Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Do you remember when...?


From Science Daily we have another story about implanted memories.

Many people are prone to 'remembering' events that never happened, according to new research by the University of Warwick.

In a study on false memories, Dr Kimberley Wade in the Department of Psychology demonstrates that if we are told about a completely fictitious event from our lives, and repeatedly imagine that event occurring, almost half of us would accept that it did.

Hmm - wait until virtual reality takes hold and millions think they were educated at Hogwarts. We ain't seen nothing yet.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Freedom is...?


If I review everything I did yesterday I find all of it was dictated by what I’ve done before. From making the morning tea to reading a few pages of my Kindle in bed at night, none of it was original. Nothing - not a single activity. We imitate others, we imitate what we’ve done before and that is virtually all life has to offer.

So where is the freedom?

For libertarians it may be the equivalent of farting in church, but let us suggest that freedom is merely an ideal. It doesn’t exist, we can’t measure it and it has hardly any unambiguous characteristics. Outside extreme repression we don’t really know what freedom is.

What we mostly experience is not freedom but repression, yet repression merely narrows the scope of imitation. Speed limits may reduce the freedom of some drivers to imitate each other by driving as fast as they can. For other drivers that is no great loss because they don’t want to end up in a mangled wreck. One might say that their freedom is enhanced by speed limits.

As an ideal it has its uses but freedom is the freedom to imitate. As imitation is virtually all we do, we don’t notice our freedoms but do notice when they are infringed and even then the loss is rarely unambiguous. All terribly obvious of course but too often we avoid the consequences of how terribly obvious it is. There are consequences.

Growing up

Watching our grandchildren grow up is both a delight and, in the background, a worry. In spite of too many tragic exceptions, the modern world nurtures its children as never before. At least in the developed world. Which is as it should be but behind the nurturing is something not so good connected with personal freedom and micro-managed behaviour.

We stand here on the sidelines and on the whole everything seems fine, the grandchildren are a credit to their parents. But -

Every now and then events pop up which throw a different light on all this nurturing compared to our distant and older version of what nurturing should be. Modern kids have to be careful what they say as well as being careful about what they do - more so than in our day. Or rather, they have to be careful in different ways, careful about whom they imitate.

It is not only swearing, insolence or threatening behaviour but anything where some official could have a finger pointed in their direction. And teachers are officials with a watchful eye on political correctness and anything even remotely connected with safety or causing offence and all the consequences those dread words now imply. Teachers must imitate the mood of the times.

From the sidelines schools seem to be both more and less tolerant than they were. When it comes to controlling behaviour they seem to have replaced corporal punishment with endless psychological pressure. In this sense they are not at all tolerant, not even as tolerant as they were a few decades ago. They do not tolerate even accidental childish slips, but exert endless psychological pressures on physical and verbal behaviour.

The trouble is, although many try one cannot easily compare today with yesterday. Social trends have to run their course and for all anyone knows this kind of pressure on youngsters may lead to a more relaxed and socially capable culture. It seems repressive because it is, but so was the cane, sitting up straight and chanting multiplication tables. So was war. So were the mills. So were the mines.

That’s the problem with freedom. Promoting it as an ideal is fine, but apart from the extremes assessing it in real life is beyond our capabilities. Those who value freedom seem to be convinced that they know what it is. They don’t. Nobody does in an absolute sense - in a sense where we know how to move from more to less or less to more. Apart from extreme repression or outright anarchy that is not so easy.

Free speech

As with almost all of us I like to think I know something about freedom, but my knowledge was acquired in part because cultural notions of freedom change. I see the changes rather than the freedoms because over time the changes become visible. One form of repression morphs into another and the repression we see with clarity isn’t the version we grew up with, adapted to and hardly ever saw at all.

The freedoms we see most clearly are obviously free speech and it is this which has changed most dramatically during my lifetime. To my way of thinking, free speech is where our vital spark of creativity is kindled and it is this which is being stifled by political correctness.

Within the narrow bounds of polite society we cannot be socially creative and that means we cannot be economically or politically creative either. We cannot strive for better unless we are constantly comparing better with worse, unless better is allowed to evolve and worse is allowed to die out, unless ideas are also subject to the survival of the fittest.

Ultimately the suppression of free speech is a failure of social progress, a failure to experiment, a failure to test the boundaries of what can be said, what should be said and what may as well be left unsaid.

Ultimately the suppression of free speech will destroy us as we lose even the ability to say why it is destroying us along with the ability to suggest solutions. We may close our ears to it, but even the crudest vituperation has its uses. Yet the day is coming when we won’t know what those uses are and by then it will be too late to even know that it is too late.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Quick reactions

It isn't new but I was recently sent this link to a test from JustPark and haven't tried it before.

It purports to be a very simple test which uses your reaction times to estimate your age. After a few goes it seems to estimate my age as somewhere between 25 and 30 years less than my real age. I'd love to be thrilled with that, but I suspect it either doesn't work or is skewed to please.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Listen to the silence

Most people will have heard newly elected Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney's catastrophic interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer where a minder had to step in and cut the carnage short.

Briefly Hartley-Brewer dived straight in by suggesting that there should be another Richmond Park by election because voters did not really know what they were voting for when they elected Ms Olney. This of course is an obvious dig at the Lib Dem position on Brexit, a sauce for the goose argument.

Apart from Lib Dem duplicity which is old news, the interesting aspects were Sarah Olney's silences during the disaster. Stuck with an incoherent political position which nobody seems to have told her is incoherent, she did not know what to say. Neither has she acquired the political skill to babble her way to safety.

What did her silences signify? they showed us that the incoherence of her position stopped her nascent political personality from functioning. It highlighted how a personality can simply stop working when faced with situations which are too unfamiliar.

She stepped out of the Lib Dem bubble and like a failed light bulb she flickered then just went out when faced with Hartley-Brewer's breezy challenge. She stopped emitting. With no previous behaviour to draw on and imitate, her ability to improvise around her political personality was stumped. She doesn’t yet have a seasoned political personality to guide her through incoherent standpoints. In time she’ll acquire one.

Which is why governments will take more and more interest in behavioural psychology. It explains the silence, the stalled personality of this wet behind the ears MP. Personalities are not stable features of what we are; they vary from situation to situation. They improvise, create new responses while adapting to new situations. To do that successfully they need a history of passably successful responses to imitate. Without it they stall and Sarah Olney showed us a fascinating glimpse of a stalled personality. Not her everyday personality, but her naive political personality.

Listen to the silence.

One day she'll be an MP

From AlanH

Saturday, 3 December 2016

We don’t need the BBC...

...but not everyone knows it yet. Newspapers are struggling too. The Guardian is reduced to waving the begging bowl.

We want to make the world a better, fairer place. We want to keep the powerful honest. And we believe that doing so means keeping society informed by producing quality, independent journalism, which discovers and tells readers the truth.

It’s essential for the functioning of democracy. And our unique ownership structure means no one can tell us to censor or drop a story.

But it’s difficult and expensive work. While more people are reading the Guardian than ever before, far fewer are paying for it. And advertising revenues across the media are falling fast.

So if you read us, if you like us, if you value our perspective – then become a Supporter and help make our future more secure.

Oh dear what a pity never mind moving on. 

Online life has been fascinating for a few years now. We are witnessing a huge change in the way ordinary people get their information about the outside world. Not so long ago here in the UK it was.


All were controlled by a few big players with the BBC leading the pack. Broadsheets told us what was what and did not tell what they thought we should not know. That was the situation for most of my life. If I hungered after deeper knowledge or a contrarian point of view I had to hunt it down and that was time-consuming and often difficult and unsatisfactory.

As we know, this cosy arrangement has now changed dramatically and the change has still to work itself out. Or not - governments still seem to prefer the old ways and appear keen to bring them back.

However, in 2016 two events in particular have given us signs of a new future, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. It may be a simplification to say so, but both events were neither desired nor supported by mainstream media. Yet they happened and that must be significant. Mainstream media support was not essential which presumably means it is destined to become even less essential.

To my mind the tabloids are adapting to the loss of status more effectively than the old broadsheets. The Telegraph, Guardian and Independent are not worth reading and the BBC is a joke, but the Mail, Mirror and Sun can be surprisingly punchy and relevant when they stop obsessing about tits, bums and celebrities for a moment.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Kellogg's woes

After reading about the spat with Breitbart I wondered - do people still eat Kellogg's breakfast garbage?  After all that healthy eating propaganda I'm faintly surprised but no doubt I shouldn't be.

Let us also recall the issue they had recently with a video which appeared to show an employee pissing on the production line. Yet people still buy the stuff.