Bla bla bla another post

I’m going to write about George Orwell. First, this letter explaining his reasoning for writing 1984. 1984 is the go-to book when you want to find a good quote to back up why your particular point of view is amazing and opposing views are fascist and totalitarian. Second only to comparing things to Hitler, that is. Anyway, here are his words on the subject. I don’t know if this will settle anything, especially among politicians as it’s complicated. Orwell himself wrote a list of “crypto-communists” who couldn’t be trusted to do anti-Soviet propaganda, which was maybe a little Orwellian of him. In that it was giving a list of names to the governing power in order to restrict their ability to perform a certain task.

From the letter:

You also ask, if I think the world tendency is towards Fascism, why do I support the war. It is a choice of evils—I fancy nearly every war is that. I know enough of British imperialism not to like it, but I would support it against Nazism or Japanese imperialism, as the lesser evil. Similarly I would support the USSR against Germany because I think the USSR cannot altogether escape its past and retains enough of the original ideas of the Revolution to make it a more hopeful phenomenon than Nazi Germany. I think, and have thought ever since the war began, in 1936 or thereabouts, that our cause is the better, but we have to keep on making it the better, which involves constant criticism.

The above jab at Orwell was a tiny bit of freedom-oriented criticism. From me, a not very relevant person.

A title that I can’t be bothered to think too hard about, so this is what it’s going to end up being.


I have not read Faust, but I have seen Jan Svankmeier’s animated adaptation. There is an exchange between the Devil and Faust that goes like this:

Faust: “So still I seek the force, the reason governing life’s flow; and not just its external show.”

Devil: “The governing force? The reason? Some things cannot be known; they are beyond your reach even when shown.”

Faust: “Why should that be so?”

Devil: “They lie outside the boundaries that words can address; & man can only know those thoughts which language can express.”

Faust: “What? Do you mean that words are greater yet than man?”

Devil: “Indeed they are.”

Faust: “Then what of longing, affection, pain or grief. I can’t describe these, yet I know they are in my breast. What are they?”

Devil: “Without substance, as mist is.”

Faust: “In that case man is only air as well. [reads] What has made me thirst then to be instructed in those things that are more than thirst allows?”

Devil: “Your thirst is artificial, fostered by the arrogance in you. So look no further than all your human brothers do: sleep, eat, drink, and let that be sufficient.”

Faust: “Liar and foul traitor, where are the pulse and core of nature you promised to reveal? Where?”

Devil: “Faustus you lack the wit to see them in every blade of grass.”

There are things that when you see them or hear them, they stay with you. This was one of them. I recently came across an article titled Why it’s good to be wrong – I’m going to share a couple of bits from it.

The trouble is that error is a subject where issues such as logical paradox, self-reference, and the inherent limits of reason rear their ugly heads in practical situations, and bite.

Paradoxes seem to appear when one considers the implications of one’s own fallibility: A fallibilist cannot claim to be infallible even about fallibilism itself. And so, one is forced to doubt that fallibilism is universally true. Which is the same as wondering whether one might be somehow infallible—at least about some things. For instance, can it be true that absolutely anything that you think is true, no matter how certain you are, might be false?

Being a person who has a hard time sounding as clever as he’d like when writing things down, but nonetheless likes to imagine that he is a bit clever and tries to read clever things and be exposed to clever films and music, and try to retain interesting bits of information, it hurts (I guess I should say ‘stings’, it seems a tiny bit more accurate and I can’t be bothered to edit this properly) when I see that I might be massively, massively thick and without the faintest hint of a clue about what to do with what I think I know… I relate to Faust, trying to get deep answers and expecting to understand them. I even expect the answers to be incomprehensible, yet because I’m extremely clever, I expect to understand this.

Here’s another bit from the article:

[T]here’s nothing infallible about “direct experience” either. Indeed, experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues, given substance only by fallible expectations, explanations, and interpretations. Those can easily be more mistaken than the testimony of the passing hobo. If you doubt this, look at the work of psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, and verify by direct experience the fallibility of your own direct experience. Furthermore, the idea that your reminiscences are infallible is also heresy by the very doctrine that you are faithful to.

Some context won’t make sense – there’s a very good bit using papal infallibility as an example and a counterpoint with a hobo. It’s a good article, read it. Also, I haven’t bothered to click the link, but I think I’ve seen the videos (Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ video,that is) and there’s a huge gorilla that you won’t notice. It’s quite an effective demonstration but I’ve heard it referenced by so many people now that it’s become a bit of a cliché. Not sure that invalidates it though.

I realized that if I was going to be thorough and honest that I couldn’t rely on my own experience. It is natural to rely on experience. “Experience is the best teacher” is a maxim that has been heard many times. But for certain types of truth, or “Truth”, it is plain rubbish. I came to this conclusion a few years ago, when I noticed that I had been demonstrably wrong about many things, some of which I had believed deeply. Things ranging from youthful anatomical misunderstandings to more nebulous areas such as the ability of dedicated martial artists to perform near magical feats. The advantage of having been an idiot as a child and teenager is that once you get over it, it frees you from the need to feel anchored to a personal identity, or at least that you need to defend it. I had been wrong, and sadly some people suffered (I was a bully, and I am very ashamed of this). So what is it that makes me think that I’m right at this moment? Why would I assume I am totally correct about my philosophies and world views now? I shouldn’t. I’m going to be a bit pushy and suggest that neither should anyone else. Perhaps it had always been annoying when people used examples from their experiences as a basis for an argument, even (especially) when I did it, but I didn’t know why. Sometimes it’s nice to overlook things.

Anyway, what point am I trying to make? I guess I’ve made it. I’m a massive idiot, and when I’m not being terrified by it I take consolation only in that I have plenty of company. I will still be living under the delusion that I’m clever and capable, because what else can I do? (Probably loads, but that’s the kind of moron I am). I will live as best as I can.

The end. Of this post.

New year 2014.

Benjamin Bratton‘s talk on TEDx, New perspectives: What’s Wrong with TED Talks? (transcript here: We need to talk about TED) is very good.  Not, to my mind perfect, but then what is.  He really nails it with his description of TED as “middlebrow megachurch infotainment” and I feel his warnings about ‘placebo politics’ are important.  Being, as the title of this blog suggests, a very neutral person (I really am, I avoid confrontation at all costs, mostly because I’m very, very bad at it), I don’t think it was helpful to generalize about conservatives having a media that brackets reality and assume that they are not among the TED viewership demographic – having lived around conservatives I have heard the exact same statements from them about liberals and the ‘liberal media’, which I suppose brackets reality for them, and conservative-identified people do occasionally watch TED talks and not just to bitch about them.  But I’m not really that bothered, this was a fantastic talk.  Also, if I’m being totally honest I agree about conservative media channels.  And I don’t really see liberalism (or conservatism) in their current and most practiced forms as much more than sports teams to cheer for.  Obviously with differences, but they’re mainly bullshit differences to the extent that what you mostly get is a load of armchair pundits braying noisily.

Also, the left/right dichotomy is very, very dumb.  More specifically, the importance we attach to it is.  It ascribes significance to history and culture which I don’t think matches up to a big picture.

I am a prime example of someone who doesn’t quite act in accordance with what I feel is the highest sense of duty.  I am conscious of it.  The effort required to live well is sometimes more than I feel I have.  I am also aware that this is a feedback loop, and have pushed through the inertia enough times to know, even if it’s just a memory, that energy comes when you need it as you choose to take action, and there’s nothing quite as exhausting as lethargy.  A day spent watching youtube is easy, but naturally about as rewarding as spending a day watching youtube.  I.e., not very.

It being the new year it is a culturally accepted time to make resolutions to change (I guess for the better, maybe some people decide to change for the worse, or in some ironic way or other).  I’m extremely crap at this.  I tend to rationalize my actions according to a worldview which I have cultivated (parallel to my understanding of the philosophies of Lovecraft, Ligotti, Danielewski – that life is not really important or much of anything in the biggest picture, and that the more we explore and discover, the closer we come to realizing how unimportant we are), and this tends to be an excuse to be a little bit lazy.  But not as fun as being lazy.  Sort of defeated.

That said, I feel there is a glimmer of hope.  In a way it’s annoying, as I’d love for there to be an excuse to lead a wretched life as a victim of an uncaring universe.  It’s poetic.  But irritatingly enough there are people I admire, love, care about, and feel a strong sense of duty towards.  There are principles of stewardship.  There are stupid ideas that I would rather not see go unchecked.  I have a daughter whom I love and want to provide for.  I have a rather amazing wife who knows me and knows how I think and isn’t phased, for which she should receive top marks.

So I guess I have a resolution, which is to work harder, and persevere despite feeling like I should stop and take a nap or browse whatever aggregate website has the best pointless infotainment.


Ho hum

I just read this article – (I don’t know how to add links in wysiwyg mode) (yay, now I do!).  Apparently some people have thought that a soul, separate from the body, might be influencing the brain via quantum interactions.  The implication is that the brain is a sort of control unit for the body but does not house consciousness.  A couple of possibilities are mentioned, the first being via the uncertainty principle (with a couple of examples of how this might work), followed by quantum coherence.

The arguments in favour of the uncertainty principle affecting consciousness try to suggest that somehow the calcium channels ( (I will figure out how to embed links) can be influenced, but application of Heisenberg’s equations show that there’s not enough energy output by a long shot to affect even the weakest type of chemical bond.  Another argument suggests that there could be a ‘butterfly effect’, but the brain is well defended against tiny changes, which, the article explains, is a good thing as thermal noise from atoms due to temperature would otherwise be wreaking all kinds of havoc.  Probably.

The second idea, which although not about a ‘separate soul’ but about a theoretical notion of conciousness, relies on quantum coherence (  The article does not go into detail but indicates that it is wise to practice skepticism.  This particular theory has a name – Orchestrated objective reduction (or Orch-OR), which suggests that since humans are capable of knowing the truth of a statement that has no formal proof that can prove its own inconsistency, therefore human consciousness is running a non-computable algorithm.  (this is a very brief synopsis – read this for more detail –  There are many criticisms or Orch-OR, one of which being “as resting on the fallacy that all computational algorithms must be capable of mathematical description. As a counter-example, [it is cited that] the assignment of license plate numbers to specific vehicle identification numbers, in order to register a vehicle. According to John Searle, no mathematical function can be used to connect a known VIN with its LPN, but the process of assignment is quite simple—namely, “first come, first served”—and can be performed entirely by a computer.”

So why am I writing about his?  Because it seems to be as good an example as any of “picking and choosing” arguments that support a pleasing hypothesis without testing it thoroughly.  (It seems that there is a greater chance of wave function collapse affecting consciousness than there is of the uncertainty principle, in that there isn’t exactly proof that the premise is wrong as much as the arguments supporting the idea are flawed).  A task as simple, or at least as obvious as applying Heisenberg’s equation debunks the idea that the brain is affected by uncertainty (also, while I admit to not knowing very much at all about the subject in any kind of deep way, wouldn’t the uncertainty principle imply that in order to interact with the brain the soul must still be composed of baryonic matter of some sort which is presumably nested somewhere else in a physical-ish space?).  There are of course more mundane examples of theories based perhaps on isolated examples or coincidences that don’t stand up to close scrutiny (just today I was also reading about how people were initially afraid that traveling faster than 20 mph by train would lead to fatal asphyxiation), and it seems to me that one of the main differences between a robust scientific hypthesis – even one which is disproven – and a shoddy one is the extent to which emotion has an influence.  It is nice to think of an external soul which will live on after the body dies.

So the purpose of this blog is, in part to get my thoughts out and explore what makes a sound argument.  It is not really intended to be read by anyone, and is probably going to be mind-rottingly dull as I will be going to great lengths not to be provocative or confrontational.  While I do have social and political views (libertarians can fuck right off), this is generally not going to be the venue for them to be aired.