Oscar Wilde was right, the problem with socialism is no free evenings. [...] The cost of building a society where the people have more say in how their lives are run is still many, many meetings. What is a meeting, after all, but people deliberating together with a capacity to act as a group that is more than just a sum of individual actions, and this sort of informed joint action is a precondition for significant social change. Come together, decide together, act together, and bear the consequences together. We must own our institutions or they will surely own us. As Aristotle told us, one becomes a citizen not by belonging to a polity or having a vote, but by shouldering the tasks of joint deliberation and civic governance. And there is no civic or faculty governance, no oversight of discrimination in hiring and promotion, no regulation of pollutants, no organization of faculty or students to initiate curricular reform, no mobilization by
professional associations to protect their most vulnerable members or to promote greater diversity, no increased humaneness in the treatment of animals and human subjects, no chance to offset arbitrariness and bullying within offices and departments, no oversight of progress and revision of plans in response to changing circumstances, without actual people who care spending long hours in the work of planning, meeting, and making things happens. The alternative is for all these decisions to be made at the discretion of those on high—or not at all.
As I look around me from the vantage point of Philosophy, I see colleagues and students investing countless hours trying to enhance the inclusion of women and other under-represented groups, or to build collective bargaining for graduate student instructors and term lecturers, or to reach out beyond the university to promote equitable trade, or to support humane and ecological practices in agriculture, or to bring new resources to under-served communities. These efforts involve personal sacrifice, and often made by those within the academy whose positions are the least secure. Moreover, they are making these sacrifices without a movement at their backs, or a Zeitgeist to buoy them from below. So it behooves those of us who are more secure to revive our spirit of activism. To lend a hand, and to use whatever leverage we might have to provide badly-needed support.
I have come to believe that the world of cognition is no less steeped in affect. That’s as it should be, I now realize, since affect is the mind’s way of registering appreciation—of evidence, of the importance of a fact, of the value of an action, of the goodness of a life. Most of things I blame myself for in life I did from fear of social embarrassment and humiliation—this has been a much more effective deterrent than clubs or threats in keeping me from doing the right thing. Reasoning has certainly helped me try to address these fears, but reasoning has done an almost equally good job of rationalizing my failures to overcome them. When I have managed to overcome this fear, it is because an appreciation of the values and ideals and lives at stake got the better of my over-socialized self—I felt, and not merely thought, I had to act.
In truth, we are still to a considerable degree still in a world of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” with regard to depression and associated mental disorders, such as anxiety, even though these will severely affect one in ten of us over the course of a lifetime, and often at more than one point in a lifetime.
Why should I contribute to making it harder for others to acknowledge their depression and seek help? I know what has held me back all these years. Would people think less of me? Would I seem to be tainted, reduced in their eyes, someone with an inner failing whom no one would want to hire or with whom no one would want to marry or have children? Would even friends start tip-toeing around my psyche? Would colleagues trust me with responsibility? I’m now established in my career, so some of these questions have lost some of their bite for me. But not all of them. And think of those who are not as well-placed as I have come to be. Think how these questions can as resonate in the mind of a depressed undergraduate or graduate student, trying and failing to do his work, trying to earn the confidence and esteem of his teachers, worried what his friends and parents will think, afraid to show his face in the Department, struggling to find his first job. Will he feel free to come forward and ask for help? Or think of a young faculty member, trying to earn the confidence and esteem of her colleagues, perhaps one of the 12-13% of women who will experience a depressive episode in association with pregnancy? Will she feel free to come forward? We’re beginning to accept parental or care-giver leave as a normal part of a career—will faculty feel equally able to request medical leave for depression?
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for post-secondary students, and rising. And its chief cause is untreated depression. Twenty percent of college students say their depression level is higher than it should be, but only 6% say that they would seek help, and still fewer actually do.
What does it say to our students or colleagues, how does it contribute their ability to seek care, or to escape a sense of utter loneliness and inability to make it out the other side, if even grey grown-ups like me with established careers and loving families can’t be open about the depression that has so deeply shaped our lives, and who can make it clear by our very selves, there’s real help, you can make it, it’s worth it, you’re worth it.
I should jot down some axioms about politics ...
1) We're living in an era of increasing automation. And it's trivially clear that the adoption of automation privileges capital over labour (because capital can be substituted for labour, and the profit from its deployment thereby accrues to capital rather than being shared evenly across society).
2) A side-effect of the rise of capital is the financialization of everything—capital flows towards profit centres and if there aren't enough of them profits accrue to whoever can invent some more (even if the products or the items they're guaranteed against are essentially imaginary: futures, derivatives, CDOs, student loans).
3) Since the collapse of the USSR and the rise of post-Tiananmen China it has become glaringly obvious that capitalism does not require democracy. Or even benefit from it. Capitalism as a system may well work best in the absence of democracy.
4) The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective. (This emerges organically from the needs of the organization's employees.)
5) Governments are organizations.
6) We observe the increasing militarization of police forces and the priviliging of intelligence agencies all around the world. And in the media, a permanent drumbeat of fear, doubt and paranoia directed at "terrorists" (a paper tiger threat that kills fewer than 0.1% of the number who die in road traffic accidents).
7) Money can buy you cooperation from people in government, even when it's not supposed to.
8) The internet disintermediates supply chains.
9) Political legitimacy in a democracy is a finite resource, so supplies are constrained.
10) The purpose of democracy is to provide a formal mechanism for transfer of power without violence, when the faction in power has lost legitimacy.
11) Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media.
12) A side-effect of (7) is the financialization of government services (2).
13) Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion.
14) The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there's a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.
15) The term "failed state" carries a freight of implicit baggage: failed at what, exactly? The unspoken implication is, "failed to conform to the requirements of global capital" (not democracy—see (3)) by failing to adequately facilitate (2).
16) I submit that a real failed state is one that does not serve the best interests of its citizens (insofar as those best interests do not lead to direct conflict with other states).
17) In future, inter-state pressure may be brought to bear on states that fail to meet the criteria in (15) even when they are not failed states by the standard of point (16). See also: Greece.
18) As human beings, our role in this picture is as units of Labour (unless we're eye-wateringly rich, and thereby rare).
19) So, going by (17) and (18), we're on the receiving end of a war fought for control of our societies by opposing forces that are increasingly more powerful than we are.
Have a nice century!
a) Student loans are loans against an imaginary product—something that may or may not exist inside someone's head and which may or may not enable them to accumulate more capital if they are able to use it in the expected manner and it remains useful for a 20-30 year period. I have a CS degree from 1990. It's about as much use as an aerospace engineering degree from 1927 ...
b) Some folks (especially Americans) seem to think that their AR-15s are a guarantor that they can resist tyranny. But guns are an 18th century response to 18th century threats to democracy. Capital doesn't need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don't plead guilty.
c) (sethg reminded me of this): A very important piece of the puzzle is that while capital can move freely between the developed and underdeveloped world, labour cannot. So capital migrates to seek the cheapest labour, thereby reaping greater profits. Remember this next time you hear someone complaining about "immigrants coming here and taking our jobs". Or go google for "investors visa" if you can cope with a sudden attack of rage.
People say this remark is from Heraclitus. The main idea is that the river keeps changing as the water flows. The other idea is that you keep changing, too!
Jorge Luis Borges wrote:
… each time I recall fragment 91 of Heraclitus, "You cannot step into the same river twice," I admire his dialectical skill, for the facility with which we accept the first meaning (“The river is another”) covertly imposes upon us the second meaning (“I am another”) and gives us the illusion of having invented it…
But actually it seems Heraclitus didn't exactly say "you cannot step into the same river twice".
He lived roughly from 535 to 475 BC. Only fragments of his writings remain. Most of what we know about him comes from Diogenes Laertius, a notoriously unreliable biographer who lived 600 years later.
For example: Diogenes said that Heraclitus became sick, tried to cure himself by smearing himself with cow manure and lying in the sun... and died, covered with poop.
But Diogenes also said that Pythagoras died while running away from an angry mob when he refused to cross a field of beans, because beans were sacred to the Pythagoreans. And Diogenes also said Pythagoras had a golden thigh - and was once seen in two places at the same time.
So we don't really know much about Heraclitus. And among later Greeks he was famous for his obscurity, nicknamed “the riddler” and “the dark one”.
Nonetheless a certain remark of his has always excited people interested in the concepts of sameness and change.
In one of Plato's dialogs the Socrates character says:
Heraclitus is supposed to say that all things are in motion and nothing at rest; he compares them to the stream of a river, and says that you cannot go into the same water twice.
This is often read as saying that all is in flux; nothing stays the same. But a more reliable quote passed down through Cleanthes says:
On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow.
That's harder to understand - read it twice! It seems that while the river stays the same, the water does not.
No matter what the details are, to me Heraclitus was trying to pose the great mystery of time: we can only say an entity changes if it is also the same in some way — because if it were completely different, we could not speak of "an entity" that was changing.
Of course we can mentally separate the aspect that stays the same and the aspect that changes. But we must also bind these aspects together, if we are to say that "the same thing is changing".
In category theory, we try to swim these deep waters using the concept of isomorphism. Very roughly, two things are isomorphic if they are "the same in a way". This lets us have our cake and eat it too: two things can be unequal yet isomorphic.
So when you step in the river the second time, it's a different but isomorphic river, and a different but isomorphic you.
And the isomorphism itself? That's the passage of time.
So, isomorphisms exhibit a subtle interplay between sameness and difference that may begin to do justice to Heraclitus.
None of these thoughts are new. I'm thinking them again because I'm writing a chapter on "concepts of sameness" for Elaine Landry's book Category Theory for the Working Philosopher. You can see a list of chapters and their authors here:
Here and in future articles you can watch me write my paper, and help me out. It'll be more technical - and I hope more precise! - than my remarks here. But it's supposed to be sort of fun, too.
In Part 2, I talk about the Chinese paradox "when is a white horse not a horse?":
In Part 3, I ask if you've ever used the equation x = x for anything. And I pose a precise conjecture which claims that this equation is useless. I would like someone to settle this conjecture!
But if x = x is a useless equation, why do mathematicians think it's fundamental to our concept of equality?
// I have no strong views on retrocausality, but I'm a pretty big fan of teleodynamics. Are the two necessarily linked? My attitudes on goal orientation are shaped pretty strongly by thinking about computation and algorithms (ie, Turing machines), where goal orientation proceeds stepwise into the future, and where no retrocausality is suggested. But Turing machines are purely abstract objects, and the physics might require a different kind of story all together. Is retrocausality a problem for digital physics?
In their everyday lives, bumblebees have a lot to remember: the colours, patterns, scents and symmetries of flowers, the best ways to get food from the best ones, as well as their locations and how to get to them. Relative to their lifespan, bumblebees have a good long-term memory for these details. They learn very early how to manipulate flowers to get nectar or pollen out of them, and still remember this three weeks later, towards the end of their short lives.
But they do make mistakes. "Bees can memorise more than one flower type, though there are costs," says Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London. "Bees make more mistakes when they juggle multiple memories than if they just focus on one flower type."
In a week-long user test, college freshmen who tried the app seemed to find it useful. ("Maybe I shouldn't hang out with Mark," one student says in this video. "Maybe he's kind of a dick").
via Martin Gurri: https://twitter.com/mgurri/status/570592426626306048
Full Study: http://jpr.sagepub.com/site/Editors_Collections/May2015_Special_Issue.xhtml
// In the this study, "social media" refers to cell phones, where communication tends to be "homophilic", meaning it happens in between local networks of more homogeneous communities.
The claim is that broader networks (=radio) speak to more diverse populations, and hence tends to unify those populations in ways that result in less sectarian violence. Social media (=cell phones) tends to reinforce community boundaries, and hence results in more violence.
I'm skeptical that the distinction between mass communication and social media can be so cleanly drawn, especially in places with better internet penetration. Sure, my FB feed is mostly friends and acquaintances (my G+ is almost entirely strangers <3<3), but they are all sharing links from common sources; most of my access to NPR or NYT comes through social media. Does this have an overall unifying or fragmenting effect? It's hard to say; it's pretty quick to condemn "social media" on this basis.
I'm infinitely more skeptical that the "unifying" nature of mass communication is for our own good.
// I think this is a wonderful capstone to put on this whole ordeal. It makes me want to give the internet a hug.
What I appreciate the most about this follow-up is how he frames the whole process (of shaming, counter-shaming, and 'standing up') as occurring outside the scope of traditional law and politics. Regardless of the 'legitimate' governing system, the public has acquired the power to secure its own form of justice, at scales normally reserved for the State. With that power comes the capacity for abuses. Aaronson's suggestion is that we have some obligation to self-regulate this new system of justice to protect ourselves from these abuses-- again, independent of the State.
Call this new form of justice "internet justice". Its machinery claims neither legitimacy or coercive monopoly, but it is powerful enough to bend the arc of the moral universe both towards and away from justice.
In the past, I've argued that internet justice is justice. Not that the internet can't abuse its power (it can and does), but that the machine has the capacity to self-correct these abuses, at least enough that it bends towards justice more often than not. If the internet weren't ultimately just, then we'd need external protections (perhaps via the State) to secure justice.
I take Aaronson here to be arguing that we don't need external protections; that both the capacity and the obligation to regulate this internet-justice system falls squarely on our (the internet's) shoulders.
I have a rule for myself which is that I don't ever put anything of my own experience on someone else's thread, or in someone else's conversation.
I feel that this is impoverished, as I feel that ultimately, dating problems are universal, regardless of preference. As Stephen Fry says in his Letter to my Younger Self, "Love is hard"
But there's a sort of developmental stage that many are going through now, where they want the conversation to be about them, and to have their struggles recognized, not buried.
So I don't intrude. However, that's exactly what Scott Aaronson did - he didn't intrude. And yet, people intruded on him, didn't read the thread he was responding to, understood nothing about his life or what lead him to write what he did, and painted him in the worst possible way, invoking a multitude of stereotypes along the way.
To my mind, this is exactly how the powerful oppress the weak. It's the exact mechanism. That ought to give one pause.
Burn, media, burn! Why we destroy comics, disco records, and TVs
Americans love their media, but they also love to bash it—and not just figuratively. Inside the modern history of disco demolition nights, c
Using Smiles (and Frowns) to Teach Robots How to Behave - IEEE Spectrum
Japanese researchers are using a wireless headband that detects smiles and frowns to coach robots how to do tasks
DVICE: The Internet weighs as much as a largish strawberry
Dvice, Powered by Syfy. The Syfy Online Network. Top Stories • Nov 02 2011. Trending topics: cold fusion • halloween • microsoft. Japan want
philosophy bites: Adina Roskies on Neuroscience and Free Will
Recent research in neuroscience following on from the pioneering work of Benjamin Libet seems to point to the disconcerting conclusion that
Kickstarter Expects To Provide More Funding To The Arts Than NEA
NEW YORK — Kickstarter is having an amazing year, even by the standards of other white hot Web startup companies, and more is yet to come. O
How IBM's Deep Thunder delivers "hyper-local" forecasts 3-1/2 days out
IBM's "hyperlocal" weather forecasting system aims to give government agencies and companies an 84-hour view into the future o
NYT: Google to sell Android-based heads-up display glasses this year
It's not the first time that rumors have surfaced of Google working on some heads-up display glasses (9 to 5 Google first raised the