdon-NDG side of Westmount Mountain in Montreal, where hard working Jewish immigrants rose the ladder of success after escaping anti-semitic persecution in Tsarist Russia.

So one guy in his youth experienced the world going to shit, and the other experienced the pleasant rise from Yiddish-speaking working class to  professoriate in two or three generations of Anglo-Montreal. And then off to Harvard where, through a stellar intelligence and hard work, he has written a series of highly successful books, most of which attack contemporary nonsense.

Yet Pinker manages to go off the rails in ways that send me and Taleb crazy. He accepts that the world will on average experience a 1.5C rise in temperature by the end of the 21st century, and perhaps by 4C or more. (Many reasonable people think so too, though I think the higher figure of a 4 degree C rise in a century is rubbish.) In any case the projections of increase are beside my point.

It is the proposed solution and his treatment of it that crosses over into well-reasoned insanity. It concerns planetary engineering by cloud seeding to lower the intake of solar energy.

Pinker writes:

For all these reasons, no responsible person could maintain that we can just keep pumping carbon into the air and slather sunscreen onto the stratosphere to compensate. But in a 2013 book the physicist David Keith makes a claim for a form of climate engineering that is moderate, responsive and temporary.“Moderate” means that the amounts of sulfate and calcite would be just enough to reduce the rate of warming, not cancel it altogether…. “Responsive” means that any manipulation would be careful, gradual, closely monitored , constantly adjusted and, if indicated, halted altogether. And “temporary” means that the program would be designed only to give humanity breathing space until it eliminates greenhouse gas emissions and brings the CO2 in the atmosphere back to preindustrial levels.

How many heroic assumptions are made in this paragraph?

  • that we know enough to calculate the amounts of particulates to dump into the atmosphere when we cannot even measure an average global temperature when no such thing as an average global temperature exists – and that is just the beginning of the heroic assumptions along this path of reasoning.
  • that there would exist an institutional opposition strong enough to call a halt to the engineering, when all our experience to date shows that opposition to measures to control global warming are treated as a combination of treason and heresy.
  • that we can reduce CO2 to preindustrial levels without engendering the very poverty that burning fossil fuels extracted us from.
  • That we should reduce CO2 to preindustrial levels, when the evidence points to the greening of the planet under the influence of more CO2, which had sunk in the last ice age to levels so low (140 ppm)  that vegetation was starving for the CO2 it craves.

No engineering of the planet can by its nature be moderate, responsive or temporary. Can you imagine the shit storm if someone challenged the idea that global cloud seeding was not merely working, but plunging us back into the next ice age? That sea ice was expanding, glaciers descending and climate season shortening? Is there the slightest chance that the current toxic debates on climate change would be less dangerous when we have a world wide program of “moderate”, “responsive” and “temporary” cloud-seeding?

I kept hearing that Nassim Taleb was contemptuous of Pinker. He referred to him as a “higher level journalist” in his recent book, Skin in the Game. Then I read Pinker’s modest proposal, in the light of Taleb’s analysis of risk, and I understood. The tails of the distribution curves are always longer and fatter in reality than they are in the pure Gaussian bell curve, says Taleb, and gambling the planet on some wanker’s idea of “moderate, responsive and temporary” planetary engineering struck Taleb as the kind of idiocy only a Harvard professor could believe. As David Keith is also a Harvard professor, the two of them are drinking each other’s bath water, and I am sure both are splendid chaps, but they do not understand risk, and I think Taleb does.

Then, in Pinker’s final chapter on religion and humanism, Pinker comes up with this sort of gem:

“If the factual tenets of religion can no longer be taken seriously, and its ethical tenets depend entirely on whether they can be justified by secular morality, what about its claims to widsom on the great questions of existence?”

I keep wondering whether Pinker has connected the dots between religious decline and the raging SJWs he confronts at Harvard. Does he not see a link between empty rage, the confused, deeply unhappy people, and the fact they have been raised on a monoculture of “secular morality”: that the students he opposes and who try to shout him down are the products of a culture in decline from right understanding of man’s place in the universe? In short, the products of secular humanism?

The content of secular morality is a weak reed; it changes with every passing fancy, it denies the objective nature of truth. The difference between Islam and western concepts of political correctness is that Islam has fixed its “political correctness” for all time, ours changes with the week, into ever more insane attempts to explain inequality by every device other than that people, cultures, and religions are unequal, in fact, objectively unequal.

In short, in matters of what is central to happiness, the modern student is a shorn lamb in the wind, and people like Pinker are the sheep shearers, though they do not know it. Pinker wonders why their environment is so ideologically extreme and anti-enlightenment. Here we pass over into Jordan Peterson territory. Peterson has been dealing with the little savages from suburbia and has drawn direct links between secular values, post modernism, and the absence of religion.

Nevertheless, I warmly recommend both Pinker and Taleb. Pinker knows the world by facts and book learning and discussion; the other knows it by taking big risks with money and surviving, and by working out heuristics, which is Greek for rough and ready rules. The man who wrote the Black Swan and made a fortune betting against the real estate boom which crashed in 2007 is not to be trifled with. Taleb’s defence of religion is a remarkable insight into its value. He comments that God put Jesus into fully human form to show He had skin in the game.  Taleb is full of insights into bullshit detection, and his view of Pinker is that the professor is a higher form of BS. This may be true, it is certainly uncharitable, but Pinker can be read to profit regardless.

I know whom I would trust in a bar fight, both to see it coming and to get out in time, and to have enough tough friends to make an attack on us a painful waste of time.

I doubt that Pinker has seen the inside of the kind of bar where men can be seen wearing reflective outerwear from working on the roads, and where the men drink American domestic beers. But he would make an excellent dinner guest, as long as we could avoid the topic of religion and global warming.

Facebook, free speech and control

 

 

Matt Taibbi

One of the most important take-aways from Tim Wu’s The Master Switch is that censorship is facilitated by control of the market. Speech control follows ownership concentration. He points out how the Catholic Legion of Decency gained control of movies in the 1930s because of the vertical integration between movie theatre chains and production studios. In Wu’s phrase, a Catholic priest was controlling movies produced by Jews for a majority Protestant nation. The Legion of Decency could attach itself successfully to the movie business because the control of it was already secured by the owners of the studios.

“It is industrial structure that determines the limits of free speech.”

“The trick is that a concentrated industry need not be censorial by nature in order for its structure to produce a chilling effect on the freedom of expression….The problem is that a “speech industry” – as we might term any information industry — once centralized, becomes an easy target for external independent actors with strong reasons of their own for limiting speech. And these reasons may have nothing to do with the industry per se.” (The Master Switch at pp 121-123)

This brings us to Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone on Facebook: Can we be saved from the Social Media Giant?

The article needs to be seen as a useful changing of the subject, from Russia and Trump, to Trump and Facebook, to Facebook itself. It also signals a change in the description of the Internet, from an information cornucopia to an “informational landscape… controlled more or less entirely by a pair of advanced spying operations, Google and Facebook – and Facebook especially”.

Taibbi says that, “in many ways the [current] Facebook controversy is a canard”, meaning that the issue is media control, pure and simple, not Trump, and not Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Facbook has 2.1 billion customers today and grows by 50 to 100 million users per quarter, with revenues of $40.7 billion in 2017.

After a great deal of sanctimonious drivel from Taibbi about how everyone is becoming imprisoned in their own information ghettos – when were we not?- he gets to the real point. The “fake news” issue  is only the outer manifestation of the targetting of viewers with information, which is  a wholly legal advertizing technique. Moreover, it is “what the product was designed for.”

“Simply by growing so large that his firm ended up standing between media publishers and media consumers, constantly creating rules about who saw what, Zuckerberg and Facebook have created a thing America has never had before: an entrenched de facto media regulator”.

Obviously this is not fully accurate: see the discussion above about movie censorship, which lasted from the 1930s  until the 1960s. But Taibbi is accurate when he says that Facebook and Google can sell eyeballs to advertizers with exquisite accuracy, with the result that the two of them garner 63.1% of digital advertizing revenues

The complaint of publishers is that 1) they can never learn how the Facebook algorithm works, which determines who sees what, and 2) they receive frequently changing information on how to optimize content to reach maximum attention.

Taibbi indulges in a lot of ‘de haut en bas‘ – condescending –  talk about how the press used to work better in the days of printing presses, and how the soiled masses insist on getting their own reality manifested in their choices of media. He writes from the point of view of a Democrat contemplating the frightfulness of the lower orders insisting on their right to receive the information they want, which is part of the reason why Trump now sits in the White House.

Nevertheless, there is justice in his conclusion that “a functioning free press just can’t co-exist with an unaccountable private regulator”.

His argument ends up resembling the argument about net neutrality, which applies to underlying physical carriers of signals – or not. In net neutrality regimes, such as Canada’s, there exists a regulator that determines whether a behaviour by a carrier amounts to unjust discrimination against a particular use or a group of users. “Neutrality” is not an absolute but a sliding scale of offences and permitted actions. Most important, there is a referee.

In the case of Facebook and Google, we are not dealing with a carrier, but with a software platform, and no law governs their behaviour towards publishers seeking to reach audiences through them. No one has assimilated software platforms to common carriers, yet. No one has to my knowledge proposed common carrier obligations for Facebook and Google. Moreover the US Federal Communications Commission has just removed net neutrality obligations from the carriers. Verizon and Comcast and the like can now squeeze content and viewers as they think best.

It is evident that the forces assembling against Google and Facebook will be coming from the political Left, and not only from conservatives concerned that these companies are running political cults.

My concern remains that, if the technical structure permits it, if there are points of control, these will be used to limit free discussion.

 

 

 

Wizards versus Prophets: How to feed 10 billion people

The Atlantic carries a useful discussion of two schools of thought, one of which is broadly eco-doomist, and the other is ameliorist. The dispute takes place in the vital issue of agriculture, and the author situates the dispute as one between William Vogt (1902-1968) and Norman Borlaug, (1914-2009) father the Green Revolution. It will come as no surprise that they knew and despised each other.

Vogt published his views in 1948 in a book called the Road to Survival, which, according to Wikipedia set forth

…his strong belief that then-current trends in fertility and economic growth were rapidly destroying the environment and undermining the quality of life of future generations. Vogt’s most significant contribution was to link environmental and perceived overpopulation problems, warning in no uncertain terms that current trends would deliver future wars, hunger, disease and civilizational collapse.

Road to Survival was an influential best seller. It had a big impact on a Malthusian revival in the 1950s and 60s. After its publication he dedicated many activities to the cause of overpopulation. From 1951 to 1962, he served as a National Director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Borlaug, says Wikipedia:

…was often called “the father of the Green Revolution”,[5][6] and is credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation.[7][8][9][10] According to Jan Douglas, executive assistant to the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, the source of this number is Gregg Easterbrook‘s 1997 article “Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity”, the article states that the “form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.”[11] He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

As a Bengali-born professor of economics once told me, in relation to the Green Revolution, “when I first came to Bangladesh I could see the ribs of the rice farmers; now I can’t”.

The Atlantic article is entertaining and informative, but it fails to mention the vital point, which determines whether Vogt or Borlaug will win the argument. As soon as women can be guaranteed that they will have one or two surviving children, they cease to have more. Everywhere in the world, industrialized or not, population growth is crashing. This process is occurring with great suddenness in Islamic countries. The world population will be 10 billion by 2050; what the article fails to mention is that it will be 7 billion by 2100, according to David Goldman, who bases himself on UN population projections and the latest birth rates.

These issue are explored in David Goldman’s How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is dying too). The book overturns a number of beliefs that were drummed into us in the 1970s and beyond: overpopulation, ecological disaster, resources running out, doom, in short.

Goldman advances the view that throughout history, but especially now, population decline is mostly to be feared, because it throws economies into a tailspin. Fertility rates have fallen below replacement in nearly all wealthy countries, and are doing so in Islamic countries.

In the great ideological debate about human nutrition, one can only hope that Borlaug’s practical optimism will prevail. The eco-doomist vision has never failed to produce want, misery and failure. Stick with the optimists, it will be tough enough even if they are right.

Of the questions that need to be asked bout human society in the next decades, the relevant one is whether we will still breed in 2050 enough to avoid social and economic collapse. There will be enough food, enough water, and enough resources. The truly important question is whether there will be enough humans to enjoy them by 2100. Spengler maintains that birth rates are falling between the green line and the yellow line in the UN population projections, shown below. (I leave aside the important question whether the remaining humans will be slaves or masters of their robotic machinery).

World Population Estimates

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population_estimates#/media/File:World-Population-1800-2100.svg

Goldman says the green line is the correct one.

 

Google and the end of the current regime

An excellent piece by the Z-Man and others on the state of Google. I am not the only one to be smelling a rotting fish. The article reads in part:

The other thing that the printer scams, and now the phone scams, are signalling is the end of the technological revolution. Companies like Google and Apple stopped being technology companies a long time ago. Instead, they are oligopolists. In the case of Apple, they were never a technology company. They were a design and marketing firm that repackaged existing technology into cool consumer products appealing to cosmopolitan hipsters. They sell expensive display items for the trend setters and the fashionable.

As a reader at Sailer’s site observed, Google now resembles an adult daycare center where mentally disturbed women terrorize the few people doing real work. Google has not don’t much of anything, in terms of tech, once it gained a near monopoly of on-line advertising. The reason Susan Wojcicki can wage endless jihad at a money losing division like YouTube is it is owned by an oligopolist given a special right to skim from every internet user on earth. Google is now a tax farmer, not a tech company.

The end of the Industrial Revolution featured civil unrest and industrial scale violence across Europe. In the US, it resulted in great social reform movements that ranged from public morality to economics. By the middle of the 19th century, it was clear that the old feudal governing system was no longer able to maintain order in Europe and the colonial model was not working in America. A century of war and revolution resulted in social democracy, a Western governing system compatible with industrial societies.

What my printer is telling me is not just that the pink has expired, but the social arrangements that allow this scam have also expired. The Technological Revolution has made the old arrangements untenable. It’s why our ruling class struggles to do even the minimum. It may turn out that the managerial state is the perfection of industrial age governance, but entirely unsuited for the technological age. Whether or not we are on the verge of a century of social tumult is hard to know, but that’s the lesson of history.

Nicholas Carr: a man of substance

Nicholas Carr has been writing about technology for some time. He is the author of several interesting books and blogs at Rough Type.

He is concerned with how the hand-held computer is messing with our capacity to think. In a recent posting, “How Smartphones Hijack our Minds”, he shows scientists studying the matter now believe that smartphones are damaging to us in subtle ways. I turn over this entry to Nicholas Carr. These are extracts from his posting.

Scientists have begun exploring that question — and what they’re discovering is both fascinating and troubling. Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens….

The results were striking. In both tests, the subjects whose phones were in view posted the worst scores, while those who left their phones in a different room did the best. The students who kept their phones in their pockets or bags came out in the middle. As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased.

In subsequent interviews, nearly all the participants said that their phones hadn’t been a distraction—that they hadn’t even thought about the devices during the experiment. They remained oblivious even as the phones disrupted their focus and thinking.

A second experiment conducted by the researchers produced similar results, while also revealing that the more heavily students relied on their phones in their everyday lives, the greater the cognitive penalty they suffered.

In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking. The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight,” the researchers noted, only magnifies the mental toll.

Dr. Ward’s findings are consistent with other recently published research. In a similar but smaller 2014 study in the journal Social Psychology, psychologists at the University of Southern Maine found that people who had their phones in view, albeit turned off, during two demanding tests of attention and cognition made significantly more errors than did a control group whose phones remained out of sight. (The two groups performed about the same on a set of easier tests.)

In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology this year, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly. A study of nearly a hundred secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.

Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV,
a radio, a photo album, a public library
and a boisterous party attended by
everyone you know, and then compressing them all
into a single, small, radiant object.
That is what a smartphone represents to us.

It isn’t just our reasoning that takes a hit when phones are around. Social skills and relationships seem to suffer as well. Because smartphones serve as constant reminders of all the friends we could be chatting with electronically, they pull at our minds when we’re talking with people in person, leaving our conversations shallower and less satisfying. In a 2013 study conducted at the University of Essex in England, 142 participants were divided into pairs and asked to converse in private for ten minutes. Half talked with a phone in the room, half without a phone present. The subjects were then given tests of affinity, trust and empathy. “The mere presence of mobile phones,” the researchers reported in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” The downsides were strongest when “a personally meaningful topic” was being discussed. The experiment’s results were validated in a subsequent study by Virginia Tech researchers, published in 2016 in the journal Environment and Behavior.

 

More Google Bias detected

 

 

Google’s search bias against conservative news sites has been quantified

This is a posting in Watts up with That by Leon Goldstein.

Google Search is found to be extremely biased in favor of climate alarmism and against climate realism.  The PGSTN ranges for climate realism and climate alarmism do not even overlap!  Some of the most important climate realist domains, including low-controversial judithcurry.com, have such a low PGSTN that they can be considered blacklisted by Google.

Google Search is found to be biased in favor of left/liberal domains and against conservative domains with a confidence of 95%.  Further, certain hard-Left domains have such a high PGSTN that their standing raises suspicions that they have been hand-picked for prominent placement.  Certain respected conservative domains are blacklisted.

And Google wants us to trust their results? Gosh, I get all googly at the thought, entrusting the categorization of all knowledge to a bunch of PC wankers in Silicon Valley.

Monopoly power is always the same

Some people are starting to notice the power of Google and other web giants to suppress points of view. The firing of their own engineer James Damore for pointing out the biological basis for women and men differing in their desires to be engineers was, it seems, only the beginning.

Now the repression appears to have widened. The Open Markets section of the New America Foundation concerns itself with  monopolies and abuses of dominant position: all very econometric geeky stuff. The head of Open Markets, Barry Lynn, issued a notice congratulating the European Commission for fining Google for economic crimes related to dominant market position. He was removed from the New America Foundation. It seems to have been the result of Google’s Eric Schmidt quietly expressing displeasure, as corporate titans are wont to do when underlings make trouble.

Matt Stoller, who belongs to the Open Markets group, wrote the following in the Huffington Post, US edition.

In response, Google had our group kicked out of our parent think tank, New America. Ken Vogel at the New York Times did the story on the specifics of how this happened. The combination, of the misbehavior in the search market and the attempt to suppress research into how Google operates, shows that the actual issue at hand is one of political power.

This moment matters. It matters because it shows that monopoly power, and Google itself, is a threat to the free flow of ideas upon which our democracy depends. It matters because it proves that if we do not stand up to monopolists, they will keep our public institutions quiet about their growing power. And it matters most of all because it shows that we can reclaim our democracy if we try.

At Open Markets, we obviously do not like the attempt at undermining our work, but on another level, we see this as a backhanded compliment by Google on how effective our work has actually been. After all, if we are worth silencing, then our words and research carries power.

Monopoly is a political problem. It is time to stand up for our rights. It is time to say, enough. And as we’ve seen, when we do tell the truth, the monopolists cannot abide.

Google’s tactics will not work. Our organization, Open Markets, is going independent. And we are launching a campaign called Citizens Against Monopoly, where we will ask Google’s CEO to stop this manipulation of our public commons. Join us.

I urge readers to stay on top of this story. Freedom is threatened as much by private economic power as by state action, frequently because private market power is exercized without recourse to standards of fairness that states are bound to. The portrait of Google  that emerged from the Damore story revealed a place dominated by leftist groupthink. The biological was an excluded category of truth; reference to it as an explanatory cause for why women did not participate in the ranks of elite engineers was the sin of “stereotyping” and a firing offence.

This kind of mental phase-locking would have no importance if Google made physical objects. It matters supremely when the company aspires to record, catalog and make findable all human knowledge. Because the same power to make findable can make things unfindable. The power to control the past is the power to control the future.

_________________________

Speaking of which, here is an example:

https://pjmedia.com/trending/2017/08/31/google-issues-ultimatum-to-conservative-website-remove-hateful-article-or-lose-ad-revenue/

With monopoly or market power, you can now be made to disappear.

Here s the stated policy which the site offended. How much would Barrelstrength offend, if it came to our Internet overlord’s attention?

“As stated in our program policies, Google ads may not be placed on pages that contain content that: Threatens or advocates harm on oneself or others; Harasses, intimidates or bullies an individual or group of individuals; Incites hatred against, promotes discrimination of, or disparages an individual or group on the basis of their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization,” the email stated.

You can drive an armoured division through that one.

 

Quantum hocus pocus

 

Robert J. Sawyer is a Canadian science fiction writer, one of only three science fiction writers ever to win the Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. Accordingly, when I saw his book, Quantum Night, dealing with consciousness and quantum physics, I took the risk and bought it. The book started well, but its principal virtue – if that is the word – is how it reveals the essential conceits of the leftist mind.

The protagonist is a psychology professor at the University of Manitoba who has, it appears, developed a foolproof technique for discovering psychopaths. He is also a vegetarian, is highly ethically motivated, teaches the greatest good for the greatest number, and worries about world problems. He is earnest, charmless, and bright, and worries about deniers of anthropogenic global warming, among other things. Very conventional NDP attitudes, as the plot reveals.

The science-fictional basis of the plot  is that through quantum science principles it has been determined that the mind is generated out of quantum processes rather than classical physical processes. Okay so far. It is very unlikely that mind could be generated out of meat machines.

A word of explanation more. Have you ever driven to work, navigated the traffic, got out of your car and were climbing the steps into your building and suddenly realized that you drove to work on autopilot? That while you handled the steering braking and signalling, your consciousness – understood as the focus of attention – was elsewhere?

If you can imagine there are people who are like this all the time, then you can envisage the philosophical zombie. The difference between the philosopher’s zombie and my  example is that the zombies do not have thoughts that are elsewhere while they perform the tasks of life. There is no inner dialogue. There is no attention directed elsewhere while they manage to iron a shirt. They do not wake up and marvel that they got to work by driving while their thoughts were working on other problems.

In essence, the McGuffin of the book – the plot driver – is that, through quantum hocus pocus, it has been determined that there is a strict division of the human species into zombies (mindless conformists) , psychopaths (who are conscious but have no conscience) and the awakened, who have both consciousness (inner dialogue) and conscience (they empathize, feel regrets, and take the larger view). The ratio is something like 70/20/10.

The protagonist of the story is the man of conscience, as are most of the the other major characters. They belong to the top 10%, the psychological and moral elite.

The author, Mr. Sawyer, through his protagonist, fights racism, sexism and every bad political and moral tendency, yet he posits the strictest division of the human species into an immutable division more severe than the Hindu caste system.

The zombies obey, and fake their way through life adapting to the rules, like flocking birds. The psychos run businesses, governments and armies and exploit the zombies, and the enlightened try to clean up the mess created by the denizens of the unconscious and less conscious states of mind.

In this world view then, Putin and Trump belong to the 20% who are psychopaths. No question of moral choice arises in this vision. It is all biological. The superior class is more morally aware, perhaps, but the quantum construction of their minds makes them so. It is deeply un-Christian, and it is a kinder and gentler version of Hitler’s biological/racial determinism.

I know it is only science fiction, and that too much weight cannot be placed on it. But I think Sawyer’s work illustrates the Hindu-like caste system at the core of leftist thinking: the led, the exploiters, and the enlightened.

You are never allowed to disagree with people of this sort. Disagreement is merely the evidence for your lower level of spiritual and moral development. One is not allowed to have different views based on different interests, views, or tendencies of mind.

It is ironic – to say the least – that the people who are the most opposed in their ideology to the biological as the basis for explaining differences in historical outcomes between individuals and cultures find it convenient to imagine that the biological is the basis for human moral differences. This is a new caste system indeed, brought to you by an earnest NDPer out to do good in the world. And while Sawyer is a million miles from Hitler in decency and social concern, they both expound a deeply and I would say exclusively biological explanation of human differences.

 

3D Printing

 

The launch of a missile into space is not news. The fact that the rocket was made by a three-D printing process is.

The process is explained (in greater detail than you want to know) here.

The Guardian reports:

Rocket Lab is one of about 30 companies and agencies worldwide developing small satellite launchers as an alternative to firms jostling for space on larger launches or paying around $50 million for a dedicated service. The company said in a statement it has now received $148m in funding and is valued in excess of $1bn.

Rocket Lab’s customers include NASA, earth-imaging firm Planet and startups Spire and Moon Express.

A newspaper rarely carries any actual news. Most of the time the headlines are the equivalent of “Pope says mass at Easter” such as “Muslim kills 30 in bomb explosion”. Today something novel got the through the screen.

Related articles here, and here