Archives for category: Chance

I’m getting old. Old enough, as a good friend of mine had noticed, to have a way closer relation with sex than ever before.

I am a sexagenarian!

Which gives me certain bragging rights.
You see, everything around us has been made – or started – during my watch. Or earlier…

There is a small catch, though.
Not everything around us is good. In working order. Sustainable!
Some 50 years ago, humankind had developed the means to destroy itself. Remember MAD?
We – our fathers, actually, took a step back. And took the necessary steps. In the end, nothing happened. We’re still here, in spite of having the possibility to spoil everything.
Nowadays, we’ve reached another inflection point. And no, I’m not speaking about ‘global warming’. Not exclusively, anyway.

Global warming is only one of the many things which may go wrong.
One of the many ways in which we may fuck everything up!

My point being that it’s not the first time in history that we are able to fuck everything up.
It’s the first time in history that we are fully aware of the many ways in which things might go totally wrong and we’re practically doing nothing!

Why?!?
Because we have grown old!

When I grew up, there were relatively few old people around.
A lot more than when my parents had grown up but a lot less than now.

When apes had become human – when humanoids learned to speak – old people were precious assets.
Having lived a lot – and being able to share their experience, in detail – they had become depositories of knowledge. The go-to place for when you wanted to learn about something. When you needed a certain piece of information.
Hence the old-timers had, gradually, accrued a lot of respect. As a category.
Add the fact that in order to grow old – to survive for long enough, it helps to make ‘the right calls’. OK, you also need to be lucky… but being smart does come in handy…

Are you done yet? Adding these two? Being looked up to because you are old with thinking good about yourself?

Did you get ‘confirmation bias‘?

In the ‘good old days’, people who had reached my age had their ‘confirmation bias’ tempered by ‘impotence’.
No, not only sexual impotence…
In those days, individuals were a lot more aware than we are today of how much we depend on each other. Of the fact that individually we are impotent! The old ones knew they were going to starve if the young ones would cease providing for them while the young ones were aware of how useful the old ones could be.
Nowadays… We, the oldies, continue to believe we know everything – we survived, didn’t we? – while the young bucks believe they can find out whatever they might need from the internet…
Meanwhile, we – the oldies – no longer need the youngsters to provide for us.

We are wealthier than ever before, we have pension plans and we vote as a team… the world is ours, as it should be!
And since we don’t have so much more to live…

But how sustainable is this situation?
For the shortest of the imaginable time-frames…

‘Most people confuse liberty and democracy. They are not the same.’

Liberty and democracy are not the same indeed.

Like my left hand is not the same with my right one.

But I need both in order to lead what I consider to be a normal life.

Most people – specially if they get help, can survive without a hand. Or without either liberty or democracy.

But without both… without both hands or without both liberty and democracy… I’d be at somebody else’s mercy!

‘What?!?
What kind of liberty is there under communist rule???’

You see, liberty has two ‘faces’. Two dimensions.
Three, actually, but I’ll be talking about only two of them in this post.

There is the ‘inner liberty’ and there is the ‘socially sanctioned liberty’.

Liberty itself is a human concept.
We have noticed something, wondered about it, named it and then attempted to understand it.
This was, and continues to be, a collective effort.

In some places ‘liberty’ had appeared ‘naturally’.
There was enough liberty naturally sloshing around, hence the circumstances were right for those who had happened to live there at the right time to notice it. Furthermore, the conditions had been right again for the entire community to be able to agree among themselves about the concept and about how to use it/put in practice their new intellectual achievement.

Other places have not been so lucky.
They had been close enough, geographically and socio-historically, to notice the ‘birth of liberty’ but their specific conditions were not ‘right enough’. Many people living there coveted liberty but the local conditions made it impossible for liberty to take hold.
In these places ‘inner liberty’ – individually assumed freedom, can be found a lo more easily than presumed by those unfamiliar with the local realities.

Yet other places had it even worse.
Initially on the path towards liberty – and democracy, they have somehow stumbled.
For whatever causes – internal and/or external, something went wrong. People became disappointed enough to give up not only democracy but also liberty. Including their own, individual inner freedom.

A somewhat intermediary situation constitutes the third abnormal quadrant.
The people involved have given up their liberty – partially, but those running the show continue to use (‘pretendingly’) democracy as a window dressing to hide their true intentions.

The last hundred years or so have been extremely relevant in this matter.
All communist regimes had fallen. Under their own weight.
Most fascist/nazi regimes are no longer with us. Had been so ‘arrogant’ – read self destructive, that their neighbors had to do something about them. Had created so much disruption around them that those whose very existence was endangered had been forced to spring into action.
‘Illiberal democracy’ is a rather new ‘development’. Would be fascist/nazi dictators don’t have all circumstances aligned to make their final move so they have to make do with what there is at their disposal. The local population is ‘despondent’ enough to pay attention to their arguments but not desperate enough to follow them into the ‘unknown’. Hence this oxymoronic abomination.

‘Illiberal democracy’…
On the other hand, the spin doctors promoting illiberal democracies hope to be able to reap the benefits of democracy – the population being ‘rather favorably disposed’ towards the government while having to pay less ‘lip service’ to individual human rights.
A balancing act, with no safety net, which is alluring to those reckless enough to attempt it but which will end up badly. Sooner rather than later.

But the most interesting ‘combination’ – for me, at least, is Anarchy.
In the sense that those who ‘swallow’ the lure are self delusional.
They have somehow convinced themselves that their, own, liberty somehow trumps the liberty of everybody else. They feel so strong, so immune to any outside influence, that they would willingly accept to live in a no rule environment. Without understanding that ‘no rule’ means ‘no holds barred’.
They actually don’t realize that unfettered liberty actually means ‘Each of us free against all others’.
This being the reason for which Anarchy, as a political arrangement, has never survived for long enough to be noticed. Except as a transitory phase.

Three truths about what ‘science’ means.
First part, We.

According to Heidegger, there are two kinds of truths.

A. A proposition is ‘true’ if what’s being said there is in perfect correspondence with reality.
B. A proposition is ‘true’ if the proposition encompasses everything the ‘communicator’ knows about the subject at hand.

‘OK, you promised us a discourse about science and here you are babbling about truth…’

Impatient as always!
How do you determine whether something being said, a proposition, is in (perfect) correspondence with the reality of the fact described there?

To be able to do that, you need first to determine the reality itself.
You know what’s being said – more about that later, and, if you are to determine whether what’s being said is true, you now need to know the truth itself.
How are you going to do that?
You either know it already or you proceed to determine that particular truth.

I’ll leave aside the ‘already known truth’ and proceed towards the ‘future truth’.

A particular individual has two possible approaches towards finding out a ‘new’ truth. A piece of ‘true’ information which is new for that particular person.
Consult a reliable source or investigate the reality.

‘Consulting a reliable source’ brings us back to square one. How do you determine whether a source is reliable or not….
‘Investigate the reality’… Easier said than done!

How do you do that? How do you investigate the reality in a reliable manner? How do you determine the truth of the matter when ‘things’ are a tad more complicated than touching a stove to determine whether it’s hot or not?

You use the scientific approach?
Start from the scientific data base which already exists on the subject(s) closer to your object of interest then proceed using the proven scientific method of trial and error? Emit a hypothesis, try to prove it, formulate a theory and then challenge your peers to tear apart the results of your investigation?

Results you have chased being convinced from the beginning that you’ll never reach the ‘pinnacle’?
Convinced from the beginning that the ‘absolute truth’ – even about the merest subject, is out of reach?
For us, mere mortals, anyway?

‘But if ‘absolute truth’ is out of reach, then how can we determine whether the simplest proposition is actually true?
And why continue to bother about the whole subject, anyway?!?’

Before attempting to find an answer to your question, let me formulate another one.

Let’s consider that you have reached a conclusion about something. That you are in possession of ‘a truth’. How are you going to share it? With your brethren/peers?
I must remember you at this stage of our discussion that language is beautiful but rather inexact. Are you sure that you’ll be able to communicate everything you want to say? To cover every minute aspect of the truth you have just found?
So that the proposition you are about to put together will be in absolute correspondence with the piece of reality you have just discovered?

You are not going to use language at all?
You’re just going to point to your discovery? And let everybody else to discover the truth for themselves?
And how many are going to take you seriously? To pay attention? To what you have pointed?
And how many are going to suspect that you just want to take their focus off what’s really important? To lead their attention away of what you want to keep under wraps?

I’ve got your head spinning?
Then you must understand my confusion. I’m so deep in this that I have to go back and read again what I’ve been writing…

So.
‘Science’ tells us that the ultimate truth is out of our grasp, linguistics/theory of communication tells us no messenger will ever be able to be absolutely precise nor convey the entire intended meaning … what are we going to do?
Settle down and wait for the end to happen to us?

OK, let me introduce you to an absolute truth.

WE ARE HERE!

Who is here?
‘Us’. We are here.

What are we doing here?
‘Are’. We are here.

Where are we?
‘Here’. We are here!

I’ve been recently reminded that mathematics, the most exact language we have at our disposal, is based on a number of postulates. On a small number of axioms – pieces of truth we consider to be self evident, which have constituted a wide enough foundation for mathematics to become what it is today.
But mathematics is far more than a simple language. It is also a ‘virtual space’. A space where special rules apply. A space where our thoughts move according to certain and specific ‘instructions’. A space where we enter holding our arms around a problem we need to solve and which we exit, if successful, with a solution inside our head.

A little bit of history.
Our ancestors had a problem. A class of problems, actually.
How to build something – a house, a temple, a boat, and how to ‘manage’ property – arable land, in particular, but also crops and other ‘stocks’. Problems easier to formulate, and solve, using numbers.
To solve this class of problems, some of our ancestors have invented ‘mathematics’. Had ‘discovered’ the self evident truths – axioms, and then ‘carved’ an entire (virtual) space using the axioms as the foundation upon which they, and those who have followed in their steps, have built – and continue to build, the scaffolding of rules which keep that space ‘open’.

Through thinking, our ancestors have carved a space in which to solve some problems they have encountered in the ‘real’ world…

‘Please stop!
I don’t understand something.
Do you want to say that mathematics is not real?’

To answer this question, this very good question, we need to settle what ‘real’ means.
To us, at least…

Let’s examine this rock. Is it real?
Why? Because you can feel it? If you close your eyes, I can make it so that you experience the same feeling by touching something else to your stretched out fingers than the original rock. In a few years, I’ll be able to produce the same sensation in your brain by inserting some electrodes in your skull and applying the ‘proper’ amount of electric current. What will ‘reality’ become then?

Forget about that rock, for a moment, and consider this table.

Is it real? Even if it’s not as natural as the rock we were analyzing before?
‘Artificial’ – as in man made, starting from natural ‘resources’, might be a good description of the difference between a table and a ‘simple’ rock. Both ‘real’ in the sense that both imply consequences. Your foot will hurt if you stumble in the dark on either of them. Regardless of the rock being natural and the table happening to be artificial…

‘But what about things which are not of a material nature?
Are they real?’

Are you asking me whether ‘metaphysical’ objects – God, for instance, are real?
Then how about ‘law’. Is it real? As an aside, does law belong also to the metaphysical realm? Alongside God? Who determines which thing belongs there?

Or have you glimpsed the fact that ‘truth’, the concept of truth, is a metaphysical ‘object’?
Something which, like God, has a ‘real’ side but makes no sense (to us) unless we think about it?
Something which we have extracted – someway, somehow, from the surrounding reality – where else from? – then ‘carved’ a virtual space around it? So that we may examine it without the distractions of the rest of the ‘real’ world?

Or have you glimpsed also that even the concept of ‘reality’ is a figment of our self-reflecting conscience?

People who are recognized for mastery of one field, DO seem to sometimes over-reach themselves when diving into another field without taking the trouble to learn about it

I came across this over the internet. I couldn’t have said it better myself, hence I ‘borrowed’ it.
Click on it and read the whole post, it’s very interesting on its own.

Below is the comment I left on the FB wall where it all happened.
Don’t see any need to change anything.

“The key words here being “are recognized for”.
Real mastery involves knowing your limits.
Being recognized as a master by somebody else – the more ‘recognizers’, the worse, tends to annihilate any ‘master’s’ ability to own the very existence of their limits.
The intellectual limits are the hardest to notice/accept.
‘Accrued’ age brings about crystal clear evidence about our physical limitations.
Accrued knowledge enlarges one’s vision. Puts distance between the observers themselves and the limits of their ability to ‘observe themselves in the act of observing‘.

And if/when the above mentioned accrued knowledge becomes recognized/admired by the (naive) ‘general public’…
You don’t have to trust me on this because of my white beard.
I have a better argument.
I’m an engineer!”

‘OK, and the point of this post is …?’

The fact that there’s no such thing as ‘personal improvement’.
Any ‘improvement’ which we might ‘inflict’ upon ourselves derives from our intercourse with the others. Through ‘learning’.
All change which happens to us, actually, comes from our ultimately aleatory intercourse with the environment in which we happen to live. From being taught to being ‘influenced’ by the passage of time.
All that is ‘personal’ in ‘personal improvement’ is that we do it ‘willfully’.

Much of the change which happens to us goes either unnoticed – up to a point, or is merely accepted by us.
‘Personal improvement’ is chosen by us. And imposed by us upon our own selves.

To do it – ‘improve’ ourselves, that is, we follow ‘suggestions‘.
We should keep in the back of our mind that it’s our call to follow – or not, those suggestions.

Disclaimer.
I have no idea who the ‘suggested’ guy is. Just googled ‘personal improvement books’ and chosen the most visually appealing – for me, obviously, link.
Just wanted to illustrate the deluge of suggestions which is constantly directed at us.

Ooops!
According to Reuters, he never uttered those words.
But “Burke did say something resembling the quote in his “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1770): “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

‘OK, and where’s the difference?
The meaning’s the same…’

Not exactly!
Burke was speaking about the fate of individual people while the quote attributed to him is about evil itself.
According to Burke, the good people must associate in order to protect their livelihoods and their way of life while the mis-attributed quote pretends that there are circumstances in which evil might prevail.

‘I still don’t understand you! Good people loosing their cause doesn’t mean that evil has prevailed?!?’

No!
Good people might loose from time to time. Being good doesn’t mean those people are perfect.
People make mistakes. Some of which can’t be undone.

Evil things do happen. From time to time. Either through sheer bad luck or through good people making horrible mistakes. But evil cannot prevail. Not on the longer run!

For two reasons.

Small enough mistakes can be overcome. Either individually or collectively.
Serious enough mistakes will kill you. Individually and collectively.
This was the first reason.

If evil hadn’t been that bad, we wouldn’t have called it that way.
If evil would have led to survival, we would have called it ‘good’.

Good people doing nothing doesn’t mean that evil will triumph.
Good people doing nothing only means, as Burke had said, that those good people will fail. One by one.
Bad people having it their way doesn’t mean much. Historically speaking.
After they had finished vanquishing the good, the bad had always started to fight among themselves. It’s in their nature to do that.

That’s how each evil eventually dies out…

Until the next one appears?
Indeed! Weeds will always spring up. Specially if the soil is rich.
That’s what hoes are for! If only people knew how to make good use of them…

Isn’t it rather strange?

Health care professionals who are not yet vaccinated against Covid-19?
Teachers who are not yet vaccinated against Covid-19?

OK, I understand there are some people who cannot go near a vaccine. For medical reasons. But they are few. And, anyway, most of them do not ‘belong’ to this line of work.

But the rest? What is it which prevents them from getting the jab?
The ‘mandatory’ part?
Why do I care about it being mandatory if it saves my life?

Am I being oppressed for having to breathe in order to live?

Am I feeling oppressed for having to work – as in being useful for other people, in order to lead a decent life?

Is this the real reason for which so many of us, teachers and health care professionals included, refuse the vaccine?

‘I am not going to sacrifice my health for the misconceptions and irrational fears of others.’

I don’t care about anybody else but me?!?

Only time can judge this.

Which was smarter.
To accept the vaccine – and contribute to the general well being, assuming the non-0 risk involved.
Or to weather the storm. Hoping the pandemic will die on its own. And/or that enough of the others will get the jab.

But to find out what time will have decided, each of us must live. Must survive the pandemic.

And here’s the catch.
The strongest amongst us will survive. Without a mask. Without a vaccine.
While many of those who didn’t have to die will have gone under.

But what kind of a world will that be?

Dog eat dog?

Are we OK with that?
Is this what we want to leave behind?

Three of the terms involved are relatively clear.
We all know – think we know, what ‘fail’, ‘win’ and ‘cheat’ mean.
‘Honor’… on the other hand… is way more relative. Mostly to the company we keep.

For some, being honest is synonym to behaving foolishly…
After being educated in such a manner, not making use of every opportunity which presents itself to you – no matter how ‘shady’ it might be, is seen as suicidal. Not only that you loose the potential windfall, you also loose face!
You loose whatever public respect you ever had. You actually loose your honor!

Now, that I’ve already dug this far, the whole phrase needs context.
We know what ‘fail’ means but without circumstances….
What are we talking about here? Backgammon or a survival situation?
An innocuous game or a struggle to stay alive?

Most people will praise those who let themselves be killed for a noble cause.
On the other hand, it would be rather ‘bland’ to allow someone to kill you without attempting to ‘fool’ the guy into giving up, right?

On a different scale, history – and, maybe, this was what Sophocles meant in the first place, offers ample proof that communities which value ‘true’ honor last far longer – and their members enjoy far more comfortable lives, than those where cheating is a way of life.

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Bonkers, right?

Here’s a more elaborate expression of the same concept:

“Al-Ash’ari (873–935), the founder of the theological school that al-Ghazâlî belonged to, had rejected the existence of “natures” (tabâ’i’ ) and of causal connections among created beings. In a radical attempt to explain God’s omnipotence, he combined several ideas that were developed earlier in Muslim kalâm to what became known as occasionalism. All material things are composed of atoms that have no qualities or attributes but simply make up the shape of the body. The atoms of the bodies are the carrier of “accidents” (singl. ‘arad), which are attributes like weight, density, color, smell, etc. In the cosmology of al-Ash’arî all immaterial things are considered “accidents” that inhere in a “substance” (jawhar). Only the atoms of spatially extended bodies can be substances. A person’s thoughts, for instance, are considered accidents that inhere in the atoms of the person’s brain, while his or her faith is an accident inhering in the atoms of the heart. None of the accidents, however, can subsist from one moment (waqt) to the next. This leads to a cosmology where in each moment God assigns the accidents to bodies in which they inhere. When one moment ends, God creates new accidents. None of the created accidents in the second moment has any causal relation to the ones in the earlier moment. If a body continues to have a certain attribute from one moment to the next, then God creates two identical accidents inhering in that body in each of the two subsequent moments. Movement and development generate when God decides to change the arrangement of the moment before. A ball is moved, for instance, when in the second moment of two the atoms of the ball happen to be created in a certain distance from the first. The distance determines the speed of the movement. The ball thus jumps in leaps over the playing field and the same is true for the players’ limbs and their bodies. This also applies to the atoms of the air if there happen to be some wind. In every moment, God re-arranges all the atoms of this world anew and He creates new accidents—thus creating a new world every moment (Perler/Rudolph 2000, 28–62).”

On the other hand, we currently have our own struggles.

Determinism.
Is it possible to determine the ultimate cause of anything? Forget about ‘everything’… even the ultimate cause for something seems to be far beyond our capabilities…

Freedom.
Is it real?
Or is it only a figment of our own imagination?

Reality.
Is it real?
Or is it created by our own conscience?

No links provided. Do your own googling.

Here’s what science teaches us on this matter.

Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’:
It is impossible to simultaneously measure with absolute precision both the position and the velocity of any object.

For many everyday instances, this doesn’t present any problem. For practical purposes, our technological prowess is enough. Philosophically… Heisenberg’s principle is yet another irrefutable indication that we’re very far from ever being able to determine the ultimate cause of anything.

Are we able to live with this uncertainty?

Are we able to go to bed at night without being absolutely sure that the sun will rise tomorrow?
OK, everybody somehow knows – even if nobody wants to accept it, that there’s a slight chance that they will not wake tomorrow… but the Sun?!?

Are we able to live with the notion that what we call ‘natural order’ isn’t fixed?

That a meteorite might come from nowhere and kill all the ‘dinosaurs’?
That a virus might spring up from nowhere and fuck up our lives?

“What we see is the fire touching the cotton and then the cotton being reduced to ashes. We wrongly assume that there is thus a necessary causal relationship between fire burning and the cotton being burned”.

Now please tell me something.
What is the subject here? Cotton being burned or our relationship with what’s going on there?

We see… we assume… He, al Ghazali, tells us that we are wrong to assume that what we see is what is really happening… He is ‘right’ – because…- and we are wrong…

The funny thing being, of course, that al-Ghazali is, partially, right!
Since Heisenberg had postulated his famous principle, we should refrain ourselves from assuming anything…

OK. Let me put it differently then.
What happened to that cotton?
Is it still white? Or had it been “reduced” to ashes?

Who brought the flame close enough to the cotton?
Was this an experiment? In a lab?
Or a tragedy? In a field/storage? By lightning? Or by an arsonist?

Returning to al Ghazali, we need to remember that his world was totally different from ours.

It’s safe to say that their culture was about as sophisticated as ours. Same arts, same subjects discussed in the philosophical circles, same religious ideas…

Civilizationally speaking, we live in a totally different world.
Civilization – the consequence of ‘culture’ being put to practice’ had advanced dramatically in the last 1000 years.

And since our thoughts are heavily influenced by the environment in which we’re doing the thinking…

The fraction of the population who enjoyed ‘food security’ was minuscule compared to today.
The fraction of the population who was pretty much sure they will awake the next morning was minuscule compared to today.
The fraction of the population who felt free – from oppression – was, practically, nonexistent.

Yet the ‘thinkers’ felt the same need for coherence as those thinking today. They felt the same need to know what tomorrow had in store for them.
They, like us, needed an explanation for disease. For war. For tragedy…
And since no pathogens nor dictators were available …

How come ‘no dictators were available’?!?
Who in his right mind would have called, then, the local ruler a ‘dictator’? In his face…
Look at what happened, now, to people doing that in Moscow!
Or even in Washington, DC

That was the role attributed to God. To be the bridge to tomorrow.

It was not the flame which reduced the cotton to ashes. Nor the experimenter/arsonist/dictator. It was ‘God’.
As long as we could accept that – and that God loved us, the future was still bearable.

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One of my eyes is short-sighted. Both are astigmatic.
Hence my visual relationship with the ‘exterior’ is impaired. Relative to that of a ‘normal’ person…

When I took up photography, as a hobby, there were no such things as self focusing cameras. Pictures as those you are about to see were way ‘out of range’ for me.

Because of my inability to focus a camera fast enough. And because long ranged lenses were too expensive for me, in those times.

Being conscious of my limits was no cure for my frustration!

Thankfully, technology made it possible for me to indulge in my hobby!
To overcome some of my limitations.

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Time is but the consequence of matter/energy interacting with itself.

The post continues after this message.

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There was no time to speak about before matter divorced energy.

Nobody was actually aware of time passing by until we started counting Sun’s revolutions.

Earth turning round the Sun is matter interacting with itself.

We, humans, are a consequence of evolution. Of matter interacting with itself.

History – the times be bothered to record, is a consequence of human interactions.

Environment is the consequence of the living things interacting with the rest of the planet.
The current state of our ‘backyard’, the Earth, is, increasingly, the consequence of our interaction with the environment.

Time might be passing its own.
We used to count it.
Nowadays, we’re the ones driving it.

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