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Westworld and the Bicameral Mind

Aug. 30th, 2017 | 02:57 pm

Last week I binged on the beautiful and haunting Westworld tv series, which exceeded expectations. My enjoyment was enhanced by having read Julian Jaynes' magnum opus upon which the nascent psychology of the synthetic 'hosts' was modelled: "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind". It's a hypothesis about an intermediate evolutionary stage between non-conscious instinctive action and 'modern' consciousness. The idea itself seems to have merit, though as mentioned by Anthony Hopkins' character it is "now discredited" by the psychology community. I suspect this is because Jaynes related his ideas to brain lateralisation and there was eventually a general and perhaps overzealous backlash against brain lateralisation theories. However, Jaynes never claimed that his "bicameral mind" *required* hemispheric lateralisation, it just appeared to be a convenient mapping.

Coming from a hard science background, all these debates about psychology, and especially paleopsychology, look pretty squishy anyway. So fill yer boots. If nothing else it is a beautifully written book, one that Richard Dawkins described as "Either a work of consummate genius, or complete rubbish from start to finish", and he added, "I'm hedging my bets."


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Macroblogging Renaissance

Aug. 29th, 2017 | 09:52 pm

I am by no means sure that any great resurgence of blogging in the old style is going to make a major comeback any time soon. But some worthy souls never left it, of course. Vinyl surprised many of us by its return to popularity, at least among a select audience, enough to restore its viability as a commercial product. And with strange aeons even death may die, as Lovecraft said.

I'm writing this on a Windows phone. I hate the touchscreen keyboard on this thing. Before this I had an Android phone, and a BlackBerry before that. The usability of those devices vastly exceeded this one, which I really cannot get to grips with. So this "macro blog" entry won't be very macro. There is more I should like to say, but I will leave for future occasion.

I was actually drawn back to Livejournal by a desire to avoid Facebook while on holiday. This is because I had no opportunity to catch the latest episodes of Game of Thrones and Twin Peaks just before leaving, and now I have to avoid spoilers for a week.

We are staying in a cabin in Cornwall. Much of the charm of camping without the discomfort. The very lengthy drive here demonstrated that my driving stamina is not what it used to be and provided quite enough discomfort already. We decided to extend our holiday and book a night in a hotel in Portchester on the way back. There are a few things we want to see in that area anyway so it turned out to be convenient.

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Brexi-Trump and the continuing myth of the 'revolting left-behind'

Dec. 8th, 2016 | 11:16 am

The BBC reports on new research into the identity of Leave voters:


I do wish journalists would link back to the research they are reporting on:


The thing about newspaper preference being a stronger predictor than poltical affiliation is interesting, in the light of this:


I would like to see the breakdown of party support vs newspaper of choice for the Leave vote to see, for example, what proportion of Daily Mail reading Labour voters voted Leave (it's slightly astonishing that 14% of the Mail's readership are Labour voters). NatCen do provide a data table spreadsheet but it's summary data only so no drilling down into the finer detail.

The way journalists all love to lock on to the same narrative that may only bear a limited relation to the truth is fascinating and depressing. In the case of Trump and Brexit it's the "Revolt of the Left-Behind", struggling poor people lashing out at the elites. The problem with this narrative is that in the case of the 'Trump-quake', a majority of people earning less than $30K per year voted Clinton. Trump was elected by the comfortably well-off who want more.


The BBC's spin-laden take on NatCen's research is as follows:

"The people most likely to vote Leave were:

Those with no formal qualifications (78%)
Those with an income of less than £1,200 a month (66%)
Those in social housing provided by councils (70%) or housing associations (68%)"

This is a careful and deliberate choice by the BBC to support the narrative of an Anti-Establishment revolt by the impoverished. But those percentages tell you how likely people belonging to the groups who were most likely to vote Leave, were to vote Leave, not the actual composition of the Leave vote. (Read that sentence again).

The NatCen report includes a cluster analysis, in which they identify the three main groups of people who composed the Leave vote.

"We find three distinct groups that made up the vote to Leave:

Economically deprived, anti-immigration

Those with least economic resources and who are most anti-immigration and nationalistic. Various labels can be attached to this group, such as the ‘left behind’ or ‘just about managing’. They form the bedrock of UKIP support and have been politically disengaged in the past.

Affluent Eurosceptics

This group are more Conservative than UKIP and more middle class. Yes, they are anti-immigration but they are also interested in Britain’s independence and are noticeably anti-welfare

Older working classes

They are on low incomes and have little in the way of formal qualifications – but don’t feel poor or badly educated. They are concerned about immigration and changing identity but are socially different to the first group.

So, the Leave vote was underpinned by the campaign’s ability to draw together a broad-based coalition. It is much more wide-ranging than the ‘left behind’."

The BBC's reporting carefully avoids mention of the latter two groups because they don't fit the narrative. The "older working classes" on low incomes are often asset-rich because they got on the property ladder many years ago before the housing boom. And they are more likely to read newspapers, most of which are Pro-Brexit.


Based on the survey data for party support vs newspaper of choice, and multiplying that breakdown by current circulation figures


we find that there are more Labour voters who read the Daily Mail, than Labour voters who read The Guardian: 222,526 vs 101,781.

The influence of newspapers reaches further than their immediate readership: many people are influenced in their opinions by peer contact, and some 70-80% of blogging and social media discussion is driven by mainstream media narratives.

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Humans and Brexit

Dec. 4th, 2016 | 11:09 am

Enjoying a mug of tea in my favourite seaside café. This place might look familiar if you've been watching 'Humans' on C4. Yes, it's that café. I have been enjoying the show, there are good things about it. Particularly the issue of rights for artificial intelligences. My own view is we need to think about that problem ahead of time and have the legal frameworks in place to protect the rights of AI's before they reach the level of human consciousness. This is not only about protecting AI rights; if in future governments and employers have access to human-level artificial consciousness that they can exploit without caring about the rights of those beings, it can be used as a ratchet to drive human rights down.

Anyway, that is by-the-by. Where I think 'Humans' falls down a bit is its depiction of ubiquitous synthetic humanoids in the workplace. This makes it feel a bit far-fetched, and gives too much comfort to people watching who might like to think 'this will never really happen'. Real industrial general purpose robots won't resemble humans that much. There will be some resemblance because workplaces are presently designed with human employees in mind, but few employers will want to run to the expense of totally lifelike synthetic humanoids. Google 'Baxter robot' to see an example of a general purpose industrial robot of the present. Don't mistake these for the highly specialised robots that have been used for years in jobs like car assembly; these general purpose industrial robots are smart and can learn new tasks by example rather than needing specialist programming for each job they must perform.

But gradually, industrial robots and their factory environments will co-evolve into more efficient forms less suited to the presence of human operatives.

Meanwhile, people have concerns about immigration (we are repeatedly informed) and support for the idea of protectionism grows. Trump adopts a protectionist stance, declaring he will 'make America great again' by erecting trade barriers. An interesting concept; let us imagine every nation in the world adopts such policies, can they all be 'Great Again'? How will that work, exactly? It seems similar thinking underpins the Brexit vote in some people's minds - we will 'Make Britain Great Again' via a messy divorce with our biggest export market.

Yet others see the main issue with EU membership being migrants placing a strain on public services. This is really just shifting the blame for austerity onto one particular group of taxpayers and wealth creators, whose use of those services is resented. Blaming those incoming fellow Europeans who are propping up our slender economic growth rate for the negative outcomes of our government's programme of austerity seems a particularly ill-judged and anti-social(ist) move. Austerity will not go away if they are rounded up and deported but their contribution to the economy will. If you are willing to pick out a section of the population and expel them from the country because you want to reduce the strain on public services you would be much better off deporting Tory voters. It would be a much more logical and un-xenophobic move in order to end austerity. (I speak in jest, but there is a serious message).

The coming automation revolution will be a game-changer for global economics, because it will be a leveller of production costs. It is possible that major corporations in the automation market will try and preserve the status quo by creating a system of regional coding so that robotic systems are priced according to local markets. Like they did with DVDs. Such an attempt will be doomed to eventually fail, and eventually robot labour costs worldwide will equalize at something much lower that equivalent human labour.

When we imagine what this future will look like, the spectacle of people erecting barriers against trade and free movement thinking this will improve their lot while an army of robots is waiting in the wings of the future to destroy labour markets in every nation seems a bizarre case of fiddling while Rome burns. It seems that in the minds of many Lexiteers, there is the notion of a two-stage process. Stage one, get out of the EU; stage two, topple the Tory government and turn Britain into a fortress socialist paradise. A bit like Cuba, maybe, except with self-imposed trade sanctions and worse weather.

Dicing the world up into individual nations at liberty to conduct their own affairs with no over-arching framework binding them is Thatcherism writ large. "There really is no such thing as society, there are individuals all striving to do the best for themselves". A slight paraphrase of the original quote, but that's more or less the essence. Replace individuals with nations, all trapped in 'prisoners' dilemma' games against each other in which the most rational individualistic response leaves them worse off. See also 'Brexit negotiations'. Meanwhile global threats go unchecked for want of a coherent response. Watch out for that asteroid. It will come one day.

It may be argued that the politics of the present is dealing with the issues of the present, and the future will take care of itself. However what we do now lays the foundations of the future and will make the task of those who have to deal with these things, easier or harder. In the modern world, movement of physical commodities is essential because no single region of the world has it all in terms of resources. Britain actually became unable to support its own population sometime in the mid-19th century, or so I am informed by a historian friend of mine. There are two ways to ensure the continued flow of physical goods to meet demand; global capitalism, or global socialism. In my view, a blend of both is required to complement each other and keep each other in balance. I will let that statement stand without expanding further, as it would be going off on a bit of a tangent. But the important word is 'global'. The anti-globalists are right to oppose global capitalism in its present form; but they should be concentrating on the 'capital' part. Instead they've let themselves get drawn into thinking it's the 'global' part they need to oppose. What's needed to keep global Capitalism in check is for Socialism to globalise.

I've rambled on for quite a while and I need to bring this to a close. The thing that got me thinking about all this is actually, the outcome of the Richmond Park by-election, successfully fought on the issue of Brexit by the Lib Dems, amidst the now rather tiresome accusations that those who continue to fight for us to stay in the EU are 'opposed to democracy'. Most Remain supporters I know see the EU as an (imperfect, we freely admit) incremental stage towards a global framework of democratic government to deal with global threats and regulate the activities of global corporations - neither of which will go away in the absence of global governance. The third pillar that's needed is a global social movement to prevent global government and global capital getting too cosy with each other. These are things we must continue to strive for in spite of a handful more people in the UK being momentarily in favour of EU withdrawal than continued membership. I've seen a 'Shy Remainer' mindset emerge since the referendum result; these are people who believe that Remain is the best course of action really, but that we must now Leave because an 'act of democracy' took place and we can't overrule the 'will of the people'. And unfortunately some of the people who subscribe to this Shy Remainer notion that 'We have to support Leave now because of democracy' are MPs.

This is the kind of thinking that led the Lib Dems into coalition with the Tories in 2010. In spite of their belief in Proportional Representation, they awarded their support as a 'Winner's Bonus' to the party who had the most seats, magnifying the injustice of the FPTP system.

In a regime that has no system of democracy, democracy is a cause in itself. In those regimes people are right to champion the cause of democracy. In the UK, we _have_ a system of democracy. The existence of a thoroughly corrupt and self-serving national media that hates the EU because it has no power over it, weakens our democracy by clouding the understanding of the electorate, but nevertheless democracy exists and those of us who hold an (apparently) minority viewpoint do not need to defend democracy by allowing the outcome of one vote to determine the way we will vote when another opportunity to express ourselves democratically comes along. Especially MPs, who must now do the job they receive £75K a year for, and use their judgement rather than parrotting the result of an intrinsically broken referendum. Remainers should not now reluctantly support Brexit because they are wrongly told they oppose democracy itself by opposing Brexit. Keep that fire of defiance in your eye, Remainer. The future needs you.

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Corbyn vs Eagle

Jul. 10th, 2016 | 11:44 pm

I've been weighing up the Corbyn vs Eagle Labour leadership thing.

It has turned into a lengthy ramble so I decided to post here instead of Facebook. Maybe it's time for Livejournal to make a comeback.

There's a nice summary of Corbyn's positions on various things on Wikipedia. Some of it contains things I know to be inaccurate or misleading (e.g. "he has advocated the re-opening of some of Britain's coal mines" misses some VERY important caveats he attached to his answer when he was asked the question "would you re-open South Wales coal mines?" which actually makes it practically immpossible that they ever would be reopened). There are other misleading bits, but I won't list them all. Anyway, it's not bad as a general summary and probably less partisan than any newspaper article.


Corbyn's described as a 'Democratic Socialist' as opposed to 'Social Democrat'. The latter advocates a primarily capitalist economy that's made more 'human' by democratic intervention. Conversely, 'Democratic Socialism' apparently advocates social ownership of the 'means of production' (that can include employee ownership and cooperative ownership as well as state ownership, but excludes private share capitalisation) accompanied by democratic decision making on other areas of policy. However it's worth noting that Tony Blair has described himself as a 'Democratic Socialist'; and that this is still the official position of the Labour Party (though you wouldn't know it). It's also worth noting that Corbyn hasn't expressed desire to renationalise anything more than the Rail industry and Utilities, both of which are positions with a high level of popular support.

Angela Eagle's wikipedia write-up is a discussion of her career and a such is less accessible as a list of her policy positions.


There is an Independent article that summarises her positions on many key issues which doesn't seem to be too partisan in tone either way.


She's not actually fantastically that far removed from Corbyn on a number of key issues like Health and Education and it would be wrong, I think, to describe her as a 'Red Tory'. She did follow Harman's whipped line in supporting the Welfare Reform bill in 2015 but has more generally opposed welfare cuts. Some obvious differences - she voted for the Iraq War and air strikes in Syria and that seems to be a red line for many Corbyn supporters. She also supports retention of Trident. She voted for student tuition fees, which is rather unfortunate, though voted against the latest increase.

There are some areas where I disagree with Corbyn and agree with her. E.g. I don't think Homeopathy has any place in public health policy (Corbyn supported a Conservative pro-Homeopathy bill). I'm in favour of ID cards which to me are a no-brainer - Eagle favours, Corbyn opposes (according to his voting record). I think Corbyn & McDonnell have thrown in the towel on EU membership too early because 'democracy, innit' (though they do appear to be pushing for 'Minimum Brexit' with full single-market access and all that that entails). Corbyn is a hostage here to his own justification for hanging on to the party leadership - he can hardly drape himself in the mantle of a Labour grassroots democratic mandate while rejecting the mandate of the EU referendum (in fact, there are important differences between those, but they're not headline-friendly).

I'm a bit sick of being told that I'm a 'Corbyn cultist', or that I'm an otherwise clever person who's been duped into supporting Corbyn by far-left Jedi mind-control tricks (yeah, thanks Neil Kinnock). I'm fed up with being told Corbyn's not a 'natural leader' or 'lacks charisma' - those are highly subjective judgements that should be left to us as individuals to make. I don't want someone telling me what I should think about someone. When I see Corbyn up against Eagle, I don't see that either has much more 'star quality' than the other - if anything, Corbyn edges that contest, but it's very far from my primary consideration anyway.

What I really want to hear from both these politicians - apart from the obvious stuff about Welfare, Health, Education etc - are their plans for the transition to a more automated economy. The Conservatives - aside from perhaps a handful of less ideological ones like Heseltine - will leave it all to 'the market'. We all know what that means. Initiatives to deal with this issue and ensure a fairer less unequal transition to the economy of the future need to span all European nations to prevent corporate blackmail of governments into a race to the bottom on social protection against the negative impacts (that's one of the reasons we needed to stay in the EU; dim bulbs who think 'immigrants are taking our jobs' have no idea what's on the horizon....). McDonnell and a couple of other Labour voices - including Prescott if I recall rightly - have said things that suggest they are thinking about the problem, at least.

Thre are many other important policy areas I want to see discussion of - especially, environment, political reform and media regulation.

Do I think Eagle will 'heal the party', as she claims? Probably not, in fact probably, the complete opposite. I've followed Labour's polling and it has picked up faster than I expected; late last year I predicted crossover with Labour taking the lead in 2017 but we already saw hints of crossover in the first half of this year, which suggested a strong possiblity that Labour could have taken a lead big enough to survive the usual swingback to the status quo come the time of the next election. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that if the PLP had worked with rather than against Corbyn for the past 9 months, and if they'd shown a strong unified face after the EUref instead of the ridiculous infighting they'd be doing very well by now in the public eye. Anyone who imagines that the various manufactured smears against Corbyn from within his own party haven't had a negative impact, and that any disappointment in Labour's showing so far shouldn't be laid at the door of those who created those smears rather than on Corbyn himself, is profoundly lacking in judgement. The PLP themselves, surely know this, too; as I see it, their motives for wanting to oust Corbyn are not what they claim ("unelectability") but rooted more in (a) snobbery (Corbyn isn't a graduate); (b) the threat of strong action against Blair and others who made the case for the Iraq War if Corbyn becomes PM; (c) anxiety over his Trident stance.

If Eagle ousts Corbyn, I will be surprised if Labour's support doesn't take an irrecoverable nose dive. The 'Corbynariat' are more than just the party membership, though people like Kinnock and Lord Puttnam have deluded themselves that this is so. And remember, the media have already unleashed everything they've got against Corbyn; they have yet to do so against Eagle. And believe me, they will.

Could I bring myself to vote for Labour under Eagle? I know many will reflexively knee-jerk against that notion, but I always like to think things through carefully. On the face of it, I still prefer Corbyn on policy, but Eagle's politics are not so disastrously different to Corbyn's that I would automatically reject the idea. I need to weigh up the following; what's the lesser of two evils - Labour Eagle vs Tory May or Leadsom?

Can I hold my nose and vote for a party composed of MPs that treated Corbyn, and well myself actually, with total contempt? They could have mounted a civilised leadership challenge, but instead tried to avoid it by bullying Corbyn out of office in a way that makes Tory backstabbing look relatively civilised. Should I reward such behaviour? How can I signal my displeasure towards the PLP in a way that doesn't say:

"Screw all you poor and disabled people, all you homeless beggars newly returned to the streets in some kind of horrible re-enactment of the Thatcher years; all you hollow-eyed, broken looking people queuing at the food bank; all you refugees from the middle-east instability we created; all you people whose benefits are being sanctioned on trivial pretexts; all you EU nationals facing an uncertain future in post-Brexit Britain; instead of considering what's best for the most vulnerable members of society and voting for the party with the best chance of removing the Tories from power, I'm going to throw my vote away on a protest against the people who insulted my judgement and heaped disrespect on the person I felt was the best choice to lead the Labour party! Because the need to do something about my feelings of pissed-off indignation come before the needs of the country and those to whom it owes a duty of care!"

It's a horrible choice, and I hate the people who stand ready to force it on me. Can I have a third option?

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Still here.

Apr. 22nd, 2009 | 12:41 pm

Ye gods, haven't posted since Christmas.

My life this year has been an incessant stream of courseworks and assignments plus I'm working part-time as well. A bit overloaded if the truth be known. I'm looking forward to the end of these courses now so I can move on to something new. What that something new will be is still taking shape.

Once my remaining coursework and exam are out of the way in a few weeks time I'll come back and post something more.

In the meantime, watch this if you haven't already - it's simply beautiful:


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Congratulations, Mr O!

Nov. 5th, 2008 | 08:52 am

It's only natural that you'll disappoint us in some way, because you're only human.  But don't disappoint us too much.  That's all I ask.

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Book Meme

Nov. 4th, 2008 | 03:36 pm

From rufas

Book Meme

* Grab the nearest book.
* Open the book to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST

So, I'm in the dining room right now. I'm presuming this means a paper book rather than an e-book.

The closest book I could find was "Fun With Maths: Prepare for Key Stage 1". This unfortunately had only 32 pages.

Next, I headed for the adjacent kitchen. Nigella Lawson's "Feast" lay therein. Page 56 has only a picture of some food, no sentences.

Moving on to the living room - Joe Haldemann's "Forever War" is the closest. Page 56 is at the end of a chapter and only has 4 sentences. Doh!

A little further into the room lies Ken Stroud's "Further Engineering Mathematics" and Joel Sklar's "Principles of Web Design". Equidistant from my starting point. I flip a coin. Stroud wins.

I'm thinking that by 'sentence' we mean something with words in rather than steps in the solution of an equation. By this criteria the 5th sentence is:

"1 real and two complex roots (conjugate pair)"

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A Long, Hard Struggle...

Oct. 1st, 2008 | 07:01 am

...but I finally weigh 100kg, roughly the same weight as when I got married 9 years ago.

(100kg = 15st 9lbs)

Next target: 95kg by Christmas!

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Warped Passages - Lisa Randall

Aug. 11th, 2008 | 08:28 am

"Every now and then a man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions." (O.W. Holmes, Sr. 1858)

Holmes would, I think, have agreed that this book is a provider of such mind-stretching ideas. Here you'll find an excellent discussion of some of the more radical new ideas from the model-building camp of theoretical physics. Taking ideas of higher dimensions and branes borrowed from string theory, Prof. Randall and co-researchers have produced interesting models of physics in which the extra dimensions of string theory are shown to not all necessarily be miniscule curled-up planck-scale regions beyond experimental probing. She demonstrates possibilities for larger additional dimensions the existence of which might be experimentally verified when the Large Hadron Collider swings into action, and alternative possibilities to supersymmetry for unification of the forces of nature.

There's not very much cosmology in this book. It mainly concentrates on spatial geometry, particle physics, quantum field theory and the (possible) relationships between them. Of course the obligatory explanations of relativity, quantum mechanics and the standard model of fundamental particles and forces, all de rigueur for any pop science tract, comprise the first half of the book.

Don't be fooled by the reassuring commentary by newspaper reviewers on the cover about how this book is 'remarkably clear'. No journalist wants to admit that they can't make head nor tail of a 'pop' science book. Though Randall steers clear of mathematics there are many abstract concepts in this book that are not at all easy to grasp, especially the idea of non-spatial symmetries and symmetry breaking. 'Remarkably clear' is a very relative term here - in that, given the inherent difficulty in explaining these subjects to the uninitiated, yes, she's done a great job; but that doesn't mean it's easy-going or accessible. In fact I would have preferred more mathematics to give a structure to hang the conceptual understanding on and give it shape - without the maths there are parts of the book that come across as a formless mass of phrases like 'inter-brane communication of symmetry breaking' - OK, I have a grasp of the ideas of symmetry and broken symmetries and branes but I can't see how or why symmetry breaking can or needs to be 'communicated' - I sort of imagined it was something that happened spontaneously, as in the well-known theoretical physics phrase 'spontaneous symmetry breaking'. But when you bring maths into a book you are always faced with the question 'Where do I start? How much do my audience know already?' so I can understand her reasons for avoiding mathematical descriptions.

I liked her sections on the Standard Model which go into more detail than Brian Greene's books. I think this book was tougher going than his books 'The Elegant Universe' or 'The Fabric of the Cosmos'. This is partly because Greene, I think, is slightly more adept at the use of analogies, and partly because Randall goes into more depth because this book is more specific in its focus than his works.

Lisa Randall has actually made a very brave move in publishing this work, because her conjectures might be disproved or at least thrown into doubt by the results of LHC experiments (whereas - contrary to what some people on the interweb seem to believe - string theory as a general concept will neither be proved nor disproved because the LHC doesn't probe anywhere near the energy scales needed to do so conclusively). More power to her elbow for doing so.

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