70 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. @GrueBleen

    Yes, good points. I basically accept what you say there. I found a site that said;

    “Description tells about the phenomenon. Explanation shows the mechanism that is theorized to underlie it.”

    I like the inclusion of the phrase “that is theorized”. After all, “The map is not the territory.” The theory is not the thing-in-itself. Getting our theories right (according to criteria of repeatability, correlation and prediction) is smoothing the map. Smoothing the map does not smooth the territory.

  2. I discovered this on a link from the Utilitarian Philosophy site.


    “COMPASSIONATE BIOLOGY – How CRISPR-based “gene drives” could cheaply, rapidly and
    sustainably reduce suffering throughout the living world.”

    It is advocacy for using gene drive technology to reduce animal suffering. I don’t want to write too much about this other than to say it one of the craziest crank ideas I have ever read. Pain in animals has an evolved purpose, unpleasant and even agonising as it can be. The idea of reducing pain for animals in this way might sound cuddly but basically what it would do is destroy species rapidly.

    There might be a place for using gene drive technology to eradicate dangerous species like mosquitoes. But, we would have to be very careful of unintended consequences.

  3. @Ikonoclast

    Much goodness all round then. And whether or not the site you quote was referring to Mermin specifically, the quote summarizes his position nicely.

  4. @Ikonoclast

    Your #36

    Well so help me, I did sit through Prof Wolff’s talk – almost all the way to the end 🙂

    It did partake of American Exceptionalism just a touch though: America is the best at being best and it’s also the best at being worst.

    I wasn’t aware though of the claim that American wages (ie for the working and middle classes) increased for about 150 years (1820 – 1970) even though he did have to do a kind of Purchasing Power parity analysis to be able to claim that, though wages fell in the absolute sense during the Great Depression (1929 – 1942 in his words), they actually increased because the difference between what the proletariat earned and what they had to spend increased. A nice little accounting dodge, that one.

    But the, according to the Proff, the reality of capitalism kicked and when the “shortage of American workers” was overcome by (1) women entering the real workforce in unprecedented numbers and (2) immigration (largely Hispanic), the evil capitalists stopped increasing wages and so the working and middle classes began to go backwards.

    Of course, that wasn’t (and ppresumably isn’t) a capitalism specific property, it applied to feudal Europe as well. And Europe, back then, didn’t need to import lots of (black) slaves since the feudal lords had effectively enslaved most of the population – as bonded serfs rather than strictly as slaves, but the results is very similar.

    To my recall, the European serfs were liberated by two things: firstly, by that great leveler, The Black Plague which very rapidly reduced the number of workers and set up the feudal lords to allow for serf mobility because attracting workers away from other feudal lords was the only way they could get an adequate workforce and (2) a major program of Quantitative Easing, otherwise known as the flood of Spanish silver into Europe (Spain got far more silver than gold from South America, and despite the best efforts of ‘Captain’ Drake et al, lots of it got through to Spain).

    But an otherwise entertaining hour (almost) though I had to break in the middle to go and watch the day’s Daria repeat. Don’t think Proff Wolff will ever inspire the world, or even America, to the Great Counter-Capitalism Revolution though.

  5. @GrueBleen

    You said you were tempted to ask for a reason. I’m happy to supply some reasoning.

    Individuals that survive long enough to breed are (by definition) well adapted to their environment (that’s approximately what ‘well adapted’ means). Because there are, as Richard Dawkins observed, many ways of being alive but vastly more ways of being dead (I can’t remember whether he was quoting somebody else), a massive change to the genome of a well adapted organism is statistically certain to be catastrophic. Therefore, any offspring that themselves survive to breed will have only small genetic differences from the generation that bred them and therefore will be interfertile with them. Thus each generation should be expected to be interfertile with the generation before it and the generation after it.

  6. @J-D

    Yes, what you say is the received wisdom, J-D, and it was considerations along this line that persuaded me that you were more right than me.

    Nonetheless, I think the proposition that animals that survive long enough to breed are “well adapted” is debatable. For instance, brown rats in a stable environment, eg a barn: the females start breeding at 11 weeks but apparently as many as 99% of the rats die before reaching adulthood. Not altogether “well adapted” to that particular environment, however well adapted they may be to more “natural” environments, but it doesn’t stop them breeding in profusion.

    I had thought (vague memories) that there were clearer examples of juvenile reproduction but a bit of Google searching including neoteny, paedomorphosis and progenesis wasn’t very successful in finding clear examples – though I seem to recall that some insects reproduce in the larval stage (ie before reaching adulthood).

    So I can still consider that a small(ish) mutation could be such as to not stop ongoing reproduction, but could yet render young and their parents unable to interbreed. However, yes, I grant this would be rare if it has ever happened at all.

    Anyway, as I thought, it is a matter of “reasoning” and not of observation, and that always leaves room for doubt.

  7. @Ikonoclast

    Your #43

    Well, working my way slowly through your postings, Ikono: now I am up to “We really don’t know WTF we are doing.”

    I don’t think I’ll accept Ivor’s attempt at an answer, will you ? My view is two-fold:

    Firstly, to give Ivor his due, and to recall a certain Iron Lady: there is no “we”, there is only us negligible little bundles of momentary reversal of entropy* and there is also “invisible hands”, aka self-organised complexity. And we all know all about that, don’t we.

    But really, mate, very few people – and as far as I can tell nobody with authority or power – actually takes a “whole of humanity” viewpoint. For one thing, nobody really knows who, or what, the “whole of humanity” is. We’re just lucky that at least some people can see a smidgin past their own immediate needs, because clearly, not everybody can. Maybe the closest we’ve ever got was the later Roman Empire, with all its faults (eg savage slavery), that nonetheless conferred citizenship – and therefore both state centred duty and state sourced support – on a vast range and number of people. The next best after that was maybe the USA in its post WWII mass migration days – but the USA was never as multi-cultural and non-racist as Rome.

    [* You know the three laws of thermodynamics, don’t you:
    1. You can’t win
    2. You can’t even break even
    3. You must play ]

    But other than that, the real problem is meritocracy: not that we have it, but that we haven’t. The main fault with meritocracy is that most of the meritocratic “winner” are simply not particularly meritorious. Or as a now deceased mate of mine once had it, when we would ask lamenting questions about why some piece of nonsense or other had been instituted: “Have you ruled out stupidity” !

    Well stupidity is kinda formally defined as an IQ level (presumably Stanford-Binet or Weschler) of 0 – 25. Can you conceive of somebody of IQ 25 ? I can’t. But if we go for imbecile: IQ of 25-50, we really aren’t any better off, are we. Do you know anybody of IQ 50 ? That just leaves us with morons: IQ 51 to 75. And then there’s the rest of us.

    I remember Arthur Wellesley and how he defended Lisbon against Napoleon’s army (not including Napoleon, fortunately). Well, he turned up in Lisbon with some of the British Army and immediately sent all the officers off to the Officer’s Club to eat, drink and gamble. Then he got the troops and the Lisbonians (if that’s what they’re called) to prepare: bring all the crops and animals into Lisbon behind the wall, dis a pale, put in sharpened stakes etc.

    So when Nap’s army turned up, they looked out upon Lisbon (and while they were doing that, Wellesley called in the officers) and realised that with the defenses in place they faced a suicidal bid to try to charge and scale the wall – especially with lots of British firearms pointing straight at them – or they could hang around until they ran out of food and then either starve or go home. And that is the option they chose.

    My point: that one abnormally meritorious commander, Wellesley, took charge and ran the whole thing, keeping the stupids, imbeciles, morons, retards, normals and moderately intelligents strictly away from any decision making at all. And he produced an unmitigated success – which is why he was given total command at Waterloo where he also produced a narrow, but again unmitigated, success. Yay the meritorious !

    However, my real point is this: we make a total and utter balllsup of trying to educate our young – and our middle aged and our old – so that almost everybody knows almost nothing. In my experience we don’t educate anybody except our very own selves, and that usually poorly. So with all that meritocratic ignorance in charge of everything, it’s wonder we ever get anything right.

    Yes ?

  8. @Ikonoclast

    Your 47

    I started to read Vinding’s essay, but then, on a whim, I searched for ‘qualia’ and it wasn’t found anywhere in the document. No qualia ? You can’t discuss “consciousness” without discussing qualia – is “redness” a reality of the universe ? Do different species experience “redness”. What is it like to be a bat ?

    Apropos of which, it appears that humans actually can experience atmospheric ‘sonar’ like bats. But is it really like bats ? Does their echo-location function anything like ours, and how does it feel ? What do eliminativists have to say to solipsists (whose ‘consciousness’ is, to them, the only thing that exists at all) ?

    [ Still working my way through ]

  9. @GrueBleen

    Your #43 and comments on the defence of Lisbon

    I’m unsure if you were concluding that unilateral control is always a good thing. Presumably not.

    However, if you were, you might read elsewhere in the defence literature to temper your conclusion. For instance you could begin by reading Stanley McChrystal’s 2015 book Team of teams : new rules of engagement for a complex world. (New York: Penguin Random House.)

    A summary or review of it may give you enough to go on. Absurdly brief version: McChrystal abandoned command and control because it didn’t work.

    And there’s an earlier literature on the inadequacy of command and control on the battle field. As Helmuth von Moltke reportedly said, no plan survives the first contact with the enemy.

  10. @GrueBleen

    I write that organisms that survive long enough to breed are, by definition, well adapted.

    You respond that many organisms don’t survive long enough to breed.

    True, but completely missing the point.

    I didn’t write that all organisms survive long enough to breed, or even that most do. I wrote that the ones that do are, by definition, well adapted. Perhaps the ones that don’t aren’t so well adapted, but so what?

    I didn’t suggest that I’d given an absolute proof that in every case each generation is interfertile with the one that comes before it and the one that comes after it. I suggested that I had given some reason to think it’s the case, and I observed earlier that no reason had been given to think that the opposite scenario was ever the case. When there’s some reason to think that a proposition is true and no reason to think it’s false, I tend to the side of thinking it’s true until new information becomes available.

  11. An article in the UK Guardian caught my eye this week for it Kafkaesque quality and because it is a perfect description of market liberalism at work.

    A group of cleaners working for the Danish services company ISS has gone on strike supported by their union. The genesis of the dispute is this:

    In 2001 the UK Tax Office (HMRC) sold its real estate to an offshore company “Mapeley” based in Bermuda and lease the offices back. The lease includes the provision of services. The services part of the deal was contracted to Mapeley’s subsidiary Salisbury FM they in turn subcontracted the cleaning service to ISS. The original HMRC employees who did the cleaning list their jobs.

    Fast forward, the ISS employees are on minimum wages and part time hours. The government increases the National Living Wage, the response of ISS has been to reduce the hours of the employees to recoup the increase in cost. The result for the employees is that for some of them their hours have been reduced below the threshold to qualify for tax credits so they have sustained a further loss in income.

    In Australia at the present time we are rolling out the Disability Insurance scheme, sounds great in principle but the reality is that it is privatising services at the expense of the wages of those presently employed by the state to provide many of the services. The senior managers will do well out if it no doubt, but those at the coal face will not.

    Recently I discovered a huge disparity between the contract fees I was paying to a cleaning company and the wages those workers received. Consequently, I ended the contract and gave the employees the opportunity of being being contracted as individuals and being paid the full contract fee. Result, they are well paid, we get a more committed and enthusiastic cleaning service who go the extra mile when needed a win win situation.

  12. @J-D

    So organisms that survive long enough to breed are WELL adapted, J-D. That is, they’re not MINIMALLY adapted, or even maybe MODERATELY adapted – just enough for them to breed but not much else perhaps – they’re WELL adapted.

    Ok, mate, now I begin to see why our interlocution has been at cross purposes, that being that you somehow think that everything I write is some kind of direct response to what you have said. No, J-D, I sometimes just write things for my own purposes, entirely unconnected to you or to anything much that you have said.

    I really don’t give a rat’s fart what your “point” is, I’m busy making my own points. Can you in any way understand that ?

  13. @Bob Dick

    Actually, Bob, I thought my point was that “command and control” is usually very ineffective unless the commander and controller is extraordinarily able , for instance, Arthur Wellesley.

    ‘Team of teams’ sounds like a really good idea, and I guess it could work sometimes, but I can’t see that McChrystal was particularly successful in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Should we then abandon ‘team of teams’ because it too didn’t work ?

    And whilst granting that Helmuth von Moltke may have something of a point, the success of Wellesley’s plan was precisely that his forces didn’t make any contact with the enemy – Lisbon was defended without a shot being fired. Well, not until the French were on their way back to France and Wellesley’s forces followed to harry them – and to commit sundry atrocities along the way.

    The human race has evolved and invented many different ways of doing many different things over its lifetime so far, and every single one of those ways of doing things has had very mixed results. But why ? Is there just no one best way ? Or is it that no matter how we go about things, the outcome always depends on the capability of the people involved ?

    So, can we try to have a “meritocracy” that actually contains meritorious people ?

  14. @GrueBleen


    Point taken. It seems that (when it comes to ways of commanding) we may be mostly in agreement.

    In particular, I agree with your comments about “mixed results”. It seems to me that sufficiently-complex endeavours are rarely 100 per cent successful.

  15. @GrueBleen

    If you’re not responding to me, why are you hitting the ‘Reply’ button on my comments? I can see that’s what you’re doing, because that’s where the little ‘@J-D’ things come from.

  16. @J-D

    After that response J-D, I’m wondering why I bother to hit the ‘Reply’ button on your comments too. But I will try to explain:

    Firstly, J-D what I said was that I “sometimes just write things for my own purposes”. Can you see the word “sometimes” J-D ? Do you know what the word “sometimes” means ? I’ll help your understanding: it doesn’t mean “never” and it equally doesn’t mean “always”. ok ? It just means sometimes.

    And now, another small hint: I may be stimulated, or even provoked, by your comments into making my own points. But your comments are in your posts, so that’s what I hit ‘Reply’ to. Capiche ? Especially since in your case you go on to do exactly the same: you just go on making your own points regardless of whatever I’ve said.

    Are we all clear on that now, or do you need further explanation ?

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