Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Trump Victory. Part 1: Folksy Levellers.


Brexiters see themselves as folksy levellers opposing the establishment intelligensia

About nine years ago on this blog I did a series of posts called “Mathematical Politics” (See March 2007 to July 2007). It was my attempt to grapple with the subjects of politics and economics – not my favourite topics at all, as I don’t find it easy to think outside the mathematical box and these subjects are difficult, if not in principle impossible, to render in formal terms. In fact my series never really got finished; that may be because I felt that the socio-politics of the day was in a relatively stable state, part of the benign environmental furniture among which I lived. Therefore I had no sense of urgency to get to grips with the whys and wherefores of this environment in any more detail. But how times have changed recently! Today in the West the spectre of right-wing dictatorship, although admittedly it still seems a remote prospect, is not an entirely unreal scenario if a little imagination is applied. With people like Trump and Farage rocking the establishment boat in what vaguely resembles the course taken by pre-World War II Germany I’m beginning to feel just a little sea sick and thinking that I ought to stop and take stock of the “new world order”.  But what is this new world order? Does it have any real substance? Here is a small sample of characters who capture something of the new mood which has brought us to this juncture.

Donald Trump
US president elect. Pseudo-libertarian*. Glories in political incorrectness. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Wants to "drain the swamp" of the ruling liberal establishment elite. His campaign played on anxieties generated by social & economic disequilibrium caused by global trading and immigration. Trump attracts the disaffected, the fundamentalists, racists and neo-nazis, all of which brings me to :
Nigel Farage
UK independent party. Friend of Trump. Detests the Euro-elite. Outsider to the liberal establishment elite and the quasi-aristocratic conservative party. Farage played on anxieties over immigration during the Brexit campaign. His party has attracted fundamentalists, racists and the extreme right, although Farage has distanced himself from these extremists (He’s a clever politician – unlike Trump). Anthropogenic climate change sceptic.
Milo Yiannopoulos
British Pundit for the slippery and diffuse Alt-right tendency. Arguably neo-fascist. Pseudo-Libertarian. Social Darwinist. Brexiteer and Trump supporter. Against the liberal establishment elite.  Anti-feminist. Catholic (!). An enemy of academia. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic
Matt Ridley
Libertarian social philosopher, Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Sceptical of the liberal establishment elite. Socio-economic evolutionist. See the following links:
http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/high-priests-of-science/
Denise O’Leary
De facto-Intelligent Design pundit, Canadian Trump supporter. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Probably Pseudo-libertarian. Against the liberal establishment elite and particularly hates publically funded academia.
Ken Ham
Christian fundamentalist. Probably a Trump voter. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Against the liberal establishment elite. Has obvious reasons to particularly hate academia.
Kent Hovind
Christian fundamentalist. Probably a Trump voter. “Sovereign Citizen”. Pseudo-libertarian. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic, Against the liberal establishment elite. Has obvious reasons to particularly hate academia. Extreme fundamentalist Steve Anderson is an ally of Hovind. Likely to be at odds with Ken Ham.

Put these people in a room together and it wouldn’t be long before each person was rowing violently with everyone else (Although Trump and Farage are chums at the moment); such are their differences. And yet these characters are the figureheads of trends which have a common interest in seeing the overthrow of the political and academic establishment. With Brexit followed by the election of Donald Trump as US president, each of them probably feels that the worlds they are striving for are now just a little closer.  It is ironic that the outspoken and arguably crypto-fascist Milo Yiannoploous may in fact express sentiments common to all of the above. This is what Yiannoploous’ Wiki entry says:

As a "cultural libertarian"[5] and "free speech fundamentalist", he is a vocal critic of feminism,[6] Islam, social justice, political correctness, and other movements and ideologies he claims to be authoritarian or belonging to the "regressive left".

That protest against authoritarianism is ironic. Of course, few people will admit to being authoritarian, but it hardly needs pointing out that the neo-fascists, Trump, and Ken Ham are among the most authoritarian personalities out there and I can’t imagine that their societal vision is anything other than repressive. Ken Ham, for instance, has no qualms about trying to intimidate with threats that the wrath of God lies on his detractors whether they be professing Christians or otherwise.  

What brings this diverse group together? There are, after-all, huge differences between them about the ultimate nature of reality, but they all have a common antipathy toward the public establishment and in particular the publically funded liberal academic establishment of which they are antagonistic outsiders.  Matt Ridley is by far and away the most intelligent and reasonable among the characters above and I had to think long and hard before including him in the list, but in the final analysis he’s an academic outsider who shares enough of the anti-establishment association complex for him to qualify for my list. Moreover, his concept of evolution as an information-less (= undirected) process which somehow poofs things into existence is not at all unlike that of O’leary’s and Ken Ham’s straw man concept of evolution.  Like the others, Ridley is sceptical about the climate change science of the intellectual establishment. Ridley also has much faith in decentralised libertarianism (a flaky concept in my opinion – see part II) and this is something which the above clients try to make a show of courting one way or another and use as an ideological cudgel with which to hit the much hated political and academic establishment. “Libertarianism” is intended to conjure up a vision of a peaceful decentralised free trading idyll, an idyll untrammelled by the strictures of “big government” which, it is implied, is out to cramp one’s style in favour of its continued existence. The extreme wing of libertarianism is into conspiracy theorism; here government is portrayed as a self-serving conspiracy of the elite. However, knowing human nature I’m sceptical of these aspirational decentralised social idylls: “Libertarianism” is an appellation which is to the right-wing as “Dictatorship of the proletariat” is to the left wing; in fact “Libertarian Marxism” strives for a peaceful post-revolution government-less communist paradise where having done away with the inherent conflicts of interest in capitalism it is believed that an era of peace and cooperation will reign. The extreme right wing and extreme left wing worldviews have a common vision of a cosy decentralised folksy idyll which, given human nature, seems a wholly unlikely scenario. These sort of visions, when implemented by zealous partisans, have a tendency to descend into autocratic nightmares, as evidenced by some of the religious cults ruled by authoritarian patriarchs.

But why aren’t those Marxists who seek the overthrow of the established status quo and the ultimate dismantling of the state also part of my list?  In their view the state is necessarily an outcome of the social conflicts which have their roots in laissez-faire capitalism and therefore they explicitly stand against the free market evolutionism of the right-wingers listed above. Moreover, Marx did at least bring to bear a worthy critique of capitalism, a critique that has some merit in its own right even if you feel that a Marxist society is utterly untenable. There is some mileage to be had from Marx’s critique of social history if not from his prescriptions which were largely vague wishful thinking. There is also the matter of the respect for Marx among liberal academics which, needless to say, further distances the anti-establishment right-wing from academia who they think of as extreme "lefties".**

There are several ironies in the positions taken by the characters in my list: Denise of O’leary is likely to look favourably upon decentralised free market evolutionism as described by Ridley and yet she cannot accept conventional evolutionary theory as a decentralised process. Ridley is a free market evolutionist and sees human centralised interventions in the market as harmful. And yet he is not on the side of those anthropogenic climate change lobbyists who suggest that inadvertent human intervention in the climate system has disrupted it. Also, it is ironic that Yiannopoulos is a social Darwinist and yet he’s attached himself to a political culture that in the final analysis is likely to promote the most authoritarian and centralised government system one could imagine.

I would style myself as a “Liberal-left capitalist”,  whiggish in outlook. We have much to be thankful about the way the decentralised market economy encourages innovative entrepreneurial effort and tries to sync production and demand. But Marx was probably right about some of those capitalist ills; the free market is not unlike an old banger of a car that is very useful but liable to breakdowns, breakdowns which are sometimes compounded by ill-judged human attempts at repair. But although I appreciate what the free market has done for us,  my critical take on capitalism and a willingness to accept attempts at repair when it breaks down is likely classify me as a “socialist” as far as the extreme right are concerned.

I’ve actually been staring at this public vs private polarisation for some time without really understanding its socio-political significance:  Over the least tens years as I have considered the intelligent design/creation debate in this blog it has become clear that the de facto IDists and various Christian fundamentalists were very anti-public establishment and in particular hated above all publically funded academia. Initially it seemed to me that this attitude was just bound up with their anti-establishment take on the natural sciences.  So, at first it was just a strange coincidence that the de facto IDists and fundamentalists were also taking a stand against anthropogenic climate change science – after all, what does climate change have to do with ID? The deeper connection, however, is that libertarianism provides a philosopohical rationale against the spectre of government emissions regulations and taxes justified by anthropogenic climate change science. Hence, certain business interests therefore had common cause with the IDists and fundamentalists against the establishment intelligentsia. Some fundamentalists have also tried to bundle their climate change theory with their Young Earth Creationism which perhaps gives YEC more appeal to some business interests.

Christian fundamentalists voted Trump: they wanted to 
return to the traditional social certainties and securities of 
a time when society could unequivocally be called "Christian"

Since the 1960s Christians have become more and more culturally marginalised. Therefore alternative narratives involving so-called Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism and prophetic conspiracy theorism helped to focus and give meaning to their sense of marginalisation and alienation from the public intelligentsia. Thus, dualist “anti-naturalist” creation accounts and anti-climate change attitudes have been neatly woven into seamless conspiracy narratives that sit well with right-wing alienation from the secular intelligentsia of public and civic life. Rank and file disaffection with this elite governing community has also been exacerbated by market instabilities precipitated by globalisation and immigration related xenophobia. Worst of all, however, is that the neo-fascists found themselves in the same boat as the IDists, Christian fundamentalists, libertarians, some business interests and the disaffected white working class who have suffered under global market instabilities.

There are, I believe, some parallels here with the situation in England during the seventeenth century. On more than one occasion during that century the middle class interests represented in parliament found themselves at odds with Royal demands for money needed to finance the King's pet projects (in effect taxes). Coupled with Charles I and James II belief in their absolute soveriegnty this lead to the 1642 civil war against Charles I and the 1688 Bloodless Revolution against James II which ultimately resulted in the installation of a constitutional monarchy. In spite of good intentions Cromwell failed to set up a democratic republic and instead became a dictator; he was repulsed by the untidy controlled row that any democratic government ultimately becomes and so suspended parliament. At the puritan extremes were found the Fifth monarchsists who awaited the eminent return of Christ and even sought the overthrow of Cromwell's puritan dictatorship. Just as today, the political situation yielded neatly to the interpretation of conspiracy theorists and Christian prophetic ministries which saw the government as the instrument of Satan and/or malign forces which seek to dominate the individual. There was also an historical adjunct: After the restoration of the (constitutional) monarchy many disillusioned and disenfranchised puritans settled in North America seeking religious freedom from state religion, only to find in time that the Mother country was burdening them with taxes in order to finance the war against France. The American revolution followed, of course. Since those days politics, taxation, religion and the apocalyptic in the US have had a tendency to get bound up with one another.

In the next part I’ll take a closer look at so-called “libertarianism”


Relevant links:


Other links:
http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/11/22/nearly-50-university-academics-endorse-open-letter-condemning-milo-white-supremacist/


Footnotes:
* Pseudo-libertarian: This means that they would fail the Chinese or African test question: Viz: Would they be prepared to accept Chinese or African produce without tariffs? Matt Ridley is probably the only genuine libertarian in my list

** Marx and Academia: See here:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trump starts to dump his extremist supporters


Trump's Alt Right Storm Troopers - dumped.


As the dust begins to settle after the political pantomime that was the American election, the big question here at Quantum Non-Linearity is this: Will Trump mellow and eventually settle down to be a more measured and reasonable mainstream president than the promise of his campaign? Of course, this may well be wishful thinking on my part. The recent scenes at the above Alt-Right rally where Trump supporters call out "Hail Trump" and give Nazi salutes (see above) has horrified many people. It is easy to see this rally as evidence that our worse fears of an impending fascist nightmare are starting to take shape. However, I try to keep a track of the news and watch how things are developing: Here are some relevant links:

According to this BBC news item Trump disavows the Alt-Right

But here's a quote from Wiki on "Breibart news". This links the Alt Right via Breibart News to Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon. 

[Breibart News was] conceived by Andrew Breitbart during a visit to Israel in summer 2007, with the aim of founding a site "that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel" Breitbart later aligned with the European populist right and American alt-right under Bannon's management and Bannon declared the site "the platform for the alt-right" in 2016. The New York Times describes Breitbart News as a "curiosity of the fringe right wing", with "ideologically driven journalists", that is a source of controversy "over material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic and racist", and was a "potent voice" for Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Here's some more background on Breibart:


How's Trump going to explain all that? But then Trump isn't an idealist; I read him as the sort of guy who is unlikely to be bothered by theoretical consistency and nuance; he's first and foremost a showman who primarily deals in spectacle and theatre.

Trump's attack on his worshipful Alt-Right supporters smacks a just little bit of Hitler's night of the long knives:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Long_Knives

The Alt Right are no longer any use to Trump! Another parallel is that Hitler exploited the German Christian taste for law and order, but underneath he regarded them with contempt.

Reports are surfacing of a softening of Trump's climate change position:

http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/trump-hints-at-re-think-on-climate-change/ar-AAkEfv3?li=BBoPWjQ&ocid=UP97DHP

...add to this the great disappointment of some of Trump's vindictive followers that he's not going to pursue Hillary Clinton with charges of corruption. Is Trump becoming part of the empowered establishment already?

Trump's anti-idealistic pragmatism may well save us from the idealistic nightmares of fascist and evangelical fundamentalism. Perhaps the uncompromising fascist, libertarian and Christian evangelico-fundamentalists who voted for Trump are already getting their just deserts for their misplaced trust in Trump to implement their extremist views; They should have realised that they couldn't put their trust in Trump's promises. There's poetic justice here: Some of those Christian fundies are now finding themselves in bed with ruthless atheistic social Darwinian "libertarians"!

However, it's early days yet and it's a great trumptation to see light at the end of the tunnel when it's not actually there; there is still plenty of time for things to get a lot worse - see the following joker in the pack: Trump and Biff Tannon:
http://www.msn.com/en-gb/entertainment/movies/christopher-lloyd-stunned-by-back-to-the-futures-trump-prediction/ar-AAkzfyo?li=BBoPWjQ&ocid=UP97DHP


NOTES:
See this link on Breitbart which is entitled "Vanity Fair: Trump succeeded because of Breitbart"

http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2016/11/23/vanity-fair-trump-succeeded-breitbart/

But set against the claims of that article are these articles by right-wing Trump supporter Denyse O'leary:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/darwinism/the-alt-right-popular-media-and-darwin/
https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/the-alt-right-donald-trump-and-oddly-enough-darwin/19049

O'Leary's article, of course, denies the link between Trump and  Breitbart:

The term “alt right” is thrown around a lot these days to account for Donald Trump’s winning the U.S. presidency. Mainstream media, blindsided by results they should have been able to predict, are deflecting blame. Many conjure a vast, shadowy, menacing group that propelled Trump to power in hidden ways. A more accurate story is more complex—and far more of a problem for the generic worldview of current mainstream media.

O'Leary is probably right about the reality being more complex. Also notable in O'leary are the comments about the link between the Alt-Right and "Darwinism". The ironies are coming in thick and fast!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Michio Kaku argues for Intelligent Design**


Michio: "I recently had a thought that was this big!!"
You can say that again! See below:

Physicist and popular science commentator Michio Kaku's thoughts about  the cosmos probably come in too thick and fast for most us. As a string theorist he's no doubt on the top shelve as far as cleverness is concerned...... he's just too bright; doesn't it make you spit! But to be fair we've all got our faults and no doubt Michio was born with this annoying trait. He does have some redeeming points, however: He's very ambitious in his vision, wanting to embrace the whole of reality with his intellect and yet he gives every impression of being tentative, creative, tolerant, courageous and magnanimous; I like him; the honourable traditions of the Japanese Samurai knights must be part of his background. 

The reason for this blog post is this article which appeared on "Intellectual TakeOut". It quotes Kaku as recently saying: 

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” Kaku said, as quoted by the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies. “To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.”.

“The final solution resolution could be that God is a mathematician,” says Kaku. “The mind of God, we believe, is cosmic music. The music of strings resonating through 11-dimensional hyperspace.”  

I know 2% of next-to-nowt about string theory so I can't comment on the technicalities here. But I can say that it's a  privilege to have Michio as a fellow pilgrim! As I said at the end of this so-called "book" of mine:

The general lesson of this book is that maximally disordered distributions entail distributions of properties and states that are as evenly and uniformly spread as the constraints allow. That is, maximum disorder doesn’t favour or target any particular state/property consistent with the constraints. So, in a scenario of maximum disorder everything gets as equal treatment as possible and no skew is shown toward particular states/properties. In a random cosmos nothing appears to be singled out for a frequency above random expectation and this is likely to register in the human mind as evidence of indifference and impersonality;  a cosmos without anthropic meaning and purpose, one where intelligence, particularly personal intelligence, is not a final and  sovereign arbiter. A sovereign intelligence, it is felt, would show a much more anthropically recognizable bias; the antithesis of this sends chills down the back of theists, many of whom are accustomed to the concept of God as a highly personal intelligence and who is likely to show a preference for configurations of anthropic significance.

Conversely, those who have put their intellectual stakes in the idea that the cosmos points to no controlling intelligence, let alone personal intelligence, are likely to find it easier to accept that ultimately randomness is sovereign; although the question of “why is there something rather than nothing?” is still outstanding here. But, the fact remains; our slice of the cosmos is far from random. We would not expect an anthropic selection effect to persist for any length of time in a truly random cosmos. Moreover, our cosmos has singled out small space short time algorithms as a means of describing much of its operation. There is something peculiar about our cosmos, something very peculiar. 

Relevant Link:
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/time-travel.html

Footnote:
** Caution: I am, of course, not talking about the IDists of Uncommon Descent and other Christians who swing toward an embattled fundamentalism. Kaku is more likely to fit into the John Polkinghorne mold. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Extreme Trumptation

In due course, after the dust has settled a bit, I might do a post on the Trump election victory. However, in the meantime I found the following to be of interest. PZ Myers had this comment posted on his blog by some unknown  mischievous visitor: 

Now there's a guy who feels pleased with himself!

It’s about time you fucking cucks got your just desserts. Cunts, niggers, spics, gooks, kikes, fags and sandniggers were never meant to have a say in our great country. Several hundreds of years ago the greatest men to walk the earth (excluding Trump but I’ll get to that soon), the Founding Fathers, made this country great by killing off most of the natives and bringing in niggers as subordinates. Fast forward to now and we live in a degenerate society where niggers are free, the injuns (sorry, NATIVE AMERICANS) still exist and women can vote as well as have sex outside of wedlock. Well Trump has finally come along to change all of that. Now it’s obvious that he’s going to eradicate all the non-whites in America and make women mandatory sex slaves (the attractive ones that is, the ugly/fat ones will obviously be killed) but the important questions are the following. 1) How will we get Trump get elected 4 years from now. 2) How can we alter the Constitution so that Trump can have more terms as president. And finally, 3) When will Trump eradicate all the non-whites outside of America? We have nukes boys, it’s finally time to use them.

After looking up some of those words I realised that this correspondent has touched just about all the politically incorrect G-spots which are bound to cause every one left of Vlad the Impaler to ejaculate with horror! The only subjects he's (and he's bound to be male) missed are climate change and anti-vaxing!  Most likely it is a piece of tongue-in-cheek provocation, although it is quite likely from a Trump supporter because only a Trump supporter could construct such an offensive passage and then use it to cause offense. I personally suspect someone from one of the atheist "alpha male" groups that PZ has been at logger heads with; either that or perhaps a "false flag operation" in order to discredit Trump - although I feel the latter to be unlikely, as the whole thing looks as though it is designed to get up PZ's nose.

Prof Myers introduces it with the words: 

You know I filter the comments here and have a fairly extensive block list — it’s necessary. Especially now. You wouldn’t believe the crap people are trying to post here now, emboldened by this recent election. I’ll just put one particularly ugly example from someone calling himself sinceretrumpsupporter  below the fold. You might want to skip it. I find it useful to remind myself from time to time what we’re fighting…..Please don’t bother telling me Not All Trump Supporters. I don’t care. This is the filth dragged in with him.

So, signs are then that PZ thinks it's genuine!  In PZ's comment thread someone brings up Poe's law and points out that uncertainty over whether this is a parody or not is actually evidence that this kind of extremism is quite within the range of some Trump supporters, otherwise we would know for certain that it was hoax! Therefore, even if this is a piece of cynical insincere trolling it points to sincerity and sentiment that can be actually be found somewhere among Trump's fasco-fundamentalist idealist supporters! Fact is, knowing what we do about the Trump demographic we just cannot put this kind of extremism past some Trump supporters, just as we cannot put the most weird conspiracy ideas past Christian fundamentalists. 

I have to confess, however, that I couldn't help seeing the funny side of it. The writer seems to know just what's going to rile PZ Myers and his readers and has gone out of his way to cause the greatest possible recoil of horror! The whole affair is reality based black humour which taps into that rich seam of funny man vs straight man pairings one often finds in comedy.

Some Links:
Trump picks his team:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38027519
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38030602
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-37999969

And then there is this:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-38032421
What? Lord Farage? Sir Nigel? I don't think that's going to roll of my tongue with ease!

Trump settles fraud case out of court
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38021820
Some extracts from this article:

The US president-elect was being sued by former students who paid $35,000 (£28,000) for real estate "secrets" from his "hand-picked" instructors.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement: "Today's $25 million [£20m] settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.
"The victims of Trump University have waited years for today's result and I am pleased that their patience - and persistence - will be rewarded by this $25 million settlement."
Mr Schneiderman, who Mr Trump has attacked as a "lightweight", had sought a $40m (£32m) payout from Mr Trump over the university, which closed in 2010.
He called Trump University a "fraud from beginning to end" in July, adding that the organisation used "false promises to prey on desperate people".
Trump University promised students the opportunity to learn from "hand-picked" teachers, that actually were not chosen by Mr Trump himself.
The closest students ever got to the real estate mogul was having their photo taken beside a cardboard cutout of him, Mr Schneiderman has alleged. He also said that Mr Trump personally pocketed about $5m (£4m) in the "scheme".

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Northumberland: Myth and Imagination - Part 3

(See here and here for parts 1 and 2)

The people who built Duddo stone circle (above) were probably working to some worldview but we have only vague ideas about what that perspective was. Humanity has always been challenged with the task of making comprehensive worldview level sense of its environment; but epistemic problems have impeded success and gaps have been filled with intolerance and dogma. But as we see below the error of fundamentalist scripturallism is not the answer to those epistemic difficulties - far from it!


Some solutions ameliorate one problem only to introduce another. An example is sickle cell hemoglobin which helps suppress the symptoms of malaria but increases the risk of sickle cell anemia. In circumstances like this there is tension between the advantages and disadvantages of alternative outcomes as they are weighed against one another and some trade-off settled for. There is, I believe, a tension of this type in the epistemic heuristic inherent in the mental make up of human beings.

Human beings, it hardly need be said, are in the main social animals and this confronts them with one of their greatest epistemic challenges; that is, attempting to interpret the output of the most complex object known to man, namely the human mind. But the task of trying to read other minds is carried out routinely on the hoof and is a highly informal process. No doubt we have large packages of both soft and firm cognitive neural-ware which address this problem, particularly in the realm of reading the meaning of language. Human beings offer few observational clues as to what they are thinking even when they use language to express themselves. Hence, in this connection  human epistemic techniques have to join a paucity of evidential data-dots in order to arrive at highly complex conclusions about fellow humans. The epistemic process of predicting the otherwise hidden complexities of the human mind is likely to be very seat-of-the-pants. It is a miracle, however, that the process of mutual understanding works as well as it does, but there is a likely trade-off: The gains of getting it right outweigh the losses of making occasional (perhaps even frequent) mistakes. So it is likely that our neural-ware interpreter is balanced between the huge advantages of correctly understanding fellow human beings and an inevitable background noise of error. This human epistemic system is tuned on a knife edge and it's no surprise that in some individuals the inter-human neural package seems to malfunction badly: Autistics tend to under-interpret incoming data and paranoiacs over interpret it.

It is something akin to this very high risk neural-ware package which, I propose, is in operation during worldview synthesis. Unlike formal science which proceeds at a snails pace starting with basic and relatively simple systems and tries to build from the bottom up (see Brian Cox's comments here), worldview synthesis much more resembles the task of attempting to see behind the scenes into the human mind; this comprehensive epistemic process takes in a huge sweep of life experience as it tries to affirm very broad conclusions using methods that are informal and themselves often nigh on inscrutable. Highly ambitions conclusions, sometimes bordering on pretension and audacity, are arrived at. Worldview synthesis leaps well-ahead of formal science in ambition and vision, but the trade-off is that the risks of error, error often exacerbated by hubris, vested interest and tribal factors to name but a few perturbing influences, are balanced against the promise of an epistemic gold-mine. But let me point out the irony I've noted before; it is in fact an empirically based process in as much as it attempts to join the dots of experiential data, albeit rather creatively (See links below). In short  the whole system of worldview synthesis isn't a robust process!

However, we can but try. I'm the last person to condemn attempts at sweeping worldview synthesis; if we are looking for comprehensive understandings of the world we may have little choice but to engage in this activity along with its risks; it might produce high gains in the long run. The trick, I believe, is not to do away with the mythological imagination but to be aware of its operation and above all to use it with a good measure of cautious epistemic humility in order to avoid the pitfalls of misplaced hubris and arrogant certainty. But in spite of worldview synthesis being so seat-of-the-pants it is ironic that the mythological imagination is inclined to invest in its highly attenuated constructions far more certainty than they warrant; in fact it is almost as if these constructions become more real than the basic perceptions on which they are built. Pathological examples are easy to find: the Flat Earth conspiracy, David Ike's lizard conspiracy, Alex Jones' conspiracy theories, numerous Christian fundamentalist world views, Jones Town, and fascism. It is the certainty and blinkered single mindedness with which world-views may be held that gives them the potential to be highly dangerous; much more dangerous might I add than even the problems introduced by the unbridled ambitions of status-seeking. The latter is unlikely to be so sweeping as to attempt to assimilate the whole cosmic coboodle into one seamless narrative: The realpolitik of self-centred status seeking has a limited horizon and a limited agenda in its striving for hegemony, whereas mythological fundamentalism seeks a much more thoroughgoing world take-over; one that includes the very hearts and minds of those it seeks to dominate.

In modern times scriptural fundamentalism (a subject which concerns me deeply) believes it can eliminate epistemic risk with a simple formula; Viz: God's Word says so & so, therefore so & so is absolutely certain to be true.  But this epistemic has a very serious flaw: It fails to take into account that the natural language in which scripture is couched is far from being a direct revelation of truth. (See here, and here). As I have repeatedly made the case, natural language works by connotation and as such its interpretation taps into to a bottomless reservoir of facts taken from of human social history and the human context in general. Scripture can not be read like a mathematical text book where formality strives to obviate ambiguity and limit terms of reference; reading scripture is far more akin to the process of interpreting the natural linguistic output of other minds. Scriptural fundamentalists seek the security of certainty and authority; they cannot accept that there is a huge fallible human link in the chain when it comes to interpreting scripture. This fallible link is evidenced by the many contradictory forms that fundamentalism can take. See herehere and here.

Selfish human ambitions which seek after high status without regard to the welfare of society as a whole are potentially toxic, but things can be worse. The empires of status seekers are not quite so comprehensive as the ambitions of fundamentalist idealists who seek a mental empire of believers which they wish to draw in and submit to the narrative constructed in fundamentalist minds. So, on balance I fear the dogmatic worldview builders more than those with plain and simple social status ambitions and whose scope of operation is likely to only go as far as realpolitik. 

Human beings have an incredible ability to read imaginatively behind the scenes; we only have think of theoretical geniuses like Newton and Einstein who have scored big in this area. But against that we must set the many whose theories have failed and been forgotten (which probably includes my own!). The theoretical imagination, especially when extended to vagaries of worldview synthesis, comes with risks.  This is not to say we should avoid braving the deep waters of worldview synthesis - far from it - we just need to proceed with a little cautious epistemic humility - that and a little faith. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Epistemology links: 
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/epistemic-notes_14.html
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/the-great-epistemic-tradeoff.html

More pictures from Northumberland

The rain shrouded and ancient Cheviot hills convey a mood apposite to the mysteries of the meaning of creation.

To the uninitiated the highly asymmetrical ruins of Lindisfarne priory would present a mystery as deep as Duddo stone circle.

Weathering of the stones of the priory has created forms just as fantastic as the stones at Duddo.

The view from Ford church; It conjures up thoughts of ancient origins, beauty, light, colour and the truncation of death. These thoughts mingle, prompting the  feeling it must all mean something, thereby fueling the mythological imagination. 

To the unknown god: A flower offering (?)  found in one of the erosion channels of the Duddo stones. The offering instinct goes deep. 

This isn't Northumberland but the Chinese "shrine" at Kew Gardens, where the floor has become covered in coin "offerings". Ornamental ponds often attract the same behavior. What's at the bottom of these token "offerings"?  Is it carried out instinctively or is it done with the conscious intention of  hedging bets and attempting a communion with unknown spiritual forces?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nature vs. God. The 2nd law of Thermodynamics and Philosophical Dualism

As a motif for the force of nature, feelings about the
green man are ambivalent and  confused. But he lurks
 in the  subliminal pagan recesses of Western thinking.
http://www.greenmanenigma.com/theories.html
This post explores the God vs. Nature dualism that is endemic to much of Western thinking. To illustrate this I use as an example a post by Christian fundamentalist Danny Faulkner who writes articles for Answers in Genesis. In the twin article of this current blog post I approved of YEC Jonathan Sarfati’s treatment of the second law of thermodynamics; Sarfati advised YECs not to use it to challenge evolution. Unfortunately I can’t give a similar recommendation to Ken Ham’s tame astronomer Danny Faulkner. His article on the subject can be found here: hxxps://answersingenesis.org/physics/second-law-of-thermodynamics/



Nearly half of Faulkner’s article is his attempt to explain the second law of thermodynamics to his lay audience.  We have to get about half way into the article before Faulkner starts to betray his failure to grasp the nuances of this topic.  So far I haven't been impressed by this fellow's performance; he seems to lack intellectual incisiveness. (See here and here). But the tame scholars at Answers in Genesis are not there to convince those with an adequate grasp of science, rather to impress a lay audience of fundamentalists (which includes Faulkner’s boss Ken Ham) with the letters after their names and technical sounding arguments.





***
 Tame scholar Danny Faulkner and his AiG boss, YEC theme park manager Ken Ham.
Below I use the usual format of taking quotes from Faulkner's article followed by my own comments:

If disorder cannot decrease, then order cannot increase. It is this version of the second law of thermodynamics that leads to discussion of the naturalistic origin of life and biological evolution. Living organisms obviously are highly ordered systems, far more ordered than non-living things. The naturalistic origin of life would require that non-living things gave rise to living things, which would amount to an increase in order and thus would appear to violate the second law of thermodynamics. Furthermore, biological evolution would be the development of life over time, which involves increasing order, which also appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics. (My emphases)

MY COMMENT:  The first sentence here is misleading: The second law of thermodynamics tells us that global order cannot increase, but it does not prohibit increases in local order as we shall see. Entropy is an extensive property of matter not an intensive property; that is, it refers to a value integrated over an isolated region and is therefore not a differential law. 

As we can see from the above quote Faulkner is locked into the natural forces vs. God dichotomy. For Faulkner the idea that the cosmos generated living things from non-living matter is a necessary condition for a “naturalistic” origin of life and is likely to be viewed by him as dangerously subversive of his faith. This taboo exists because in Western dualist thinking profane “natural forces” are set over and against sacred divine activity. The subliminal thinking is something like this: “If nature did it then that means God didn’t do it. Therefore if nature did it faith is compromised”. The scenario of “molecules-to-man-evolution” is perceived, to quote Faulkner, as a requirement for the Naturalistic origin of life. For the YEC fundie this subversive concept must be opposed at all costs. Fundamentalists may use the cover rationalisation that they are simply following their literal interpretation of the Bible, but I propose that this is just a proximate cause – the real underlying cause is their philosophical acceptance of Western culture’s God vs nature dualism.  This dualism is enshrined in de facto Intelligent Design’s explanatory filter.

However, notice that Faulkner hedges his bets: He says that the emergence of life appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics; he doesn’t say that it actually violates the second law. Faulkner is bright enough to know that he can’t provide any rigorous proof of a contradiction between the second law and evolution.

Faulkner goes on to talk about open systems:

However, merely being an open system does not automatically mean that entropy decreases. Life depends upon a huge number of complex biochemical reactions continually operating. These biochemical reactions operate opposite to the direction that they would naturally proceed. That is, living things synthesize simpler molecules into more complex ones. The inputs are matter (the less complex molecules) and energy (required to bond the more complex molecules), which is why living things are open systems. However, these inputs are insufficient in themselves to circumvent the second law of thermodynamics. The direction of the chemical reactions normally is decay from the more complex to simpler molecules, the opposite of what living things require to exist. How do they do this? Living things have complex machinery in the form of organelles (within cells) and structures such as tissue, organs, and systems (in the case of multi-celled organisms that convert matter and energy into the complex molecules required for life). Ultimately, the construction and operation of these machines is regulated by DNA, also included within cells. Both the physical machinery and the coded instructions represented a tremendous amount of order within living things. Some people call this order information. How could this order or information come about naturally?

MY COMMENT:  Faulkner ought to have qualified that first sentence. It really should have read:

However, merely being an open system does not automatically mean that entropy decreases locally.

This sloppy expression by Faulkner seems to be an outcome of him failing make it clear that entropy is an extensive rather than intensive variable.  An open system interacts with its environment which immediately invalidates the statement of the second law which pertains to isolated systems only.  This means it is then conceivable that a open system could undergo a decrease in entropy local to that system. But as Faulkner has tried to tell us above openness doesn't guarantee a local increase in order, it only makes it possible. However, there are open systems where there is a local increase in order e.g life.

Living structures are open systems. Their processes of growth and replication entail considerable increases in local order. That the processes of growth and replication decrease the entropy locally is not, of course, a violation of the second law, for if one demarks a sufficiently large boundary to isolate the living system and its environment one finds that globally there is an overall increase in entropy; that is, the local increases in order wrought by the activities of life are purchased at the price of increases in disorder elsewhere. Life achieves these natural local entropy decreases, as Faulkner admits, as a product of the natural biological machinery it has on board. But Faulkner has said nothing of the significance of this: Most dualists who are not vitalists would identify the processes of life as natural activities and these natural activities, as Faulkner admits, bring about local increases in order without globally violating the second law. Faulkner has avoided explicitly stating that the local increases in order are achieved by life using what most dualists would refer to as natural means.

Of course, current science tells us that the ability of life to increase local order comes about as a result of the implicit information present in the machinery of life. But that sets up a potential taboo for the Genesis literalists: For if this local order enhancing information can be present in life then it is conceivable that the information needed to generate life in the first place is implicit in our physical regime. i,e, in nature.  But this thought may trigger a "Pagan Green Man" alert in the fundamentalist mind.

Even Genesis literalists must be able to comprehend that a God who is capable of  downloading sufficient upfront information into living structures to enable them to naturally increase local order might go a step back and front load the requisite information, by other means, into the physical regime. If such was present then just as life is able to bring about the local reverse entropy “miracle” of growth and replication, so it is alternatively conceivable that a divinely ordained physical regime might contain the information to bring about the local decreases in entropy needed for emergent life and yet without any violation in the global law of overall entropy increase. This possibility is not acknowledged by Faulkner in spite of his effective admission that life is able to bring about local increases in order by "natural" means; for example, whenever a child is born it is evidence that a “molecules-to-man” miracle has taken place! However, if the cosmos has generated life from non-life it raises an outstanding question: If life has been generated by the cosmic system where is the requisite front loaded information?  More about that later.

Self-organization describes an orderly arrangement that occasionally appears to arise in matter spontaneously. A crystal is the best example of this. For instance, salt dissolved in water can form into crystals, an orderly array of units of sodium chloride. However, there are at least two problems with this analogy to living things. First, the salt + water system is an open system. It can and does exchange energy and matter with its surroundings in order to precipitate salt crystals. That is, salt crystals do not spontaneously form from a salt water solution. Second, crystals are simply ordered sequences which contain very little actual information. Salt crystals lack specified complexity, i.e., their structure is caused by the properties of their constituent parts and not imposed by some outside intelligent process as is the case for living organisms.

MY COMMENT: Faulkner’s first point: If evolution has occurred then it is properly envisaged as an open system which, like crystal formation, exchanges matter and energy with the environment. Therefore if the physical regime of Earth has generated life from non living matter then in this sense it would be analogous to the salt water system, contrary to what Faulkner claims. But the meaning of Faulkner’s use of the term “spontaneous” here is problematic. The growth of crystalline structures entails regions of increasing local order because transcendent physical laws act as envelopes of constraint on the random motions of particles. If the Earth has generated life in analogy to the way crystals form it could only do so if the physical regime supplies the requisite information in the form of constraining envelopes of possibility. According to the way Faulkner is using the word “spontaneously” such a process would not then classify as “spontaneous”.  I can only think that what Faulkner means by “spontaneous” formation is if a system somehow “magically” generates the configurations of life without the requisite up front information being implicit in the physical regime. As William Dembski’s work has shown this is a silly idea. But just who is claiming that evolution is a “spontaneous” process in the sense of Faulkner’s meaning of the term? I don’t think any scientist with their heads screwed on properly would subscribe to this straw man version of evolution whereby life is thought to emerge from a system without some constraining physical regime embodying the requisite information.

Faulkner’s second point is as equally confused; this confusion results because he doesn’t resolve out the different meanings of the term “information”. Let us start by taking its Shannon meaning, i.e.  –log(p) where p is the probability of an event. The conditional probability of salt formation given our physical regime is high and therefore as far as conditional probability is concerned the Shannon information of salt crystallisation is low. But the absolute probability of crystal formation is minute: Given the whole space of possible configurations highly ordered crystalline structures are a tiny class and thus their probability as a class is negligible. This negligible probability means that a high information value is associated with the absolute probability of crystalline structures. However, if we understand “information” in terms of data compressibility then it follows that crystal structures, whose data content is highly compressible, contain little irreducible information. Of course, living things having much more variety of structure are therefore far less compressible and correspondingly carry much more information in this sense. But then using the word “information” in the same sense it follows that truly random sequences, because they are incompressible, hold a lot more information than ordered living structures! With the foregoing in mind we can see that Faulkner completely misses the point. In absolute terms salt crystals have an extremely low probability i.e high information or “surprisal” value. Moreover, they have been manufactured by the algorithms of a relatively complex physical regime that under Faulkner’s own conceptions is likely to fall within the category he calls“specified complexity”.

Faulkner’s last sentence in the above quote is evidence of the dualist mold in which he has (unconsciously?) cast the issue. Implicit in Faulkner’s thought here is an assumed dichotomy between the properties of the physical regime and the action of an eminent intelligence which is envisaged to be imposed on a physical system from without.  As we have seen, in dualist thinking the properties of the "natural" physical regime stand in contra-distinction to the action of intelligence. Dualists like Faulkner habitually and probably unconsciously assume God’s action is analogous to an alien intelligence that arranges a configuration as per, for instance, the 2001 monolith which would otherwise be very unlikely to appear without ancillary intelligent action. Hence Faulkner betrays his conception of God as a kind of alien-of-the-gaps doing stuff that the physical world can't otherwise do. He therefore needs alien-of-the-gaps type activity as evidence of God's existence.  But it appears not to enter Faulkner’s cognizance that the totalising God of Christianity is intimately involved with every action of his creation whether by permission or by choice and that would include all the activities of the physical regime.

As far as humans and aliens are concerned matter has a motive power of its own apart from them. But this perspective should not be imputed to the Christian God who is both immanent and eminent. From a divine point of view matter doesn’t have a power of its own; all its powers are granted by God himself.  Given that the Christian God is so intimately involved with his world, the information required to generate life from non-life could conceivably be ever immanent in the physical regime. But against the backdrop of dualism’s alien-of-the-gaps thinking a cosmic regime which succeeds in generating life without the presence of an ancillary intelligence threatens to render redundant the dualist God who is needed to make good the “gaps”.

However, even crystals that form out of solution, such as salt, cease to produce any more order once they form. If anything, once crystals form, they accumulate defects in their crystal structure, which is less ordered and hence follows the second law of thermodynamics. That is, even open systems generally follow the second law of thermodynamics. To expect that life somehow developed from this is a gross extrapolation.

MY COMMENT: This is mad. As far as I’m aware nobody is suggesting that crystal formation bucks the second law of thermodynamics any more than does life’s routine ability to introduce local order to huge quantities of matter by “natural” means. Neither is anybody suggesting that open systems buck the overall trend of a global increase in entropy. However, I agree that the local order increases seen in crystal formation are a far cry from the increases in local order that would be required of a cosmic system which, through as yet unidentified information resources, generates living structures.

In similar manner, evolutionists propose that once enough order arose to allow for DNA and the machinery of cells, further random changes led to increased order. Again, the appeal is made to the magic of open systems. But merely being an open system in not sufficient to contradict the second law of thermodynamics.

MY COMMENT: There is a straw man here: Just who is suggesting open systems contradict the second law?  I'm fast coming to the opinion that Faulkner really doesn't understand the second law.

In evolution there is no appeal to any open system magic. Living things are open systems which, as I have repeatedly said, bring about huge increases in local order and a "molecules-to-man" miracle without contradicting the second law. Those who propose evolution, as far as I’m aware, are certainly not saying that because evolution is an open system it is either a) allowed to contradict the second law or b) being an open system in and of itself is a guarantee of local increases in order; system openness merely means that local increases in order become logically possible, but not logically necessary. 

All the appeal to open systems means is that the increases in local order demanded by evolution are not a necessary violation of the second law requirement that entropy increases globally. Of course, the question of whether this has actually happened and the whereabouts of the information needed for it is the 64 trillion dollar question. But to attack evolutionists as if they are blatantly contradicting the second law is a straw man. Evolution, as proposed by the academic establishment, contradicts the second law no more than does life when it brings about local increases in order.

The moment after a living thing dies, the machinery and coded instructions still remain. Furthermore, a just-deceased organism is capable of exchanging matter and energy with its surroundings, making it still an open system. However, the indescribable spark of life is absent, and the machinery no longer works. The chemical reactions go in the direction that will re-establish thermodynamic equilibrium, and the molecules become less complex, not more complex. Given this, the appeal to an open system to rescue the day for evolution is not demonstrated and amounts to hand-waving and gross extrapolation.

MY COMMENT: Current ideas of how life manages to annex huge quantities of matter to bring about considerable increases  "natural" biological machinery needed to organise matter – even Faulkner seems to have admitted this as we have seen. So quite what Faulkner means by the  “indescribable spark of life” I don’t know. Is Faulkner suggesting that some kind of dualistic vitalism is involved with the very day to day maintenance of life?  Who knows!

When will this man understand that evolution no more makes appeal to “open systems magic” than does crystallisation or the growth and replication of life? To work, all these systems require a) up front information built into the physical regime and b) open boundaries so that local increases in order are achieved at the expense of global decreases in order.

In particular the living processes of growth and replication are, I guess, what Faulkner would admit to be “natural” systems routinely creating “molecules-to-man” regions of local organisation. But this sets a dangerous precedent for dualists like Faulkner: For it then becomes conceivable that a physical regime presided over by an immanent omnipotent deity could well have the wherewithal to generate life. Faulkner’s underlying God vs natural forces philosophy presents him with a stark choice between God and “nature”; or God and the "Green man" if you like! But we must bear in mind that Faulkner is not addressing scientists who can see through his YEC sales pitch but fundamentalist rank and file who want to hear what they want to hear.

At this point let me give my usual disclaimer. Given that the living process of growth and replication is a “natural” system  capable of creating regions of local order without violating the second law it doesn’t automatically follow that the “natural” physical regime can do the same thing. As I keep saying I have my doubts about the existence of the spongeam which is the underlying mathematical object containing the information needed for conventional evolution.

Unfortunately, not all discussions of the second law of thermodynamics and biological evolution from a creation perspective have been as well thought out and presented as they ought to have been. Hence, both sides have committed some errors. The problem for creationists is that we have yet to generate a rigorously formulated entropy-based hypothesis that clearly shows that life cannot arise through natural undirected processes. However, evolutionists generally have failed to produce a reasonable argument which agrees with observation that the second law of thermodynamics does not prohibit evolution.


MY COMMENT:  Clearly Faulkner is one of those people he criticises: His arguments are badly presented if not poorly thought out. But he’s right on this score: YECs, along with alien-of-the-gaps IDists,  have failed to show that the cosmic generation of life contradicts the second law. What people like Faulkner do not understand is that the second law doesn’t directly address the question. The second law only pertains to global entropy and not to local entropy and therefore it doesn’t bar huge local increases in order if the requisite information is present as we observe on a routine basis as life grows and replicates. Furthermore, what YECs like Faulkner don’t comprehend is that the answer to whether evolution is allowed or disallowed is not addressed by the second law but rather by the information implicit in the envelopes of constraint which could conceivably favour huge increases in local order sufficient for abiogenesis. Confirming the existence or nonexistence of such constraints (whether implicit in current known physics or new physics) from first principles (as opposed to observation) is currently beyond our science, it seems. My opinion, however, is that both YECs and IDists have failed to take account of the activity term in the creation of information; see here for more on this subject.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Dark matter, dark energy and matter; all the same thing?



The unexpected orbital velocity curve associated with galaxies. 

When she's not pushing de facto ID's dualist dichotomy of God did it vs. Natural forces did it, reporter Denise O'leary can be a useful read. Being part of North America's anti-academic-establishment, anti-liberal right wing lobby, 0'leary sniffs out the stuff that doesn't fit easily with current ideas, to the discomfiture of established science.  She means mischief of course, but the upside of that is that she reports those erratics and anomalies which are the fuel of scientific revolutions.

So, along these line I was very interested to see this post of hers entitled Understanding of dark matter  muddier due to new findings on the ID website Uncommon Descent. She quotes this article from Inside Science.  Viz:

Now researchers examining 153 galaxies find that by looking solely at where stars and gases in those galaxies are located, they could precisely predict the anomalous ways in which they moved. This may hint that dark matter is more strongly coupled to normal matter than currently thought. It could also indicate that dark matter does not exist and that another explanation is needed for the discrepancies that dark matter models were invoked to solve, said study lead author Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist and chair of astronomy at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

I find that v. interesting because my own theory of gravity as a manifestation of quantum non-linearity would mean that matter and those galactic gravitational anomalies should go together. In the theory I've developed (see here) "dark matter" doesn't exist but quantum non-linearity produces a modified gravity which explains the anomalies. In fact this theory tenders explanations for both the apparent existence of dark matter and dark energy. As the theory in effect identifies "dark matter" and "dark energy" with matter itself, then it follows that matter and the putative effects of dark matter and dark energy are the effects of one realm rather than two potentially independent classes of matter. If dark matter and dark energy actually existed then further explanation would be needed to account for this association. But if matter, dark matter and dark energy are of a piece then the reason for the association would make sense.

All that's easy to say of course. I've only partially quantified my dark matter and dark energy theories. I must admit I am not heavily motivated to take it much further because I tend not to have much confidence in my own theories, those "left brain" creations. Steve Pinker calls the left brain the "baloney generator".   But nevertheless generating baloney can be fun!

Why I wrote my book: See here