Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thoughts for the Day: Tuesday 24 November 2020


Collingwood’s constitution of scientific history was fourfold: that it asked relevant and exact questions; that it asks these of “determinate men at determinate times”; that it maintains a “criteriological” rationality in its recourse to evidence; that its point is to enlarge humankind’s knowledge of itself by telling it what it has done.

This is how their [Englightenment philosophes] notion of self-expansion – through unlimited growth of production, and the expansion of productive forces – steadily replaced all other ideas of the human good in the eighteenth century; it became the central objective of existence, with corresponding attitudes, norms, values, and a quantitative notion of reality defined by what counts and what does not count.
In this schema, now wholly internalized, the human being used the tools of theoretical and practical reason to expand his capacities; and all his reference points and norms were defined by the imperative of expansion. Progress for him denoted the endless growth of a society whose individuals are free but responsible, egocentric but enlightened.
The high stimulus society in which we live is represented through advertising as full of vibrancy and vitality, but, as advertisers know only too well, its condition is one of boredom, and the response to boredom. Since the rise of capitalism in the eighteenth century, when according to Patricia Spacks boredom as such began, an ‘appetite for the new and the different, for fresh experience and novel excitements’ has lain at the heart of successful bourgeois society, with its need above all to be getting and spending money.

Many resort to diseased methods of coping, not only physical addiction to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco but also psychological addiction to eating, entertainment, gambling, pornography, sex, shopping, and sports.

In sum, this would be systems-style leverage: avoid direct conflict, use the forces already at play, manipulate so quietly as to be unnoticed, know that no effort truly ends. Treat  Middle East peace not as something to be hammered together but — to use Hayek’s idea for economies — as a garden to be tended.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Thoughts for the Day: Monday 23 November 2020


“The laws of complexity,” says James Gleick, “hold universally, caring not at all for the details of a system’s constituent atoms.”
A chaotic system magnifies the effect of small perturbations: as a result, the way the system develops over time is highly sensitive to minute differences in initial conditions, just as Poincaré proposed at the turn of the last century. The further one tries to project the system’s behavior into the future, the harder accurate prediction becomes. But chaos should not be confused with randomness—that is, with events and behavior that have no specific cause. In chaotic systems, the basic processes of cause and effect still operate among the system’s components. But how the interactions of these components unfold over time and what kinds of large-scale behavior these interactions produce are nevertheless, in important respects, unpredictable.
Review in the works.
But the rationalist theory of causation, however valuable it may be as the manifesto of a particular scientific enterprise, cannot be regarded as an ‘analysis’ of the causal propositions asserted by natural science as it has existed for the last few centuries.
You’re either believing your thoughts or questioning them. There’s no other choice.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Thoughts for the Day: Sunday 22 November 2020


Scott Carney, Amelia Boone, and Dave Asprey

Flipping the switch between parasympathetic and sympathetic defines our “state.” Mastering the Wedge puts our thumb on that switch so that we can learn to control the state of our nervous systems, flipping between sympathetic and parasympathetic systems almost at will.

We cannot convincingly proclaim that where we stand is a “vital center.” Our “mainstream” is a sludge. The “consensus” is no longer a matter of compromise but surrender. Our archetypal “self-made man” is not only self-effacing but almost self-obliterating.

I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.
Desire is the motivating power behind all actions – it is a natural law of life. Everything from the atom to the monad; from the monad to the insect; from the insect to man; from man to Nature, acts and does things by reason of the power and force of Desire, the Animating Motive. "
How's this compare with the Buddha?
So if the immune system uses the same chemical hardware that creates feelings in our brains and influences our behavior in the world, then how much of a stretch is it to say that our immune system is conscious? What if instead of assuming that the immune system is just a machine, we give it a chance to have a semblance of cognition? Obviously the immune system can’t have the sort of complex emotions or thoughts that you or I experience, but even a shard of that subjectivity is powerful.

There have always been people who saw that the true ‘unit of thought’ was not the proposition but something more complex in which the proposition served as answer to a question. Not only Bacon and Descartes, but Plato and Kant, come to mind as examples. When Plato described thinking as a ‘dialogue of the soul with itself’, he meant (as we know from his own dialogues) that it was a process of question and answer, and that of these two elements the primacy belongs to the questioning activity, the Socrates within us.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thoughts of the Day: Saturday 21 November 2020


So Wordsworth describes at the opening of Book XII of The Prelude how inspiration requires both the effort by which the mind ‘aspires, grasps, struggles, wishes, craves’ and the stillness of the mind which ‘fits him to receive it, when unsought’ – despite the effort, it still only comes unsought.
Compare the above with Hannah Arendt's descriptions of "thinking," such as undertaken by Socrates.

Plotinus’s level of Soul is in turn divided into two sublevels, one rapt in upward contemplation, the other dynamically involved below. The tradition of this distinction in Greek philosophy goes back from Plotinus through Middle Platonist and Neopythagorean sources to Aristotle’s distinction between active and passive intellect, and ultimately to Plato’s conception of the World Soul in the Timaeus.

As we pored over hundreds of sticky ideas, we saw, over and over, the same six principles at work. PRINCIPLE 1: SIMPLICITY How do we find the essential core of our ideas? A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.” To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize.
And for a deeper dive today:

The ‘corrupting influence of power’ is a commonplace. Power means the exercise of force; it corrupts by undermining a man’s will and reducing him to the level of his own slaves. [Collingwood is writing in the context of Greco-Roman political thought.] A slave-driver, getting out of the habit of explaining to his slaves what he means them to do, gets out of the habit of formulating his intentions even to himself. He can retain that habit only by discussing them on equal terms with his equals.
Plato knew this. He has left us a psychological study of the political slave-driver (in Greek ‘tyrant’) and a psychological study of the slave, the ‘tyrant’s’ subject. The results are the same. The lack of free will, the inability to resist the pressure of emotional forces, which makes the slave a slave, is also what makes the ‘tyrant’ a ‘tyrant’.
To narrate the genesis and career of the ‘tyrant’ (for us to-day, as it was for Plato or the Hellenistic period, an absorbing task) is not exactly the business of political science, because the field of activity in which the ‘tyrant’ distinguishes himself is not, strictly speaking, political. For the time being, let us call it pseudo-political. Collingwood, R. G.. The New Leviathan. Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Thoughts for the Day: Friday 20 November 2020


‘Nature’ as we know it, then, has a history. If we want to give a date for its debut, we can say that the nature that we know and love and which we make great efforts to embrace first arrived in 1798 with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads by the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and Coleridge’s seminal collection introduced the Romantic sensibility to English speaking readers, and it is no exaggeration to say, as the literary philosopher Owen Barfield (1898–1997) has, that the holiday industry, which offers trips to mountains, forests, deserts, and other uncivilised places, owes a great deal to the shift in human consciousness exemplified in their work.

We already know from the discovery of the existence of mirror neurones that when we imitate something that we can see, it is as if we are experiencing it. But it goes further than this. Mental representation, in the absence of direct visual or other stimulus – in other words, imagining – brings into play some of the same neurones that are involved in direct perception.

The Greeks quite clearly and consciously recognized both that history is, or can be, a science, and that it has to do with human actions. Greek history is not legend, it is research; it is an attempt to get answers to definite questions about matters of which one recognizes oneself as ignorant.

There is indeed only one principle which announces, with the same uncompromising clarity as the principle that “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” the diametrically opposite maxim for political action. It was expressed almost incidentally in a lonely phrase of one of the loneliest men of the last generation, Georges Clemenceau, when he suddenly exclaimed during his fight in the Dreyfus Affair: “L’Affaire d’un seul est l’affaire de tous” (“The concern of one is the concern of all”).

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Thoughts for the Day: Thursday 19 November 2020


In this book I’ll argue that the complexity, unpredictability, and pace of events in our world, and the severity of global environmental stress, are soaring. If our societies are to manage their affairs and improve their well-being they will need more ingenuity—that is, more ideas for solving their technical and social problems. But societies, whether rich or poor, can’t always supply the ingenuity they need at the right times and places.
The above quote--published in 2020--is even more astute now than when it was first published. We ignore this question at our peril.

This flip-flopping—breathing all-out, then not at all, getting really cold and then hot again—is the key to Tummo’s magic. It forces the body into high stress one minute, a state of extreme relaxation the next. Carbon dioxide levels in the blood crash, then they build back up. Tissues become oxygen deficient and then flooded again. The body becomes more adaptable and flexible and learns that all these physiological responses can come under our control. Conscious heavy breathing, McGee told me, allows us to bend so that we don’t get broken.
A wonderfully interesting and informative book. My review here.

Freud recognized the first circuit as the oral stage, the second as the anal stage and the fourth as the genital stage. He did not notice the third, semantic circuit — perhaps because as an obsessive Rationalist he was so absorbed in verbal and conceptual programs that they were invisible to him, as water may be to fishes.
This book is "out there" and delightful for it.

Montaigne’s most famous saying was, after a lifetime of learning, que sçaisje? The saying that ‘the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know’ is attributed both to the Buddha and to Socrates. St. Paul wrote: ‘And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know’ (1 Corinthians 8: 2).

This is a reminder that natural selection didn’t design your mind to see the world clearly; it designed your mind to have perceptions and beliefs that would help take care of your genes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Thoughts for the Day: Wednesday 16 November 2020


According to Plato, nous (reason as opposed to rationality) is characterised by intuition, and according to Aristotle it is nous that grasps the first principles through induction.

A contest between monopolistic and smaller units of economic power, for instance, is not a “natural” contest. The unequal power of one contestant is the product of the tendency toward centralization of power in the processes of a technical civilization. The power is a social and historical accretion; and the community must decide whether it is in the interest of justice to reduce monopolistic control artificially for the sake of reestablishing the old pattern of “fair competition,” or whether it is wiser to allow the process of centralization of economic power to continue until the monopolistic centers have destroyed all competition. But, if the second alternative is chosen, the community faces the new problem of bringing the centralized economic power under communal control.

Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another. There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.

“To be free, above all, was to be free from enslavement to one’s own basest desires, which could never be fulfilled, and the pursuit of which could only foster ceaseless craving and discontent.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Thoughts for the Day: Tuesday 17 November 2020


2020 publication

So the [economic] growth WIT [worldview, institutions, technology] is going to have to change drastically— or it, and possibly we, will vanish. Either way, the results for our societies are going to be wrenching.

But there are powerful reasons why the muddling-through approach will not always work for problems in today’s world. Incrementalism assumes that our circumstances are reasonably stable and change is slow. Because the past isn’t that different from the present, decision-makers can draw on what they have learned from the past—their practical knowledge, habits, and standard operating procedures, for instance—to guide their decisions in the present.
N.B. Homer-Dixon published this work 20 years before Commanding Hope.

Anxiety, the next gumption trap is sort of the opposite of ego. You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than “laziness,” is the real reason you find it hard to get started. This gumption trap of anxiety, which results from overmotivation, can lead to all kinds of errors of excessive fussiness. You fix things that don’t need fixing, and chase after imaginary ailments. You jump to wild conclusions and build all kinds of errors into the machine because of your own nervousness.

The first reaction is one of fear. It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Thoughts for the Day: Sunday 15 November 2020


[Quoting Thomas Jefferson] "I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did any where. Among the latter, under pretence of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep."

So the question is not whether we will experience turmoil and suffering as the crisis unfolds, only how bad they will be.
Broadly speaking, working with the immune system and our inner worlds means paying more attention to the bounty of sensations that are available to us. This includes the five main senses—sight, smell, touch, taste and sound—but also the interoceptive sense that we develop when we quiet the outside world and look inward.
Only in two periods of its long history—the Greek period from about 600-300 B.C. and the Modern period since the Enlightenment (with its promulgation of democratic constitutions, an autonomous middle class, and the goal of perfection attained through social engineering), the Industrial Revolution (with its suggestion of social perfection aided by technology), and the revolution in physics early in this century (with its promise of unimaginable power for whatever purpose)—can the West claim to be conspicuously progressive. And indeed its “progressiveness” has come very close to destroying the world as it careened on its course. This “progress” may not be something the rest of the world should covet.