Saturday, 29 April 2017

Critical effort

As for me, I will believe in no belief that does not make itself manifest by outward signs. I will think no preaching sincere that is not recommended by the practice of the preacher.
Anthony Trollope - Barchester Towers (1857)

Many ideas seem to attract widespread belief because they demand little mental effort. We are not talking of beliefs such as a conviction that the sun will rise again tomorrow morning, but beliefs which are essentially stories, tales easily told and easily learned. We like stories, especially those which reduce mind-boggling complexities of the real world to easy formulae.

Belief as a story is something we see all the time, especially when believers argue with unbelievers. So often, belief versus unbelief is storyteller versus critic where the critic has most of the problems. Criticism requires mental effort while familiar stories are easily told and retold and retold again. Critics often retire early from the field of battle because belief conserves mental energy. Sustainable thinking anyone?

The principle of least energy applies throughout the natural world, including all those busy little neurons in our big brains. Human brains use a lot of energy so conserving it is inherently useful. Busy neurons might have enough energy to work out how greasy poles may be climbed, but not enough for anything socially constructive afterwards. There must be some definite advantage to being mentally busy, otherwise slouching off down a beaten path is too easy to resist.

Nobody has political convictions in the sense that they emerged from rational analysis. Nobody has ever had political convictions in that sense. Where’s the motive, the source of energy for the neurons? Apart from their entertainment value, political stories are not worth arguing over because they are so obviously intended to control human behaviour. Apolitical critics find themselves battling with low-energy political stories, easily told, easily repeated over and over again.

Political activists are like everyone else, they are intimately concerned with the here and now because that is what matters to all of us. Life is lived now, not tomorrow. Belief in political solutions to human ills are all about now, what is most comforting what is most suited to a personal history, social niche or career.

This is why so much political debate is driven by easy stories, by low-energy thinking. This is why complex issues seem to need far more mental effort than they ever receive. This is how vested interests poison debates.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The mammary maze

We regularly take Granddaughter to a number of soft play centres, but one in particular seems to be a popular venue for breast-feeding mothers. Public breast-feeding is hardly an uncommon sight these days, but when a chap is just sitting there minding his own business and sipping a coffee amid hordes of shrieking kids he has to know where the suckling zones are. This is particularly true when there are a number of them scattered around the venue.

I’m not sure what the etiquette is with public breast-feeding, but that may well be an age issue. Does one act cool and smile at the life-affirming freedom it seems to represent? Possibly not; leers and smiles can be similar. I suppose male staring is bound to be frowned on or worse, but what constitutes staring? Hard to say with any accuracy, but in this case I prefer to be on the safe side. I assume a stare is where the gaze lingers for more than a few milliseconds.

Yes it’s tight, but we live in a socially tight world and one has to be tooled up for it so to speak. The trouble is even a slightly lingering gaze has two fundamental problems. Firstly a chap may come across as somewhat dim if he appears to take an age working out what exactly is going on. Secondly – well that one is really, really obvious.

So what to do? For obvious reasons it is no good sitting there at the table staring into space with an unfocussed gaze. If a sudden bout of suckling were to occur within what another person could deem to be one’s line of sight -

No it is better to remain focussed and aware without actually looking anywhere in particular. As for keeping an eye on Granddaughter as she flits around, that’s okay as long as I take good care to remember that my line of sight must be as nimble as she is and skip lightly over certain areas.

Life was certainly easier when kids just went outside to jump in puddles and climb trees.

Monday, 24 April 2017

"Oui" for the status quo?

Results of the first round by department
     Emmanuel Macron      Marine Le Pen      François Fillon
     Jean-Luc Mélenchon

So the first round of the 2017 French presidential election has resulted in a run-off between Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! and Marine Le Pen of the National Front to be held on May 7th.

I am merely a casual observer of French politics, but establishment stooge Emmanuel Macron seems to have it in the bag. As someone who didn't foresee Brexit or Trump, third time lucky is my technical approach to this one.

Not an inspiring choice of candidates but an interesting geographical divide. No doubt the EU establishment will be all over Macron while a Le Pen victory is portrayed as akin to Hitler entering Paris.

Should be interesting though, because political divides appear to be deepening. That's the interesting aspect in my book, the political divide. Are people beginning to realise that the establishment is not their friend?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Appeal to authority


From powerline


The “March for Science” is underway today, featuring the usual mountebanks like Michael Mann and Bill Nye. Liberals sure are fond of marching. It is doubtful that this march represents a true cross-section of actual scientists, but you never know. In any case, the whole thing parodies itself, making our job easy.

How anyone could take the trouble to make that placard without grasping its import I've no idea. The inability to doubt must be in there somewhere.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Earth Day Laughs

Principia-Scientific has eighteen examples of predictions made around 1970 when Earth Day started. It is sobering but not surprising to see how absurd people can be when thrust into the public arena. All the predictions are worth reading, but here are my three favourites -

13. Paul Ehrlich warned in the May 1970 issue of Audubon that DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons “may have substantially reduced the life expectancy of people born since 1945.” Ehrlich warned that Americans born since 1946…now had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and he predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out. (Note: According to the most recent CDC report, life expectancy in the US is 78.8 years).

16. Sen. Gaylord Nelson wrote in Look that, “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”

18. Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

We seem to have reached the point where we may as well dismiss as drivel any story about the environment published by mainstream media where there is an element of drama. It is not an unreasonable default position.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Blue sky

A recent photo. 

Can't imagine myself doing that. It's probably wonderful, but how one deals with a lurid imagination and all that empty air beneath the feet I've no idea.