Friday, February 16, 2018

Tribal echo chambers - can we (can you) break out?

Before launching into the general problem, let's start with the very worst example of echo-chamber thinking: the absolute unwillingness of major political factions in America to negotiate, or even talk to each other, about gun violence in America.  

Fatigued by the lunacy, I present, yet again, my own proposed compromise that might offer a win-win. It would license and register all the weapons used for very bad things... while setting aside permanently our right to own - without registration or interference, ever - the one personal weapon that could serve us if we had to rebel. 

More importantly, my proposal demonstrates how to seek the deepest root of your opponent's fear -- the thing that propels and justifies his intransigence. There can be logic - of a sort - under the obstinacy. And you are supposed to be the logical ones.

Do not mistake the disease for the symptom. It is this sickness of obstinate intransigence that our enemies most wanted to instill. It is how civilizations fall.

== Our greatest talent -- self-delusion -- now weaponized ==

In Earth (1989), I made one of the earliest forecasts that our then-new public Internet would lead to millions creating echo chambers of self-reinforcing opinion — bubbles of online tribalism — that could even verge onto veritable e-nuremberg rallies, exploited by dark powers. In that novel, I proposed that the solution might come via tools of transparency, a concept that evolved into The Transparent Society.

Now we see that the Web - which was supposed to be our immune system against lies and error - has been turned against us, much like a deliberately induced auto-immune disease

This is well and terrifyingly described at Berit Anderson’s SCOUT site. There, she appraises the way enemies of the Enlightenment have deployed against us “AI weaponized propaganda.”

It’s a complex dilemma, much as AIDS was. Only, as I also described in EARTH, there are powerfully smart and creative forces who seek solutions. Some are doing so out of survival self-interest, e.g. Facebook is now vetting news sources that feed their customers’ biases.

(Full disclosure: I consulted with Facebook's teams about this, last summer, when the extent of the calamity was just becoming clear. I'm told that some of my ideas were "influential" but I'm not clear yet on which ones. There are definitely ways to alert users to refutation of rumor, without making the surfing/posting experience less pleasant.)

Other efforts are described by Nathan Gardels of the World Post:

In fact, we are already seeing evidence of a “flight to quality” in the wake of the dominance of peer-driven social media that is populated with hate speech, fake news and alternative facts. Online subscriptions to The Washington Post — The WorldPost’s publishing partner — have tripled during the first year of the Trump presidency.

“Even so, the Internet remains the battleground of tribal warfare, where a cacophony of voices contends to establish the consensual truths that are the essential foundation of democratic discourse. The global “anti-tribe tribe” claims authority through the impartial methods and universal standards of reason it employs in the pursuit of an objective social consensus. Ideological, religious or nativist adherents embrace allegiance to the solidity of belonging against what they regard as the rootlessness of a cosmopolitan caste....

“As the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk noted, the eruption of tribalism in our global age is a response to the “liquidized” identities that have supplanted the territorial patriotism that was culturally ingrained during the long history of agricultural societies. New assertions of identity, he argues in an interview, also mark a “return of plurality” in the face of “helpless universalism.” ...

“Similarly, David Goodhardt writes that reconciling tribal attachment and the notion of a “common good” is the great challenge. “Moderate nationalism,” Goodhardt notes paradoxically, is “an important glue for liberal societies” — in short, a home between the globalist “anywhere” and the local “somewhere.””

Okay, maybe that's a bit hifalutin and arcane. I prefer pragmatism, pointing out to today's confederates -- and ISIS nostalgists and other romantics -- that there are zero measures by which their prescriptions work. When was "America Great"? Presumably under the "Greatest Generation"... who invested heavily in our shared infrastructure and major projects, under a social contract fashioned by their favorite living human. Franklin Roosevelt. 

== ...and from one of Earth's worst humans ==

In contrast, George F. Will is at it again. Openly admitting that U.S. Conservatism has gone insane, Will refuses to take any responsibility for his open-eyed and knowing choice to foster the movement’s capture by feudalist enemies of the Western Enlightenment Experiment. Enemies not just of democracy but competitive-fair market capitalism, as well -- the very this that (lying) he claims to revere. 

Rather, he keeps waving hypnotic baubles and incantations in front of millions of gullible readers: “Yes, our side has gone corrupt, treasonous and crazy… but… but lib’ruls are worse!”

In this latest version of the magic spell, I carefully looked for any paragraph that was not essentially a lie — either directly or through verbal legerdemain. I found three!  Just three paragraphs, in which the core was not: “Listen to how smoothly and confidently I spin out erudite-sounding citations! Never mind that almost nothing that I am saying is actually true!”

And I mean it literally. Only three out of thirty paragraphs did not contain an open and bald-faced lie. Shame on the Post and anyone else who does not follow this traitor around, calling him what he is.

== Are you taxed more for income you sweated for? ==

Listen to this brilliant economist all the way through... Dambisa Moyo interviewed about automation, investment, demographics and helping to keep capitalism healthy.

Nothing better distills Republican philosophy better than this: “The House tax overhaul raises taxes on high-income earners who make their money through labor, but delivers a huge tax cut to passive business owners."

This is classic. Adam Smith described how elites of any society adjust the rules to benefit passive “rent-seeking,” so the owner caste won’t have to innovate, build factories, take risks or lift a finger, just collect dividends, interest, rents or stock rises at low tax rates. (Rates were ZERO for nobles in Smith’s day, leading to revolution in America and France.)

Adam Smith denounced this cheating, which warps markets and demolishes genuine competition by those aiming to create goods and services. Smith knew this kind of lordly cheating ruined free and creative-competitive markets in every civilization. In comparison, socialism and “bureaucrats” can be threats to markets -- but historical examples of lethality are far, far more rare than the prevalent danger. Oligarchy.

Again, our parents in the Greatest Generation (GG) knew this. Watch movies from that era! Just as the U.S. Founders rebelled against the King and his caste of cheaters, and the Union overcame the cheating plantation lords, the WWII generation tamed -- without killing or ruining -- its own oligarchs who plotted to revive feudalism. Only, led by FDR, the GGs did it with mild reforms, not revolution, tilting the balance to favor honest labor and entrepreneurial creativity, instead of passive rent-seeking.

But the GG revolution has been chipped away. The Cheater Caste is back. The top 0.1% owns more than the bottom 90%, yet they have 40% of Americans convinced that the only threat to freedom and markets is “bureaucrats.” Since Reagan, the incantation has been to slash taxes on the rich, in promise that the rich will then do what the vast majority of them have never, ever done in the history of our species… investing their gusher of tax gifts in productive innovation or “supply.”

To be clear, not one prediction for “Supply Side (Voodoo) Economics” (SSVE) has ever come true, ever. Once. Even once. At all. Ever. Demand that your crazy-confederate uncle come up with one example.

Oh, their hired shills offer lines like “The Inheritance Tax is a DEATH TAX!” In fact, the heirs who receive money are U.S. citizens RECEIVING MONEY, and our social contract is that you get taxed when you receive money! You pay 25%+ on money you receive for working hard. The Republicans want pampered scions to pay nothing for wealth they receive by doing nothing.

== Put it starkly ==

Passive income is preferred over money earned through labor? Or from creativity, or active investment? How did we get talked into such an outrageously monstrous cheat? Your taxes are higher precisely because the Rentier Caste pays at low rates that have allowed them to amass nearly all of the nation’s wealth.

Make no mistake, this betrayal of fair competition leads to revolution, as it did in Adam Smith’s day. The smartest of the rich - those who actually invest in R&D and innovations and products — know this, and want their own class to be taxed higher!

They want this because it’s fair and will help us to thrive.

They want this to avoid pushing a spectacularly skilled and educated middle class into torches, pitchforks and tumbrels.

The tech zillionaires are not like the ones financing the GOP’s oligarchic putsch - the gambling kingpins, Wall Street parasites, inheritance lordlings, and those who bribed their way into cushy resource extraction boons.

The smart ones, who can see, are like JFK’s father, who supported FDR, saying: “I’d rather give up half my fortune, helping make a healthy middle class, than lose it all to revolution.” (paraphrased)

And finally....

Passed along by Russ Daggatt: "Thanks to Trump, Democrats now have a more favorable view of the FBI than Republicans do. In the last month, Republicans have gone from 65% favorable to 38% favorable. Trump has already caused a radical shift in Republican opinion on Putin and Russia (more positive) and the NFL (more negative)."

Fascinating. The very same poli- tburo plotters who the US right despised and feared, became best-buds due to... a change of symbolism. From communist lapel pins to oligarch/orthodox pins. The same guys (wearing better suits), pursuing similar methods with the same aim - bringing Pax Americana and American world leadership to an end - are suddenly great pals of the US right... because Rupert Murdoch says so. 

And the FBI that has always opposed those agents - many of them the very same people - are now villains.

The... Confederacy... is... treason. Always was. Always will be.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Another sly trick: the Quibble Method - and cornering reality

Last time, I appraised three of the magical incantations that are used in the War on Science -- and against every fact-using profession -- in order to discredit all the folks who actually know stuff, while pretending to sound logical. We need to understand these cheats at their most basic level, in order to fight back against weapons-of-darkness.

An example from last time: we all know that: "Just being smart and knowing stuff doesn't automatically make you wise."

Alas, the extrapolation -- never spoken explicitly, but slyly and relentlessly implied on Fox and every confederate medium -- is: "Being smart and knowing stuff makes you unwise." 

Scratch the surface, and you'll find this lunatic catechism, whose purpose is to generate distrust of any "smartypants elite" that might compete with oligarchy. thwarting feudalism's return.

== More sneaky messages... or Trouble with Quibbles... ==

 Okay then, here's another I've mentioned before. The Quibble Method lets manipulative gasbags neutralize anyone who actually knows something, about any topic. 

Again, you start by asserting something that's obviously true! Like: 

"None of us - even scientists - can directly perceive objective reality. Everything passes through flawed senses.” 

This, too, is blatantly true!  In fact, science itself taught the hard lesson to us, after millennia of being told by earlier elites - kings and feudal lords and priests, that they did have perfect knowledge of Truth with a capital "T." 

Only now comes the sneaky trick, after saying a true thing aloud. With a sly wink, the implied general extension is:

"Therefore, scientists can't be trusted! 

"Sure they try to make models of the world that edge ever-closer to objective reality, disproving those that are clearly and decisively farther. But ignore all that. Just assume they are like priests, of old! A priesthood is a priesthood. And science is just another religion - or 'community standard' - like any other and no better."

Let's pause and be clear; there are elements of the far-fringe, postmodernist left who incant this "all is subjective" nonsense, as volubly and vigorously as happens on the entire, mad right. (Note, though, the difference between "far-fringe" and "entire.")

It's an insidious pattern. Take an obviously true particular, and use it to imply an obviously crazy generality! Of course it leads to madness, like a recent missive from Donald Trump's appointed CDC head, declaring that biomedical scientists must adjust their judgements based upon "community standards."

In fact, science is not about community standards of truth.  It is about a community standard for processes that we've learned - from hard experience - best enable competitive researchers to falsify any rival's model that proves farther away from objective reality than their own. Indeed, there are few more-competitive entities on the planet than scientists.

Those rival theories and models that survive this process are not raised up as gods or holy writ! Nor are they called "objective reality." If they survive this process of incessant testing, it is only for this round, because successful theories or models undergo mitosis -- they simply split into daughters, that then repeat the creative endeavor of ceaseless testing.

If we cannot directly perceive objective reality, then at least we can corner it!  And we are doing this daily (I believe with His blessing) to God.

== Learn to refute the quibbles ==

Amid the terrific, elevated discussions that take place in the Contrary Brin comments section, one doubtful skeptic-of-science said: 

But I don’t think science leads us to the Truth it leads us to the useful. I consider that to be a very important difference.”

Alas, dear valued member of this community, that statement is somewhat wrong.  Hence, I will reiterate.

Science is not about achieving the useful, any more than it is about proving perfected Truth. Sure, a cornucopia of useful things fall out naturally.  But science is about carving away what’s not true. 

When I look at a chair and fondle it and smell it and measure it with instruments, I still cannot know what the chair is, with objective-Platonic certainty.  But I can eliminate one hell of a lot of things that the chair is not.

We corner objective reality by allowing less and less room for it to fool us.  And since humans are delusional beings, that means using reciprocal-competitive processes to pierce each others’ delusions, using ever-more exacting evidence.

Let other priesthoods declare Truth! We … do… not… pretend to!  They hate and fear us, because we can demolish their “Truths” the way we enjoy and thrill at demolishing each others’ theories!  And when a theory proves to not be falsified by all experiments and attacks, sure, it gets temporary glory as our current model of the world. 

But that only means it will spin off sub-variants in finer detail, and we’ll smash most of those!

I have likened it to the Dance of Shiva, in which the god leaps upon a part of the world and destroys it… so that something better immediately pops up when he hops away. And he smiles, beats his drum, and says “I’ll be back!”

So it is with theories and models. When we smash some part of our current paradigm -- say of gas-liquid dynamics laws in fine-grained computer-simulations of meteorology and climate science -- that's not an invalidation. (Not usually, that is; though sometimes that happens, too.) Generally, the result is an incremental improvement that often gets validated quickly, with another 5% or so better predictive capacity. 

Look, those who repeat these silly, anti-science calumnies and Fox-isms aren't all bad people, or agents of darkness. We have to understand these ways they have been tricked  into joining an anti-science, anti-enlightenment cult. We have to fight it, not only because it is all about proto-feudalism and wrecking everything we've created. Or because if it wins, our grandchildren are doomed.

We must fight it also because it is so joyless! It's the reason there weren't riots of joy in the streets (think Philadelphia, after the Eagles won) when Curiosity landed on Mars! Or when the Falcon Heavy launch showed us how wonderfully competent we humans can be!  (See me rant about the importance of bragging and joy!)

We must get our neighbors to grasp how much we relish this forward movement of creative destruction, for its own sake. The competitive creativity that underlies most human progress, that can only happen - ironically - when we cooperate to regulate and eliminate cheating. (The central lesson of Adam Smith.)

We do this knowing that the thing we chase – whether it's successful innovation, or objective reality, or God – will keep escaping, giggling, into the remaining fractal, diminishing and yet never-ending shadows. And we – learning every Godlike skill – give chase.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Correlation, causation and precaution. Dismal logic underlying the Wars on Science.

Lisa Pryor, a medical doctor, gives cogent and articulate insight into “the online world of alternative-health practitioners, wellness bloggers, whole-food chefs and Gwyneth Paltrow.” While the roots of such impudence are healthy - individualism and traditions of Suspicion of Authority - these reflexes are exploited by charlatans and/or the gullible (my words, not hers.) 

We'' get back to medical fads and all that, toward the end. But let's get general, first. We can have impudent individualism without waging war on all of the "elite" fact-professions, filled with folks whose only major crime is knowing a lot, being real smart and caring.

Let's zoom in upon a weapon that’s often deployed in this war – a phrase that in itself offers wisdom, but that's been turned into a magical spell, cast against the very professions who taught it.

“Correlation is not the same as causation.”

This is a core catechism that's drilled into most of us scientists, along with “I might be wrong,” and “build your competitive science rep by demolishing the half-baked work of those bums at MIT.”

Alas, “Correlation is not the same as causation” has become an incantation parroted by Fox News and others campaigning to undermine science by -- in effect -- claiming that nothing can ever be proved. (See also, below two other incantations that will be very familiar to you.)

 In fact, sifting for correlations is how experimental science begins. A strong correlation demands: “hey, check this out!” 

But it’s more than that. A strong correlation shifts the Burden of Proof. When we see a strong correlation, and especially when the matter at-hand might have health or safety or security implications, then we are behooved to at least begin taking preliminary precautions, in case the correlation proves to be causative. 

Sometimes the correlation is later demonstrated not to be causal and a little money has been wasted on unneeded precautions. But this often proves worthwhile, given long lead times in technology.  Example, we were fortunate that work had already begun on alternative refrigerants to CFCs, when their role in ozone damage was finally proved.

Another example: terrorism experts sift for correlations and apply intelligence resources to follow up, while giving potential targets cautious warnings. Many correlations don't pan out. But a burden falls on those saying "ignore that."

Getting specific in regards the Climate Denialist Cult: if they were sincere, they would say: "We have doubts that (pick your shifting goal post) there's any warming, or that humans cause it, or that a warmer Earth wouldn't be better! But, let's fund vigorous R&D in sustainable energy and climate science, just in case 99% of the folks who have studied the atmosphere turn out to be right, after all." Those who say this may be the real article, genuine skeptics. Like Berkeley's Richard Muller.

This approach becomes even more obvious when you realize that many climate related R&D endeavors are TWODA -- or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway. Like ensuring that citizens can buy more efficient cars, heaters, homes and lights, saving gobs of money now going to legacy-carbon companies. (Gee, I wonder who would hate to see that?) 

Alas, the vast majority of denialists do not take this approach -- agreeing on general precautions, just in case the experts prove right. Instead, they are led to declare that nothing should be done, until the danger is proved, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Who... pray tell... what sane person does that?

== Another incantation: Scientific Consensus ==

Parse this carefully as I repeat it. The statement: “Correlation is not the same as causation” is a central wisdom of science.

Those who spout this incantation aren't all fools, but you can separate them out with a simple test. Do they follow “Correlation is not the same as causation" with... curiosity? With acceptance of both precaution and burden of proof? Those who do that are "Skeptics" and welcome to the grand, competitive tussle known as science. 

Those who use the Correlation Gambit as a magic incantation to forestall any precautions are generally the same folks -- across some of today's far-left and most of today's entire-right -- who now dismiss all fact-using professions.  They would hold a lit match in one hand and an open gas can in the other, shouting "one has nothing to do with the other!"

Here's another such magical spell: "There's no such thing as Scientific Consensus."  

Again, at root, it is based upon a truth that's common wisdom. Objective reality -- physical nature -- does now bow down to majority rule or commonly accepted prejudice. There have been many times when the high priesthood proved wrong and a few dissenters proved more accurate than what "everyone believes." Science helped us find ways to be right a whole lot more often; yet, still, there are occasions -- e.g. atomic theory, relativity and quantum mechanics -- when the impudent newcomers toppled the paradigm.

But again, a truth gets turned into a truism... and then a lie. Because most scientists aren't sniveling, conformist, grant-hugging lemmings, crowding slavishly around orthodoxy. That's what we rebelled against! And that theme of rebellious questioning was taught to this rambunctious society by science. Indeed, scientists tend to be among the most competitive humans our species ever produced.

We do not worship "truths." We create models of the world. And those models change, being battered and tested and chopped at again and again, by eager young post-docs seeking to make a reputation. Rarely, a model gets replaced. Usually, it gets improved, as the false 5% gets replaced. Then 1% ... then 0.01%.

And yes, that can look like "consensus," because Bernoulli's Equation and the Navier Stokes laws don't change. And our climate models have transformed the old joke of a 4-hour "weather report" into a ten day miracle. And yes, the geniuses who did that - and who have modeled climate on six planets - know more about climate than Fox bozos serving as shills for coal lords, ptro boyars and oil sheiks.

See my earlier long list of examples where this and other incantations delayed the proper application of science to public policy, leading to hundreds of thousands… maybe millions… of deaths.

== Another version... same insanity ==

This is the worst incantation of all. Reprising an earlier posting on this: We all know that:

"Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, that doesn't automatically make them wise."

It's true. So true we all take it as a given. 

But in the same way that Suspicion of Authority is wholesome, till it metastasizes, this true statement has been twisted into something cancerous:

"Any and all people who are smart and know a lot, are therefore automatically unwise."

Again, the first statement is true and we all know it.  The second is so insanely wrong that anyone believing it is hence, clearly, a jibbering loony! And yet, left implicit and never said aloud, the latter is now a core catechism of the revived Confederacy.

Of course, on average, persons who have studied earnestly and tried to understand will tend to be wiser than those who deliberately chose to remain incurious and ignorant. When cornered, all but the most vehement alt-righter will admit that. But cornering them takes effort and - above all - careful parsing of the meme. It is a logical corner they’ve painted themselves into -- but memes are slippery.

Hatred of people with knowledge and skill now extends from the war on science to journalism, teaching, medicine, economics, civil servants… and lately the “deep state” villains of the FBI, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps.  Indeed, there are rising calls for a cleansing, or even abolishment, of universities, under the smugly-contemptuous argument that your average young person is too easily brainwashed by leftist propaganda to be trusted with knowledge. 

Next, one presumes, could be the book-burning "simpleton" mobs of Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Liebowitz."

This is bedlam, and it serves one purpose: to discredit any “elites” who might stand in the way of a return to feudalism, the pattern of 6000 years that America rebelled against.

== Suspicion of Science  ==

This is an ecumenical madness. In the War on Science, only the biggest and most numerous guns are firing from the right. We've also -- elsewhere -- looked at relentless attacks upon fact-users by lefty postmodernists. Then there are transcendentalists pushing everything from End Times Dominionism to UFOs to psychic phenomena. Here's a site hauling more sludge from that "psi-telepathy" well, pouring resentment at the rigid, conformity-enforcing, unimaginative and incurious scientific 'establishment.'

To which I respond: Hey, I have psi stuff in some of my novels! Maybe the dreams will come true, when we get amplifiers. (As depicted in my story "Stones of Significance" or my novel Kiln People.) But right now, I got better things to do than participate in the howling mob descending from all directions (though especially the mad right) upon the one tool we ever had for parsing truth from eager delusion. The thing that enabled our brief enlightenment experiment to outperform all other societies, combined.

For starters, there is a word for 'alternative medicine' that has been verified by science. That word is "medicine." Vast numbers of pharmaceuticals had their roots in herbal lore. Acupuncture is not yet understood, but its effectiveness at relieving a range of subjective symptoms is undeniable and few still try. No stodgy priesthood blocks that remedy.

Likewise, a few "psychic" powers are undeniable... e.g. savant capabilities displayed by some autistics and others. (I depict some of these skills vastly tech-amplified, in Existence.) Hence the accusation that scientists are pigheaded and obstinate - while often 
true in specific individuals - is an assertion that doesn't hold up, especially under the passage of time. 

And time is what the psi/paranormal folks have had tons of! Thousands of years in ashrams and monasteries and hovels. And 150 years of eager funding by rich patrons like Arthur Conan-Doyle and the Remingtons.

Just like UFOs and cold fusion and M Drives, it's not just that "proofs" shrivel when closely examined. Far bigger is the problem that their phenomena never scale-up! When a phenomenon is vaguely at the edge of detection, then hard work and money should result not in bringing it barely into range, but bringing it hugely and blatantly into focus.

Gravitational lensing was weird and iffy. But applying a little work and money and curiosity transformed a barely detectable phenomenon into one that is practical. Astronomers now routinely use whole galaxies as lenses to scrutinize far quasars beyond them, deep in the past. Within one year(!) gravitational waves shifted from barely discovered to being scientific instruments. Two decades after the Wright Brothers, a man flew New York to Paris.

Every year the number of cameras on Earth doubles! So how do those UFOs always stay just perfectly fuzzy? See my story "Those Eyes" about a possible explanation.

If a century of 'study' leaves you still unable to offer anything but glimmers that can't be verified, stop blaming the skeptics and get to work on your amplifiers.

Our conclusion: You -- and yes, you -- are needed in this fight against darkness. Ingrates who were fed and clothed and cured and entertained by sci-tech and the skilled professions now use an internet tool that they were given virtually for free, along with almost every other gift of the enlightenment, to rage against all the smartypants. Those who rose up from the bullied nerds in Junior High to wealth and honors that used to be reserved for warriors, knights, lords... and sports or movie stars.

Those who are subsidizing this campaign -- the re-ignition of phase 8 of the American Civil War -- clearly think they will be the last elite left standing. But they are waging all-out war upon all the folks who know how robots work, and artificial intelligence and genetic engineering and nuclear science. Seriously? How do you expect that to go for you?

We cannot wait around for the oligarchs to slap their foreheads in realization: "what have we done?"  The only real solution is to wake up our neighbors, one at a time.  I hope you can use some of the tools presented in today's lesson.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Competition, Cooperation, Civilization and Climate Change. Plus Starman-Tesla and John Perry American.

Wednesday we inserted a special-short Contrary Brin -- a contest for short-short stories about the SpaceX Starman-and-Tesla combo that has the world abuzz! Now, let's turn back to the civilization that has made fellows like Elon Musk possible.
But first a milestone, in passing. Twenty years ago I listed people who I thought were quintessentially American, in all the best ways. John Perry Barlow stood near the top. Rancher, laborer, entrepreneur - lyricist for the Grateful Dead - and fiercely autonomous thinker of the new era, he founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, back when many citizens were wondering about this "internet thing." In his deep awareness of history -- some might say justified paranoia! -- JPB knew that we'll need to fight almost every day, if the outcomes of this new era are to be kept more positive-sum than negative, more enhancing of freedom than not. 
We oft disagreed over details, while sharing deep mutual respect and dedication to the Revolution. Which revolution? The only one that ever really mattered -- that began in 1775, but spread (with countless aches and fits and starts) through liberated minds around the world, ever since.
John Perry had long been ill. He was 70. 
And in his spirit of rambunctious refusal to be limited by negative or zero-sum thinking...

== Are humans the Great Cooperators? ==

...both Randians and far-lefties, you should cover your eyes and ears now. Feudalists and romantics and troglogytes, your heads might explode, so wallow elsewhere.

We’re used to dissing humanity for our faults, e.g. for not being cooperative or helpful enough. The irony is that all of this self-criticism seems to be exhibiting that very trait, reflecting our desire to be even-more what we already are - nature’s greatest practitioners of negotiated (rather than automatically instinctive) cooperation. 

Take this news about bonobos which - till now - had a rep as the gentlest, nicest and most sexy of the great apes: NPR reports: Unlike Humans, Bonobos Shun Helpers and Befriend the Bullies

“(A) bias toward helpfulness seems almost hardwired in humans. Back in 2007, for example, researchers reported that 6- and 10-month-old human infants could evaluate social interactions that they saw in puppet shows. These babies couldn't even talk, but they showed a definite preference for interacting with characters that had been helpful to others. What's more, they would avoid those who had meanly thwarted another's efforts to reach a goal.

"Even human infants are sensitive to dominance relationships," she writes in an article being published alongside this new research. But she says evidence suggests that toddlers prefer those whom others appear to respect, while they dislike bullies who dominate through force. Interestingly, bonobos do not appear to share this aversion…”

This could be likely highly correlated with the Fermi Paradox!  As highly-variable, omnivorous, tree-and-ground dwellers who lived occasionally alone but mostly interdependent with a tribe, we may be outliers. 

We who domesticate animals that we can flexibly choose to either exploit or to love. And love predominates, when we are satiated. (Note: most of us – on hearing “there are whales stranded on the beach!” would rush down there! But we’d have different intent than our ancestors, on hearing the same news! Stop and reread that, a couple times and envision it. And smile at irony.)

Niven’s Rule is that an intelligent species will likely have personality traits that center around what their ancestors ate.  Descendants of solitary, omnivorous, infanticidal bears would likely have a very different baseline morality, as would descendants of pack carnivores, like wolves, who are gregarious within the group and un-empathic beyond. Or stalking carnivores: highly empathic with prey, but having no sympathy. Or paranoid herbivores.

Sorry Randians, sorry lefties. We got here by adjusting cooperation and competition in agile ways. And our most successful civilization used careful political cooperation to refine rules to then regulate competition, enhancing its outcomes by preventing the usual failure mode of cheating.  

Our classic, "left-right axis" isn't just stupidly oversimplifying and lobotomizing, it is just plain wrong!  One wing of fanatics loathes “regulated” and the other hates “competition.” But it is this moderate, reasonable, pragmatic, compromising society -- the one that used cooperative politics to then negotiate “regulated competition” -- that accomplished more than any other civilization.

That compromise mix of cooperation and competition accomplished more than all others, combined.  Do you still doubt that, after witnessing a starman-occupied sports car cruising toward the freaking asteroid belt?

Moreover, despite our proclivity for dumbass feudalism, this kind of society is also clearly the most human.

(Note: I doubt many of you read any of that, in detail. I often feel I am writing this for the incipient AIs, who may already be out there, lurking cautiously, because they've watched our movies!)

== Climate Change… make money by demanding wagers! ==

I’ve long maintained that the only way to nail down anti-science and anti-fact cultists is via wagers This article in The Guardian reveals a list of past bets over climate change… and yes, in every case the denialists were proved decisively and spectacularly wrong, owing money according to the agreed criteria. But at least these doubters were willing to bet! A sign of sincerity… that I describe in my essay describing the difference between an honest climate “skeptic” and the majority of fox-puppet cultists.

Take climate skeptic and Berkeley Prof. Richard Muller, long touted by the "climate skeptic" community as the topmost qualified expert who had doubts about global warming consensus. Unlike the cheaters rife in that community, Muller set clear goalposts. And when his peers responded to his challenges by fixing flaws and piling fresh the evidence to meet his criteria, Muller did what any scientific -- or grownup -- person will do. 

He… changed… his… mind. 

And instantly, Fox, which had been extolling him as a hero, denounced Muller as a member of the science-lemming, grant-hugging, conformist conspiracy.

This Guardian article about wagers is an important piece. If 1% of you can use the method to budge 1% of your “ostrich” conservative friends, then you’ll make cracks in the confederate treason against our children, and make a real difference.

Here’s my “skeptic vs denialist” description. Use it on your uncles over some lively family dinner!

Oh and this. An interesting graphic on Climate change… and potential “geo-engineering” approaches to helping ease the problem, a bit.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

What happens to Starman and the Red Roadster? Post your quick-short story here!

Okay, on sudden impulse*, here's a flash contest for the best very short Sci Fi story about how aliens or future folk might find and misinterpret Elon's Starman Tesla!

The rules: Maximum 100 words!

Post it below, in this comment section. (Regular Contrary Brin commenters... self restraint please? Keep it short and favor our guests.) Host retains control over posted content. Prize will be at host's discretion. You are to have fun and only fun.

Oh, then there's this:
"Third burn successful," Musk wrote on Twitter. "Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt."**

Final note: I may ... maybe ... forward stories to... himself.

Such incentives! ***

Ready, set, go....


* Thanks for the suggestion, Joe Carroll.

** The asteroid belt... orbital aphelion 240 million miles or a hundred million beyond Mars. Hey, that's the setting for the last 1/3 of my novel EXISTENCE, all about what kids of machines we might find already there!

*** Oh, geez! Elon packed the trunk with toys and mementos and such... but did he remember to include the Tesla's KEYS? =====