Friday, March 30, 2012

Away for eight days

           I will be away from home for eight days, from April 1 through April 8, traveling back East. I’ll have a netbook with me, and a thumb drive with many files on it; so I might be blogging during that time, but likely not. So expect this blog to be quiet during that time. 
           So until the second week of April, signing off.

On The est Paradox

        On The est Paradox

        In former days I bought into some serious follies. I’d catch a meme like a bad cold, and it would take hold, and run its course, then leave me when I finally developed mental immunity. One such mind-flu was est; that is, Erhard Sensitivity Training. Really it was assertiveness training, with some primal scream and some New Age claptrap.
        It did boost my self-confidence, or at least it was an excuse for expressing self-confidence.  So why not some more seminars? They called to ask me to sign up.  I bought in, as far as my budget let me. Eventually they had me helping with phone banks.
        In the last phone bank I joined for est fundraising, I complained about the work rate, and the supervisor accused me of “shitting in the space”.  I shall treasure that memory forever.

        Then came one more phone call, from precisely one of those phone banks, asking me to join another seminar.  I said that I didn’t want another seminar. She persisted, and I decided to get tough.

I said that est is an assertiveness training seminar. She agreed. Then I said that if I agreed to more seminars, even though I don’t want them, then the previous seminars would have failed. She agreed to that. I said that if on the other hand I refused more seminars, then the seminars work, and deserve my money.  She agreed to that.
I said; if I agree to more seminars, then those seminars would already have failed, and I shouldn’t spend the money; but if I refuse more seminars, then the training is effective, and I should spend the money. She agreed to that.
I said;  This is a paradox. The est training is effective, and deserves my money, to the exact extent that I deny that it is effective.  Either  I pay money for assertiveness that I do not get; and so you cheat me; or else I refuse to pay money, and get all of the assertiveness for nothing at all; and so I cheat you.
She agreed to that.
I concluded,  Of the two I would rather not be the one cheated.  No more seminars, please.
        After some goodbyes, we hung up; and est has never called me since.
        It was a very estian way out of est, and I’m glad that at least I got ‘shitting in the space’ out of the experience; and also the est paradox:

        Assertiveness training works to the exact extent that the client denies that it works. It is worth the money only if you refuse to pay.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

On Orwellian Victory 2

            Reverse Martingales

            In yesterday's blog I discussed "Orwellian victory". In normal victory, the victor imposes peace on the victor's terms; in Orwellian victory, the victor terms are that there be a bigger and better war.

            Normal victory ends the war, Orwellian victory escalates it. The two are confused by warriors to whom war is peace. For instance, America experienced several Orwellian victories in Vietnam, before finally losing.

            Consider now what I call the "reverse martingale". The forward martingale is a gambling system in which the gambler redoubles the bet after each loss; in the reverse martingale, the gambler redoubles the bet after each win. The forward martingale is supposedly a sure thing; the first time you win you get back all your losses, plus twice your original outlay. In practice there is a small chance of being wiped out by a losing streak. Similarly the reverse martingale is almost a sure loss, but there is a small chance of big - but evanescent - wins along the way.

            Orwellian victory is a reverse martingale. The Orwellian victor redoubles the war after each victory, until eventual loss, but with a small chance of grand glory along the way.

            Here's another reverse martingale; Pascal's Wager. Pascal wagers that there is a God; if he wins then he wagers on some other characteristic of God; and so on until almost-certain loss, at which point Pascal loses his original stake; but there is a small chance of winning big about God, along the way, temporarily.

            Both types of reverse martingales hope to break the bank before nearly-inevitable loss. Orwellian victory attempts to break the bank of history; Pascal’s Wager attempts to break the bank of God.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Orwellian Victory

        On Orwellian Victory

            Awhile back I heard a certain political rightist make a curious claim about history; and to my amazement, a renowned political leftist agreed with him, for entirely different reasons. Such agreement is just the sort of curious phenomenon which draws my interest as a paralogician.

            The claim was that the USA won the war in Vietnam. I heard this contrarian claim from Jerry Pournelle, my favorite reactionary; and I also heard the same claim from Noam Chomsky, noted progressive. The difference is that Pournelle said that the USA had already won by the time it lost, and Chomsky says that the USA pragmatically won after it lost.

            Chomsky said that Vietnam was so ruined by the war that it had to abide by the rulings of the World Bank, thus ending their financial independence and the 'threat of a good example'. So he posits an ironic economic victory.

            Pournelle posits an abandoned moral victory. He said that the United States won not only one war there, but two in a row, before losing a third. It seems that the first two victories were such smashing successes, despite not ending the war, that the North Vietnamese really should have given up; but they stubbornly kept fighting, until the Americans gave up instead. And it's not fair.

            I still don't believe that the USA won in Vietnam; but who am I to disagree with both Jerry Pournelle and Noam Chomsky? According to Pournelle, the USA was ahead two rounds to one, which ought to count somehow; according to Chomsky, the Vietnamese were left too destitute to defend themselves against the World Bank. But if they are right, then why is Saigon now named after Ho Chi Minh? Cities are usually named after the winners.

            Here's a unified Pournelle/Chomsky theory: the USA won the first two phases of the war, formally lost the third phase - threw the fight, actually - and fiscally won the formally peaceful fourth phase. It seems that guerillas are more powerful than soldiers, but bankers are more powerful than guerillas. Is the "Ho Chi Minh City" thing a sop for the rubes?

            Also I wonder; what kind of victory is immediately followed by escalated fighting on the same soil? I always thought that military victory by definition ensures peace on the victor's terms; but now I learn that there is another kind of victory, which ensures a bigger and better war. I suppose this makes sense if war is peace; so let's call them Orwellian victories.

            So to fix definitions:

            An Orwellian Victory is one that ensures a bigger and better war. It is identical to actual victory only if war is peace.

            The reward of Orwellian victory is escalated warfare. Orwellian victories are dependable; they go on and on and on. If your business is warfare, then you can really make a killing during the boom times. Orwellian victories serve the military's interests, though not its purpose; for the purpose of the military is to win wars; but genuine victory would cause demobilization.

            The trouble with Orwellian victories is that the thrill fades. The folks back home, who provide money and cannon-fodder, eventually notice that Orwellian victory, unlike real victory, brings escalation instead of peace. If we had won twice already, and were about to win a third time, then wouldn't we have to win a fourth time, and a fifth, and a sixth? The guys in charge were wrong before; why not wrong again?

            The Vietnam war had a series of bigger and better victories; and it had promise to become even bigger; but Congress had by then realized that the military-industrial complex's definition of victory was not the same as theirs. The Congress, as representatives of the people, wanted peace; which is precisely what Orwellian victory cannot achieve. So they defunded the forever-war; and this was indeed choosing defeat; but it was Orwellian defeat, which is bitter-sweet; unlike Orwellian victory, which is entirely bitter.

            My personal reaction to the fall of Saigon was relief. I was grateful for the end of the war. Clearly victory could not bring peace, nor protest; only defeat would do.

            According to Chomsky, the defeat in Vietnam nonetheless served American interests, and so was only the appearance of defeat. So the defeat was as Orwellian as the prior victories!

            Some definitions, then:

            Orwellian victory:  a victory that ensures a bigger and better war. It is identical to actual victory only if war is peace.

            Orwellian defeat:  a voluntary defeat that ensures a peace on terms advantageous to the apparently defeated.

            The former is hubris, fit only for monsters; the latter is a sin, fit only for crooks. The latter is the lesser evil. Crooks can be bought off; monsters can't.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Bin Laden's Killing: 2

               The Situation Room Photo

               On the off chance that you haven't seen the Situation Room photo, here's a link:

               I write to comment. First of all, whoever took this photo deserves a Pulitzer. It is a revelation. Here I discuss six of its subjects, whom I nickname the General, the Spook in the Suit, the Jester, the Angel, the Seasick Secretary, and President Thundercloud.

               Starting with the General: he's the center of the photo, and he's the only calm person in the room. Everyone around him is wracked with tension, but he's not worried, for he has work to do. According to the poet William Blake, one of the Proverbs of Hell is "The Busy Bee Has No Time For Sorrow". The General illustrates this infernal wisdom. Though deep within the hell of war, the General is at peace.

               Behind the General, to his left, our right, stands a truly creepy individual whom I call the Spook in the Suit. I don't know how I know he's a spook; nothing on his turtle face says a thing; nor would butter melt in his beak. He knows things I'm not supposed to know; and I don't know how I know that; but I do know that a dog would take one look at him, and bark.

               The Spook in the Suit is king of all he surveys; but as the king was looking down, the Jester stole his thorny crown! For that is whom we see; the Jester, impishly peeking over the Spook's shoulder, stealing a look, outspooking the Spook. I call him the Jester for his sweet little Mona Lisa smile. He's enjoying this; he's the only one in the room expressing pleasure, and why? Because he's a young man, that's why; he doesn't know any better. He's just a kid; he still treats this like a game.

               Ah, but behind him, whom do we see? A young woman; shortest person in the room, probably the most subordinate in the room, yet somehow its door was not closed to her. I bet no door is closed to her; I bet she glides freely through the world of men, aloft on wings of intelligence and beauty; and for these virtues I call her the Angel. And what does the Angel think of this ceremony of the world of men? She does not approve. She frowns, she pouts, she looks askance at her Jester companion. These are not her rites; this is not her way. The Angel would rather have a better world.

               The only other woman in the room outgrew that kind of idealism decades ago, but right now the Secretary of State is having second thoughts. Her face is pale, she's covering her mouth, frankly I think she's a bit green about the gills. Hillary Clinton looks like she's about to lose her lunch. Afterwards, to save face, she blamed allergies for that look on her face. No doubt allergies added to her distress, but she needn't apologize; many people have that reaction to combat.

               (By the way, just what was playing on the screen they were all looking at? I like to imagine that it was the Bin Laden Money Shot itself, via live SEAL helmet-cam. Tap, tap. I know this is a savage fantasy, but a fellow can dream, can't he?)

               Despite my savage fantasy life, I approve of the Secretary's nausea; it's proof that despite years of political power, she's still more or less sane. Hillary Clinton should listen to her gut; it's sending her a message from her humanity. I like to imagine that right after this photo, the Secretary of State excused herself, visited the lady's room, and there delivered a candid Technicolor communique to the porcelain telephone. If that's true, then good! She puked for us all.

               Clinton was nauseated, but her boss was enraged. For who is that dark presence, brooding in the shadows, crouching, tense, frowning, glaring? Is he a thundercloud, full of hailstones and electricity, about to go zot? Is he a big cat, claws bare, intent upon the pounce? Is he Darth Vader? Or Batman? Or the Angel of Death? No, he's just the President of the United States, cleaning up yet another one of his idiot predecessor's messes. Barack Obama sits in a bubble of separateness within a crowded room; it's lonely at the top. Do you want to know why? I'll tell you! If you were in a room with a guy that angry, then you too would give him plenty of personal space! If looks could kill, then America wouldn't have needed those SEALs!

               Despite my distrust of power, I approve of the President's rage; it's proof that he takes his work seriously. Barack Obama is an executive, his job is to get things done. He doesn't have to like his job, he just has to do it. In this case what was done, what was executed, was Osama bin Laden. Anyone who thinks that bin Laden had any chance of surviving the raid should look at Obama's face in that photo, and think again.

               Yet despite all of my approval, I am ambivalent. This is what competent empire looks like, and I approve of competence, but not empire.

               The Jester smiled, but the Angel frowned.

Monday, March 26, 2012

On Bin Laden's Killing: 1

               Neither Warfare nor Justice

               What shall we call the bin Laden slaying? For it seems to be neither warfare nor justice.

                One of my friends called it "expediency", which sounds about right, and it fits Barack Obama to a T. Or you could euphemize it as "irregular warfare".

               Another of my friends said "he needed killing." This too sounds about right, and it fits Osama bin Laden to a T. Or you could euphemize it as "justified homicide".

               So what you call Obama's killing of Osama depends on if you have Obama or Osama in mind. This sort of semantic relativity is what to expect from a boundary case. My first friend took the Superego's point of view, my second friend took the Id's.

               Bin Laden's gang of theocratic nihilists spread terror in the Middle East, much more than they ever did in the States. So call it frontier justice or irregular warfare or imperialist hubris or karma, bin Laden was targeted for assassination.

               (And by the way, that wife was amazing. She approached a Navy SEAL on an assassination mission! Wow. Loyal indeed.)

               Capturing bin Laden would have been better, from a constitutional point of view, and also better symbolically to treat him as criminal rather than warrior or martyr; but perhaps this is too subtle a point to be worth the risk and cost. As is, what we got was too brutal, and sets a bad precedent; but it ended his menace conclusively, and it gave primal satisfaction to some, and warning to others.

               I see no fully satisfactory solution, given that is this is a boundary case, between crime and war. Terrorists are too big to be criminals, with rights, and too small to be heads of state, with privileges; so they lack protection. The real crime of the terrorist is that merely by existing, the terrorist reveals the continuity between crime and war.

               Bin Laden's assassination is part of the USA's psycho-historically irreversible transition from Competent Empire (because successfully disguised as a Republic) to Incompetent Empire (because unmasked, even to itself). Next ahead; 90% chance of Incompetent Republic within my lifetime, and a 50% chance of Competent Republic within my daughter Hannah's lifetime.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On Quantum Cats

           On Quantum Cats

and Feline Psychism

Cats have been associated with quantum mechanics ever since Shroedinger’s tale of a cat in a half-dead, half-alive quantum state. But Shroedinger did not mention that a cat can sleep all day, then lightly jump its own body length straight up; so cats are already half-dead and half-alive , by nature.
Cats reveal their quantum nature in many ways. For instance cats, like electrons, are easily excited by laser light. Felines display nonclassical behaviors such as superfluidity, invisibility, dematerialization, rematerialization, and tunneling through barriers.
Cats, like all quantum particles, display a dual nature; particle and wave. When observed, they’re particle-like, with a momentum and a localized position, albeit fuzzy; but when unobserved they propagate like waves, completely filling space.
Cats obey the uncertainty principle; you can specify a cat’s position or momentum, but not both. If you put a cat in a room and close the door, then you know where the cat is, but you have no idea how fast the cat is moving; and if you let the cat out and wait until the cat stops making noise, then you know that the cat is at rest, but you have no idea where the cat is.
In quantum mechanics, there is a distinction between two kinds of experimental ignorance. There is classical ignorance, where certain facts exist, but the scientist does not know them; and there is quantum ignorance, in which the facts in question are not known because they do not exist. Cats, in their dealings with us, experience classical ignorance; they do not know our thoughts, but those thoughts exist. We, in our dealings with cats, experience quantum ignorance; we do not know their thoughts, because those thoughts do not exist.
If a cat is observed at point A, and later at point B, then the cat propagated from A to B via every pathway. Spin action along each history; sum over all feline histories; the result is the cat’s quantum wave; which is, of course, the cat’s purr. If you are holding a cat and it is purring loudly, then its amplitude in your arms is large, so it is probably there.
Quantum mechanics is notorious for having multiple interpretations; so too with quantum cats. From one point of view, you can say that cats can teleport. This is the “classical” theory of feline door-tunneling. But from another point of view, you can say that cats merely seem to teleport, but in fact have superhuman intelligence in regards to stealth. In this “parapsychological” theory of feline door-tunneling, cats are smaller, swifter, softer, suppler, and sneakier than human; hence the illusion of feline teleportation.
By “parapsychological”, I mean any investigation where the (feline) subject is more intelligent than the (human) investigator. This is in distinction to “orthopsychological”, which describes an investigation where the investigator is smarter than the subject. Orthopsychology is classical, definitive, analytic and dualistic;  parapsychology is romantic, mysterious, intuitive and paradoxical. The former is a result of the investigator’s outwitting the subject; the latter is a result of the reverse.
Parapsychology is psychism; which refers to the mind; or in other words, being outwitted. Cats are often psychic in that sense; they can outwit you. They fit John Campbell’s definition of an alien; one who thinks as well as a human but not like a human.
Are other quantum particles also psychic in that sense? Do electrons have us psyched?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the Stellar Metaphor

    On the Stellar Metaphor

               This blog proposes an analogy between political economics and astrophysics. This metaphor is incomplete and inaccurate, as are all metaphors, but I suspect that it has some poetic value.

                First, consider a star. It exists in a balance between gravitational collapse and fusion-powered explosion. The star sustains this balance by a negative feedback loop. When the star is too cool inside then gravity makes it contract; this increases the core's temperature, which then increases its fusion rate; this liberates energy, which expands the star. Whereas if the star is too hot inside then it expands, and this lowers the core's fusion rate, cooling the star.

               Now, consider a society. It too exists in a balance between collapse and explosion. When an society hasn't enough money, then it tends to collapse; this 'puts the heat on' the society's core, which responds by increasing its rate of innovation; this liberates money, which stops the collapse. Whereas if the society has more than enough money, then it tends to expand, which 'takes the heat off' the economy's core, which shuts down innovation and thus lowers the money supply.

               Note these matches:

               collapse = collapse
               expansion = expansion   
               pressure = pressure
               temperature =  'the heat'
               energy = money
               fusion = innovation
               fuel = ideas;   for you innovate by fusing ideas together.
               'the core' = 'the top'.

               The last matching is the most surprising one. In the Stellar Metaphor, societies are not ruled from 'the top', but from 'the core'; not by the highest up or the furthest out, but by the lowest down and the deepest in, where 'the heat' and the pressure are at maximum but so is the idea-fusion rate.

               In the Stellar Metaphor, those not in the Core are in the Mantle or the Surface, which is exposed to the frigid chill of interstellar space. Those in the Core or the Mantle know nothing of real cold, or indeed anything beyond themselves.

               Does a star's core exchange material with its surface? That depends on the size of the star. In red dwarf stars, convection goes from core to surface; so all the material in the star spends some time at the core, where fusion occurs. Thus the star has access to its entire fuel supply; this, with the low burn-rate of red dwarf stars, ensures that such stars will last for trillions of years.

               This, I think, aptly describes small societies, which are small enough for the circulation-of-aristocracies to involve the entire population; so the small society has access to its entire supply of innovators; this, along with the lower brilliance of small societies, ensures that they can persist for aeons before running out of ideas.

               In medium-size stars, convection does not go from core to surface; instead the core just mixes itself, a star within the star, separate from mantle or surface. The medium-size star never accesses most of its fuel during its lifetime; this, plus a higher burn rate, ensures that medium-sized stars last for only billions of years.

               Again, this aptly describes societies beyond dwarf size. Its core gravitationally separates itself from mantle and surface; it becomes a society-within-the-society, the sole locus of active innovation, for neither Mantle nor Surface ever suffer sufficient 'heat' and pressure to fuse ideas and thus liberate money; instead the Mantle and Surface's sole economic function is to trickle the money outwards, until the money reaches the Surface and is lost to the void. Such a society can only fuse ideas already found in its core; this self-imposed mental limit, plus the greater brilliance of larger societies, ensure that they run out of ideas all the sooner.

               What happens when a star runs out of fuel? It collapses; and what kind of collapse depends upon the mass of the star. Small stars contract to a white-dwarf ember and slowly fade out. Again, this is an apt metaphor for the fate of a small society. When it runs out of ideas, it just quietly fades away.

               Medium-size stars will, paradoxically, increase in size and brilliance; but this growth is entirely supported by the contraction of its core. During this red-giant phase the star will blow a large fraction of its surface material away into deep space. If the core contracts enough then it will start fusing higher elements, but the energies involved are smaller, and it doesn't last long. Eventually all fusion stops, the star contracts to a white dwarf, and the ember glows red for a trillion years.

               This, I think, is an apt analogy for the fate of a middle-sized society. When its core runs out of ideas, the society paradoxically increases in brilliance, but this is supported only by money liberated by the continued consolidation of the core. If 'heat' and pressure in the core rise far enough, then it starts to innovate by fusing previously worthless ideas; but this doesn't last long. Eventually all innovation stops, and the society becomes small and dim.

               Large stars meet a more dramatic fate. In the end its core fuses elements all the way up to iron, which is at the bottom of the packing curve. The core then attempts to fuse iron, but that reaction is endothermic, not exothermic; it captures energy rather than liberating it. When the star tries to burn iron, catastrophe is inevitable. The core collapses, the mantle and surface first fall down but then rebound in a titanic thermonuclear explosion. All the fuel untouched for millions of years fuses all at once, and the star blows itself into smithereens. 

               Again, an apt metaphor. When the core of a large society recycles worse and worse ideas, eventually it tries to make money from utterly worthless ideas, ideas that use up money when you fuse them. When the core attempts to monetize its own idiocy, then its collapse is inevitable, followed by the fall of mantle and surface, followed by explosive rebound.

               The large star's mantle and surface are blown into deep space, but what happens to the core? That too depends on the size of the star. The resulting stellar ember will be made of some sort of collapsed matter; solid helium in the case of a white dwarf; or nuclear fluid in the case of a neutron star; in either case the stellar remnant is supported only by quantum degeneracy, i.e. the inability of fermions to share wave-functions. For stars larger still, this gives way, and no force in the universe can prevent the core's collapse to a black hole, whose event horizon conceals a singularity where no known laws of physics apply. 

               Again, apt. A large society's core, once it collapses, can support itself only by its own degeneracy. When this gives way, nothing in the world can prevent the core's collapse to tyranny, whose censorship conceals the breakdown of all human law.

               If you were an atom in such a star, where would you rather be? Outside the core, doomed to thermonuclear expulsion? Or in the core, doomed to gravitational singularity? The Inferno or the Pit; which would you prefer?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Physics refutes the Idolatry of the Local

               Physics refutes the Idolatry of the Local

               Is the world like a kingdom, ruled by the will of a single personality? Or is it more like a republic, ruled by impersonal law? I side with the republic; and as evidence for this, I cite the conservation laws of physics.

               According to a theorem by Emmy Noether (a brilliant German-Jewish female mathematician, 1882 – 1935) quantities within physics are conserved whenever there is symmetry within physical law. For instance, momentum is conserved because physical law is symmetrical under spatial displacement; angular momentum is conserved because physical law is symmetrical under rotation; and energy is conserved because physical law is symmetric under time displacement. That is, momentum, angular momentum and energy are conserved because, to physical law, there is no special place nor direction nor time.

               These conservation laws are fundamental; without them the cosmos would immediately become a chaos. Their corresponding symmetries refute the idolatry of the local. The steady orbits of the planets and stars give mute testimony against parochialism.

               The Sun does not go out because, to physics, no age is more golden than any other. The Earth keeps spinning on its axis because, to physics, no direction is more upright than any other. And the Moon does not fall from the sky because, to physics, no land is more holy than any other.

Readers of my “Underfables” will recognize in this my tale of the “Physics Genie”. See the November 17, 2011 blog, at:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Cousinhood

               On Cousinhood

               Assured of your supremacy?
               Oh silly sibling, don't be smug!
               For great and wide's our family tree;
               Dear sister seaweed, brother bug!

            First cousins are those who share a grandparent; second cousins share a great-grandparent; in general Nth cousins share an great^(N-1)-grandparent; or in other words share a parent N+1 generations back.  Therefore siblings are zeroth cousins, and one is one’s own negative first cousin!
            For what value of N are all human beings Nth cousins? This is a matter of evolutionary history. The present human species is about 200,000 years old, and at about 20 years per generation, that comes to 10,000 generations; so I would guess that we are at most 10,000ths cousins of each other; and probably much less.  There is some genetic evidence of genetic bottlenecks in human prehistory; so I would guess that we are at most 7000th cousins of each other, probably much less.
            And what of other species? I found the following figures at the site

            chimp        =  240,000th cousin
            gorilla        = 310,000th cousin
            cat            =  27,000,000th cousin
            cow          =  28,000,000th cousin
            robin         = 170,000,000th cousin
            frog          =  175,000,000th cousin
            fish           =  195,000,000th cousin
            snail         = 300,000,000th cousin
            dragonfly  = 300,000,000th cousin
            octopus    = 300,000,000th cousin

            According to that website, one can’t properly define cousinhood for bacteria. If we did, then I suppose that we’d be zillionth cousins to redwood and mildew, for some absurdly high value of zillion.
            In any case, it’s nice to have such a big and talented family.  Blessings, cousins!

Monday, March 19, 2012

On Science’s Internal Morality

               On Science’s Internal Morality

               Can science answer moral questions? Some say yes, others say no; I say that science has its own internal morality. That is inevitable; science is a social endeavor, and therefore requires its own social norms in order to survive.

               Science's internal moral values include honesty, self-honesty, precision, clarity, logical rigor, skepticism, curiosity, open-mindedness, respect for evidence, irreverence for illogical authority, and much else.

               Science enforces its internal values by reward and punishment; that's normal for a morality. Some of these values are in conflict (e.g. open-mindedness and logical rigor); that too is normal for a morality.

               So there's no such thing as value-free science, nor should there be. But science's internal morality, though real, is not universal; other vocations have different moralities. Irreverence for illogical authority, for instance, is not well regarded in religion or the military.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Who First Ate Cheese?

     Who First Ate Cheese? 

     Somebody had to be the first to eat cheese. I feel sorry for that someone, but admire that someone's courage and luck. Surely there had been nothing else to eat, for miles and miles around, and for a long time too. All that was left was this smelly gunk at the bottom of the milk jug. But our heroine ate it, and survived.

    Do you think our heroine's tribe thought cheese to be health food? Not at first, and rightly so; no doubt her tribefolk had all sorts of bad reactions to cheese, starting with lactose intolerance and going on up to obesity and heart disease. But evolution proceeded, and now lactose intolerance is a rarity, and Frenchmen eat cheese yet stay thin.

    I wonder about the origin of other healthful foods. Yogurt, for instance. Somebody had to be the first to eat that. Again, it must have been hard times. 

    Evolution continues unabated, even within civilization; for now civilization is the environment our genes must adapt to. If milk and cheese are cheap, then lactose intolerance is a genetic defect, and milk becomes health food. If you need readin', writin' and 'rithmetic merely to survive on these mean streets, then so long dyslexia. If flu, measles and the common cold regularly go pandemic in the cities, then your grandchildren, if any, will have kick-ass immune systems.

    I predict that in 10,000 years, Cheetos will be a health food.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spongians versus Bonoboids

    Spongians versus Bonoboids: your vote?

       I have long been puzzled by conventional morality's panic at underclass sexual folly, when compared to its comfort with overclass violent crime. But of course class explains all; for morality becomes conventional when it is bought and paid for.
       Imagine, if you please, the following science-fiction scenario:

       Planet Earth is invaded by two sets of extraterrestrials; the Spongians and the Bonoboids. We humans get to choose which ones must leave, and which ones will stay, as allies. The Spongians, like sponges, breed by budding. They cannot sin sexually, and indeed cannot even think sexually; but they do kill, quite casually and viciously, for political purposes. The Bonoboids, like the bonobos, are peaceful, empathic, and intensely promiscuous. They copulate like we would shake hands; and this, too, for political purposes.

       Have you any doubt whatsoever which aliens that conventional moralists will side with?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On the Tragedy of Optimism

             On the Tragedy of Optimism

             (and the folly of mystic wisdom)

               I am always pained to witness optimism; it's like seeing a small child toddle into traffic. Optimism guarantees that all surprises are unpleasant; and life is full of surprises. Failure, for instance. Failure is never an option; but it is always a possibility.

               I have even heard optimists claim that everything is perfectly good, it only seems otherwise. But that is easy to refute. Is murder good? Is slavery? Are lying and theft good? And never mind human evil; what about earthquakes, floods, disease and other natural misfortunes? Are they good? For what?

               And in general, is evil good? If there is no difference, then is there law?

               Perhaps we don't understand yet, but we will, if only we believe. But belief without understanding is folly for the student and failure for the teacher. If a teacher is so wise that no student ever understands, then is the teacher really wise?