Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Diary: Westhay Moor and Nature Reserve

Last visited in August 2014, not much has changed at Westhay Nature Reserve.

It's a frog? A toad?

Clare in the Hide

Ducks, coots, a heron and a swan we saw today .. and flies and dragonflies

The Somerset Levels are built on peat .. and rain

This is the lake at the furthest western extent of the Reserve

Talking of water, why do all those American warships keep crashing into stuff?

I read differing accounts. Some say that in the modern US Navy they're all so into their technical specialisms that no-one rates watch-keeping any more .. or sleeping, for that matter; others blame something akin to GPS spoofing .. and say it's an act of war.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Exercise fetishism and genetic confounds



I observed a few days ago that, at age 66, my physical capabilities were in visible decline.
"Let it be noted that in my mid sixty-sixth year I finally realised that my body was not immortal and that age would wreak its toll on both competences and recovery time.

"I observed recently that due to over-enthusiastic lifting, I was now experiencing chronic elbow joint and tendon twinges which have not yet recovered. As a consequence I have to rethink this whole weight-lifting thing.

"I suspect I will be doing more running and cardio work going forwards, with strength stuff more focussed on the core and upper back, where I have historically had muscle issues. Biceps and triceps can maybe go hang!"
So at some point I'll be packing away those weights, and going for a brisk walk rather than a run.

But will it make any difference?

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We're led to believe that vigorous exercise is the only way to stave off the myriad complaints of old age: heart disease, cancer, dementia .. .  But such exciting and well-publicised studies are correlative and seldom investigate genetic confounds. The only way to be sure is to conduct twin studies.

And so I was led to this news item: "Exercise Differences Do Not Produce Longevity Differences in Identical Twins". You should read it, but I will just quote the bottom line.
"High physical activity level was associated with longer lifespan when looking at non-identical twins that differ for their genetic background.

"However, in identical twins, that share the same genetic background, in pairwise analyses comparing physically active members of a twin pair with their inactive co-twin, there was no difference in lifespan.

"Our results are consistent with previous findings, that animals that have high aerobic capacity are physically more active compared to animals with low aerobic capacity. The findings in human twins were in agreement with this: discordance in physical activity level was clearly more common among non-identical twins than in identical twins showing an effect of genetic background on physical activity level.

"Vigorous physical activity in adulthood did not increase lifespan in human twins, even though physical activity is well-known to have various positive effects on health, physical fitness, and physical function.

"Based on our findings, we propose that genetic factors might partly explain the frequently observed associations between high physical activity level and later reduced mortality in humans. "
I therefore conclude that backing off from intensive physical exercise is unlikely to have much impact on either my general state of health or my longevity, assuming I avoid perverse outcomes such as complete indolence or gross obesity.

We sometimes counterpose exercise to everything else we do, as if our bodies would turn into jellyfish if we failed to lift those weights, or run those miles.

But formal exercise simply adds the icing on the cake to any reasonably active lifestyle.

It's not as if the opposite to vigorous exercise is going to be chronic bed rest.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Diary: the Mid-Somerset Show

It was reminiscent of The Archers as we reviewed the contenders for the best cucumber competition. Yes, this morning found us amongst the welly-brigade at Shepton for the Mid-Somerset Show (free entry, £10 parking).

Clare laughs at sheep (why?)

There were orange ones, sheep with black heads, small ones, large ones and some
which looked liked goats. Almost like they were genetically diverse or something

Well turned-out heavy horses - Clare was particularly impressed

Clare and myself in the prize-winning cheeses marquee

Clare fronting that remarkably tall slide for tiny tots

These descendants of wolves are now almost handbag dogs.
They're waiting to be judged.

As the judges walked around sundry sheep, pigs and dogs I was at a complete loss as to their ranking criteria. Was it teeth and gums, the rotundity of their abdomens, the health of their pelts?

I had a sneaking suspicion the judges were really assessing the fitness of their owners.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 4: the technology of communism

Amazon link

It was Peter Hamilton's excellent Night's Dawn Trilogy that first showed me that a technological civilisation could be realised in biotechnology ('bitek').
"Edenists are, for the most part, a single culture. They are an idealized, egalitarian, utopian society which, while not believing or practicing religion, does not prohibit it.

The majority of Edenists live in huge, multi-kilometre space stations called 'habitats' orbiting gas giants. Each individual habitat is a living organism, fully sentient, and is the perfect arbitrator of its community. Habitats cannot be bribed, are perfect impartial judges, and are aware of almost everything that occurs within them and immediately around them.

The most important aspect of any Edenist is his/her use of affinity. Affinity is an advanced form of mental communication similar to the present-day concepts of telepathy or entanglement. Edenist affinity allows them to transfer their memories into the habitat at the time of death. This is regarded as a form of immortality.

However, no habitat has yet died of old age (nor will for millennia) and could in turn pass their memories and personality on to another habitat were they ever to die. Adamist religions reject this as an attempt to avoid God's judgment on the soul after death, and it is this which is the root cause of the schism between the Adamist and Edenist cultures.

Edenists have access to faster-than-light travel through large, fully sentient bitek creatures called "Voidhawks".
We, however, still live in the brutalist machine age. Without the vast web of inanimate global industry spanning extraction, transportation, fabrication, distribution, marketing and sales, the economy would grind to a halt and we would all learn some new lessons about carrying capacity.

Much of human sensing and physical labour has been replaced by primary-automation, though people still provide cognitive direction. AI encroaches from the margins, colonising cognitive subtasks such as classification, recognition and increasingly role accomplishment (eg driving).

The reason most AI-aware people don't fear the AI apocalypse is not so much that intelligence ≠ will-to-power, but that the present global web of supply, production and sales is just so fragile.

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In societies with tiny smart fractions, lack of reliable inputs such as power and maintenance ensure that high-tech devices rapidly fail and are abandoned: the economy trends towards subsistence farming.

But what if we could get a First World plus economy by bio-engineering the natural ecosystem? That would look after itself and need no human attention except to 'pull the product off the tree' or 'plant the seed which becomes the house/car/voidhawk'.

That's my kind of subsistence farming.

So here is the concern. That primate-sourced servitor - cognitively-uplifted to work for us - is only a few mutations away from losing its enhanced prosociality and will-to-serve, poised to correctly conclude that humanity is just its parasite. That's the message its genes will be selected for.

Amazon link

That's the AI to worry about, as foreseen in Paul McAuley's 'Fairyland'. I expect the servitor gene-police to be kept busy - at least while they remain loyal and turn a deaf-ear to the SJWs.

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For more on Marxism and HBD start here.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 3 (FAQs)

I suggest you read the first two parts before these FAQs.

Marxism and HBD - part 1

Marxism and HBD - part 2

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Marxism and HBD - part 3 (FAQs)


1. What did you mean, the limited consciousness of the masses?

In part 2 I observed, "the masses have never been generally fired up with an explicit ideological commitment to a post-capitalist world order".

This is not controversial amongst Marxists. In Lenin's "What Is To Be Done" the great revolutionary observes,
"The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.

"The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia."
It's generally agreed that the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 was effected by the collapse of the Tsarist regime and the inability of the feeble Russian bourgeoisie (the Kerensky Provisional Government) to chart an acceptable way forward in the face of active resistance from workers, soldiers and peasants.



Lenin and the communists won because they were prepared to administer the final coup de grâce. There was no widespread mass desire for Marx's go-forwards programme, nor was it even possible in the economic and human-capital conditions obtaining.

The Russian Communist Party tried to map out a plan based on Marx's underdeveloped and utopian view of human nature, and of course it failed. No one (including the Trotskyists) has ever suggested a compelling left-wing alternative. Sometimes the ideal really is unobtainable, that is the lesson of history to date.

If the Bolsheviks hadn't acted, the alternative would have been a counter-revolution led by the forces of the White Armies, which would have installed a capitalist autocracy. Millions would have died .. but then, millions actually did die in the Russian Civil War (1919-1923) and in the Stalinist thirties.

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Subsequently, that stage of capitalism which lasted until the 1980s, the precursor to globalisation and neoliberalism, was marked by large-scale manufacturing imposing rather uniform conditions on workers. The normal operations of capitalism - as analysed by Marx - led to the usual class conflicts, which we saw highlighted in the mining and car industries and in the ports.

But capitalism developed. The productive forces mutated under the impact of new automation technologies. The economics of regiments of smart people working on dumb materials using dumb tools morphed into a more atomised, bespoke and networked economic model where many workers found themselves in a far richer and more individual working environment.

When I was an AI researcher and then telecommunications network architect for a global corporation, I was usually delighted to be at work. The company gave me big problems to solve and big toys to play with. I was far from the only one having fun, and none of us were wrong.

So that misleading image of the massed ranks of the badly-dressed proletariat storming the barricades, banners in hand, has gone for ever. The supersession of capitalism will be found in a different place (as I described later in part 2).

2. What did you mean: 'cognitive automation is functional slavery'?

I wrote quite a bit about 'total automation under capitalism'. Please do look at the material there.

What I would like to address here is the impact of extreme automation on the working classes and those excluded from the relations of production. Are we to talk of machine imperialism?

When the Greek economy, dysfunctional, nepotistic and corrupt, recently faltered within the Eurozone, it was subjected to severe economic policies imposed above all by Germany. Those painful steps, intended to lead to eventual stability and good governance, fell hard on those who had been most blameless in the hollowing out of the Greek economy.

People observed - correctly - that if the Germans had been put in charge of the Greek state from the earliest stages of EU entry, they would, with their useful efficiency and competence, have sorted things out pretty rapidly. It turned out that the Greeks preferred to run things dysfunctionally themselves rather than have another nationality do it for them. And of course, whose interest would those über-competent Germans really have been serving?

Ando so goes the critique of imperialism. There is no lobby for the highly-educated, experienced and 'incorruptible' technocrats of the first world to take over the running of, say, selected sub-Saharan African nations.

If coercive competence is out, the alternative (if we only had it to hand) is to create an economy which is responsive to the needs of the masses and which operates without their input (insofar as they lack the necessary skills and attitudes). This is as much a problem in the poorer cities and regions of the advanced capitalist world as it is in the Third.

You could say: "If we can't bring the people to where they need to be to run the economy they need (given today's technological limitations) then we should upgrade the technology instead".

That would require a far superior AI for communications, control, coordination and self-maintenance than we have today .. but in a hundred years?

Or we could upgrade the relevant traits in those populations - if they so wish - to replicate the high-achieving genotypes we see in the world's smart fractions today. We could and should do both .. over the coming decades as we can.

I want to emphasise a point here. All racial, ethnic genomic-types are adaptations. Some populations (the Ashkenazim are the poster-people here) have been 'intensively-bred' for success in the core attributes which make today's capitalism work best: high intellect, strong verbal skills, prosocial attitudes.

But capitalism always changes and the arc of technology tends to rise. In a cognitively-automated economy - the kind Marx hazily envisioned for Communism - there is no requirement for everyone to be Einstein. A highly diverse set of genotypes should be possible with social and physical environments tailored to each. I think that's the vision to go for.

It's the difference between coercive eugenics (bad) and elective eugenics (empowering).

It's been observed that a sufficiently high-level of AI automation is indistinguishable from slavery. Well, from an economic viewpoint certainly - in the equations, slaves appear  as versatile, adaptable nanotech machines.

Our ethical issues stem from our empathy with the plight of the slave, our unwillingness to swap places. But a relatively crude and non-biological machine? One which lacked any semblance of consciousness?


Amazon link

The issue which is really going to keep people awake at nights is the genetic engineering of highly-competent servitors who truly want to serve us. We seem to be OK with horses but personal assistants?

3. How do I find out more about Marxism?

It's a big subject and mastering the literature is more than a lifetime's work.

Amazon link

You could do worse than start with Michael Heinrich's "An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital" (the link is to the PDF) which I write about here.

You may object that it is a curious kind of Marxism I'm advocating here, one which eschews the violent overthrow of capitalism and which argues instead for the most dramatic expansion of the productive forces, subject to the most energetic mitigation of the bourgeois elite's disregard for and generally poor treatment of the global working classes.

I agree that it does all sound a bit Second International. Still, if we had had this discussion with Lenin and Trotsky back in 1917, they might be nonplussed by the fact that their brand of imminent insurrection had got precisely nowhere over the next hundred years, while the 'mitigationists' had helped transform the fortunes of the masses.

Capitalism will not go gentle into that good night and when it's time we will know.


4. How do I find out more Human Biodiversity (HBD)?

There is a stupendously encyclopaedic website, but it might be better to read a couple of papers first.


National IQ by countries

You could start with "Our Dumb World" by Greg Cochran: be sure to read the comments as well.

The critical insights of HBD derive from behavioural genetics and heritability research. Here the key paper is "The Top 10 Replicated Findings From Behavioral Genetics" which I write about here.

Finally, read "Hive Mind" by Garett Jones.

Amazon link
I reviewed it here.


5. I thought HBD was racist - that's what the Internet says?

If someone calls you a "f***ing idiot", it's tempting to refute the claim by mentioning your current non-engagement in coitus and your perfectly acceptable IQ - but much good will it do you.

The epithet 'racist' is commonly a term of abuse, like most nouns uttered with aggression which terminate in -ist.

Races within humanity exist of course (in other species they would be called subspecies), and differ on many phenotypic traits. To be Bayesian for a moment, racial differences may well justify prior beliefs.

For example, not many East Asians win the 100 metres sprint .. so your prior belief that a well-muscled West African would perform better is likely to be well-founded. But I think you and I would update our priors if the Japanese guy actually beat the West African.

A racist would not.

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Next: Marxism and HBD - part 4: the technology of communism.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 2

For part 1 see here.

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A google search for "Marxism and HBD" currently returns only relevant posts on this very blog. Apparently the left-intellectuals of the world are silent on the topic. Why is that?

A provocative view is that human biodiversity (the inclusion of results from psychometrics and behavioural genetics et al into economics, sociology and politics) is ultimately toxic to Marxism; that the system of thought due to Marx is simply falsified by our best theories of human nature and human genetic variation.

But perhaps not.

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Capitalism, according to Marx, is a form of society in which economic resources are deployed privately with production intended for exchange, thus realising an expansion of capital invested. Given the lack of central, rational planning, it is said, economic dislocations and crises are inevitable  .. with capitalism at some point failing to adequately develop society's productive forces further.

Reasonable Marxists disagree about the details.

The only way to abolish - supersede - capitalism is to abolish generalised commodity production. The alternative - the only alternative - is a consciously planned economy. The details are not well worked out, and where it has been tried the results have not been good.

There has never been a socialist revolution in an advanced capitalist country: a common response is to blame the working class. Despite much leftist rhetoric, the masses have never been generally fired up with an explicit ideological commitment to a post-capitalist world order. There have been many worker-uprisings and struggles to be sure, but psychologically and in the specifics of praxis, the struggles have always been either reactive or in favour of bourgeois-democratic ideals.

Workers Councils have coordinated struggles, but - pace Lenin and Trotsky - have never served as the foundations of a post-capitalist state. Anyone who thinks for a few minutes about the complexities and sheer technicalities of the modern bourgeois state, consuming 30%-60% of GDP, knows that the workers' committees are not going to replace all that.

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Amazon link

I recently read Martin Jay's turgid history of the Frankfurt School, where dismay at the secular non-appearance of the revolutionary proletariat led to forays into psychoanalysis ('human nature') and the cul-de-sac of methodology. Is there no way to rescue Marx's project?

I'm in some sympathy with the Frankfurt School (Wikipedia):
"For Horkheimer, approaches to understanding in the social sciences cannot simply imitate those in the natural sciences.

"Although various theoretical approaches would come close to breaking out of the ideological constraints that restricted them, such as positivism, pragmatism, neo-Kantianism, and phenomenology, Horkheimer argued that they failed because all were subject to a "logico-mathematical" prejudice that separates theoretical activity from actual life (meaning that all these schools sought to find a logic that always remains true, independently of and without consideration for ongoing human activities).

"According to Horkheimer, the appropriate response to this dilemma is the development of a critical theory."

I think that Marx was:
  • right to understand capitalism (and all social formations) as evolving protocols of recurrent human relationships (not as reified 'structures'),

  • right to emphasise that capitalism automatically forms and reproduces the great classes of the bourgeoisie and proletariat,

  • right to raise serious questions as to whether the capitalist mode of production really was the end of history.
That does not mean we are locked into a dogmatic refusal to engage with the results of psychometrics, behavioural genetics and genomics which are transforming our understanding of human biodiversity.

As is traditional here, I will roll out the relevant quote from György Lukács, with which I agree:
"Let us assume for the sake of argument that recent research had disproved once and for all every one of Marx’s individual theses. Even if this were to be proved, every serious ‘orthodox’ Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of Marx’s theses in toto – without having to renounce his orthodoxy for a single moment.

"Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method.

"It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders."
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So having established that Marxism is challenged by HBD research and having suggested that Marxism is not falsified by it - being methodological - what impact does HBD have upon Marxism? It may be true that human populations differ importantly amongst and between themselves for good historical-evolutionary reasons, but it's unsettling and impolite to notice, and it undermines solidarity in the face of the common bourgeois enemy.

Doesn't it?

Just as generalised commodity production is the core of Marx's theory of capitalism, human genomic-phenotypic variability is at the heart of HBD. Distinct human populations have distinct evolutionary histories and significant genomic and phenotypic differences. Some recent adaptations, including enhanced cognitive-abstraction and prosocial personality traits, appear to be adaptations to post-tribal environments. Adaptation to new complex-society constraints can be fast, as some theories of Ashkenazim intelligence suggest.

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) currently being undertaken are expected to demonstrate what observation already makes clear, that certain populations - some sub-Saharan African countries, aboriginal populations in countries such as India - lack a sufficiently large 'smart-fraction' to make a modern capitalist economy work, let alone the implied additional cognitive and prosocial demands of post-capitalism.

As Dr Watson told The Sunday Times ..  he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really."

That would be the consequence of an evolutionary history which selected for hunter-gatherer/pastoral ecologies - forms of social life which do not reward Einstein-like hyper-abstraction or elevated prosocial personality traits.

Our so-called advanced capitalist countries are plainly not uniform in cognitive traits either of course. Half the population is below average, and most individuals could not today undertake the advanced cultural, scientific and technological vocations of elite groups. This is a consequence of heritable variation - not the result purely of inadequate education or life-history.

These points are not stressed by Marxists.

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What exactly is wrong with capitalism anyway? It was pretty rough in the 1860s, when Marx and Engels were writing. Plenty of room for righteous indignation. But all modes of production with inadequate development of the productive forces are rough on those not at the top.

Capitalism has been growing those productive forces for centuries now on a Darwinian economic process, investment following market opportunity. As I mentioned, criticisms of capitalism which suggest that it will fail through internal contradictions are both theoretically implausible and contradicted by the evidence.

More Hegelian remarks about alienation confuse the technical distinction between the worker and the product of his or her labour with some psychological state of anomie - which either doesn't exist or is inseparable from any global division of labour. The purposelessness of life under capitalism is, however, something else.

Capitalism has not been bad overall for those living within its domain, certainly better than any of the alternatives on offer. Marxist critiques have been shrill, rhetorical, ritualistic, tribal or misplaced - placing blame on the capitalist mode of production for dysfunctions which actually reside within innate human social psychologies. No crime under socialism? Really, comrades? - Not without an excessive and self-defeating degree of genetic engineering!

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I think what will actually happen is this:
  • There will be no proletarian revolution along the lines of the Bolsheviks in 1917
  • There will be no socialisation of the means of production as currently understood
  • a rising tide of automation will eventually outstrip human-level cognition.
It is the latter which will unravel the fabric of capitalism. Cognitive automation is functional slavery. As wage-labour is removed from the economy, demand vanishes. Under capitalism, without demand there is no incentive to invest.

The increasing army of the unemployable will wander the halls of their automated nirvana and do what humans always do: bicker, fight, scream at each other in righteous indignation and be bored as hell. Some will vanish into virtual worlds.

And some will avail themselves of genomic engineering to remake themselves as we already remake our environment.

I have no idea how we would describe the mode of production which underpins all that, but undoubtedly Marx's methodology would be up to the task.

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If this is indeed the last, great hope for humanity, then the most important thing is to:
  • encourage the development of the productive forces, which includes combating SJW agitation for 'equal outcomes', AI scaremongering and religious and 'green' lobbying against genetic engineering

  • apply intelligent mitigation against the many dire side-effects of capitalist accumulation - fight for retraining, pro-worker government economic policies, appropriate transfer payments

  • optimise the political conditions for a smooth post-capitalist transition.
The latter is likely to take many decades and involve many battles at all scales against the forces of privilege and obscurantism.

I'm sure this is our clearest view of the way forward, but it's not going to be that attractive to those brought up on the Leninist vanguard party. I'm not expecting converts.

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Let me finally address the killer question: "What would you do - as a Marxist - about sub-Saharan Africa?"

First I observe that capitalism has completely failed to uplift the SSA economies, despite decades of effort by many well-meaning folk with significant resources. You just can't do much today about that lack of a sufficient smart fraction.

In the future we will be able to do more. At the material level, easy-to-maintain technologies such as solar panels and mobile phones today enrich the environment, particularly in the most deprived circum-urban areas. Improving automation will do so much more, but this will not, by itself, help with unemployment and lack of purpose.

When we have the capabilities - not soon! - we can offer two ways forward: (i) genetic enhancement to boost any attributes which people want; and (ii) synthesised environments - not necessarily virtual - providing people with the means of resolution of their multiple needs - as they present themselves.

Some combination of both tracks is the way forward, but we're maybe a century away from being able to realise them fully.

The reader will observe that this is not just a prescription for sub-Saharan Africa, it's a prescription for the whole of humanity.

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Marxism and HBD - part 3 (FAQs)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Diary: Blacktop + anomic aphasia

Today has been a physical day. First the hoovering - no joke with thick pile carpets and an exceedingly heavy vacuum cleaner - which I slovenly accomplish once per fortnight. Then, brimming with energy, I did the two mile run into the Mendips in a new best time, just under 18 minutes.

One is pleased with oneself.

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I guess it must have been oil on the drive asphalt


This asphalt damage on the driveway is, I think due to an oil spill. It's made the surface spongy and crumbly. After much searching, both in local hardware shops and on the web I ordered this: Dap Blacktop Asphalt Filler & Sealant 27065.

Amazon link


This afternoon, time to put it all together. The Blacktop is squeezed out using the gun thing you see in the picture below. It's brown and thick and poisonous and carcinogenic. Clare got to use her compétences de cuisine to smooth it off.

Clare using her compétences de cuisine

It now has to sit, protected from the rain, for a further 72 hours. They claim it dries to black: God, let's hope so!

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Let it be noted that in my mid sixty-sixth year I finally realised that my body was not immortal, that age would wreak its toll on both competences and recovery time. I observed recently that due to over-enthusiastic lifting, I was now experiencing chronic elbow joint and tendon twinges which have not yet recovered. As a consequence I have to rethink this whole weight-lifting thing.

I suspect I will be doing more running and cardio work going forwards, with strength stuff more focussed on the core and upper back, where I have historically had muscle issues. Biceps and triceps can maybe go hang!

At least the brain still mostly works .. oh wait .. yesterday I completely forgot the word 'autistic' for three and a half minutes. I had started with neurotypical and then navigated to Asperger's and then altruism (!) - at which point my left parietal lobe entered an indefinite wait state.

I said to Clare, "Given the amount of hard physical labour, let alone intelligence this house requires to keep it functional, I despair of what will happen when we get old."

She observed that we bought the house from a couple of 90+ year olds, and that it was indeed in a terrible state of disrepair.

We agreed not to get old.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 1



What would have been the impact on Marx if the theory of human biodiversity (HBD) had been around at the time? Marx knew of course about evolution - he was a fan of Darwin (not reciprocated) - and he seems to have had sensible views on human nature (unlike current left-wing blank-slatism). So it's a hard question.

I don't think HBD would have had much impact on Marx's theory of capitalism per se, where he famously discusses capitalists and others as exemplars of their class behaviour, not as specific human beings.
"I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose [i.e., seen through rose-tinted glasses]. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests." - Preface to the First German Edition (Marx, 1867) [of Capital, Vol 1].
Equally, the ability of classes and class fractions to unite as one in uprisings and class struggle is not surprising to HBD. It relates to the ongoing issue in behavioural genetics as to how human solidarity above the level of 'family and friends' can evolve and be evolutionarily stable. No one thinks it's a scientific showstopper.

I suspect that HBD's true impact is to complexify post-capitalist governance, as well as the development of the productive forces for populations with overly-limited smart-fractions. Marx wrote little on those topics.

There are also implications for immigration policies, where conventional Marxists today echo neoliberal yearnings for 'open borders'.

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Science is meant to say:  "If this situation pertains, then that will (likely) happen."

It's not correct to say: "If this situation pertains, then you ought to do that."

For example, if an individual has a genotype for psychopathy, then a genomic scientist should observe that a certain psychopathic behaviour set is very likely, in a certain environmental context.

Leave it to psychotypically-normal lay people to invoke values and call that person evil.

Marx didn't really respect this "Martian anthropologist", dispassionate paradigm. His work brims with moral indignation; it's easy to understand why.

But methodologically it's wrong.

How do we avoid the swamp of moral relativism - or worse, the absence of any moral direction at all? Don't look to Marx (or Hegel) for that; look to Darwin.

The purpose of life is to exist and abide - natural selection ruthlessly removes from this universe those genotypes which fail at this most basic of tasks.

If we favour the creation of a more prosperous, less alienating, more just society, it's because we root our emotional, value-laden political commitments in that underlying genetic imperative.

I'm not sure that Marx realised that here was the real source of his incandescent moral outrage.

Where Marx did not transcend the universalistic category of 'the proletariat', modern Marxists should do better. Developing the productive forces and creating an optimal society has to take account of real population differential adaptations and variation.

People (not just Marxists) need to decide how or whether their HBD differences are to be conserved or modified in the future arc of social development.

But they do have first to be recognised, comrades.

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Marxism and HBD - part 2

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BTW, if anyone is interested in developing theoretical work in this area let me know through the comments or by email at pl.naq.af[*ng*]tznvy.pbz.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Diary: Eon/Tehanu + Rowan + David Harvey

For 'Marxism and HBD' please go here (part 1 of four parts).

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Amazon link

I tried. For four nights now I've been reading 'Eon' to Clare - last night she fell (audibly) asleep at the thirty minute mark. 'Eon' is one of my favourite 'sense of wonder' SF novels but reading it aloud highlights the slow, super-expository startup; the way the narrative lays lifelessly on the page.

Amazon link

Tonight we flip to Earthsea Book 4, 'Tehanu'.

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Clare plants the new Rowan tree

For the record, we were at Dobbies, Shepton Mallet this lunchtime to buy a Rowan tree for the front garden. I'm told it's good for the birds and that Clare intends one to mark her burial place.

Not in the front garden.

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Amazon link

I have ordered David Harvey's 'Limits to Capital'. He has another book, 'Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason', coming out at the end of this month, but having read enough of other people's introductions ..

Amazon link

.. I have decided just to read the great man's work directly, so have started Volume 1 of 'Capital'.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Diary: vexatious Sunday

My day starts with the Sunday Times and I'm reading Dominic Lawson on the James Damore/Google affair. I'm reminded of the illiterate and distorted editorials in The Times and The Economist (previous post) and I fantasise about cancelling my subscriptions as I ponder the old dilemma: (i) do they know the science but choose to lie about it, which makes them mendacious hypocrites; or (ii) have they not even bothered to check the relevant body of knowledge carefully cited by Damore, choosing instead to ventilate their blank-slate wish-fulfillment fantasies - which makes them incompetent.

In either case, why am I spending good money reading them? I console myself that The Economist does a good quarterly Technology Review and The Times occasionally has some useful news in it.

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While Clare is at Mass I resume Frederick Beiser's Hegel.



When you read highly abstract discussions relating to substance, essence, the necessary, the contingent, the noumenon and phenomenon, the synthetic a priori, it's tempting to think that the underlying problem set these guys are wrestling with is impossibly abstruse.

Not so: at the end of the eighteenth century, with enlightenment rationality crumbling under the Reign of Terror and religion on the ropes, Hegel and the Romantics are struggling with straightforward questions.
  • Is the universe a Newtonian machine or is there scope for free will?
  • If knowledge is just representations in our minds, can reality be truly known?
  • If we have free will, and God is not a personal judge, whence morality?
I think we have a good scientific framework for these questions today (not, of course, uncontroversial), but Hegel was definitely on the right track. His stuff is abstract both because the right scientific toolset hadn't yet been developed, but also because in a dynamic world of evolving connections, the individual concrete element of reality is conditioned by its relationships with other things - and some of those relationships are inherently abstract.

Quick example: you concretely see a human walking from one location to another where they start doing certain things in a structured way and conversing with others. What extra information about that scenario's history of embedding relations do you need to properly and fully understand what is happening?

If I tell you the person is a priest and he walked to his church? If I say she is a barista and she walked to her coffee shop in a now-desanctified church? How much more do you need to understand completely and fully? A lot.

You get the idea.

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In our irreligious age, residual belief in God seems a mere foible. But Hegel was not an atheist, and to be consistent God had to be present in the ontology of reality. Looming over everything was Spinoza's immanent God, a divine presence infusing everything. But this leads to quietist, passive conclusions. If we are part of God, what scope for novelty or freedom?

Hegel adds conflict, dynamics and process through the dialectic, but does he really have a solution?

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In the afternoon we strolled to Wookey and had toasted teacakes on our return.

The evening progresses,  I watch BBC coverage of the IAAF World Championships and my distaste with the deep feminisation of media culture surfaces again. Some Brit has just been disqualified in a walking race of epic length after three warnings, at the 10 km mark or thereabouts.

He seems tearful but full of resolve to do better in future. The BBC interviewer is like a trauma therapist: "How do you feel?" "Can you recover from this?" "You put in so much hard work!" ..

Call me systemising rather than empathising but - insofar as I care - I would rather have liked some footage of his DQ faults, and someone explaining technically what he had done wrong and what he should do about it.

Dispassionate analysis? Not what this is about.

OK. I'm done with being vexed for today .. until the BBC News at ten o'clock.

".. then I must be .." *



The Economist this week writes:
"Mr Pichai had good reasons to sack Mr Damore. One is the content of the memo. It says many reasonable-sounding things: that “we all have biases” and that “honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots”. But these are just camouflage before a stonking rhetorical “but”: the argument that innate differences, rather than sexism and discrimination, explain why women fare worse in the technology industry than men. “Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance)”, Mr Damore writes, “may contribute…to the lower number of women in high-stress jobs.”

"Research has indeed shown some smallish group-level differences in personality and interests between the sexes. But drawing a line from this to women’s suitability for tech jobs is puerile. An unbiased eye would light on social factors rather than innate differences as the reason why only a fifth of computer engineers are women. "
In today's Sunday Times, Dominic Lawson observes of The Financial Times:
"... the Financial Times, which in an editorial denounced Damore’s memo as “almost pure drivel”. That paper is facing industrial action on behalf of its female employees, who suffer from a 13% gender pay gap (according to the National Union of Journalists).

It, too, has an internal reason for declaring to the world how deplorable it finds young Damore, so it published another article accusing him of a “long email rant against diversity programmes . . . a rambling confused mash-up of outdated science”.
---

When these idealogues attend a performance of 'The Life of Galileo' by Bertolt Brecht,
"This was a lively, heartfelt performance which showcased reason and science vs. obscurantist arguments from authority designed solely to buttress the interests of those in power. This never fails to be relevant."
they root for Galileo, bravely sticking it to The Man. It never occurs to them that they are The Man.

---

The genius of Brecht was to give good arguments to the Catholic Inquisition. The interrogator points out that regardless of any purely-scientific merits of Galileo's thesis, the practical effects of the new doctrine would be to undermine the primacy and sanctity of scripture and thus subvert the social order, undermining authority and leading to dangerous chaos.

A very high price to pay for some arid, esoteric and contested version of 'truth'.

---

* Imposter.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Diary: garden surgery + Burrington Combe

The jet stream's looping to the south of the UK giving cool weather and endless rain, broken today by a rare ridge of high pressure and sunshine.

Taking advantage, the tree surgeons arrived this morning to sort things out.

Dense foliage almost hides the gardeners' truck

While the garden rang with the buzz of the chain saw, I ran my two mile route into the lower Mendips in a new best time .. and without knee-joint failure. So I was pleased.

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Just a small aside: Clare arranged all this - I'm not a garden person - and they were actually booked in for tomorrow (Friday). At 8.30 this morning the doorbell rang which I answered.

A young man dressed in casual clothes smiled winningly at me, said "Good Morning" and put out his hand to shake mine. I glared at him (we have our share of door-to-door scammers) and said coldly, "Who are you?".

He looked quite nonplussed. Explained he was the gardener,  they'd had a cancellation and as the weather was good today they'd decided to do us. Mumbled something about voicemail (we'd received no voicemail).

That being cleared up, I offered them tea, which they declined, and they went about their business.

Clare tells me she went out a little while later to check progress and confided, "My husband mistook you for Jehovah's Witnesses."

---

This afternoon we drove to nearby Burrington Combe for an hour's stroll. There's a good view of the Severn south of Portishead and occasionally the landscape faintly echoed with the rumble of jet turbines - we saw an airliner lifting off from Bristol's Lulsgate airport a good five miles away.

Clare at our terminus - on the rocks

Your author in his favourite ninja attire

We mixed up the walk by debating the most likely scenarios for war between America and North Korea. It must be real because the markets are in free fall. I read lots of vaguely reassuring commentary in the newspapers, explaining how conflict is unlikely as it's in no one's interest.

Yep.

If it gets hot, the first logical step for the US military is to sterilise the NK artillery lines abutting the DMZ. They could do it in a non-nuclear way. Think Daenerys's dragon amplified a millionfold.

I think Seoul is safer than the pundits imagine but the casualty rate for the North would be horrendous.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Diary: what I'm reading

I encountered Hegel (1770-1831) through others: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Lukács. He seemed to precurse those theorists as some dark formless cloud: Jehovah brandishing an absolutist dialectical idealism.



It's time to engage with the void, to sketch the contours of the man himself. Although I have only just started Frederick Beiser's book, Georg emerges as a rather earnest young intellectual, engaged with Christianity (he trained in a Protestant seminary), absorbed into the early Romantic movement which brought us Keats, Byron and Shelley.


Amazon link

His mature works, however, have a reputation of being 'difficult' and obscure.

---

I'm prepared to add Hegel to my - rather short - list of heroes, joining Marx, Lukács and J. S. Bach. One day I need to do the Central European pilgrimage, searching out the geography of their lives and times.

When I was studying philosophy at Warwick University c. 1970, I reacted strongly against the anachronistic treatment of Plato, Aristotle, St. Anselm, Descartes, Kant et al. I was being asked to study in isolation systems of ideas based on outmoded, rigid categories of thought applied to an obsolescent framing of problems.

In most cases modern physics, computer science and AI had totally transformed the paradigms in which these issues were posed. I felt like I was being asked to learn the Phlogiston theory of heat on equal terms with modern Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics - yet none of the lecturers seemed to notice or care. I never subsequently changed that opinion.

I guess that made me a historicist - like Hegel .. and Marx.

For Marx, philosophical categories were mediated by and abstracted from the concrete (social) experiences of individuals within their specific historical circumstances: "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas".

Made a lot of sense to me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

If Google did heavy lifting ...

Following on from the James Damore affair (read first).

Suppose Google's business involved heavy, manual construction work. The relevant Division is full of tough, strong endomorph types. They are mostly male with a smattering of shot-putter women.

Top software development is the mental equivalent of this level of performance ..

The HR people go crazy. This tip of the company spear is shockingly male-dominated, showing entrenched .. well, you know. They demand more diversity training and proactive affirmative action hiring. We want a 50-50 equal gender ratio. And we want it now.

A Damore-equivalent naïf observes that men are on average quite a bit stronger than women. That any women who can hack it are more than welcome in the Division. But biologically there just aren't that many applicants compared to qualified men. Going for 50-50 is going to be a stretch. Perhaps this equality of outcomes thing is, well, .. inappropriate?

As Google's CEO fires him, does he still say this?
"However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives.

To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”
Plainly the female employees of the Division - by virtue of the fact they were hired in the first place and are meeting the standards - are not  'less biologically suited'. No one said otherwise.

But comparison of the male-female population distributions for physical body strength indicates that women in the general population are 'less biologically suited'. It's why we have separate male and female sports events.

Female-Male trait distributions overlap, but are sometimes not identical.
If you're hiring for extreme values of such a trait, don't be surprised

 if the applicant pool sizes differ quite substantially.

I'm not sure the CEO's sophistry would work for physical strength employment. But cognitive and personality traits are not so obvious at a glance and playing word-games is easier.

---

Further reading.

*  "Women's Brains" - male-female comparison: Human Connectome project (N = 900).

*  "Women and Minorities in Science"  - a typically-erudite analysis from La Griffe.

*  "Sex Differences in Mathematical Aptitude" - La Griffe analysis relevant to software dev.

"It doesn't matter who you click with. Happy #PrideAmsterdam"

From Royal Dutch Airlines via Twitter.



Be diverse; be safe.

'Accelerando' and the architecture of superintelligence



After four years I've just re-read Charles Stross's Accelerando and was again blown away. Here are my summer of 2013 thoughts. But in a nutshell, as the solar system transitions through the Singularity, posthumans of superintelligence transcend even augmented versions of ourselves.

Can we say more?

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Intelligence is a reified concept. It presents as a trait of performance but is frequently conceived of as a mechanistic 'thing'. It's as if we took athletes such as Usain Bolt and Mo Farah and claimed they had a high 'quickness-quotient'. We would discuss the heritability of QQ and perhaps derive a scale. We would discuss biological correlates - is there a QQ module somewhere in the body?

IQ is clearly telling us something about performance, but to a greater extent than admitted it's collapsing several different things into one measure.
  • Reaction time (where we're defeated by houseflies).
  • Logical inference - where we're easily beaten by simple AI systems.
  • Pattern induction (eg Raven's Progressive Matrices):  AI programs do well.
But perhaps the best definition of intelligence is the 'ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations'.

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Back in March I wrote a piece about the architecture of intelligence, 'Roger Atkins: Mind Design notebook'.  I proposed that we should think of the intelligent mind as operating over a semantic network defined by nodes, links and overall processing speed.

-- Each node is a minitheory: some facts, rules and cached deductions + relevant inference rules. For example, you have a small minitheory about your pet and a much larger one about yourself.

-- Each link represents a kind of relation between theories (there are many). The classic 'ISA' relation familiar from object-oriented languages and ontologies would be an example. Also similarity relations for analogical reasoning.

-- Processing operations over a semantic net include:
  • Take a node (minitheory) and deepen it with new facts, deductions or rules. Or create a new node on encountering or constructing some new entity.

  • Create a new connection or relationship between nodes via an insight as to how they relate. A more richly-connected semantic net is potentially more powerful.

  • Given a problem, navigate around the semantic net to form a solution (then add it).
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With this architecture, a more intelligent entity has:
  • a larger and more densely-connected link-set
  • more and more-elaborated nodes
  • faster link-traversal, new-link-creation and node-processing.
Links between different, and perhaps remote nodes will likely be rather abstract and removed from direct experience. For example, a notion of symmetry underlies both natural beauty and artificial design. A sophisticated semantic net requires the handling of complex abstraction.

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This architectural model gives us a handle both on superior human intelligence and on posthuman superintelligence.

Firstly, why can't we just go and build an AGI today? Because the root set of competences in every human's semantic net are nodes and links which encode the experienced physical and social world, a net which requires a degree of innervated embodiment we have as yet no clue as to how we might build. Only when 'they walk amongst us' will designers be in with a chance.

Secondly, how would a superintelligence differ from today's humanity? A superintelligence would possess a semantic net with improved performance along all three dimensions. Observe however that no matter how complex a network of abstract nodes, at the base is the set of nodes which must connect to the complexity of the world. Even the brightest genius condemned to a sensory-deprivation cell wouldn't be that performative. Nothing there to work on.

I suspect that the sum total of new social experiences is parameterised by the possibilities of new physical environments, whether occasioned by exploration and/or technologies. And even these are ultimately bounded by the free energy available, as Accelerando reminded us with such gusto.

I think the take-home message is broadly as Stross imagined it. A superintelligence which walked amongst us (Hi Aineko!) would be bounded by the limitations of purely human technology + culture. But a society of superintelligences able to drive forward  their own physical, technological and cultural environment?

Well, let's just say there would be plenty of headroom.

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Note: in this view, artificial neural nets are an engineering implementation of the semantic net architecture described above. We know from human neural nets (aka 'brains') that a 'compiled' semantic network runs real fast in the subconscious (maybe it is the subconscious) while trying to 'consciously' work on your own semantic network to address novel, complex problems is really hard work and a real test of IQ.

Diary: exercise from an advanced standpoint

... advanced in age, that is!



I am incredibly irritated by my 66 year old body. Fairly basic stuff like a two mile run and a weights session inflict unacceptable damage to my joints. Twinges in my knees and soreness in my elbows and tendons.

The only benign exercise is cycling, but I'm not a fan of road cycling - too many cars for my poor bike-handling skills, especially on steep uphill sections. Conversely, lengthy exercise-bike sessions are just too boring.

I am mostly at a loss. I will ration road runs to once a week and use lighter weights with more reps.

James Damore gets fired

The rainbow colours of diversity

The ex-Google employee was terminated for observing (in an internal memo) that genders differ in their aptitude for, and interest in, computer science.
Steve Hsu has this to say, while Scott Aaronson has written an elegant and oblique post.

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Blank-slate ideology asserts that all humans - of whatever gender and/or race - are cognitively biologically-identical, and that therefore all detrimental differences of outcome are solely due to oppression. When elites defend plainly-wrong ideas with the utmost ferocity, I am reminded of Marx's point, "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas."

Why would the ruling elite want to believe it? Because it would be so dangerously divisive to look at any human subgroup and affirm that group's lower average cognitive performance or competence. Even identifying plainly outperforming groups - such as the Ashkenazim - risks opening the door to the concept of differences. So extreme is this impetus to faux-egalitarianism that many people deny even physical performance differences between genders or races. Social cohesion is the game.

I keep reminding myself (I already wrote about this) that globalisation is the economic driver for blank-slate ideology. Its young, educated beneficiaries are eager converts (arguably against their own longer-term interests) to causes so apparently egalitarian, culturally left-wing .. and economically convenient for globalised capital.

At least we haven't reintroduced the auto-de-fé yet or I wouldn't be writing this.

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The Google CEO's sophistry was particularly disingenuous: see "If Google did heavy lifting ...".