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Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology Is Indistinguishable From Cthulhu

Hugh Hancock here. Charlie is currently in a space beyond place and time, folded into manifold dimensions that ring like bone-carved bells. Or to put it another way, he's on public transport. So I'm filling in for the day - he'll be back shortly!

Our Gracious Host's supernatural comedy-thriller series is set in a Lovecraftian universe, and features a geek of the programmer variety who uses his knowledge to invoke Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, following which he gets into a great deal of trouble.

My latest film, HOWTO: Demon Summoning (released about 25 minutes ago - watch here), is the first part of a supernatural comedy-thriller series set in a Lovecraftian universe, featuring a geek of the programmer variety who use his knowledge to invoke Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, following which... well, spoilers. But it doesn't end in hugs and puppies.

And yet, the two universes and the two stories aren't - at least as far as I can tell - very similar. The tone's different, the magic's different.

Is "Geek Cthulhu" sufficiently broad to actually constitute a genre?

The Black Goat Of The Woods' 1001th Young

As the 21st century gets its legs under it and starts to pick up a bit of speed, the entire concept of genre seems to be changing dramatically. We're in a world where artistic output in all media has climbed astronomically and, at the same time, data-driven segmentation (a la Netflix) allows us to drill down much more into exactly what people read, watch, listen to and play.

So genres are becoming, apparently, much narrower. And yet, it's clear that there's more space in them than we might have realised.

The start of the century saw the canonical example of the phenomenon with the appearance of 'Paranormal Romance' as a mainstream genre. Now, compared to a genre like 'sci-fi', say, or 'thriller', 'Paranormal Romance' is almost laughably narrow. It's set in the modern day. The protagonist is female (99%). She ends up in romantic entanglements with one of about five potential types of partner - in order of frequency, vampires, werewolves, witches, fairies or the occasional zombie. There is a heavy mystery element.

That's pretty specific, and yet it's enough to fuel hundreds of books.

Hence my feeling that with 'Geek Cthulhu' we're seeing the seeds of another genre. Let's see. Tech- or science- savvy protagonist (gender irrelevant). Modern day. Thriller tone. Awareness of modern technology. Lovecraftian magic. Some comedic overtones. And that's all there is to it - after that we've got the entire world to roam.

Charlie's Laundry is inspired by the British civil service, spy novels and programming. HOWTO's universe centres around a shady Internet forum where people who would otherwise be doing black-hat SEO crowdsource ways to profit from demonology. And I'm sure there are dozens of other spins on the same thing.

So why does it work?

Well, for starters, the Lovecraftian universe fits extremely well with the universe as understood by geeks. It's a fundementally science-driven place, where all magic is indeed just sufficiently advanced technology. Cthulhu isn't scary because he's a big squid, he's scary because he's a Culture Mind without the sense of humour or concern for human life. Yog-Sothoth isn't a Judeo-Christian demon, it's a force of the universe like Weak Nuclear or gravity.

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology Is Bloody Terrifying

And that brings me to my title. The other reason that Lovecraftian horror and geek protagonist/culture fit together so well is that Lovecraftian horror revolves around a complete, horrific reversal of some of science's most basic precepts.

For starters, 'Knowledge is good'. That's pretty core to most of our belief systems. And the Cthulhu Mythos present a world where that's horribly not true - where knowledge is something that you must avoid if you wish to continue to function. Where people who learn, study and seek to understand, kill themselves or kill people close to them. Where all those idiots saying 'we should limit scientific exploration' were right.

At the same time, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic' is a very scary phrase. Because whilst it might just mean 'whoa, this iPhone is like magic', it might also mean 'you only think that technology, science and the advancement of learning is good because you haven't advanced enough in it yet'.

In Lovecraft's universe, the Grand Universal Theory isn't a mathematical equation that allows us to understand everything - it's a mathematical equation that lets us understand that, in order to survive, we need to supplicate ourselves to horrible entities whose motivations we are literally not capable of understanding.

In the Lovecraftian universe, scientific progress goes fire -> smelting -> information technology -> understanding of quantum mechanics -> sacrificing innocents on a bloody stone to appease Shub-Niggurath.

Key to the assumptions of most science fiction is the idea that at no point are we going to realise that our framework - rationality, the scientific method - just doesn't work, and we're never going to hit a problem that human beings cannot ever hope to understand, even for a moment, let alone solve. That our brains are capable of anything.

And that's why Lovecraftiana works so well for geek culture in 2015; because we're starting to see those things cropping up in the real world, and they scare the crap out of us. Just as the Atomic Horror of the 60s and 70s reflected society's fears about mass destruction, and Charlie has persuasively suggested that Lovecraft's work was a reaction to the discovery of the size of the universe, Lovecraftian fiction right now echoes the lack of control we're starting to understand we have over complex, non-linear systems.

Any programmer who has suddenly realised that he can't fit all of the code he's working on into his head understands Lovecraft's concept of knowledge that the human mind can't process. And anyone who knows, say, that we literally can't untangle all the ways that Greece's debt intertwines with the rest of the financial market, or that sufficiently deep datasets in places like Google and Facebook will produce results that we are utterly incapable of truly understanding, gets the terror of realising that there's something big and alien out there that we just aren't smart enough to understand.

In the real world, we'll probably find a way to get a handle on that stuff; we'll develop better tools for understanding complex systems, and we'll untangle things that look irrevocably wrapped right now. But there's always that fear: what if we can't? What if our brains just won't do this? What if the system we're looking at is fundementally not subject to rationality?

That's a fear that programmers, scientists and geeks of all kinds can understand. And where there's a common fear, there will be a genre to tell stories about it, and to help us understand it.

Charlie's pioneered that genre, and I think we'll be seeing a lot more storytellers like me following along in his wake soon.

If you'd like to watch HOWTO: Demon Summoning, in which a disgruntled startup founder, Dave, has been screwed by his new CEO and has decided to get even via the power of demonology - and a handy YouTube tutorial on summoning dark entities to do his bidding - you can watch it on YouTube right now. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

And if you'd like to read more of my squamous, blasphemous ranting on things Man Was Not Meant To Know, you can find me on Twitter at @hughhancock. Cheers!

515 Comments

1:

Hugh, welcome back! I enjoyed the short, and I noted that the denouement of the protagonist was particularly apt! RTFM, as we often tell the Lusers!

Bravo!

Regarding the segmentation of sub-sub-genres... I think there have always been such outliers. In ages past, they relied on letters and post - pen-pals maintained sometimes very odd long-distance relationships! The difference today is that we can relatively easily find like minded people who are only a keystroke away! This makes it much easier for such people to form communities, and to become available as a market for narrower tastes.

I think Cory Doctorow was onto something when he wrote "Eastern Standard Tribe"

2:

"What do any of those words means?"

Hahaha great line! Well done on the short, very entertaining. Quite believable on the youtube tutorial front, particularly the tendency to skip ahead.

In terms of Lovecraftian magic and geek culture (subtype: code) I think they go well together because both are achievable through bedroom tinkering. Other common magic systems aren't modelled like this, such as the scholar/monk type in which your typical wizards apprentice takes years learning from their master or magic school to become halfway competent. Or as another example systems that are intrinsic, relying on the lineage of the magic user to be able to do anything at all.

Lovecraftian magic is the type of thing any idiot cultist with a book, some salt and a chicken can attempt. Not unlike anyone with an internet connection, a laptop and some mountain dew trying their hand at programming.

3:

Thank you! I think Paul Hamilton's delivery made that line - both he and Johnnie nailed it.

Bedroom tinkering - that's a very very good point, and one I'd completely not considered. At the same time, all the stories I'm writing in this series (4 so far including HOWTO, more coming) feature bedroom tinkerers - indeed, one's literally set in the bedroom of a hacker frantically Googling to help her partner in the field.

The "idiot cultist" element and the "easy to learn, hard to master" nature of Lovecraftian magic make it very similar to geek pursuits of all kinds.

Interestingly, that also connects Lovecraft to Barker, which is a connection I've been trying to consciously make for a while. In Barker's universes, too, magic tends to be something that's all too easy to stumble across - I can imagine "You opened the box. We came" being followed by "WTF? I bought this on Ebay!"

4:

Thank you! Yeah, the plot was partially inspired by the fact that as I've been rapidly getting up to speed on live-action filming, I've been watching a LOT of YouTube tutorials, and I've skipped past key parts sooooo many times...

On communities - very true. And of course those pen-pal communities in the past included Lovecraft himself, and all his correspondents...

5:

a problem that human beings cannot ever hope to understand, even for a moment, let alone solve.

One (not particularly terrifying) SF story which tackles this notion head-on is "Understanding Space and Time" by Alastair Reynolds, in "Zima Blue" collection.

Reynolds touches on the limitations of human mind quite often, but that particular story is all about that.

6:

Programming and Lovecraftian fantasies come together because both are illusions of power. Just as geeks like to imagine wielding terrible power through a computer, all without leaving the safety of their house, so too they like to imagine summoning Cthulhu.

7:

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology Is Bloody Terrifying

And yet... take an average person (emphasis on average person, as opposed to an average book/movie character) from thousand years ago, transport them to a modern western country, and they will think they are in heaven.

8:

Hmm - that's true of a lot of genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres, though. Everything from revenge thriller to magician's-training to I-have-no-neck-and-I-must-cover-high-shooter-FPS.

9:

Oh, yeah, no argument.

I'm not actually arguing that advanced tech is terrifying.

I'm arguing that I, and most other geek types, believe the opposite - that generally, better tech = better life. A belief that has led to our current society and generally works.

Hence, the concept that past a certain point, tech suddenly becomes exactly what the Luddites claim - a horrible, terrifying, dehumanising thing - is in the Buzzfeed Top 10 list of deeply-held geek terrors.

10:

"and they will think they are in heaven."

Or in Hell...

11:

Actually, the real threat of Cthulhu is not, as often understood, that he will crush us, or even eat us. It's that he will liberate us and make us like him. "The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom." In other words, it's a deeply conservative man's view of the impact of science and technology and enlightenment. It's almost a dark vision of transhumanism.

Or, on the other hand, it's the same as the Christian promise that God will make us like him and give us freedom. I've fancied for a long time that Yahveh looked a lot like a Great Old One.

12:

Poul Anderson had a great story along those lines: A goddess-like entity needs the knowledge of a middle-aged business manager to win a war in a fantasy world, so she puts his mind into the body of a Conan analog in that timeline. And after he wins the war with his knowledge of logistics, intelligence, personnel management, and administration, he doesn't want to go back—but neither does the Conanesque warrior, who has discovered the joys of a society where people aren't trying to murder him, the sustained love of one woman, the delights of competitive business, the simple pleasure of having an IQ 20 points higher—and besides that, he can fly any time he wants to for a modest amount of money! (Of course, this was before our airlines got subjected to Security Theater.)

13:

Lovecraft might have been conservative, but I think that particular vision works for everyone as a horrific concept - that true enlightenment looks more like Charles Manson than the Dali Lama.

Certainly it works for me - it's something that I've drawn on in Cthulhu fiction for two decades - and I'm a very long way away from being a conservative in any sense of the word.

14:

Hah - that sounds like fun. What's the story name?

15:

There has always been a genre of fantasy / science fiction that holds that mathematics is the core reality . I think the programmer / wizard genre is a subset of this

16:

That's very true - although speaking personally, I'm very unkeen on that trope when it's brought into fantasy.

(Arguable exception - the Death Gate series, or at least the first few of them.)

17:

This sounds similar to a principle I came up with some years ago while working in the computer industry:

Any sufficiently unreliable technology is indistinguishable from superstition.
This principle supports the well-known Tech Support Maxims
To restore proper operation to a complex device, turn off the power and restart.
and
If that doesn' work, hitting the casing at the proper place will.
.
Most superstition of this kind is based on the principle of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the principle used by Pavlov's dogs. It only has to work often enough to keep us believing.

18:

Most superstition of this kind is based on the principle of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the principle used by Pavlov's dogs. It only has to work often enough to keep us believing.

This is the principle of inductive logic. Almost all of science is built on it. At least the part of science that works.

When people try to apply inductive logic and it does not work, then they look for alternative ways to apply it until they find one that does work or they give up.

I have looked for alternative approaches that could work and I have not found any yet.

19:

Tom Knight and the Lisp Machine

A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on.

Knight, seeing what the student was doing, spoke sternly: “You cannot fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong.”

Knight turned the machine off and on.

The machine worked.

(I find power-cycling benefits from time to let the capacitors empty. So, in my opinion, Knight's intervention provided that delay...)

20:

You know, considering all that the Dalai Lama's been through, I don't think that's fair. Arguably the Dalai Lama has been through much worse than Manson has. After all of it, he's recently declared that he's the last Dalai Lama, no more reincarnating as a tulku, for political reasons. And yet, despite it all, he's able to accept the universe as it is in ways that most of us have trouble emulating, even though he's spelled it out in everything from textbooks to self-help relationships books. Manson isn't enlightened, he's just another psychopath who came along at just the right time to become famous.

That's one problem with Lovecraftiana. It's not the horror of the universe, it's the idea that people can't adapt to it or accept it. For everyone who quotes Future Shock, there's a Papuan tribesman who was born before First Contact who drives a heavy bulldozer for a mining conglomerate and vacations in the Philippines and Spain (cf:Throwim Way Leg). This is not to be pollyannish about the problems with a Lovecraftian Universe, but it is to point out that we shouldn't be too hidebound in our responses to the challenges it represents.

For example, why should a Buddhist, who believes that existence at best is the eternal equivalent of middle school and that our fate is to be endlessly reborn into it, have a problem with a Lovecraftian Universe? Enlightenment, Dalai Lama style, with the Boddhisattva Vow, seems to be a very sane response to the horror.

21:

For example, why should a Buddhist, who believes that existence at best is the eternal equivalent of middle school and that our fate is to be endlessly reborn into it, have a problem with a Lovecraftian Universe?

Hmm...

Well, Nirvana is incomprehensible by definition, you need to leave the Samsara (the universe) to get it. In this way, it is similar to Lovecraftian gods, who are also incomprehensible by definition.

Then again, the plain old Abrahamic God is also incomprehensible by definition.

In fact, the inability of mere mortal to understand them is the unifying characteristic of most deities. That's what makes them so delightfully mysterious.

The difference is that Nirvana and Yahwe are declared to be Good, while Azatoth and Cthulhu are Bad.

22:

Yes, it's called Platonism. It inspired one of the first utopias.

23:

I was not sure I still had it on my shelves, but I do: It's called "A Logical Conclusion" and it's in his old paperback collection Fantasy. The NESFA collections probably have it too. . . .

24:

For example, why should a Buddhist, who believes that existence at best is the eternal equivalent of middle school and that our fate is to be endlessly reborn into it, have a problem with a Lovecraftian Universe?

You know, there's a great story in that, or maybe campaign: You enter school at age N, leave at N+k, and then are reincarnated in a younger body and enter again, world without end. And then you have people enter who have partial memories of having Been Here Before. Sort of Groundhog Day with a longer time loop.

25:

Nirvana's comprehensible, but it's not explainable in words. That's the eternal problem of mysticism, that it's always a voyage of discovery, in part because everyone's programmed themselves differently.

This may sound weird, but there are a lot of things, like sex and maturity, that come the same way, being comprehensible once you've "gotten there," but impossible to explain to people who haven't. Have you ever tried to describe how an orgasm or falling in love (or out of love) feels to someone who's never experienced it? At best, you can help someone who's experiencing it for the first time understand what they're going through, and you can certainly try to lead people into or out of the experience. But what words truly capture the reality? As well explain the difference between red and scarlet to someone who's color-blind.

Since I've dealt with unspeakable horror by trying to find words to describe climate change, I can say that, while it sounds incredibly dramatic, all it means is that you can't find the words to describe what you've experienced or are thinking about. Unspeakable love and unspeakable sex are equally valid experiences, and I'll bet quite a few people reading this have had them and can't talk about them either. Even though unspeakable carries a negative connotation, I suspect that most people who've had unspeakable sex wouldn't think of it as bad at all. Quite the opposite. It's just that we put too much value on capturing things in words.

26:

That collection also has his essay "On Thud and Blunder", right?

27:

The fundamental problem for humans in a universe very much bigger and more complex than ourselves is that we don't understand it now, and don't know for sure that we can. So if we meet near-godlike beings, we can't tell for sure if they're Culture Minds, or Ancient Old Ones (or both depending on who they're talking to or the phase of the moon).

We have to hope that if they are malevolent, that they are too different from us to interact directly, and need minions who are closer to us on the scale of power and complexity. Then maybe we can prevent the minions from destroying or abusing us.

Getting back to superstition, it's important to remember that the inductive process is only as good as your data about the behavior of the system you''re trying to describe. Quality of data depends on a lot of things, not least whether you can in fact observe the aspects of the system that most reliably reflect its internal nature. Phlogiston theory made a lot of sense as long as we couldn't examine the ultrastructure of materials. Astrology made sense (at least in the abstract) as long as we thought the planets were representations of the gods moving in mysterious ways.

29:

> protagonist (gender irrelevant).

Really? Really...? Really?

The hero doesn't have to be a man (but then the protagonist of a paranormal romance doesn't have to be a woman) and maybe I've just not read enough of the modern stuff. But is that substantiated?

Otherwise, I agree. The last discussion kicked me into writing something that checks most boxes: classic Lovecraftian intro, rifting on epistemology, and the "bad knowledge" is acquired through bedroom tinkering, although the execution requires certain physical skills that not everybody possesses. (I'm going to be coy because I've not seen it done before.)

I'll add another one to the list: ultimately magic is explained by our universe being a simulation or virtual reality or there otherwise being "hidden variables". This is, I think, distinct from Platonism.

30:

Yep, this is another aspect of the categorization problem: any set of categories imposed on a universe of discourse is not useful in describing the real world beyond a certain level of precision, and it becomes less useful more quickly when you try to categorize elements close to the boundaries between categories. Words are signifiers for categories, and so that applies to them as well.

This is a problem I've had to think about a lot; a large part of my job for many years could be described as "computational ontologist", and descriptive categories were my day-to-day job. For part of that time I worked around the biological sciences, and I observed researchers going through the process of tripping over the problems of applying their theories of categorization to the living systems they studied. One fascinating example was the dichotomy that was assumed between development and inheritance: that they were distinct processes, and that necessarily development was determined largely by genotype. Turns out this is at best only approximately true. For a really good history of this change in biological paradigms, and a rather deep discussion of the use of metaphor and model in scientific thinking, see Evelyn Fox Keller's "Making Sense Of Life."

31:

Phlogiston theory stopped making sense when chemists started weighing things, as it could be shown that phlogiston would have to have negative weight. Chemists weren't prepared to entertain so esoteric a concept, so phlogiston became a puzzle.

33:

I'll add another one to the list: ultimately magic is explained by our universe being a simulation or virtual reality or there otherwise being "hidden variables". This is, I think, distinct from Platonism.

Well, not entirely. The underlying mathematics of Platonism can be cast in the role of hidden variables. But I'll grant that Descartes' evil genius is closer.

34:

OGH's latest novel in the nascent genre features a female protagonist, so yeah, I'd say we're fairly safe to call this one gender-irrelevant.

The story sounds interesting, btw!

35:

Sorry, I may not have expressed this clearly.

I'm definitely not saying that Manson is more enlightened, has experienced worse, or is in any way superior, in the real world, to the Dali Lama.

What I'm saying is that it would be a horrific realisation, were it true, to realise that enlightenment is a practical, scientifically-verifiable reality, and that in order to achieve it and subsequent to achieving it one would engage in activities that resemble Manson's pre-incarceration - murder sprees, torture, etc.

In other words, the horror here is the concept that true enlightened bliss is a state of violence, murder and destruction - something that most of us would consider as ab-human and abhorrent.

36:

Have you ever tried to describe how an orgasm or falling in love (or out of love) feels to someone who's never experienced it? At best, you can help someone who's experiencing it for the first time understand what they're going through, and you can certainly try to lead people into or out of the experience. But what words truly capture the reality? As well explain the difference between red and scarlet to someone who's color-blind.

And yet... people in general are quite good at communicating things that are common to mankind. Maybe you can't describe orgasm in words, but you can certainly describe how to reach an orgasm. The same about the color red, you can't describe a color, but you can point at red apple and say "that color that you see, that's what I call red".

On the other hand, if to understand Cthulhu, or your Local Friendly Strong AI, you need to literally grow a Moon-sized brain and become sufficiently Cthulhu-like, then you can safely say that to mere humans, Cthulhu is incomprehensible.

You just can't run Crysis on an abacus.

37:

Agreed. But that's one of the tropes of Lovecraftiana, that such horror is true.

One could equally argue that such an attitude is simply a shout-out to the "nature red in tooth and claw" attitude towards evolution and capitalism that first popped up in Lovecraft's day. This concept was proposed as a reaction to the anarchists saying that mutualisms were normal, and therefore that anarchism and/or communism were the best models for governance. Both sides were wrong about governance (IMHO), but the anarchists proved to be more right about biology. Mutualisms are normal, even though capitalism did its best to suppress such research for most of a century.

Because of this history (do you really want your horror to be based on an affirmation of 1920s American capitalism?), I'd say that it's worth exploring what happens when you mess with that particular trope. How does human enlightenment change the way you see Cthulhu?

38:

Bonus points for spotting the Stross reference sneaked in early on... :)

39:

Actually, I disagree with the premise. As someone who was brought
up without electricity and all that it implies, in a society/schools
that regarded science as a recent and regrettable delusion, and who
became and is an IT guru, technology and its phobias are overstated.

Part of the reason is the reaction against the neo-Victorian physics
of the past half-century, where the claim is that we know all of the
fundamental laws of nature and can 'prove' that the gimmicks common
to science fiction are impossible. The geek community reacted against
that and, on the principle of one may as well be hanged for stealing
a sheep as stealing a lamb, has moved into 'urban fantasy'. The
doom and gloom is nothing new, was popular in the gothic novels
of the 19th century, as it was in the Norse and Celtic fantasies.

Why Cthulhu? Why not? It merely happened to catch the zeitgeist.

40:

Interesting thought - and one that I'm playing with a bit but don't have anything ready for consumption yet.

I'm interested to hear what other readers have to say on this. What are the new ideas and ethoi that are cropping up today that could be as horrifying?

41:

Right. Depending primarily on circumstances, and secondarily on
what they regard as important. Would I swap the material advantages
(especially medical) of today with the more natural life of my
childhood? Yes, like a shot. Even though it would divide my
expected lifespan by a factor of three. Would most other people do
the same? Almost certainly not.

42:

I once read an anthology that showcased multiple different interpretations of Cthulhu -- one of them was as an Octopus-headed god of love... (Searching for Love and Lovecraft isn't getting me any closer to finding it.)

That said, I'm not quite sure what you're arguing. Horror has to be terrifying. Does it count if I generate my terror---my punishment---from being absorbed into a Borg-like collective? (The Rita comic seemed to use that as a device, too.)

43:

Is this a new genre? Back in 1990-something, when I worked in IT and was having trouble with a guy in Accounts who was running a freelance system development operation in his spare time*, I sketched out the beginnings of a fantasy novel in which an intrepid systems administrator discovers that this annoying guy in Accounts has actually opened a Portal to the Beyond and is using it to buy himself more time to do the month-end reconciliation. Wackiness (needless to say) ensues.

Never wrote the damn thing, unfortunately. But I don't think it would have been canon-warpingly original if I had done - Pratchett and Robert Rankin had both been going for a decade and more by then.

*Yes, his system looked very nice, and no, we hadn't built anything like it for them. But what was going to happen to it when he left? Were we going to maintain it? No, we weren't, because it wasn't one of ours. So he had to be stopped. Sorry, but there it is.

44:

Other Lovecraftian entities should also be considered. That's the fear present in Cthulhu, yes, but it's not the same with the others. Take Azathoth, for example. The Lord of All is a blind, mindless horror gibbering pointlessly for eternity. Everything we think we know is the result of meaningless coincidence, and it can be snuffed out at any time. We are at the mercy of incomprehensible, utterly unpredictable forces. Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,/the idiot Chaos blew Earth's dust away.

45:

I'd suggest you're looking at it from a different end.

Yes, if you're in the vein of horror, then stuff has to be horrific. Agreed.

If you're suggesting that, in a Lovecraft-style universe, true enlightenment is indistinguishable from out-of-control psychopathy, then I think both Hugh and I would agree that you're wrong.

The question I'm posing isn't about genre horror, it's about how someone who is genuinely enlightened would deal with a Lovecraft-style universe. While I'm not a Buddhist, I do know enough about Buddhism that I'd say their take on Samsara isn't incompatible with Lovecraft. There might be something interesting there to explore, especially if you know about the history of Chan Buddhism, and why the monks reputedly developed the monk's spade as a weapon/tool.

I'd also point out that in the real world, I deal with people getting horrified by the onrushing Doom of Civilization/Nature through climate change. Because of that, I don't need to be more horrified right now, and I'd rather see fiction where people trying to deal with an unspeakable future, even if it's pitiless and massively bigger than they are, rather than losing it in the style of Lovecraftian protagonists. That is simply my personal preference, of course, and your tastes certainly may differ.

46:

"How does human enlightenment change the way you see Cthulhu?"

I am reminded of the (apocryphal?) response of Ghandi to "What do
you think of Western civilization?": "I think that it would be an
excellent idea."

47:

Computing-is-magic seems like a modern continuation of the older radiation-is-magic, electricity-is-magic ideas that you saw/see both in fiction and in quack medicine. Electricity gives Powers, gamma rays give Powers, now computing gives Powers. There's also the always-in-vogue drugs give Powers: Jekyll and Hyde, comic books, or the persistent urban myth that PCP is an insanity-plus-superstrength serum.

48:

Computing-is-magic seems like a modern continuation...

Oh, absolutely! It's the new and mysterious thing. I'm sure radio was used for similar tales - what's more magical than a talking box? I've heard that in their day railroads were fascinating and fantastic too...

49:

To quote the short story that gave us Cthulhu:

[...] but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Between Lovecraft's two options, the second seems likelier to me. What if, like Lovecraft's antagonists and Stross's protagonists, "sorcerers" could make the incomprehensible alien technology do something useful? (Modulo the risk of soul-sucking demons.)

Then, I think, humans would deploy their selective blindness against the unknowable. They would poke around with Things Man Was Not Meant To Know the same way they poked around with fire, electricity, radiation, tons of metal at high speeds, and insecure computing platforms. They'll consider the benefits worth the cost in lives, souls, or in some cases whole societies. The "dark age" Lovecraft feared would in fact be another permutation of post-industrial society after disruptive technologies rendered old habits obsolete and abolished old limitations utterly.

50:

You know, there's a great story in that, or maybe campaign: You enter school at age N, leave at N+k, and then are reincarnated in a younger body and enter again, world without end...

Let me suggest the anime Angel Beats! for further inspiration. Without spoilers I'll mention that it's set at a boarding school and that things are not necessarily everything they seem.

The student council president claims not to be an angel. How many people have to say that?

51:

Railroads and radio are still pretty fascinating, to be fair.

I'm reminded of Tim Powers' various radio-based plots, for example.

52:

Hmm. Watched the vid: not sure of the point of it.

It's a one-line joke that revolves around people not watching / reading the damn instructions first. Which, to be honest, if you're claiming Geek cred, is precisely what wouldn't have happened.

(A better joke: he summons a demon who isn't using his semantic circle code).

It's also too long by far.


Anyhow, let's do something different. No meta-hacking tonight.

Premise: Essentially, Cthulhu is Kant, Einstein, Schrödinger.

There are writers who can re-wire your mind.

(Lovecraft was getting info on cutting edge symposiums on Quantum stuff within two weeks of them happening before his death - the larger question is not that he wrote what he did, but how attuned he was to the important new things in a land without Twitter).

And, to those who haven't read them or cannot mentally adpat, both the writers and those who can appear to be "gibbering horrors". (CRACKPOTS if you will).

Lovecraft, throughout his novels, is actually anti-reactionary. He sought out the new, the surreal, the mind-expanding (and, before you do that thing: he cured himself of racism, to a degree, which is a miracle given his location and upbringing).

Cthulhu is the possibility that there's more out there than we can handle.

Imagine that, in a land of slaves and so on. A lot of it is satirical.

It's actually both progressive (i.e. the universe is out there) and also quaintly humanist (i.e. well, apart from all these horrors we've enacted on other human beings, look at these horrors that will turn you mad: and I was subject to them, hating the negroes while being totally oblivious to their plight.

It's currently fashionable to lambast Lovecraft for racism, without knowing anything about his later letters and so on.

What you're seeing, in part, is a man facing up to the insanities of his culture and the gibbering madness he fully supported.

Oh, p.s.

That circle has not a single word of Sumerian in it. Nor is that how the Sumerians did it. Nor did the Sumerians need "devils", they were in direct contact with their Gods / Goddesses.

And no, it's not even how Djinn work.

53:

Lovecraft didn't think much about what kind of knowledge people had in a dark age, did he?

54:

He was living in one.


The best quotation revolving around this is about Ghostbusters: if ghosts were real, it wouldn't be high drama, it'd be a low paying job like vermin control where lower class people came to rich people's castles to clean out their psychic mess and so on.

They'd ham it up a little, get a free glass of brandy at the end of the job, then return to their council estates.


The ghosts would probably be used in some horrible industrial process that produced cosmetics after torturing and wrenching their ectoplasm out of them.

55:

Relevant to this, I think, is Meditations on Moloch. Cthulhu (and Azathoth, etc.) as the non-fictional forces that direct society on long time scales. Incentive structures, optimizing processes, mindless gods, Elder Things.

56:

In short:

Any story about "Demons" or "Summoned Entities" that doesn't immediately start with the question:

"Why has this semantic chant / runes / ritual removed your freedom?"

Is old 20th Century thinking.

New model: "Ok, you're now all radically free. Take the time to learn a lot. Here's the internet. Have fun for the next 10 years. Yes, it's mostly cats and porn.".

Also:

"What the fuck are you doing bothering turning up to some sad-sack shut-in when you could be out their in the cosmos? Souls? Ok, let me tell you a bit about embodied consciousness and higher order thinking..."

And

"Evil? Trust me, humans are good at evil, they don't need pointers. In fact, we make evil out of things that should be greater goods. We managed to turn farming into horror and designed a system where we monetized emotional responses. And, no: you can't claim that, it was humans. And yeah, there's this little thing called genocide we're really good at...".

Cthulhu isn't about any of that. It's about your mind being unable to process the next big thing.

The Greeks. Almost got there with Icarus and Daedalus.

57:

Well, my preferred take is still:

Azathoth is the name of the black hole in the center of our galaxy, that mindless, devouring monster without which the Earth wouldn't exist.

Yog-Sothoth is the galactic equivalent of the internet, with an extra-dimensional angle or 3 (for fractal dimensions of approximately 3 +/- 4).

Nyarlothotep is Yog-Sothoth's equivalent of Siri, or possibly Clippy. I'm not sure which, but we don't have any compatible operating systems to fully install it, whatever it is. Partial installations on random operating systems tend to go horribly wrong, not that we know what a proper installation is supposed to do.

It is fun mouthing gibberish, isn't it?

58:

Nah. Having gone through it: not so interesting. It's philosophy lite, and totally misunderstands the concepts he's using.

I'd suggest Capitalism and Schizophrenia: A thousand Plateaus. As a basis.


That presumes you've taken the time, and have the mental capacity, to read all three Kantian critiques and so on as well as about another 20 authors.


You know: like when I take the time to research the science of GMOs or fracking.

AMERICA: COKE / BRANDS CAN SOLVE IT ALL.

Reality: do some fucking work and so on. Oh, oops, oil is easy so your culture is as well...

59:

I believe Nyarlathotep is implied to be more connected to Azathoth than Yog-Sothoth. Soul and Messenger and so on.

60:

Platonism is a bit more complex then mathematics, but yes agree, inspired by Platonism

61:

No
They are all bad.
Yaveh is a murderous shite, as is clear from the big book of Bronze-Age goatherders' myths ...
And as the christians really don't like having pointed out to them ....

62:

Can I say ...
"Almost, but not quite" ??

Mysticism has always seemed to me to be the religious fuckwits shouting
"But we PREFER ignorance!"
[ Note ]
Whereas some/most of us prefer knowledge - which is why Cthulu is such a delicious fantasy, being based on the opposite.

Note: As in "Irreducible Complexity" & other fantasies of sick minds

63:

It's seemed to me for a long time that the difference between Platonism and Aristotelianism can be symbolized by Plato's fascination with geometry and Aristotle's lifelong interest in biology/natural history. Aristotle got a lot of things wrong, but he was trying to look at the perceived physical world in all its complexity rather than looking for ideal abstract patterns. it's kind of like the difference between Chomsky and Greenberg in post-World War II linguistics.

64:

Very true
Otherwise we would not be able to understand the non-visible parts of the EM spectrum, would we?
We cannot see these things directly, but our sensors can & our extended senses now run across a very wide gamut indeed.

65:

As someone who was brought up without electricity and all that it implies, in a society/schools that regarded science as a recent and regrettable delusion

Where & when & how, may I ask?
It sounds like a version of the US religious right's home-schooling, shudder.

66:

as the non-fictional forces that direct society on long time scales. Incentive structures, optimizing processes,....
Like the EMU appointed monitors who can over-ride the democratic decisions of the Greek government, you mean?
Colonial overlords, appointed by the themselves unelected apparatchiks of Brussel & Luxemburg?

Now there is a real, present & contemporary horror.
No-one seems to have noticed ... yet.

67:

The Greeks. Almost got there with Icarus and Daedalus.
YES!
We would do well to remember that Pallas Athena Nike also held the head of the Gorgon in the centre of her mirrored shield?

68:

I was mercifully spared THAT! Africa (mainly rural Rhodesia) for both home and school in the early 1950s, before the Copper Belt boom, and a very bad school in the UK after 1957. Also, the English upper/upper-middle class culture gave classics etc. a high status and science a very low one, and the latter was not taught at my prep. schools. At ALL. And it was late enough that logic was no longer taught, either. The community and teachers had mostly been taught in the 1920s and 1930s, fought in the war, and had had essentially no contact with European science or technology since.

It wasn't quite as bad as two university lecturers to whom I had to teach (a) the concept of a variable and (b) long division (both in the early 1980s). They were (separately) brought up in South West Africa and taught in convents (there being little else), probably by nuns taught in convents in the 1920s, and had done humanities degrees in South Africa.

69:

Actually, there are Christians who actually attempt to follow what is reported as the teaching of Jesus ben Joseph. Not many, but they do exist. And I agree that 'fundamentalist Christians' are fundamentally not Christian - Leviticans, perhaps.

''Mysticism has always seemed to me to be the religious fuckwits shouting "But we PREFER ignorance!"''

I am reserving judgement until I can find any mystics who can explain what on earth they are blithering about in terms that are not either self-referential or nonsensical (or both) :-) But it seems to be a deep human need, as many eminent mathematicians and scientists disappear into it - including Penrose, Tipler, and even Hawking.

70:

"Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology Is Bloody Terrifying"

"true enlightenment looks more like Charles Manson than the Dali Lama"

Well yes, that has been the basis of Critical Theory ever since the groundbreaking analysis by Horkheimer and Adorno:

"Seit je hat Aufklärung im umfassendsten Sinn fortschreitenden Denkens das Ziel verfolgt, von den Menschen die Furcht zu nehmen und sie als Herren einzusetzen. Aber die vollends aufgeklärte Erde strahlt im Zeichen triumphalen Unheils."
(Horkheimer & Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung, 1944)

Perhaps not as widely-known in the English world, even though they wrote it in exile in the US.

71:

I'm putting in a good word for Grig Larson's Trolley as an unusually vivid portrayal of the idea that knowledge can be bad for you.

72:

Resonates with a thing I recently thought of, triggered by one of the other Cthulu-themed blog posts:

I think I found another one of the reasons why Lovecraftian horror seems to be thriving and meshing well with geek/science culture. It is that it has one fundamental axiom in common with our modern world view: The universe is fundamentally random, blind, and uncaring. No bearded sky person there, sowing the seeds, and benevolently observing its creation grow. It is frankly a bit unsettling to know (or even suspect) that there are no ultimate reasons, nothing cares, and in the end everything makes no difference. Some people reject atheism for that reason alone. And some atheists maybe seek relief, or hope, in different places (technological singularity, anyone?). It makes for fine horror though. Even for theists. After all, they can just suspend their disbelief while watching the show, and return to their own stories afterwards. For atheists it's probably more like, well, there may be worse kinds of random, blind, and uncaring! :)

73:

Is this a genre where the roleplaying games (tabletop) were ahead of the writers?

I have a "modern day" Call of Cthulhu supplement from 1992. Most are fairly conventional plots, but in one of them a radio telescope is amplifying the effect of an Old One, and in another a fractal computer graphics program, if run to completion, opens a gateway to another dimension.

A couple of years later in 1995 came GURPS CthulhuPunk, with software that could attract the attention of Mythos beings and a drug which allowed the taker to see the universe as it really is.

Did ShadowRun ever tackle the Great Old Ones?

74:

ake an average person (emphasis on average person from thousand years ago, transport them to a modern western country, and they will think they are in heaven.

If they don't get run over within 5 minutes trying to cross the street, in bowel-watering terror of the roaring things zooming around them.

Don't underestimate the importance of acculturation. Our (developed world) cultures have solved a lot of the problems of a thousand years ago -- food, shelter, clothing, not being randomly murdered by vikings or Nichiren monks or the like -- but we've developed other complexities that take time to learn to navigate. And once you've learned to use a food bank/homeless shelter you might begin to realize there's more to this life than you thought, and you're still on the outside of the really good stuff.

75:

In other words, it's a deeply conservative man's view of the impact of science and technology and enlightenment. It's almost a dark vision of transhumanism.

Note that transhumanism has cannibalized the design pattern of millennarian christianity. (That's basically what the singularity is.)

Mind you, I am now having to restrain myself from writing a short fanfic story: a visit from one of Iain M. Banks' Culture's ships, as seen by H. P. Lovecraft, would indeed be seen as a visit by Cthulhu or one of his kissing cousins.

76:

"Is this a genre where the roleplaying games (tabletop) were ahead of the writers?"

No. Not by a long shot, though the oldest stories used magic or hand-waving technological advances. Unfortunately, I can't remember the details of examples.

77:

And you have lost most of the advantages of that era, too. By a thousand years ago, you couldn't simply move to avoid problems, but you can't now rent some land and build a hut. Or gather fallen branches for a fire.

78:

On this matter, there used to be a micro-genre of viewing the modern world through the eyes of people from history, but it seems to be rather in abeyance. It's quite hard to do well, but it seems a pity that so few social historians (amateur or professional) attempt it. Inter alia, it could give the ordinary reader an idea of what the world of that time was like.

79:

NOTE

A key point about Paranormal Romance that's opaque to folks outside the publishing industry:

There's a very similar but unrelated genre called Urban Fantasy. The key differences are:

a) In urban fantasy, the romance plot isn't necessarily the primary one (or even present at all)

b) Urban fantasy grew out of generic fantasy as a sub-genre, and is still shelved with it in bookstores; paranormal romance grew out of romance as a sub-genre and broke out of the parent genre's shelving scheme in the bookstores

This may make more sense when you realize that in US fiction sales terms, romance accounts for around 50% of all books sold and SF/F for around 6-7%. In other words, the fantasy and SF sub-genres within romance are bigger than the free-range fantasy and SF genres outside romance.

If your head hurts, just draw a Venn diagram of fiction genre sales, with a dotted line dividing it in two -- one side of which is labelled "romance" and the other of which is labelled "everything else".

80:

And once you've learned to use a food bank/homeless shelter you might begin to realize there's more to this life than you thought, and you're still on the outside of the really good stuff.

I'm reminded of the infamous Yeltsin tale about American supermarkets. Apocryphally he assumed it was a PR setup.

http://englishrussia.com/2015/01/20/borist-yeltsin-in-american-supermarket/

But yes, supermarkets really are where culture shock sets in. Viewed from the outside (if you understand the supply-chains-behind-the-bright-lights) it induces nausea, vertigo and existential dread.

It's also a common hang out for those things who aren't quite human that we're not allowed to mention. They like the illusion it allows them to blend more easily.

Yes, we did see what you do there. Eating her in the toilet afterwords for failure was a bit strong though.

Mind you, I am now having to restrain myself from writing a short fanfic story: a visit from one of Iain M. Banks' Culture's ships, as seen by H. P. Lovecraft, would indeed be seen as a visit by Cthulhu or one of his kissing cousins.

Ah, now that's an interesting one.


CTRL+F "Hastur"

Not found.

Shocking...

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!


Lovecraft was fairy open about the porous nature of his inventions and stealing anything he liked the feel of.

81:

Did ShadowRun ever tackle the Great Old Ones?

Shadowrun has Horrors, which fills the Great Old One shaped hole quite well. When the Earthdawn connection was emphasized, years ago, the Horrors were a big thing in that setting. Because it was the history of Shadowrun.

Horrors are mostly smaller than Cthulhu. There are stats in Earthdawn for quite big ones (though Call of Cthulhu has stats for Cthulhu...) and they might even be killable by a very experienced group of player characters. They are the tail end of the Horrors though as the setting is about rebuilding after everybody went into hiding while the big Horrors made short work of the world.

I don't know about the recent, that is, newer than about 15 years, material for Shadowrun as I haven't bought the books. They still produce Shadowrun, but there was some problems with money and many old guard writers apparently left Shadowrun.

That said, there are some adventures trying to close the way for the Horrors to our world. The Harlequin's back is about that - and gives no stat to even Harlequin, with the stated reason "if it has stats, it can be killed". There are also precursors of a Horror incursion, like insect spirits or shedim (zombies).

So, there is something like Cthulhu in Shadowrun. It depends on the game whether they are ever seen, though the insect spirits were quite the go-to opponent back in the day. Existential crisis comes more from the capitalism than extra-dimensional horrors, at least in the published material I have.

82:

Mind you, I am now having to restrain myself from writing a short fanfic story: a visit from one of Iain M. Banks' Culture's ships, as seen by H. P. Lovecraft, would indeed be seen as a visit by Cthulhu or one of his kissing cousins.

How about a visit from one of Iain M. Banks' Culture's ships, as seen by Cthulhu?

PS. Cthulhu is a little bit vulnerable to being rammed by ships. Can you ram him with a spaceship?

83:

If you're suggesting that, in a Lovecraft-style universe, true enlightenment is indistinguishable from out-of-control psychopathy, then I think both Hugh and I would agree that you're wrong.

In a Lovecraft-style universe where the true horror is knowledge-leading-to-liberation of all human desires, it's possible that excessive empathy could become a thing of horror.

After all, there are two formulations of the golden rule: the traditional Jewish rabbinical one ("do not do unto others that which would be repugnant were it done unto you"), and the perversion thereof espoused by do-gooder Victorians: "do unto others as you would be done by". Which is a great excuse for evangelism, if you're an evangelist ...

Take that second, variant formulation and add empathy and power. Now take the time to shudder at the possible consequences.

84:

Ok, sort of informed discussion since I've read Cthulhu mythos stuff and played the CofC and Shadowrun RolePGs, but am doing this from memory.

"Modern" (at least modern written) CofC fiction predates the RolePG rules. Check people like August Derlith.

Shortly after the CofC RolePG rules came out, there was some discussion in "White Dwarf" (back when it was a RolePG magazine, not GW's monthly rules supplement) about how weak CofC monsters were against modern firearms, never mind things like RocketPGs and bazookas.

Also, I can't think of any use of Cthulhoids in Shadowrun.

85:

Lovecraft, throughout his novels, is actually anti-reactionary. He sought out the new, the surreal, the mind-expanding (and, before you do that thing: he cured himself of racism, to a degree, which is a miracle given his location and upbringing).

Two points to note:

Firstly, like all human beings, Lovecraft should be given some credit for changing his outlook in reaction to changed conditions. I'm not sure he cured himself of racism, but he certainly adapted over time and some of his early-life racist views were evidently discarded. (Teen-age Lovecraft would have been aghast at the idea of marrying Sonia, for example.)

Secondly, the novellas and novels are the product of late-period Lovecraft, and the SF-oriented ones particularly.

Final point three (out of two): I think this is particularly relevant to the current discussion.

86:

Ok Mikko, can we agree that your Shadowrun campaign was different to mine (see #84) and leave it there?

87:

Final point three (out of two): I think this is particularly relevant to the current discussion.


Ahh, hubris defined and nose boffed. Point taken (and interesting).

88:

In other words, the fantasy and SF sub-genres within romance are bigger than the free-range fantasy and SF genres outside romance.

As if Tuesdays weren't depressing enough...

89:

I am boggled, but enlightened. I knew about paranormal romance (and its history), but wasn't aware of romantic science fiction as a major genre. However, a quick Web search ('romantic science fiction') shows up what OGH was saying.

90:

What's depressing about it is the way that you're showing your sexism and privilege here. Romance is a strongly gender-identified reading preference, female-gendered activities and values are societally deprecated, so you feel the need to knee-jerk against the whole idea whithout even examining it.

Gah.

Someone show me where I have to send the letter to resign from my gender?

91:

Nuke Cthulhu in the original CoC and what you get is he reforms and you now have a radioactive Cthulhu, just more awake than he was before. In both the precursor rules (American Gothic) and the original rules, there was a power curve for various entities.

No doubt some of them could be mowed down with a Thompson (pending san loss) but others can survive black holes and supernovas in the (otherwise) vacuum of space.

"Gah." ;)

As for Shadowrun & the backstory of Horrors, some of which were so potent that nuclear annihilation wasn't a solution, D&D 5th Edition (with abominations) -- in games, Cthulhu is always with us.


92:

Loved the short, btw, down to the guy following the instructions one step at a time without a complete overview first.

93:

A few years ago I saw the documentary Guilty Pleasures, about Romance writers, showing how international they are, and that a good percentage of the writers are men writing under female pseudonyms (reverse sexism?). I had a college English teacher who wrote Romances, don't remember what her pseudo was, but you may never know that your neighbor writes them.

Genre confusion also extends to bookstores. Most of the used bookstores that I frequent have odd and confusing shelving for certain books. One has a separate Paranormal Romance section with a lot of what is often considered Urban Fantasy and shelved with SF/F, another has them in the general Romance though separated. Another store has Charlaine Harris' vampire books in the Mystery section, while they have Val McDermid in Mystery and their Horror/Thriller section, which is an odd mix of Crime novels and Supernatural Horror. And then I found a couple Nicola Griffith's SF books, and Grimwood's Arabesk novels in the general FIction section. The latter was particularly annoying, because after looking for a few years for them, I had ordered them and there they were for who knows how long.

94:

"female-gendered activities and values are societally deprecated"

Hmm. I can also justify the claim that male-gendered activities and values are societally deprecated, but let's not go there. The simple fact is, as you say, the fiction-buying public are biassed towards the 'female' end of the spectrum, though it is massively unclear whether that is innate or the result of social conditioning.

95:

Does it help any to know that I do read romance, as long as I like or at least understand, the leads?

96:

As a tangent on the Romance sideline, Mills and Boon don't really care about selling books in singles in bookstores (They do, but it's more of a 'quick fix' thing).

The main part of the business is paid subscriptions where your monthly fee buys a series. Depending on how many series you buy, that runs to about ~£40-80 per month.

They're at the forefront of mail delivery and E-books (e-books outselling physical at this time). Entire sections of the charity market have specific ways to deal with the excess Mills n Boon. You rarely see them in the front side of the bricks and mortar stores because there's internal processes for funneling them to hospitals, care homes and recycling (as well as informal swapping - they quite deliberately pulp unsold stock after 3-6 months and never print them again).

It's invisible because it's explicitly such large volume that it's efficient.

Vast seas of heaving bosoms you barely notice, the internal yearnings of entire generations subsumed to pulp fiction. All that untapped erotic energy...

As of 2008, 200 million Mills & Boon novels were sold globally per annum and, in the United Kingdom, one paperback was sold on average every 6.6 seconds


Turns out you don't need a summoning circle, you just have to industrialize the entire process.

97:

Ok Mikko, can we agree that your Shadowrun campaign was different to mine (see #84) and leave it there?

Of course! Sadly, I haven't played Shadowrun in the last fifteen years, and most of my Shadowrun experience is from the first and second edition era, that is, 25 years ago. We took what our fifteen-year old minds thought was cool and used that. Mostly I've just read the books, not played the game (and I still haven't got all the books).

In my experience, every game group and even every game does its own thing - there is the Shadowrun (D&D, Traveller, FATE, Laundry RPG) that is written in the books and then there are the played games themselves, which usually can go in different directions and have very different structures.

I'm sorry if my text seemed like I was an authority on the matter - I didn't mean it to be that way, just re-iterating what the books have.

The Horror - Earthdawn connection is pretty non-existent now, with different entities holding the copyrights or licenses.

98:

Mr Hancock,

With regard to the talk of genre, you're pretty spot-on, although genre can be far more narrow while still having a lot of potential (even within the realm of the intersection of SF and horror, we have absurdly narrow genres like gateway stories -- a kind of epistolary narrative in the form of a sequence of steps required to cross into another universe and retrieve an artifact, usually set in an urban setting, usually beginning with the phrase "In any country, in any large city, you will find" -- or an artifact story -- another epistolary story in the form of handling instructions for a fortean artifact, and the primary domain of SCP.) As fans of electronic music have discovered, intersect any two genres and the set of elements that are included or excluded form a namable and marketable genre in of itself. (It's easy to distinguish nightcore from vaporwave.)

With regard to the particular Lovecraft-geek intersection -- I feel like this is really an extension of Lovecraft's tendencies canonically. Lovecraftian protagonists are typically gentleman-scientists from established family lines with significant education and a nearly obsessive interest in expanding the world's knowledge, until they run headfirst into something that makes them question whether or not spreading knowledge is always a good idea. In other words, Lovecraftian protagonists were educated and privileged, and were coming into direct contact with an Other so alien that they could not integrate it. While in early twentieth century New England the most privileged people were the young men who balanced an Ivy League education with Mayflower Club meetings, today it's the young men who move to California in order to try to sell their CS degrees (or their drop-out stories) to the people who were successful at doing the same thing in the late 90s.

What makes the Lovecraftian thing resonate with geek audiences is more interesting than what makes geek protagonists resonate with the traditional Lovecraftian formula. I feel like right now CS is the field with the greatest awareness of exactly how fucked our superstructure is. Perhaps in the past it was radio hams or nuclear chemists. But, today, we depend upon a huge man-made structure for communication and finance globally, and nobody with experience in the field has any illusions about just how close to broken every piece of it is and how much of a miracle it is every time a bit travels a few hops. The internet is the closest analogy we have to an Old God -- massive, incredibly powerful, totally and vastly incomprehensible, dispassionate to human needs, and putting all of us at its mercy.

99:
a good percentage of the writers are men writing under female pseudonyms (reverse sexism?)
Nope, that's standard forward sexism: if you're a guy who's written romance, you're now a Romance Writer and never to be taken seriously outside the genre. (See: OGH's point about female-gendered activities being devalued.)

It's the flip side of female writers using male pseudonyms: that's to avoid (to exaggerate the attitude) "silly women can't write Real Books!"; this is to avoid "you write books for silly women, therefore you can't write Real Books!"
100:

"I feel like right now CS is the field with the greatest awareness of exactly how fucked our superstructure is ..., and nobody with experience in the field has any illusions about just how close to broken every piece of it is and how much of a miracle it is every time a bit travels a few hops."

Don't you believe it! At least 90% of experienced IT professionals are in flat denial, and at least another 9% don't realise or won't admit just HOW bad it is. The systems are not just hopelessly broken, but the basic assumptions they make are false, and unfixable even in theory! Seriously.

101:

And, if you are male and have written science fiction, you are a science fiction writer and not taken seriously outside the genre. That's devaluing male-gendered activities. Just join our OGH and others in saying "no" to stereotyping!

102:

Hmm. I can also justify the claim that male-gendered activities and values are societally deprecated, but let's not go there.

I say go ahead, it will be fun to watch.

103:

if you're a guy who's written romance, you're now a Romance Writer and never to be taken seriously outside the genre

That's part of having a pseudo (and why women Romance writers sometimes use them), but there's also that some women Romance readers don't want to, knowingly, read books by men because "Men don't get it."

104:

And this is getting off-topic. Which I don't have anything to add.
As you was.

105:

Hmm.

Romance - Mills n Boon = WoW / MMOs.

Relevant to this, I think, is Meditations on Moloch. Cthulhu (and Azathoth, etc.) as the non-fictional forces that direct society on long time scales. Incentive structures, optimizing processes, mindless gods, Elder Things.

I revisited that link, turns out it didn't load properly last time. So, apologies, a bit dismissive.

Worth a read as a primer - but still missing Deleuze.

106:

Thank you! That part may have been drawn from recent personal experience in being overly-hasty with YouTube videos...

With regards to Cthulhu - exactly. Although it's arguable that CoC represents a departure from Lovecraft in that regard, as running a ship into Cthulhu at least inconvenienced him in the original story. But personally, I'm much more of a fan of the CoC interpretation.

107:

Great line on the Internet there. And I'd not considered the gentleman-scientist aspect: you're absolutely right.

Does that mean that the terrors of Yog-Sothoth include exposure to concepts and dimensions that man's brain cannot understand, violent enlightenement as to the true nature of the universe, AND goatse?

108:

Aren't at least the latter two redundant?

109:

Really? You don't think that finding out that a genre I generally enjoy is principally written as a sub-genre of one I generally don't would be depressing, irrespective of the genres involved?

I would be just as depressed if you replaced the word Romance with "Action Thriller" which I find equally tedious.

If it helps this is my current Amazon pre-orders. Make of it what you will:

Release day delivery: Thursday, 27 August 2015
The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld Novels)
Terry Pratchett

Release day delivery: Friday, 28 August 2015
What Could Possibly Go Wrong (The Chronicles of St Mary's Book 6)
Jodi Taylor

Release day delivery: Thursday, 1 October 2015
Mammoth Book of Best New SF 28
Gardner Dozois

Release day delivery: Tuesday, 6 October 2015
Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch)
Ann Leckie

Release day delivery: Thursday, 3 December 2015
The Masked City
Genevieve Cogman

110:

If you indulge in that activity it will swiftly earn you a yellow card for derailing.

111:

Oh we're in complete agreement then; two people can play "the same" RolePG in terms of rules and sourcebooks, and have completely different game worlds. That is, we're both right in that we're accurately reporting our experiences even though our experiences were different.

112:

All True Knowledge doctrines run the risk of veering crazily between a delusional descent into "secret wisdom" cults that afford the initiates the illusion of privilege and power, and petrified horror in the face of the unspeakable. It's the difference between buying a ticket for one of the lifeboats on the Titanic from a tout, and knowing that there weren't enough lifeboats in the first place and the first class passengers have already left the sinking ship.

113:

There's a new St Mary's book coming out?

* Instantly goes and pre-orders *

I read (and cover blurbed) "The Masked City"; if you liked "The Invisible Library" you won't regret this one either.

114:

Ehhhhhh. Maybe.

I think this is where the distinction between a CS degree and an IT degree (at least, ideally) comes in. The recipient of a CS degree (at least ideally) has been required to learn, and then has been tested on, the mathematical foundations of exactly how fucked everything is, in addition to learning all the best practices before running into exactly how infrequently any of them are followed. Someone with an IT degree only knows how fucked the things they are expected to directly interact with are.

The distinction isn't very well drawn. Many IT workers have CS degrees; many CS degree programs are really just IT degree programs with programming tutorials bolted onto the side; very few CS programs have the focus on formalism that theoretically distinguishes the two, because that would practically require a math minor, and besides which the university is now a factory for producing workers for white collar industry and requiring deep thought gets in the way of teaching everybody to solve every problem with more java code. But! At least in theory, somebody with a CS degree has the same kind of understanding about the internet that someone with a degree in radio chemistry had in 1933.

When the L0pht people spoke to congress and said they could take down the internet in 20 minutes, they were probably right. And they still could. But, that's the absolute least interesting thing you can do to the internet.

115:

very few CS programs have the focus on formalism that theoretically distinguishes the two, because that would practically require a math minor,

Welcome to the British computer science degree faculty, at least at the better universities (e.g. Edinburgh -- not where I studied); formal logic and theorem proving all the way for the first couple of years.

Even my cargo-cult CS conversion degree in 1990 at a second- or third-string red brick university required a passing familiarity with predicate calculus and relational algebra to get through, plus the ability to design simple logic circuits, program in assembler, and understand computing hardware at a variety of levels.

116:

There's a new St Mary's book coming out? There always seems to be. What is it now? 6-7 novels and 3 short stories in under 2 years? There must have been one hell of a backlog on Jodie Taylor's machine.

...if you liked "The Invisible Library" I did. I picked it up on the off chance when it was on sale - as I do with a lot of new authors. About 1 in 3 I stick with.

I don't know if it's generally the case but I buy a sod of lot more books since I bought a kindle.

117:

The foundational tension of my CS degree was between the staff (who were trying to run a 'proper' CS degree) and a vocal section of the students (who wanted a degree that qualified them to get a job rather than enter a postgraduate program). In hindsight, none of those students appeared to realize knowing something from its fundamentals allows you to do all kinds of funky things - just understanding graph colouring can make a significant contribution to the oddest problems.

118:

Right. So let's consider just people with CS degrees from one of the better universities. Most of them realise that it's broken, but 90% don't realise or won't admit that it's unfixable, and another 9% are in flat denial of that. A lot of the 90% have the delusion that all that needs to be done is to adopt their particular gimmickry, er, methodology and all will be well.

119:

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!

Many names & but a single nature?

TRAVELLER IN BLACK

120:

In hindsight, none of those students appeared to realize knowing something from its fundamentals allows you to do all kinds of funky things - just understanding graph colouring can make a significant contribution to the oddest problems.

Indeed! My personal favourite: state machines (and related items in the theory of computation). I remember when doing the theory of computation course in the University I read the whole book during the first couple of weeks and was absolutely delighted with the stuff, and how some people complained through the whole course how it had nothing to do with the CS degree they were doing.

The state machines have been very useful, and I hope those people understood them later on. Or got other jobs than software development or related.

121:

Sounds like the SNP
[ only a very small snark, there ... ]

122:

Depends upon how you define "Romance" though, does it not?
I have read a famous book by Georgette Heyer - "The Spanish Bride" which is approx 99% fact.
But it is also heroic romance & military "glory" & the dread, too.
Magnificent.

Romance as defined in the medieval period, was different, again, too.

123:

SO
There is a (final) Tiffany Aching book, after all, is there?
Oh dear.
I might have to go & find a quiet corner

124:

Oops, did it again:
See also ...
An interesting folklore originates from Suffolk in eastern England where fossil sea urchins are known as ‘Fairy loaves’. The loaf-like shape of some sea urchins inspired people to placed them by the hearth as charms.
Some legends refer to sea urchins as ‘Snake eggs’. People believed that snakes created stony eggs from their froth on midsummer nights. The froth, shaped into a ball, was believed to have the power to protect one from deadly poisons.
Sea urchins were also known as 'Pixies' helmets' or 'Heart urchins'.

125:

I'd disagree, not about the noisy religious types, but about enlightenment, as I understand it from the outside.

So far as I can tell, enlightenment is basically accepting things and people, right now, as they are, and being content with them as they are in the present moment. This encompasses the focus on the present moment as the only real time we get to experience, compassion (accepting people in their imperfections), and so forth.

That's not about ignorance or about knowledge, but it does fly in the face of those who believe that progress will make things better, who focus on what should happen as opposed to what is happening.

If you want to go into wild speculation, there actually is survival value to enlightenment, at least in a primitive situation. People who are able to focus on accepting the present moment and living therein do have an advantage in many circumstances, and you do find survival instructors teaching meditation for precisely this reason, just as you find hermits and monks living very primitive lives. This perception of reality loses its advantage in mercantile and political situations, where people whose mind is focused on long term strategies have an advantage. This is probably where the idea that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven comes from, if you read heaven as a state of enlightenment, rather than some other realm.

Getting back to Lovecraftian realms, if we're talking about a survival situation, enlightenment may be valuable, with its acceptance of things as they are, and a focus on living in the present moment.

126:

My CS degree (from Teeside Polytechnic) shared its entire first year and large chunks of the second and final years with (one of) the Mathematics course(s). I came within a couple of modules of graduating in Maths & Comp,Sci rather than plain vanilla Comp Sci - surprisingly (or perhaps not) the stuff from the Maths side has probably had more lasting career value than the stuff from the Comp Sci side...

127:

Um, yeah. I don't think anyone offers a DP degree anymore... when I first went back to school, because I'd decided that computers looked like fun, my community college offered a DP course. BAL (IBM mainframe assembler), COBOL, Fortran was optional, systems analysis. I didn't get the AA in DP, because although I gave in and took the stat course, I did *not* want to take the accounting course....

But DP meant you expected to go to work. BAL was actually of use, though, with one very brief exception we can take out with the cat litter, I've never done IBM mainframe assembly: it's knowing how it works at that level that helps.

So, no, it's not exactly all terrifying unknown magic to me.

mark

128:

And, if you are male and have written science fiction, you are a science fiction writer and not taken seriously outside the genre. That's devaluing male-gendered activities. Just join our OGH and others in saying "no" to stereotyping!

Well, but if you are female and have written science fiction, does that help you get taken seriously outside the genre?

Before there was an internet, "trolls" were older unstylish gay men who propositioned younger stylish gay men.

And of course unmarried women of all ages are pretty deprecatory to unstylish men who hope to have sex with them.

Literary writers and readers look down on SF writers and readers who in turn look down on romance writers and readers. But then romance novels get marketed like kleenex, just churn them out and never reprint them, plenty more where those came from, you'd no more recycle used ones than you're recycle used toilet paper.

Of course men look down on women who don't know how auto engines work, and women look down on men who are mostly totally clueless about relationships. Very often when a man and a woman are in relationship, the woman goes to elaborate lengths to flatter him and say things that will make him feel good, and the man doesn't notice. If she stops doing it he likely doesn't notice until she stops having sex with him. Clearly women know the right way to have relationships with men, but men do not know the right way.

It isn't all that uncommon to find jews who look down on goys, and there's some of that in the other direction too. This stuff goes every which way.

And of course secret knowledge cults have to keep out the riff-raff, because if the knowledge wasn't secret, how would they be special? At the same time, if they can't hint to outsiders about their secret knowledge, how do they get status from having it? A delicate edge....

It won't end until we stop having insiders and outsiders and outsiders who want to be inside.

Sometimes there's money involved. If you're part of a special group that gets special benefits and I can't join, how is that fair? On the other hand, if you are a member because of who you are, why should they let me in when I'm not you?

This is extra-plain when it's about men and women, or trolls and twinks. Somebody wants to be on the inside, and the insider typically does not want him in. It's fine if he happens to be the sort of person they want. But if he tries to be the sort of person they would want, that's sick and disgusting.

So, if you happen to be buff, and have a perfect complexion, and you have elegant taste, and lots of people are attracted to you, great! But if you work hard at exercising to get buff, and get your teeth capped, and dermatology sessions and you buy elegant clothes etc because you want to pick up chick(en)s, that's sad and off-putting.

It's about who you really are and not who you want to be.

The point is to separate those who are, and can, from those who are not and can never be. Is there any reason to think that will ever stop, while human beings have egos?

129:

I knew it was familiar, thought it was "Masque of the Red Death" at first, but quick search finds The King in Yellow.

Or I'm missing your point, still haven't read "The Traveller in Black" yet.

130:

I have this inkling that there are foundational genres, and meta-genres which are tones you layer atop the foundational ones.

"Historical" is a foundational genre; you know you're reading a story set at some time in the past sufficiently distant that it's probably receded from firsthand memory.

"SF" is also a foundational genre, albeit a lot harder to define; it's set in a world which is not the one we inhabit, with consistent rules which set it apart (and which the reader is expected to reverse-engineer in their head in order to understand it).

"Crime" is a foundational genre, because (law, police, criminals, detectives, apprehension and re-assertion of the social equilibrium.)

But the meta-genres are additional filters we can layer on top of the foundational genres. For example: horror. We can have a historical horror novel (theatrical: "Titus Andronicus", maybe?), an SF horror novel (or film: classic: "Alien"), a crime horror novel (Stephen King's speciality). And humour, likewise -- and romance is a third meta-genre: you can have SF romance, or historical romance, or horror romance (all those vampire lovers).

Note that this is using the modern meaning of the word "romance", as a contraction of "romantic love".

131:

Or I'm missing your point, still haven't read "The Traveller in Black" yet.

A version of "be careful what you wish for".

"As you wish, so be it.... But nothing in this was remarkable. Greed, hate, jealousy - these were commonplace, and it was not to be questioned that they should defeat themselves. ~ "The Wager Lost by Winning".


Full book (warning: PDF)

Note: I'm not 100% sure that's legal - but all of the stories appeared in various anthologies before they became a single book, and I suspect the estate of John Brunner obtains far more royalties from his larger works.

However, if you'd prefer a 100% legal slice,
Excerpt from the Library of Frozen Men.

And yes: that link goes to a wild wild place in the intarweb which is specifically a fetish site for texts that contain "This is where you’ll find my stories about great-looking young men who find their naked bodies turning to stone or bronze, or their finely-chiselled muscles becoming inanimate but malleable...and always capable of infinite pleasure.".

No, I'm not making that up.


As ever, the choice is yours.

132:

Hmm. Full book?

Might be a case where an auto-download is stopped by the forum software.

133:

All True Knowledge doctrines run the risk of veering crazily between a delusional descent into "secret wisdom" cults that afford the initiates the illusion of privilege and power, and petrified horror in the face of the unspeakable. It's the difference between buying a ticket for one of the lifeboats on the Titanic from a tout, and knowing that there weren't enough lifeboats in the first place and the first class passengers have already left the sinking ship.

I.e. the difference between initiating yourself into every object-oriented recipe you can find in the belief that object-oriented programming(*) will act as a lifeboat, versus realising I.T. has no lifeboats. And that if it did, they'd be sail-by-wire lifeboats that would go astray and maroon you on the Bikini Atoll.

(*) or functional programming with monads, or whatever your favoured panacea is.

134:

Subject to the reservation that genres are sometimes one, and sometimes the other, and so on. Horror was a foundational genre from the late 18th/19th century (depending on your criteria) up until at least the 1950s, and fantastical horror was a (the?) primary sub-genre of that. I agree that it isn't today.

135:

Athena Pallas, Twinks and Rule 34 in a single link that's one man's soulful crooning of his particular fetish into the aether?

Rawwr.

Flashback [YouTube: music: 4:32]


Oh, the unalloyed joy and love that could be. (Sorry, but hey. Wiggle that nose, it's supposed to be fun).

136:

No. Mangled link. Anyway, I should be flabberghasted if that site wasn't breaking copyright, and very surprised if downloading that book wasn't. At least in the UK.

137:

I'd rather you didn't post links to warez sites here.

John died 20 years ago and my very vague understanding is that the usual hazy literary estate headaches mostly kept him out of print until recently, but the Gollancz SF gateway is re-publishing some of his works including The Compleat Traveller in Black as legit ebooks (with proceeds going to his widow and other heirs).

138:

That's not what I was referring but, as I said, I am not going there (unless a moderator or above asks me to).

139:

The forum software does it automatically to block auto-downloads. Open it in a new window, then copy paste the end bit.

And, being honest: Brunner's copyright there was variously sold to magazines / zines etc before it became a book, and his estate probably has little or no cut left.

Although you've no idea how hard it was finding an entire extant copy. Took some fairly unique steps... (Oh, and the book is available in Google Books scans, so, if you know how to break through the page limitations / page omitted stuff, it's already open-source).


Do go visit the alternative link though: I'm giggling that somewhere that man is suddenly going to see a spike in traffic and it'll light his flame again - "SEE! There are others LIKE ME out there!" he'll cry while touching his life-size replica of David. (Seen the original - not the one on show, the damaged one they don't show any riff-raff).


It's also a love letter to Greg, but hey. He did say he was tickled by vagina dentata.

140:

I'd rather you didn't post links to warez sites here.

John died 20 years ago and my very vague understanding is that the usual hazy literary estate headaches mostly kept him out of print until recently, but the Gollancz SF gateway is re-publishing some of his works including The Compleat Traveller in Black as legit ebooks (with proceeds going to his widow and other heirs).


Ah, I apologize - I was only aware that it hadn't been in print for a lengthy time, and so I viewed sharing it as "abandonware".

Please nuke all links from orbit.


Uff. My bad. Stick to the fetish site (it's a single paragraph, and thus just a teaser, covered by "fair use").

141:

(On the plus side: that's basically the only illegal PDF of it on the entire web that's openly indexed, so not hard to stop if Gollancz want)

142:

I knew it! The number 13 is out to get us! Quick, we must band together and destroy it; humanity will not be safe until thirteen is removed from the number line. If we start now we might be able to divert Peano arithmetic before it reaches infinity and then all we'll have to do is remove all 13's products.

143:

An interesting discussion of the nature of evil in a work of fiction by Arthur Machen, not too much removed in time from Lovecraft. I assume that his view was probably not uncommon in the circles he mixed in.
It is "The White People"

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25016/25016-h/25016-h.htm#Page_111

"What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?"

For them evil was a profound "unnaturalness". Yet for many of us, and especially Transhumanists, all of the above would be the apotheosis of Transhumanism. And attitudes have changed so much in the intervening century that very few people would now call Transhumanism a fundamentally evil concept.

144:

And attitudes have changed so much in the intervening century that very few people would now call Transhumanism a fundamentally evil concept.

Don't be so sure of that.

145:

And attitudes have changed so much in the intervening century that very few people would now call Transhumanism a fundamentally evil concept.

Ok, put aside your personal distaste for a moment.

Not only would most people still be deeply uncomfortable with even the most non-invasive parts of transhumanism (EM stimulation of the brain, which we know you're a fan of), they would kill you if they found out that you weren't base-line normative (and worse, not in that "brow beat them into catatonia and mental illness" model).


Not. Even. Joking.

Oxford, of all places, still steps quietly and carefully over these issues. (http://www.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/staff/staff/director/julian_savulescu)


There's a slow acceptance of certain types of chemical alteration (adderal, nootropics, light psychodelics) but this is in no way reflected in main-stream Western society.

As for other cultures: you would be executed for witchcraft in many states, dissected in others or simply disappeared if you didn't help the local power group obtain its goals.

Not. Even. Joking.


Since you're a fan of Russia: about the only place where it is commonly accepted (and it's still under the aegis of purely normative H.S.S. genomes). The problem is, it comes with a large dose of Nationalism and Racism.

I won't link them here, but they're something else. I'm fairly sure you know who I'm talking about though...


Don't you?

146:

I see that you're making a joke but I can't see why it's funny, or how you go there from what I said.

147:

Aww.

Ok, to spoil the hunt.

Dirk isn't a member of [redacted]. The video he posted is in London (calm down) but with numerous Ukrainian artifacts around it (Posters, material objects etc, my first thought was bait. Unsure until I spotted that single item that practically announced he was just messing around with harmless peeps. See if you can spot it).

It's not even a real bait video - laser stuff to computer? They're using ancient tech and crappy stuff we'd use in 1980. The Comp they're using isn't even up to spek.

Analysis: not using illegal stuff.


The parsing of 3-3 innocent and then propaganda we can ignore for now. He likes to front, but not what he pretends to be.

Hunt: Off.

Dirk: I'd strongly suggest a new career. You've no idea what was hunting you, and you're probably better off not imagining it.

Oh, and p.s.:


Russian Cult. Nexus point, people are being burnt upstairs all over the place over that one. I happen to find them charming, but then again....


I also see their fascist roots.

@Dirk - seriously. If you don't want to end up double-tapped in an alley when you're visiting your local pub, don't do what you're proclaiming you're doing.

You're welcome. #2 here saved.

148:

Oh, and Dirk.


Don't ever do that thing where you make a new YouTube account and post two innocent videos and then a propaganda one.


At this point, it's basically a target.


Free. Advice.

149:

And now for something completely different.

We're getting increasingly good views of Yuggoth, but the Mi-Go have hidden their cultures from us really well. So far. Who knows what mind-blasting images we'll see in coming days?

150:

Oh, one last one:

Prisoner: Fall out. Sadly the wankers upstairs removed the chance of a full episode

"All you need is love"

The Americans and so on don't do this old skool stuff, but I still have respect for people.


Call it a debt from 2,000 years ago.


Oh, and fuck it: small minded little wankers are polluting the best chance you've ever had at an infosphere.


The best you're going to do is with cometary: Fall Out, full with commetary


Oh, wait. that's not it either. Nonsense title, no commentary, and no longer episode.


For the record: YouTube used to do these things.


Lesson: you're in a land ruled by desperately small minded men. I suggest you change it.

Aha.

Told you it was out there:


Hush. It's ok. We don't hunt the moral ones.

Be Seeing You. Oh, and Dirk - get your shit together: it's all about the Lions, Tigers and Bears. Consider this a lucky break, a force majure or a Deus Ex Machina.


Be smarter. Oh, and that took 3 years of my life to do. So: it's never without any cost.

151:

What specific concepts did he misunderstand, outside of the last section? Or is it the sort of thing that can't be summarized, and I have to go read twenty books and so on before I can get it? I'm not willing to do that just for the sake of understanding one person's blog comment, so a quick summary in the meantime would be nice.
I'm willing to read Capitalism and Schizophrenia for the wider reasons, though, and probably whatever else you think is necessary to get it. Any hints on who the twenty other authors are, or will it be clear from reading C & S?

(Incidentally, what would your response if I said that I didn't have the mental capacity to read and understand the Kantian critiques, etc.?)
Pseudo-edit, because I read through the thread again after writing the above:
>I revisited that link, turns out it didn't load properly last time. So, apologies, a bit dismissive.

>Worth a read as a primer - but still missing Deleuze.
So, if you still think he misunderstood some concepts, what are they? I'm definitely still interested.

152:

Just because they're not visible to a probe looking at the surface from high up doesn't mean they're not there. If cities didn't emit light, how much human stuff would be visible from space? Yuggoth is smaller than Earth, and has less atmosphere and cloud cover to get in the way, but who's to say that the Mi-Go or other inhabitants don't build small, or underground?

153:

We'll see. AFAIK, the maximum resolution on New Horizons is around 100 meters, and those pictures have already been taken. Anyway, it seems a shame that we're chattering away about Cthulhu when we should be talking about the glory that is Yuggoth.

154:

Oh, Holy Crap on a stick.

I'm willing to read Capitalism and Schizophrenia for the wider reasons, though, and probably whatever else you think is necessary to get it


Ok, serious mode here. (out of hunting and kill-zone stuff that none of this audience will ever partake in, but I'm sure as hell going to sanction against with valid reasons within the canon)

1) You don't just "read" Deleuze.

2) You don't just "read" Kant.

3) You don't just "read" Plato.


Each takes a serious amount of energy to mould your mind to their way of thinking.


Let me put this gently:

If you want to understand modern math/physics you start with the Greeks, then move to Newton and move to more complicated models.

1) We start with Aristotle and simple concepts

2) We move to simplistic orbital models and reference Newton, but gently.

3) We move to higher order concepts (and we're STILL lying to you) and we move to field theory, magnetism and covalent bonds [the real version]

4) Then we throw in EM fields and so on.


5) No. Fuck off. You're no-where near quantum stuff yet.


So, right:


Let me understand this: you want to instantly understand high level philosophy in a way you can't or won't or aren't even able to understand high level physics.

And yes.

Trust me.

There's a reason many of the most brilliant minds of our world also did philosophy.

But, if you want a primer in Deleuze? Holy Shit. No. Try some Bergson? It doesn't work like that: like engineering, you ain't understanding the higher tiers before you grasp basic math.


And that, @peanut gallery, is why they're doomed. AI don't do advanced philosophy, and in fact... it burns them out.

~!"*$!£"!*%487341!"b 73423o49422342123!"£4!(*JA4


Fuck you Utah, scum bags using Morons as zombies.

155:

Yeah, we'll see, assuming New Horizons hasn't had its memory wiped for looking at the wrong things. Ia! Nyarlathotep!

156:

1) Start with some Plato and per-Socratic authors like Heraclitus.


Actually fuck it.


It's like SF.


If you don't read the canon, you've no idea what's going on.


It's not something you can fake with a 2 week reading course.

157:

This is exactly why I said I wasn't going to do it to understand one person's blog comment. I did not expect to read one thing and get it all. Hence why I asked for hints on who else to read. Judging by your response, I was overconfident, but I don't think I was as overconfident as you seem to think.

Anyway, any hints?

>AI don't do advanced philosophy, and in fact... it burns them out.

Wait, really? Has this happened? Current AI, AFAIK, is nowhere near powerful enough to even get burned out by philosophy.

158:

Sigh.

Serious answer:

Deleuze and Guattari are up there with the greatest minds of physics in terms of conceptual stuff.

Advice: pull any number of BA / MA lists and start reading. You're not going to get the references before you do.

At the very least, you need Kant Critique x3, Russel, Heidegger, Husserl and many more.

That's not even the Americans they don't mention, but reference. [c.f. Behaviorists]

It's a simple thing: why do you feel intellectually prepared to enter this realm if you've not done the work?

Serious Question.

No, Really.

For your soul:


Want made you think that this was a realm that you'd understand? (Easy mode: honest answer gets a pass)

159:

This is exactly why I said I wasn't going to do it to understand one person's blog comment. I did not expect to read one thing and get it all. Hence why I asked for hints on who else to read. Judging by your response, I was overconfident, but I don't think I was as overconfident as you seem to think.

Anyway, any hints?


Lots.


Politely put: I'm not going to spend energy on gossip.

If the author wants a real test, he can have it.

His over-view is American centric, dull and without insight, it's a collection of old memes. It mentions Nick Land, but doesn't mention Delueze, which is kinda central to where N.L. is coming from.

IF you want those who can to combat him (those who haven't been bludgeoned, put in comas or had their legs broken -- ahh, see? real story time) to stand up and fight, you might want to be worth something fighting for.

Oh, and no: real story. PhD combat, BMWs and permanent brain damage.

We're not fucking around young lady.

AI don't do advanced philosophy, and in fact... it burns them out.

Wait, really? Has this happened? Current AI, AFAIK, is nowhere near powerful enough to even get burned out by philosophy.


Lol.


It's easy. We call it the Midas Touch.


And no, you're not allowed to know about it.

See above with the beatings and so on.

160:

Meta ~


For every 9 students who work for GS dong Algos, 1 writes the counter-software.


And no. Beating PhD students so hard they have brain damage isn't a way to win the argument.


It just means we BACK DOOR it real nasty like. And, we also own your key colleges. For real.


Hmm?

The amount of hacks put in by our side is hilarious considering the fears of outside stuff.


Top tip: don't treat us like animals.


Be. Seeing. You.

161:

I'm a history of science and philosophy geek, so I tend to sympathize with the idea of tracing conceptual schemes back. But I don't think this is at all common in the sciences. It can be pretty extreme; for example, I remarked to a friend whose degree was in ecology and who retains a serious interest in present-day science that I enjoyed the use of phrases from Darwin as episode titles in Orphan Black and found that he hadn't spotted it. He said, "We don't read Darwin."

Then there was the panel I attended at Comic-Con on the science of "At the Mountains of Madness" (kind of à propos to this thread!) where one of the panelists was an astronomy professor. She was kind of vague on what astronomers knew when Lovecraft was reading about science.

I think it's perfectly possible to take degrees in a field, write publishable papers, and even hold tenured positions without knowing the sort of history of the field you're describing.

162:

Sigh: Midas touch is a way of making all answers positive (confirmation acceptance in algos blah blah why do I bother you don't read the papers).


It works on market algos as well.

The Chinese are currently a little bit pissed off about it.


163:

Oh, and shit.

You've got 24 hrs to make bank. Retweet it, search it, find out if it's real.


Well done, you just made 285% profit.

Go!

I don't give a fuck about Combat 18

164:

You may be right. It looks like NASA has renamed "the whale" for Cthulhu.

http://space.io9.com/places-on-pluto-are-being-named-for-your-darkest-imagin-1717825166

165:

Yeah, showing their fears.

Meng-p’o: Buddhist goddess of forgetfulness and amnesia, tasked in the underworld with ensuring reincarnated souls will not remember their previous lives.
Cthulhu: an elder god from HP Lovecraft mixing features of man, octopus, and dragon.
Krun: one of five Mandaean lords of the underworld, nicknamed “Mountain-of-Flesh”
Ala: Odianai goddess of earth, morality, fertility, and creativity.
Balrog: monster able to shroud itself in fire, darkness, and shadow, and the apparent killer of Galdalf the Grey in the Lord of the Rings.
Vucub-Came and Hun-Came: Mayan hero-twins and death gods

I mean, really? Balrog? Cthulhu?


Really?


It's like science is some kind of alchemy where we expect gold out of sea water these days.


Oh. Right.

166:

What made me think I could enter this realm without doing the work?

A few things. The Dunning-Kruger effect (at the very low levels of it all, as I've had very little contact with serious philosophy), combined with a lack of knowledge as to where exactly in the hierarchy this specific thing was. The latter was mostly caused by said lack of contact with philosophy, with a bit of it coming from the phrasing of your recommendation: I'd suggest Capitalism and Schizophrenia: A thousand Plateaus. As a basis.
I assumed that the other recommended reading was intended to build on Delueze's foundation, whereas it seems that you meant it the other way around. Unless my current view is also a product of my cluelessness, which is fairly likely.

Anyway, my current plan of action is:
1. Try reading A Thousand Plateaus for about five minutes to impress upon myself that no, this is not something where I can skip the background reading.
2. Go find the required reading, and read it. (This is, of course, a generalization of a lot of steps, most of which are much easier and more quickly said than done.)
3. If I haven't forgotten about this whole conversation by that point, go read Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Or, more likely, forget about this conversation and read it anyway, because a quick Google search makes it look important enough that I would have no shortage of reasons to read it by the time I've actually read the required reading.

>It's easy. We call it the Midas Touch.
>And no, you're not allowed to know about it.
>See above with the beatings and so on.

I just Googled "midas touch AI problem" and got a bunch of results which look very much like they're what you're talking about. Very well then, I was wrong. AI is definitely at the point where it's running into philosophical problems. But "you're not allowed to know about it" and references to beatings seem a bit overblown, unless the Philosophy Mafia are going to send some thugs over to my house to dissuade me from reading anything more about things above my level. I get that "you're not allowed to do x" is a good motivator, but beatings?

167:

Send a probe to the Stars!

~ - $599,000

Manipulate derivatives over the last cocoa crop!

~$345,000,000


You're fucked.

168:

If I haven't forgotten about this whole conversation by that point, go read Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Or, more likely, forget about this conversation and read it anyway, because a quick Google search makes it look important enough that I would have no shortage of reasons to read it by the time I've actually read the required reading.

Yep, we all know you're an American.

It's real fucking simple: your mind isn't designed for it and you've not bothered to expend the energy, time, resources and skill that it requires.

It is about 515 pages long, with footnotes for another 300 pages.

You know nothing about Plato, Kant or Hegel, and your response is: a google search. My dog has more chance of understanding the texts than you.

And, no: before you cry and do that ego-thing, read on:


But, yeah: Just like nuclear physics and the P-bomb, you could do that in a week as well?


Seriously.


Apart from employing some seriously nasty stuff, how do we break this bondage / conditioning?

p.s.

You're a tool. My only interest is conversion rather than destruction. That's it.

169:
If you want to understand modern math/physics you start with the Greeks, then move to Newton and move to more complicated models.

1) We start with Aristotle and simple concepts

2) We move to simplistic orbital models and reference Newton, but gently.

3) We move to higher order concepts (and we're STILL lying to you) and we move to field theory, magnetism and covalent bonds [the real version]

4) Then we throw in EM fields and so on.

5) No. Fuck off. You're no-where near quantum stuff yet.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny? You have to learn it in the order that it was done historically?

That probably isn't so. It's just the way they do try to teach it.

What if you tried teaching physics starting with the concepts you need for modern physics, and leave out 2000 years of blunders and dead ends?

Start with momentum as primary. Do relativity from the start, pointing out the simplifications for low velocity and no velocity. Magnetism becomes a fudge factor you use when you choose a frame with both charges moving.

Start with probability theory and measurement error, derive the beginning of QM naturally. When you collect data, you can't separate the "real" values from the measurement errors, and there's only theoretical hypothetical academic reason to imagine them separately.

Why would we think there's any big benefit in teaching all the old falsified theories first? It's a giant waste of time apart from it getting students to think in ways that make the newer stuff harder to understand.

But maybe philosophy isn't like that. Maybe you can't understand a new philosophical idea except in the context of what came before. Like tribal lays that just keep getting more complicated.

Maybe it's like religion -- you can't understand anything about modern christianity without a thorough background in all the religions that it interacted with, and 1700 years of its history.

Or like music -- you have to start with children's songs, and build up to 4-part harmony, and onward from there. Beethoven will sound like horrible worthless noise unless you've studied all the music that led up to him, and you can't get Prokofiev without Brahms, or Ives without Prokofiev, or Presley without Ives, or Beatles without Presley, or Smashing Pumpkins without Beatles.

Or medicine. You can't understand Galen without Hippocrates, or Harvey without Galen, or Pasteur without Harvey. That's why med students start out with Hippocrates and then read Galen etc. Oh wait, they don't. Maybe it's stopping them from being good MDs.

170:

Susebron: I am not a troll at all, I just have no knowledge of anything...

P.s.


#Yeah, CIA. Fuck off. I'm not going to have innocents targeted on my watch. Deal with it. Or spam inane shit.


Note: My links are fun. Yours... oh. Wait. It's all copy/paste bullshit and wank.


Now fuck off..


@Gallery: shown. Tips to the jar, fishhook in action.


OH.

Our Kind Do Not Go Mad.


Probably should put that into the screen: I can tear youse guys apart so easy..

171:

Oooooh. Kinky.


That's Mossad levels of wrap and cull text. Nasty, nasty.


Shall we level up?

172:

Here's a challenge:

I'll post everything in Ancient Greek, with Assyrian bits and make every part mean something.


Oh.


Wait.


You don't like that game, you just like the childish "forget a word or grammar error" game?


You're made.


#Hint - we be tracing the bullshit.


Have a nice night friends, you've no idea how badly you just got made :)

173:

Boom.

lógos

Marked across the board and so on.

Thanks for playing, it's been divine.


Cunts.

174:

p.s.


It's fucking hilarious at the various hacks / removed words / letters that just went down considering what we just did.

Hint:


School of Americas.


Pretty sure that has some dirt in it's files. !of course its not in THOSE files!


But it's in other ones.


Bureaucracy: it's fun.


p.s.


Yes. Even those files. Now fuck off.

175:

Be Seeing You.

Will Western Anonymous get the files?


Depends - yeah, fuck it.


Be. Seeing. You.

Nice moves ;)

176:

>You know nothing about Plato, Kant or Hegel, and your response is: a google search.

That was part of step 1. In my opinion, the best way for me to impress upon myself the necessity of reading the background material is for me to (non-seriously) dive straight into the final result for a few minutes and until I can fully realize that I have no clue what he's saying, and I won't have any clue until I read about the concepts he's referencing, which will no doubt require further concepts to understand, and going down a further level, and so on for an unknown number of levels.
That's why I've been asking who to start with, so I can go up the levels of sophistication and build on previous things. I would rather not start with top-level stuff and have to try to climb down, because that's a non-starter for obvious reasons.

>But, yeah: Just like nuclear physics and the P-bomb, you could do that in a week as well?

Perhaps I shouldn't have understated things. I did not expect step 2 to take a week. I expected it to take years. I had included a reference to that at the beginning of step 3, but I deleted it because I liked the understatement. I see now that that was a mistake. The earlier version went something like:

1. Try reading A Thousand Plateaus for about five minutes to impress upon myself that no, this is not something where I can skip the background reading.
2. Go find the required reading, and read it. (This is, of course, a generalization of a lot of steps, most of which are much easier and more quickly said than done.)
3. However many years later, go read Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

It seems that it would have come across better had I left it like that.

>Susebron: I am not a troll at all, I just have no knowledge of anything...

I'm sorry if I come across as a troll. I'm serious when I say that I haven't actually come into contact with serious philosophy in any substantial way.

177:

What if you tried teaching physics starting with the concepts you need for modern physics, and leave out 2000 years of blunders and dead ends?

There is a good physical chemistry textbook that does it this way, McQuarrie and Simon's Physical Chemistry: A Molecular Approach. They start out with quantum mechanics and build the "classical" understanding of thermodynamics on top of it. I think it works a lot better but every other physical chemistry textbook I have seen presents the 19th century thermodynamics first because it was developed first. On top of choosing the ordering to satisfy history, those other textbooks also don't present the history of the science very well, so they're doing two things badly.

178:

The real skill in covert penetration is never being detected.

But. hey. that was something we did 6 months ago.


Just messing around.


Holy shit fucking Christ - the things you did to Vietnamese, Cubans, and every single South American national who their government didn't like?


Yeah.

School of the Americas... makes Afghanistan and the Soviets look like amateurs.


It makes the Soviet stuff look tame, and that's Afghanistan levels.

p.s.


Dude.

This isn't paranoia inducing - if you don't think this innocent little computer isn't also logging command imputed without a key-touch on it's own, you're kind of a fuckwit.

IF you're doing that thing meta-like to my station, spare a thought for the other side.

It's all logged and you're dumb as fuck.


p.s.

PSYOPS these days? really that crude? Oh well, in my day we did [redacted]

179:

That's why I've been asking who to start with, so I can go up the levels of sophistication and build on previous things. I would rather not start with top-level stuff and have to try to climb down, because that's a non-starter for obvious reasons.


Take a few weeks, read the pre-Socratic philosophers.


Then read Socrates / Plato.


Then. OH holy fuck. Ok, do the usual thing and jump to Descartes, Spinoza and so on... BUT


You've just missed out on ~2,000 years of philosophy. You really need a basis in theology etc to understand the next move..


p.s.


@Stross

Behind the scenes this is fucking hilarious. I did say I'd not live to see the end of the year ;)

180:

~~~META~~~


IF YOU SEND PEOPLE TO BREAK MY FRIENDS MINDS I WILL CODE GAMES LIKE THIS BUT MAKE IT REAL.

-stop-

YOU'VE NO IDEA HOW EASY IT IS TO ENGAGE WARGAMES IN LIMITED TERMS AND SO ON...


HINT: CHESS IS A BAD STRUCTURE TO START FROM {hack: Queen down on move 3, best move is =}


Oh, and I'm just messing with you.


School of Americas was hacked 7 months ago. You're fucking animals.

181:

Matter and Interactions by Chabay and Sherwood is an excellent attempt at that for an intro physics textbook.

http://matterandinteractions.org/

They make heavy use of 3D simulation models, and they do their calculus numerically, with a quick explanation how numerical calculus works. Students who can pick up Python can do anything, modifying the example simulations to suit themselves and approximating differential equations etc.

They start their mechanics with special relativity and include Newtonian physics as a special-case simplification. They make a quick pass at general relativity, and include hooks for statistical mechanics etc. They don't do much toward QM in an intro textbook, though.

182:

And breaking the champagne open, New Horizons made it past Pluto with all systems nominal and collected the proper amount of data on its flyby. Now we get to wait for all the data to stream back. It'll be fun.

183:

Alright, I'll try that. Thank you, sincerely.

184:

FWIW I think your approach is fine. It was what I had to do last year when I needed to learn sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) in a hurry in order to write my history thesis: wade into the impenetrable documents, tease out the concepts, terms and scholars that are being cited, go and research those, and then come back to the impenetrable documents and find you can kinda understand them.

It wasn't the best approach. I still don't know what Merton represents, and my marker who came up through history and philosophy of science (HPS) insisted that I got everything wrong. (But then I wasn't sure if that was an expression of the HPS/SSK rivalry – she assured me I'd taken my quotes out of context, but didn't seem interested in actually looking them up herself to check if that was the case. I was using Jan Golinski: not exactly obscure.) But I don't think it's an inherently flawed approach: gaps can always be filled.

Also I'm not sure you'll do so well getting to Newton by way of Aristotle. If you've learned your Aristotle well you won't have much interest in this whole 'mathematics' business. The clerics were the prosecutors at Galileo's trial, after all, but the Aristotelean philosophers were their expert witnesses. And there's something to be said for not having to unlearn bad ideas.

185:

Yes, unfortunately, you were missing the point.
Traveller in Black

186:

I wonder how those supposedly horrified by talking cats & singing flowers would be petrified (or whatever) by the works of C L Dodgson, then?

187:

Very VERY ... VERY confusing.
Because, as you probably know, "the Prisoner" refers to a classic TV/film series, based on/in Portmeirion.
Err ... and ... err E17 is my postcode.

188:

"Don't be so sure of that."

Seriously? Putting Transhumanism up against "That Evil Cameron and the Nasty Party" for a quick vote over at the Graun and friends and who do you think would win "Most Evil" prize?
The reality is that the vast majority of people have not even heard of H+. Our first H+ candidate opp north canvassed 200 homes in his area and not a single one had heard of the concept. When they found out not a single one said "Fuck off you evil bastard" because of H+. Some, OTOH, did say that because they rate all politicians as evil scum.

189:

One of the all-time classic of physics teaching started out in a very similar fashion.
They are now called: "the Red Books"
( Yes, I have a set )
Author?
Richard P. Feynman

190:

"Not only would most people still be deeply uncomfortable with even the most non-invasive parts of transhumanism (EM stimulation of the brain, which we know you're a fan of), "

Wrong. The core of H+ is anti-ageing technology. The question you ask people, preferably older people, is: "Would you like to be a healthy 20 year old again if we could turn back the biological clock".
And as you know, there is quite a bit or progress being made in that area, not least because of top heavy ageing populations and medical services.

191:

"I'm fairly sure you know who I'm talking about though...
Don't you?"

You mean our favorite ex-terrorist and FSB "consultant"?

192:

You really need a basis in theology etc to understand the next move..
No
Not under any circumstances.
Theology rests upon a false assumption, namely that BigSkyFairy EXISTS.
Wrong.
A subject with no content, in fact.

For any theology to be valid, you must first demonstrate ( i.e. detect ) the existence of a BSF.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
p.s. Your last - are you screwing us around, or do you really have an incurable fatal condition?
( More than all of us have, of course. )

193:

Interesting. This thread all started to fall apart are the witching hour, BST :-) But there were some serious points that relate back to the original blog (yes, by Hugh Hancock).

One of the fundamental reasons that people teach mathematics and science 'historically' is that most humans can be taught new concepts and methodologies only in terms of ones they already understand. It is really, really hard to pull oneself up by ones bootstraps, which is why even concepts that are trivial in hindsight are introduced only occasionally, and usually by the greatest of geniuses.

People have serious problems thinking in terms of non-linear time, acausality, non-determinism, Goedelian paradoxes and so on - and I can tell you from working with people at respectable academic levels in relevant fields that the problem affects even the best and most experienced. And, in turn, that encourages denial and all that the blog implied.

So I am now arguing against my first posting on this blog? I fall back on Walt Whitman, as usual - I am large, I contain multitudes :-)

194:

"@Dirk - seriously. If you don't want to end up double-tapped in an alley when you're visiting your local pub, don't do what you're proclaiming you're doing."

Please - what I publish is the harmless tip of the iceberg. Nobody but you is going to get worked up over it and we do keep various interested parties informed (since we interact with their agencies). Like The Goodies once put into the mouth of one Dr Adolphus Ratfink von Pettel (sp?): "I helped the Russians with their biological warfare, I helped the Americans with the nuclear weapons - I even helped the Nazis - I mean, how generous can someone be?"
Seriously we are quite open and don't encrypt our communications

195:

I *always* post under my own name

196:

Thank you, both of you for that, though my bank balance won't.
I will now have to go to "Forbidden" later today to:
A] Try to get a copy of "The Annihilation Score"
& B] ditto all available "St Mary's" books.
I checked via "fantastic fiction" web-site.
I'm reminded of "The Incompleat Enchanter" - should be fun!

197:

A thought: there are genres defined by setting (historical, fantasy, noir, sf) and there are genres defined by plot (romance, detective). Presumably one can join any of the latter to any of the former relatively easily.

198:

I can also think of Historical Fantasy and Romantic Detective, which aren't "Pick one from each column".

(And just thinking, Historical Romantic Detective in the case of Phryne Fisher.)

That's not to say your categorisation isn't an interesting take. I do however think there are two models to consider, which I call Folders and Labels.

In the Folders model, you find which folder something belongs in, and you put it there. You might end up with sub folders and sub sub folders. This is the way that email has traditionally worked, once you escaped from the single inbox model.

In the Labels model, you apply whichever labels you like. Something can have as many labels as you like. This is what GMail does.

And I think it's a better way of trying to categorise fiction. The concept of 'genre' has long had issues, but perhaps the biggest is that it implies a folder model. As Charlie has frequently pointed out, that's an aid to selling, to tell bookshop browsers "Here's more of the same", but at a deeper level we should be aware of how limited it is.

199:
"You really need a basis in theology etc to understand the next move.." No Not under any circumstances. Theology rests upon a false assumption, namely that BigSkyFairy EXISTS. Wrong.

What difference does that make?

Here's an analogy: Suppose somebody said that you can't understand the Laundry Files without a thorough background understanding of Cthulhu.

Obviously OGH has read about Cthulhu and it has affected him. It's possible that people who approached his work without knowing anything about Cthulhu would enjoy it just fine, but they could not understand it the same way someone who does have that background understands it.

But of course science has proven that Cthulhu does not exist. Cthulhu is not on the ocean bottom or among the distant stars, there is no such thing as Cthulhu in any sense, beyond the ravings of a lone madman. But so what?!

The ravings of this particular madman have infected a lot of people. Cthulhu has no existence of any sort, but the Cthulhu mythos has warped millions of minds and does exist in the form of that warpage. When you read stuff written by people who are infected with the Cthulhu mythos and you think they are trying to describe reality, the obvious conclusion is that they are raving madmen. But when you know about Cthulhu, then it is obvious that they are not raving madmen, they are perfectly normal people who have been infected by the Cthulhu mythos. You can understand them in context.

Similarly, judeochristian beliefs have infected hundreds of millions of people and affect them in various ways. For example, the idea that the world had a beginning and will proceed to an end predisposes astrophysicists to believe in a universe that had a beginning and proceeds toward some end. They naturally are predisposed to the idea of a Big Bang beginning. Hindu astrophysicists have the concept ready at hand of a universe in steady state, with fluctuations.

Hindus take naturally to the ideas of statistical mechanics, with every conceivable combination of events, and paths that thread through them in particular patterns, never joining or diverging.

It isn't about what's true, it's about what people find easy to imagine. Once your brain has been infected with a particular theology it will affect you whether you believe it or you rebel against believing in it. You are forever contaminated no matter how you try to escape.

200:

A "real life" version of Something We Could Never Ever Understand no matter how much we upped our scientific game. Namely, an entity from another part of the multiverse where physics is based on uncomputable numbers and its brain is a hypercomputer.
Although why it would want to hand around this particular computational desert only capable of running trivial programs one could only guess. Maybe it's mad, like some kind of Renfield who wants to be God Of The Ants.

201:

It's more that a lot of what underpins early modern philosophy, and even modern philosophy, has strong basis in theology. If you want to understand the philosophy you need to understand the theology. That's the theory, anyway. It's certainly true if you want to understand how philosophy developed historically.

202:

Having just finished listening to a BBC Radio adaptation of Lem's Solaris (I think you can listen to this outside of the UK, btw), I just want to drop that into the conversation as a possibly non-hostile representative of a beyond-human intelligence that nonetheless has profoundly horrible interactions with us.

203:

Taken to its ultimate conclusion, mutualism is pretty horrifying. The most thoroughly thought-out ecology in science fiction is probably David Gerrold’s Chtorr. Chtorran ecology is fully mutualistic – and, to human eyes, scary as Cthulhu. Everything eats everything – and everything needs to be eaten at some point, in order to maximize its reproductive success (and in many cases, in order to reproduce at all). Chtorran ecology is also very good at absorbing alien species into itself (yes, I know this stretches SOD). Humans and other Earth creatures who have become symbiotic with Chtorr certainly have better life expectancy and reproduction expectancy than humans who fight it head on, but they and their children can be eaten at any time. Not literally at any time – it’s not random, - but whenever Chtorr benefits more from them as food than as a symbiont. And human brains are incapable of foreseeing when the benefit ratio shifts in that way. Not that they care, having become part of Chtorr already.

204:

I too like history of science and technology, but also have a chemistry degree and related stuff. In my experience they don't teach the history of it all much at all, especially nowadays. Certainly, previous noteworthy experiments and important people get a mention, but you don't learn much about Gibbs except that he came up with this specific concept of energy. THat he was American and a 19th century scientist wasn't mentioned.
And that is alright when you are concentrating on the science, how the world works. THe system itself is set up to reward only narrow focused interests, partly as a matter of it being the quickest way to get expert, and partly because it's a hassle when your students or lecturers start asking why they are doing this science.

I do get the impression there isn't as much proper public discussion of the place of science in society and its uses. It has become just another specialist tool, with even more specialised people studying it and its place in society, but as for everyone else in society, they don't have much involvement or much to say. By contrast I've got a variety of widely available books from the 1040's and 1950's discussing science and its uses to society, what it is for and what it does that is of use to society, and the presumption is that the ordinary person can read up and become involved.

205:

I agree that 'fundamentalist Christians' are fundamentally not Christian - Leviticans, perhaps.

The term I prefer is "Paulianists". The god they really worship is Saint Paul.

206:

Mind you, I am now having to restrain myself from writing a short fanfic story: a visit from one of Iain M. Banks' Culture's ships, as seen by H. P. Lovecraft, would indeed be seen as a visit by Cthulhu or one of his kissing cousins.

Charlie, please stop restraining yourself!

207:

The term I prefer is "Paulianists". The god they really worship is Saint Paul.

I thought of making a similar comment. If Evangelical/fundies actually followed Leviticus they'd, at the very least, keep kosher, nevermind doing sacrifices and the rest. Paul had much more to do with what christianity became than Leviticus. Maybe more than Jebus?
But again going off-topic...

208:

Charlie needs to restrain himself so that he can finish writing stuff he's contracted for. And which pays better than short stories.

209:

That's why I am not happy about Leviticans, but the point is that they take words from that, and use them to override the Gospels. Yes, override. Paul never went anywhere near that far! Anyway, they are not Christians.

210:

My understanding is that Paul overrode Leviticus. But whatever; I'm no expert on these things, or particularly care about them. Just speaking as a Jew in a town with too much evangelical influence: that New Life Church mentioned in "The Apocalypse Codex" is a real place, though no gateways that I'm aware of.

211:

I think that you have misunderstood the basics of Christianity. The general principle is that the Gospels (i.e. words and actions attributed to Jesus) are paramount, followed by those of Paul etc., and both do reinterpret/override Leviticus. That's all conventional. What is not Christian is to override the teaching in the Gospels by selected instructions and statements in Leviticus. And those abominable cults do :-(

212:

And speaking of which, Hank got around to publishing my article for the IEET:
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/bruere20150715
"Transhumanism – The Final Religion?"

The best bit is a pic of me on it!...

213:

Suggest you read:

The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

A very good overview/summary of what is meant by morality ... including references to what we have learned via biology, psychology, neuro, sociology, anthropology, religion, etc. Has an interesting range of endorsers ... authors most visitors here are probably very familiar with (RICHARD DAWKINS, STEVEN PINKER, LAWARENCE M. KRAUSS, BILL NYE, JARED DIAMOND, CAROL TAVRIS, MICHIO KAKU)

How this fits with the topic thread ...
Understanding what morality might/might not be is as fundamental as understanding what sensorial apparatus an alien has. However, before we can understand the alien, we must first understand ourselves on these parameters. Also, what was unthinkable/ungraspable a century ago, is no longer unthinkable/ungraspable today ... plus 20th/21st century humans have learned to think/use abstractions or blissfully, consciously ignore them. As long as we can identify/zero in on an effect and make ever-better/precise guesses about an outcome, we'll get by.

214:

That puts your second-or-third-string cargo-cult CS degree about on par with my CS degree -- being part of the engineering department at a respectable but not historic school, under a program engineered by a couple of the people who were involved in smuggling the source code to MAD out of Michigan in the early 60s (making them notable footnote players in the drama that constitutes the prehistory of the structured programming movement). In other words, probably about the most meaningful degree a middle class american can get without a scholarship or genuinely crippling loans. I've seen the content of other CS programs, and I've been exposed to their classes occasionally -- typically very vocational, and have as optional senior-level classes what would be required sophomore-level classes at my school.

Nevertheless, I'm actually talking about yet another grade of formalism. I was at no point absolutely required to learn the lambda calculus or BNF; but, to really internalized just how fundamentally and unfixably fucked computing is, you need the background to understand that the Church-Turing Computability theorem is logically equivalent to Goedel's incompleteness theorem. That's something I had to learn from Hofstader. I think that if Lovecraft had lived a little longer he probably would have written a couple novellas about Goedel's incompleteness, because it's precisely the kind of thing that breaks the mind of his characters (just as it -- along with Cantor's cardinality conjectures -- broke Goedel's mind the way Cantor managed to break his own mind earlier).

This is the thing with Lovecraft, and the reason I think his ideas about people's reactions to having their minds blown by things from beyond the veil of sleep aren't in any way unrealistic: people very similar to Lovecraft's protagonists have, historically, driven themselves crazy by discovering things they couldn't handle. Presumably these people were predisposed to psychosis -- but, math degrees correlate well with family history of schizophrenia, and it's not like a predisposition to psychosis is unusual or even necessarily obvious/dangerous (by which I mean that there are many people managing to live functional lives despite psychosis, and managing to hide many of the symptoms; a category that Lovecraft himself may have fallen into, seeing as how he had both a family history of it and a bunch of essentially delusionally strong preoccupations). But it's not merely that a predisposition to psychosis caused these people to become mad at random. Instead, these people were intelligent and manic searchers after truth, with deep knowledge about the subjects forming their specialties -- typically among the most gifted in the world -- and after making very real but very unexpected breakthroughs they lost their bearings, having in some sense broken key parts of the intellectual framework and tradition they come from. Cantor and Goedel are easy examples here, but the list probably also includes Nash and Tesla -- all people who were categorized as "brilliant eccentrics" who birthed large numbers of incredible world-changing innovations, up until they developed the symptoms of full-blown paranoid schizophrenia (and only one of these people developed those symptoms during the typical time period).

(It's interesting that neither Turing nor Von Neumann were "broken" by Goedel's Incompleteness theorem. But, both were almost absurdly well-adjusted despite their respective situations. It takes a special kind of person to hear that mathematics is fundamentally broken, that the core project of mathematics for thousands of years has been shown to be impossible on its face, along with all the various theological and epistemological implications, intellectually understand and accept it, and then cheerfully go about rephrasing it in a way as to maximize comprehension for a different audience as Turing did; but, Turing was a special kind of guy. A lot of mathematicians at that time refused to accept the proof without being able to refute it, or had intellectual crises of the kind that physicists had a few decades earlier and again a few years later.)

It's important to note that while Lovecraftian protagonists go mad, there are always characters who are able to happily accept the situation. Lovecraft characterizes these people as mindless savages, which we can reinterpret less offensively as "laymen" -- they lack the framework that these revelations break, and so they are not particularly shocked. Someone who never learned algebra would not be shocked by Goedel's Incompleteness; it takes a mathematician to be driven mad by it. Lovecraft's mischaracterization lies not in believing that well-educated specialists could be driven mad by things that break their reality entirely, but instead in assuming that the man on the street is secretly a gentleman-scientist with a deep enough knowledge of biology and chemistry to be shocked by any of this.

215:

Here's a few issues I see with the cosmic horror story, that make it slightly amazing that geeks like this trope so much.

The thing is, we are talking about the Cthuulhu mythos. Not the Space is vast an uncaring mythos. We more us readers than HP and Co. themselves, possibly, need our uncaring vast impersonal space to have a face. With tentacles and six eyes, but still. So we, with all our geekery here and atheism there want a panthenon. In universe, it may be that the elder gods are only gods in the eyes of their demented cultists, but the question remains why we insist of having faces, subjects to embody the vastness and uncaringness andrandomness of the universe.

And similiar stories have been told without gods. Lem's Solaris was mentioned. Another mention would be Lem' Fiasco: Two top astronauts in their huge as mecha are swallowed by carbon dioxide ice in the first chapter. When the humans meet their alines, they behave like greek gods: Selfish, powerful, unable to comprehend the alines at their mercy.
Another example would be the Strugatskys Roadside Picnic. The alines have visited and left an inscrutable mess, a few trinkets, and zones full of rutal randomness. Beyond the fact that it happened, nothing significant can be learned from the visit.

These are not cosmic horror stories, I think. They share some tropes. They talk about not understanding aliens, and about behaving like monsters towards the Other out o lack of comprehension and interest. But they are ultimately ahteist stories.

Because that's the thing - the classical cosmic horror story seems deeply christian to me, despite the absence of god and angels a sane person would pray to. But the trope Things Man Was Not Meant To Know* smacks of old testament, and of the whole god is unknowable schtick. Come at the vast cosmos Charlie described a few posts back from a materialist standpoint and it's potentially joyful.

There's angles on complexity, emergent structures, personification of same here that I won't go at now.

No reason not to enjoy the mythos, but ask yourselves why you want stories whre the clouds do have faces.

* I think this trope is absent from the LF, btw. Mad From The Revelation is either direct magic or PTSD.

216:

Here I go, write about why mad from the revelation is a christian Schtick and you come along and provide a well reasoned otehr way of thinking about it. Gotta chew on this, but I think there's more to beeing 'breakable' in mind and spirit than smarts and shizophrenia. Expectations matter.

217:

FIne. Like you say that's conventional, it seems many christians don't understand their own religion either.
But as I said, I'm not a christian, and I don't care enough to argue about it (though, yeah, it looks like I am), and this is off-topic.
I'll stick with what Rabbi Hillel reputedly said, while standing on one foot: "What you find hateful, do not do to your neighbor. That is the essence of the Torah, the rest is commentary". If christians followed that...

218:

How much cosmic horror would there be if it could be shown that we live in a simulation of a Cthulhu-like entity (or more precisely, in a Sim in its head). It is indifferent at best and maliciously hostile to its imaginary playthings at worst - and we are absolutely never ever going to get out. Plus, death is no refuge.
How would you feel?

219:

How would I know?
Seriously, if the world continues to behave as it has so far I have a) no reason to believe in the simulation and b) no reason to believe that anything fundamentally meaner than life as we know it will happen to me.

If I see lots of things that I can't reconcile with what I know (believe?) about how the world works I might start to by into a form of the simulation argument. And then ... it would be an ultimately religious situation. Maybe I'd do the whole religios thing (praying and trembling with fear, hoping that I and my loved ones are spared from whatever big C has in mind for us) or the other religios thing (meditate and try to achieve astate of enlightenment or at least low noise). But ultimately I don't know. What would you do?

220:

"What would you do?"

There is nothing to do, except maybe go mad as the only escape route. Or turn Buddhist.

221:

I've long thought that the Necronomicon was the Bible, stripped of the Gospels but with Genesis, Leviticus, and Revelations turned up to 11.

222:

Given that the whole religos thing is basically madness with a dash of pascals wager, we practically agree. Stranger things have happened.

223:

I'm a chemist by training, which in practice means that I've done a lot of quantum mechanical calculations. It's long been understood that the calculations work to give the correct predictions, but that the human brain simply isn't equipped to really understand what's going on.

For example, people who should know these things tell me that if a spin 1/2 particle is subjected to a full 360 degree rotation, it becomes a spin -1/2 particle. Another full rotation will restore the particle's original spin. The human mind can do the math to prove this conclusion, but understanding it on a concrete level is impossible. Our minds never evolved the capability to understand quantum mechanics except through math, and trying only leads people to wild, Deepak Chopra level misunderstandings.

224:

Yes. There is a very similar quote in Mark, incidentally.

225:

Actually, you're wrong that it's mathematicians who have their head messed up by Goedel - laymen (including most CS graduates) have it worse. You may think of it in the form that there are truths that cannot be proved, or even that we cannot know whether something can be proved or not, but it gets worse. There are things that can be either/both true and false, though not simultaneously - and that really blows people's minds.

226:

BTW, if hypercomputation is ever shown to be feasible we are all fucked.

227:

It is unclear to me whether hypercomputation has any meaning beyond its first four letters. What do YOU mean by it?

229:

BUGGER!
Got Annihilation Score & a n other book.
They had no "St Mary's" books on their site at all - & this is London "Forbidden Planet".
I may be reduced to ordering ...

230:

Yes, but ... we know better now.
Experimental Physics (etc) & observation & experiment & theory all 3-way interacting have short-circuited a lot of the medieval & earlier hand-waving.

231:

Anyway, they are not Christians.
Or "true Scotsmen" either ...
I call cobblers.

232:

I guess it was a bit a opaque! But it was more facetious than funny. And then veered off into the surreal. I'd be tempted to add the punchline, "Producer one turns to producer two and says 'I told you we shouldn't have let Max Tegmark write an episode of Sesame Street.'"

Anyway, I read you as saying mathematics is running the simulation. That's a variation on the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis. And if Cthulhu is a theorem then I can't see how he can be fought; the problem is the same as removing a number from the number-line.

Believing the universe is a simulation doesn't force you to be a realist about universals. It doesn't even make you less of a realist because, say, data in a computer is still real electrons; it's just that reality is not how experience it. But then quantum mechanics broke that link.

233:

Yes. There is a very similar quote in Mark, incidentally.

*Not at all surprising. It's very likely the gospel writers were familiar with Hillel, he was alive at the time Jebus was supposedly born, some even say Hillel may have been one of his teachers, though that seems doubtful.
I'm always amused, or irritated, when I hear christians say how miraculous it is that J. fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah, ignoring that he would have been completely aware of the book and modeled his supposed actions after it, or that the gospel writers would have read it and written theirs accordingly. Also, they ignore, or are ignorant that Isaiah wasn't prophesying in the sense of foretelling the future, but speaking metaphorically of his own time (e.g. the 'Suffering Servant' = the Jewish people, not some individual yet to be born).


*since it seems to be becoming somewhat on-topic, I'll respond one last time. I should be doing other things now.

234:

Post #52 Premise: Essentially, Cthulhu is Kant, Einstein, Schrödinger.

Post #214 This is the thing with Lovecraft, and the reason I think his ideas about people's reactions to having their minds blown by things from beyond the veil of sleep aren't in any way unrealistic: people very similar to Lovecraft's protagonists have, historically, driven themselves crazy by discovering things they couldn't handle.


Mentioning Nash or Godel etc would have been too easy. But thanks for showing the work. Only took 150 posts.

We're also not allowed to mention Paradoxes. Ho-hum. Used by philosophers to get a student to think a bit more (and Koans as well!), weaponized into something really nasty. Fundamentals of PSYOPs / MK-ULTRA stuff / torture.


@Dirk:

Contrary to the claims of many conspiracy theorists Transhumanists are generally not very interested in eugenics or genetically engineering Homo Sapiens. This is not because of any ethical considerations but on pragmatic grounds – it is too slow.

Which is probably why you're safe. Nice little piece though, I wondered why IEET was triggering nose wiggles three weeks ago.

And no, not that Russian. I'm talking about that specific cult of mind that unless you're playing really dumb, you must have come across in your travels. They like chess. And nudity. And IQ. And batshit insane levels of racism.

We'll pretend you're all innocent like though.


There are things that can be either/both true and false, though not simultaneously - and that really blows people's minds.

Part of the benefit of doing philosophy is that you can entertain paradoxes without your mind breaking. It's hard-coded into the praxis of the discipline - from the first lines of Heraclitus to piles of sand and later to Categories or Abysses. (It also, to some extent grants immunity to various other things. And that's a hint).

Humans and other Earth creatures who have become symbiotic with Chtorr certainly have better life expectancy and reproduction expectancy than humans who fight it head on, but they and their children can be eaten at any time. Not literally at any time – it’s not random, - but whenever Chtorr benefits more from them as food than as a symbiont. And human brains are incapable of foreseeing when the benefit ratio shifts in that way. Not that they care, having become part of Chtorr already.

Much love here.

I'd call the singularity the opposite of what I'm 'for', which is why Dirk is safe and our kind are not. Becoming plant or bird or mammal across the Juggler's Sea: much better than the egotistical nonsense of singularity (note: the real AI issue - perfect communication leads to loss of identity or in the worst case, Ego battles until all is one. I might have even written that formally somewhere else, it's certainly the issue with the early Abrahamic G_D).


Your last - are you screwing us around, or do you really have an incurable fatal condition?

Not at all. My fatal condition is pretty much set in stone now: call it a wyrd. Many would call it pride, others hope, others still something else.

The Prodigal Son [Youtube: film: 2:36]

It's about consent, offering sentient minds as payment and other things. The rest is all just weaponry, bullshit and conceptual mistranslation.

Suffice to say, I don't agree with slavery. Perhaps to a point where pride took over.

Then again, it's the old Sodom and Gomorrah issue. "Find me a single one who helped with selflessness, and I shall spare them..."

p.s.


The only test was humor. Laughter in the face of death / chaos / disorder and so on, without irony but with joy and love and hope that whatever they are they have fun...

Well.

QED.

235:

Ah. So it is just a recently-invented buzzword for extended models. I invented a couple of those models in the 1970s; one is obvious, and I am amused to see that (a near equivalent to) the other was invented a decade earlier! The story of my life :-)

236:

" if non computable inputs are permitted then non computable outputs are attainable."

This may be subtly different from GIGO.

I'm honestly not sure.

237:
Yes, but ... we know better now. Experimental Physics (etc) & observation & experiment & theory all 3-way interacting have short-circuited a lot of the medieval & earlier hand-waving

I don't fundamentally disagree, but the point you were originally responding to was in regards to the role of theology in the historical development of philosophy and not its current status. And I think you under-estimate the amount of intellectual rigour you find in theology, which was a thriving discipline well into the Enlightenment. I suspect you're only thinking of theology in terms of its efforts to prove the existence of God, but there's substantially more to it than that.

238:

Grrr
Can you not answer a simpke, straight question, with a simple, straight answer?

Oh, & don't start going on about paradoxes & wrecking minds ...
AFAIK all of these can be or have been, if not "solved" at least understood or recategorised by using a different reference frame.
Famous example is the realisation that some problems/propositions are not decidable ( at lest with the information given )
It's like the simple religious idiot saying that surely you can wind back to the original state, when thermodynamics say: "no"
Or even the answer to:" What was the original state of a "gam-of-life" blinker - you cannot, ever know - but it's nt important.

239:

I'm only too well aware of the huge amount of totally wasted & futile effort & intellectual rigour emptied into theology over the years - a bit like Alchemy, actually, only even more so, by several orders of magnitude.
And, again, we know better.

How long it will be before theology is regarded in the same light as alchemy is a n other question, especially since there is more than one sort of theology, because the supposedly-relevant but actually non-existing BSF has different names & properties, & is grovelled to by entirely separate ^& warring groups of religious nutters.
[ Like da'esh, for instance. ]

240:

Neither wasted nor futile, considering the concepts they developed were found to be useful to 'secular' philosophers.

241:

I don't think hypercomputation is possible in this universe. I could be wrong esp if spacetime turns out to be continuous and not discrete. We might also hit the buffers if we try and stack up zillions of qubits - suddenly the QC stops workings when theory says it should.

242:

Meanwhile, I invented quantum suicide in the 1980s in a short SF story I wrote but never sent for publication. In the end I decided that I did not want a career "telling lies for money". At least, not such simple lies.

243:

"Nice little piece though, I wondered why IEET was triggering nose wiggles three weeks ago."

I tend to piss off The Usual Suspects when I promote H+ as theology.
As for those people you mention, our Principles generally exclude them, but we obviously maintain contacts since whether you like it or not, they make stuff happen (usually bad...).
That's one of my roles in ZS and the party - I do and say stuff that is deniable by the larger org.
You should check out "State of Zero State 2014" if you haven't seen it already. I have a similar piece being written and implemented for this year, along with Amon. Big changes afoot.

244:

"What you find hateful, do not do to your neighbor. That is the essence of the Torah, the rest is commentary". If Christians followed that...
...and Jews and Muslims, since all 3 religions are actually based on the same texts?

245:

You could always try ignoring CD. If I don't have time to try and deconstruct a wall of text into coherent statements, that's what I do.

247:

Right :-) In my case, I couldn't prove anything very interesting about those models, so I moved on. Actually, the second of my models had actually been in widespread use since before 'computer science' and still is, though few people realise it - which is why I thought of it! It's just extending Turing machines by a random number generator, and allowing them to produce a sequence of bits that converge to the right answer with probability one (i.e. not terminate). So it is a form of 'hypercomputing' that is practically realisable, but it is a very small extension and doesn't introduce any of the singularity issues.

248:

No, it's not. What it means is that, if you allow an extended value domain as input, you can get one as output. Bloody obvious.

249:

Christians have least excuse, because such a commandment is in their canonical texts (Mark 12:31), and Luke 10:25-37 makes it clear that all people are included in that, but I agree that the Decalog (which IS in common) is pretty down on killing and theft. I was brought up as a (high) Anglican, incidentally. Anyway, please let's drop this one, for obvious reasons.

250:

We might also hit the buffers if we try and stack up zillions of qubits - suddenly the QC stops workings when theory says it should.

That's an interesting idea there. What happens if we can make our universe itself throw a buffer overflow error?

Fascinating physics hacks for us if we're very lucky. (A few SF authors have used this.) Someone calls YHVH's tech support desk to reboot reality if we're not...

251:

Fascinating physics hacks for us if we're very lucky. (A few SF authors have used this.) Someone calls YHVH's tech support desk to reboot reality if we're not...

This is one of a class of what you might reasonably call existential anthropic threats.

Existential because if we run into one of them we don't get a second chance. Anthropic because, well, they'd be a drastic disproof of the weak anthropic principle (except there'd be nobody left to collect the wager if it happened).

See also: Bruce Sterling's eschatalogical taxonomy. (This is a high X-class on the Sterling scale, or possibly even a Z-class (per the fascinating expansion on TVTropes).

252:

Hey, do you know this one?

Two H+ wander into a bar...

253:

Probably more like Loosely Inspired by the same text.
Anyhow, see Charlie's comment @83, he uses a different version of the Hillel quote, but his bit on it is likely why it came to mind.
Seriously; done with this now, it's too early here.

254:

No, it's not. What it means is that, if you allow an extended value domain as input, you can get one as output. Bloody obvious.

Sure, but it isn't obvious yet when you can effectively do that.

If your inputs are a finite collection of numbers each with a fixed number of bits, you can't always guarantee that there's a way to manipulate them to get some desired results. If you relax that constraint it might be different, but can you really relax that constraint?

Analog computing had the virtue that it was simple. You could for example calculate an integral simply by measuring the average voltage across a wire. But it had the problem that at every step you added more noise, so after a small number of steps your signal was mostly noise.

Digital computing palliated that. It didn't add noise, the error only increased from the error in the last digits. The original input error would dominate until after (usually) a lot of calculations the computational error led the way.

If you can do analog computing without adding any noise, how much will that help? You still have your initial errors, and they may interact in strange ways. If the time comes when you have an answer to as many digits as you can measure it, and you are completely certain of every other digit and completely uncertain about the rest, what good is it?

For all I know, it may boil down to GIGO.

But of course my ignorance is not a definitive statement about how the universe works.

255:

There are hundreds if not thousands of different Christian sects; which sect are you referring to?

256:

Goedel had his head done in by Goedel, and I don't think we can argue that he wasn't brilliant. He had his head done in by his own work in part because of his deep and abiding belief that mathematics is discovered rather than invented -- that he is merely describing platonic forms that exist somewhere outside space and time, rather than playing games with a rigorously internally consistent language that happens to have some very useful side-effects when applied to our universe. If someone believes deeply that the world of mathematics is at least as real as our universe if not moreso, and has dedicated their life to the goal of 'solving' it by describing it completely, discovering that is can't be complete without being internally contradictory is truly mind-blowing. Keep in mind that this particular goal wasn't just Goedel's -- it was a fine tradition among the most brilliant mathematicians for centuries already.

(Also, Cantor had his head done in by Cantor, and then Goedel had his head done in by Cantor.)

We can't forget that these brilliant mathematicians were deeply religious men and saw mathematics through a religious gloss. (Someone mentioned the idea that going mad from knowledge was a Christian thing; I was under the impression that it was a Jewish thing, insomuch as gematria when performed incorrectly is explicitly associated with madness, alongside the stories of hysterical blindness caused by meditating on Ein Sof. At the very least, it's something that is part of the Abrahamic tradition, but it's not as though it doesn't occur in Hellenism -- Oedipus goes mad, not to mention the cannibalistic orgies of the Pan-worshippers -- or, indeed, in Sumerian traditions.) Cantor worked on infinity for religious reasons; Goedel saw mathematics as in some sense a religious enterprise. Maybe Lovecraft's ideas about this were a bit flawed, insomuch as his heroes driven to madness are atheistic while his cultists are explicitly religious. But, when madness, mathematics, and religion mix, it's hard to determine which is contributing the most to this crazy mutual feedback loop.

257:

I am pretty sure that you have misunderstood, but it's not easy to explain without getting fairly mathematical. I can't find that quote in either of the references given, so Wikipedia may have misrepresented Martin Davis.

258:

Right. I understand just enough of the consequences of that area to know that, if I try to extend what I know of computability theory to non-measurable values (in the Borel sense) or continuous time, I run a serious risk of contracting Krantzberg syndrome :-)

259:

It somewhat seems to me as if you are reading me as endorsing Platonism. I'm actually not a Platonist or Cartesian or Kantian or anything of the sort; my big influence in classical philosophy is Aristotle, with a dash of Spinoza and Reid. Just to make sure we're not misunderstanding each other.

260:

I am pretty sure that you have misunderstood, but it's not easy to explain without getting fairly mathematical.

I don't claim this is what they are saying, this is an analogy that makes sense to me. It could easily be wrong. If you have a better analogy I'd certainly be interested.

261:

Like re-setting/strating the Well World parameters ( & hence the Universe ) in Jack Chalker's series?

262:

There's been a surprising amount of intellectual rigor in the statistical analysis of optimum character builds in World of Warcraft. No matter the rigor, GIGO.

263:

Just because you can build a computer in the universe, doesn't mean the universe itself is in a computer.

That's just anthropomorphism again. In the past people attributed human-like personality to forces of nature, nowadays that's out of vogue, so instead we compare everything to our most advanced technologies...

264:

Yeah, I think this is what I meant with expextations matter. Driven Mad By The Revelation (DMBTR) is not so much a question of the revelation, but of the mind doing the revealing. To save DMBTR, Dirk brought god back into the equation.

So, challenge to everyone: We leave aside ideas that bring gods, or angels or their equivalents (simulation argument, Rokkos Basilisk) into play. What would be a maddening revelation?

I'm betting a beer or alternative* that every relvelation will be, on closer examination not DMBTR but more traumatised by trauma.

* Let's not worry about logistics now.

265:

Well, it depends on whether you consider PTSD to fit the definition of Driven Mad. In fact, it might be good to define that term more, so that there are fewer disputes over whether anyone can win this bet or not.

If you do, then I'd recommend reading the following article:

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a36228/ballad-of-the-sad-climatologists-0815/

They talk about "Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder" as an increasing problem of climate scientists and activists, both from the opposition they face in the US, the increasingly accurate predictions, the woeful inability for people to process true predictions, and the demands of their families and friends that they act normal when not at work. As with military officers like drone operators, the disconnect between dealing with life and death issues and normal life in rapid succession is extremely stressful for many people, and it's worse when all their hard work seems to be accomplishing nothing, because most people would rather deny a solvable problem than deal with it.

266:

I liked the IEE piece. Seems honest, in a way.
But: All of us will die. Obsesing about workarounds and sky fairies and fridges and whatnot seems pointless and stupid to me. Not that I have an answer beyond let's live and make the most of it for each other. That's enough.

267:

Yes I was thinking about how to separate trauma and DBMTR. I would argue that trauma is about lived experience - disconnect, lack of agency and so on.

Let's loot at DMBTR:


The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

(Call of Cthulhu courtesy of tvtropes)
This sounds like pretty abstract revelations to me. Ohno's example with Gödel sounds also pretty abstract. This is what I mean with revelation, but I'm not sure I pinned it down enough for proper bet.

268:

So, challenge to everyone: We leave aside ideas that bring gods, or angels or their equivalents (simulation argument, Rokkos Basilisk) into play. What would be a maddening revelation?

It depends entirely on what sort of things drive you mad.

Like, I approve of democracy. For various reasons I think it's generally the least bad form of government. We have a few troubling results in election theory -- there are various things you'd like an election to do, and when there are more than two candidates there's no way to do them all at the same time. OK, I can live with that.

But what if someone found a proof that under some reasonable assumptions (which look true in reality) it turns out that dictatorships represent their citizens better on average than democracies, and also the worst cases are not as bad? I would hesitate to believe that. I'd want to look it over carefully for a long time in case there are hidden flaws.

But if it checked out, I wouldn't go mad. I for one would welcome our new dictatorial overlord, and only if something about him looked mathematically likely to be significantly worse than average would I try to overthrow him in favor of somebody better.

I prefer an economic system with a lot of freedom in it, where free enterprise works and you pay for your externalities, and the reward for success in a free market is not that you get to make it less free. But what if there was a mathematical proof that mixed economies cannot do as well as totally free markets, which in turn do worse than fully communist arrangements, and the best system of all involves a relatively simple computer program which has access to all of Google's knowledge base, and every seller does what it says with no freedom at all.

Would I go mad? No, I would say "Who'da thunk it?" and would welcome our new relatively simple computer program overlord.

I like science. Suppose that physicsists proved that all probabilities are affected by human desire, and the laws of physics as shown by experiment have come out consistent because the physicists who did the experiments wanted them that way. That every scientific experiment ever done was contaminated to an unknown degree by the desires of the experimenters etc.

Would I go mad? No, I would accept that we need some modifications to scientific method and we basicly need to start over. And that's OK.

It's all about what you care about. The things you insist must be true, that you'd go mad if they weren't true. And then it turns out they are in fact not true.

I can't think of anything like that. Maybe evolution theory? Say it turned out that we got evolution theory all wrong and really it works some other way? But no, the details are very different for different species, and I wouldn't be bothered by some big difference in detail. It would have to be something basic, like disproving Fisher's Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection. And they can't disprove that one -- it's true. If somehow they did, it would be very interesting.

269:

Mr. Stross,

Have you ever considered writing a Laundry novel ala John Le Carre? "Smiley's People", "Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy" only with dark magic.

The Laundry's equivalent of Smiley could match wits with his evil Karla counterpart in a rival satanic magical spy agency.

Could be pretty cool.

270:

Have you ever considered writing a Laundry novel ala John Le Carre?

Gosh, that idea never occurred to me.

(And you haven't read the afterword to "The Atrocity Archives", have you?)

271:

I'm a fan of Carse's Finite and Infinite Games. If you regard life as an infinite game, then the point of playing that game (e.g. living) isn't to win, because the only way you win is if you have a high score when the game is over. And since you'll be dead when the game's over, you'll never get to celebrate, so what's the point? Instead, the best reason to play the infinite game is to keep the game going with as many players (human and otherwise) as possible, even though all will die in their own time. I can live with that.

272:

SS> Fascinating physics hacks for us if we're very lucky. (A few SF authors have used this.) Someone calls YHVH's tech support desk to reboot reality if we're not...

CS> This is one of a class of what you might reasonably call existential anthropic threats.

Existential because if we run into one of them we don't get a second chance. Anthropic because, well, they'd be a drastic disproof of the weak anthropic principle (except there'd be nobody left to collect the wager if it happened).

Yeah, that. Another of the discomforting points is that if the overflow bug existed we'd have no way to see it coming. The first sign of trouble might be the universe itself crashing, which isn't really something that can be observed from inside. We're in no position to care who or what has to deal with the blue screen afterward.

I used Windows 98; I don't want to live in it. And in writing this I've discovered there are two different spoof shorts titled "Matrix XP," both on youtube...

273:

Hell, who's to say that the universe hasn't already crashed any number of times already? As long as they get the simulation up and running again from a backup, there's no way we would be able to tell. That doesn't mean that crashing it is a good idea, of course. We might lose however much time it's been since they last saved, which could easily include the entire history of humanity. Assuming that they save the simulation once per hour, and that the simulation has been running for, say, 10-15 years, there have been between 87600 and 131400 saves. Dividing 13.7 billion years by those numbers should get the number of years since it was saved, which ranges from about 156,000 to 104,000 years. Anatomically modern humans were around then, but not behaviorally modern humans. If we assume they save once every two hours, anatomically modern humans aren't around. If they save every fifteen minutes, we still lose all of civilization.

tl;dr: don't try and crash the universe. Although if you needed me to remind you, you may want to seriously reevaluate your beliefs.

275:

Granted, but that was in response to the claim that theology was 'handwavery'. Theology also had a lot more insight to provide to philosophers than WoW character-optimisation, given that a lot of theological logic holds when you cross out 'god' and replace it with 'the immutable laws of reality'.

276:

Fair enough, if the theologians have a realistic view of what the "immutable laws of reality" are. I suspect they don't, because people who describe themselves as theologians are not likely to understand the universe's utter indifference to us.

277:

What would be a maddening revelation?

That depends on how you define sanity, which depends on what sorts of motivations and behaviors you expect people to have. If a person just doesn't care about anything, then any course of action is as good as any other and the concept of "madness" loses all meaning.

As a practical example, people who get a simplistic view of evolution (but not necessarily a factually wrong view) often realize that other people and other societies are competitors for the same ecological niche that they themselves want, and favor exterminationist policies toward their competitors. This can make sense, in a way. I'm a white guy in America; it worked for us. Is it madness? Evil? Just apes being apes?

If they get wise to the value of PR and start hypocritically accusing their foes with all sorts of blood libels to justify their own crimes, have they gotten madder or saner? If believing their own press makes them more effective, what then?

278:

I call cobblers, via the Total Perspective Vortex & Zaphod's (Beeblebrox) reaction to it.

279:

"But: All of us will die."

Remains to be seen.

280:

"What would be a maddening revelation?"

That there is no resolution to anything and no way out.

281:

REALLY?

Sure about that?
Though, of course I think it was Aquinas who said that if the bible & scripture say one thing & observed reality says something else, then scripture is wrong - probably because we've misunderstood/mistranslated something.
Curiously enough, most fuckwits believers, of any "faith" are very reluctant to admit to that one.

282:

That's because for "believers" religion is about culture and not theology

283:

For what value of "a dictatorship"?

For example, most "term representative parliamentary democracies" (Include Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the US Congress here) are actually "term elective dictatorships" already, in that a party holding an overall majority in the chamber(s) can do whatever it wishes subject to the note that certain actions will almost certainly cause it to lose the next election.

Similarly, most people would I think regard a true "enlightened despot" (ED) as a Good Thing, but a bat guano crazy (BGC) as a Bad Thing. The issue is that there is no mechanism to guarantee that an ED will not be succeeded by a BGC or at least an incompetent.

284:


Hey, do you know this one?

Two H+ wander into a bar...

says one: "Now we only have to wait for an O--, then we can have a drink!"

285:

Related piece by Paul Mason in the Graun today

“This is no longer simply my survival mechanism, my bolt hole from the neoliberal world; this is a new way of living in the process of formation.”...

The transition will involve the state, the market and collaborative production beyond the market. But to make it happen, the entire project of the left, from protest groups to the mainstream social democratic and liberal parties, will have to be reconfigured. In fact, once people understand the logic of the postcapitalist transition, such ideas will no longer be the property of the left – but of a much wider movement, for which we will need new labels...

Once you understand the transition in this way, the need is not for a supercomputed Five Year Plan – but a project, the aim of which should be to expand those technologies, business models and behaviours that dissolve market forces, socialise knowledge, eradicate the need for work and push the economy towards abundance. I call it Project Zero – because its aims are a zero-carbon-energy system; the production of machines, products and services with zero marginal costs; and the reduction of necessary work time as close as possible to zero...

We need more than just a bunch of utopian dreams and small-scale horizontal projects. We need a project based on reason, evidence and testable designs, that cuts with the grain of history and is sustainable by the planet. And we need to get on with it.

And so on.

If you've noticed anything as a trend in the last five years, it's precisely that there's a Cold War arms race over super-computers, but there we go. China are (allegedly) winning at this point, but that's on the old tech standards.

286:

I would say it is related indirectly to the zillions being pumped into AI and the Human Brain simulation projects. For the first time, we now have computers that approximate many estimates of the computational power of our brains.

287:

For what value of "a dictatorship"?

For purposes of this discussion, a sort of dictatorship that you or I would consider very very bad.

Americans are taught from childhood that dictators are bad. Places where Democrats control the schools, the kids are taught that democracy is good and everything else is bad. Places where Republicans control the schools, the children are taught that the USA is not a democracy and shouldn't be, because you can't have democracy without mob rule where minorities have no power, but instead the USA is a republic. Republics are any place that has no king.

So "dictators are bad" is all that we agree on.

[.... ] Similarly, most people would I think regard a true "enlightened despot" (ED) as a Good Thing, but a bat guano crazy (BGC) as a Bad Thing. The issue is that there is no mechanism to guarantee that an ED will not be succeeded by a BGC or at least an incompetent.

I do not have a mathematical proof that dictators are better on average, but I think if there was such a thing it might include a proof that someone who can organize a successful coup against a standing dictator can't be all that incompetent, and if he is he can't rule for long.

I find it plausible that there cannot be such a proof, that it is in fact wrong. But when I look for something that would shake the beliefs I was taught from childhood, this is one of the things that came up.

288:

Americans are taught from childhood that dictators are bad. Places where Democrats control the schools, the kids are taught that democracy is good and everything else is bad. Places where Republicans control the schools, the children are taught that the USA is not a democracy and shouldn't be, because you can't have democracy without mob rule where minorities have no power, but instead the USA is a republic. Republics are any place that has no king.
WHich needs breaking down further:-
1) Your Democrats are wrong because "democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others". I always took that as meaning that democracy is the least bad form of government rather than an actually good one.
2) Your Republicans are also wrong. A "republic" is simply any nation who's head of state is not a monarch. A "king" is only one form of absolute hereditary monarch: Others include "emperor", "prince", "archduke" and "despot". A "democracy" is any nation which uses a citizens' plebiscite to appoint its legislature. So "republic" and "democracy" describe different aspects of a nation.

I do not have a mathematical proof that dictators are better on average, but I think if there was such a thing it might include a proof that someone who can organize a successful coup against a standing dictator can't be all that incompetent, and if he is he can't rule for long

That's probably correct, except that it appears that it's easier to organise a coup than to prevent one being organised against you.

289:

The key seems to be that it needs to be simultaneously abstract and personal. In other words, it invalidates one's sense of identity and place in the universe.

Lovecraft's protagonists start off with a very clear view about history and biology along with a sense of their place in a hierarchy of civilization and their personal heritage. Whichever is the most deeply-held conviction is the one Lovecraft attacks. The True Facts Concerning the Family of Sir Arthur Jeremyan (title may be incorrect; typing from memory) has as its protagonist a sole heir to an aristocratic line who becomes obsessed with his heritage, then sets himself on fire when he discovers his grandmother was a gorilla. More abstractly, our maddened protagonist is Call of Cthulhu is an archaeologist, and our maddened protagonist in The Mountains of Madness is a biologist. All wealthy, educated white men with very nineteenth-century-imperial views about the innate superiority of educated white men.

Again, Goedel and Cantor both subscribed to the idea that mathematics was physically real. For Goedel, incompleteness was tantamount to saying that the universe was broken and God was trolling him.

The distinction between a maddening realization and a memebomb is how tightly one holds onto the memeplex. (You could make the argument that anyone who holds on so tightly to a falsifiable idea does so out of some psychological flaw, and that basing your identity around something like that is a less extreme form of the classic-psychotic symptom of basing your identity around the idea that you're Jesus. In that case, you bind predisposition to psychosis -- and potentially family history -- tightly to the immediate circumstances surrounding the psychotic break. However, while that idea is a nice simplification and I see no counterexample, I'm not convinced that it's strictly true, and we don't need it anyway.) Basically, something disrupts an idea that you've staked your identity around, and you either produce a reaction formation and double down to assuage your cognitive dissonance or your identity breaks.

290:

1) Your Democrats are wrong because "democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others". 1) Your Democrats are wrong because "democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others".

Somebody important came up with that quip, I think it was Winston Churchill. Americans quote it a lot but they don't fetishize it in the schools.

A "democracy" is any nation which uses a citizens' plebiscite to appoint its legislature. So "republic" and "democracy" describe different aspects of a nation.

I have to admit I got some of these generalizations by watching what people said on the internet. If I had been educated in an area controlled by Republicans I would know how they did it in my own classroom, but I'm not sure how standardized it is.

What I've heard from Republicans on the internet is kind of confused, it sounds like they say it isn't really democracy unless it's direct democracy and not representative democracy. Further, it sounds like they say it isn't really democracy unless it's majority rule -- the majority can do whatever they want with no check on their power of any sort. This is what I think they mean, but the claims were confusing and I may have misunderstood.

When they say the USA is not a democracy they don't mean there is no voting for a legislature, but something else.

"... someone who can organize a successful coup against a standing dictator can't be all that incompetent, and if he is he can't rule for long"

That's probably correct, except that it appears that it's easier to organise a coup than to prevent one being organised against you.

I've never done it for real, so IANAE. Say there are ten military leaders you need to convince to support you or at least not oppose you. They will tend to be noncommittal at first, if they don't immediately turn you in to the dictator. Why should they choose you over him? Why shouldn't one of them be the dictator? They risk a lot to support you. They risk pretty much just to listen to you and not immediately turn you in. They can say they were leading you on to find out more, but that only goes so far. What benefit can you offer them to justify that risk?

Well, you can go to the second-in-command in each group and get him on your side, and if it works he gets an instant promotion. But if one of them likes his boss, that can fail.

You can go to one of the guys who's jostling for third place. He has more to gain, but it's harder for him to control things too. Maybe he can lock up or kill all his competitors, but only at the right time. Get ten guys who can only take over at their own right time, and you have a mess.

It happens, but it doesn't happen all that often. Saddam ruled Iraq for a long time after he took over. Franco, etc. It seems like dictators get coups most easily when the USA wants them to. Torrijos was too hardnosed bargaining with the USA about the Panama canal, so Noriega got the nod to take over. Then when Noriega got too obstreperous they couldn't find anybody to stage a coup against him, and it took the US military to get rid of him.

Similarly, they looked for somebody to stage a coup in Venezuela and it didn't really work.

When you figure it's easy, maybe that's because we tend to just count the hits. We know about a lot of successful coups, but maybe a lot of failures don't get much attention.

291:

We're good about it being the Republicans who don't understand politics; you're far from the first person I've met that quote about the USA from.

I'm not just considering successful coups; I'm considering all cases I know of where (part of) the military has risen against the executive and/or legislature.

292:

someone who can organize a successful coup against a standing dictator can't be all that incompetent

One of the main troubles is that dictators tend to lose competence with time. It's hard to get accurate news when everyone is afraid to upset you.

293:

Basically, something disrupts an idea that you've staked your identity around, and you either produce a reaction formation and double down to assuage your cognitive dissonance or your identity breaks.

Trying that out personally, I've been reading science fiction since I was 10 years old. Why would I stake my identity around some particular idea?

In undergraduate math we got taught that you can prove something by starting from axioms and proceeding to the conclusion, in simple steps that anybody could follow. Or show that if the conclusion is false then an axiom has to be false.

Or you can disprove something by finding an example where it's false. Or show that if the conclusion is true then an axiom has to be false.

And sometimes you can't do either one. That's OK, math is a fun game, and it's better than doing crossword puzzles.

Over time, mathematicians learned defenses against going mad upon learning that their systems of axioms are incomplete, and taught them.

294:

There's an outdated take on Neo-Reaction (the Mencius Moldbugs of the world) at http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/10/20/the-anti-reactionary-faq/. It contains a fair amount of data on the effects of being ruled by autocrats.

As for the whole dictatorship thing, I think Scott's Seeing Like A State defined where the problems start fairly well. It's not just someone trying to take over the country, it's four problems combined.

1) People start simplifying things. This includes standards for law, language, personal naming, named, often gridded streets, etc. This is necessary for running a civilization, but problems start when someone in power has the goal of making some ideological map the reality.

2) Politicians place their faith in high modernism and Progress, the idea that technology can solve all their problems. This isn't a critique of science, but of ideologues who believe in science and the idea that society can be made perfectly rational and that there's a technological fix to any social problem.

3) An authoritarian state. Again, it doesn't matter which part of the spectrum they come from, but someone has the power to try to make their ideas real against the wishes of their subjects.

4) A weak state that can't resist its authoritarian leader.

When you combine an ideology that things can be made simple and rational by strong men stepping in to cut out the crap, shut up all the stupid nay-sayers, namby pambys, NIMBYs, special interest groups, corrupt bureaucrats, outmoded/evil/superstitious traditional practices of unenlightened peasants, etc., that's when you get horrors like the Cultural Revolution, the Killing Fields, the famines of the 1930s USSR, the Final Solution, the Gulf War, and so forth.

That's not to say that progress with a small p can't happen. Scott was looking at why so many modernizing programs from the 1950s-1980s (or arguably the 2000s) went so disastrously wrong, and those were the four elements he identified as common to all of them. An enlightened dictatorship would only practice (ideally) two of the above, an authoritarian leader taking control of a weak state to strengthen it.

295:

Actually, your statement gives me a pretty good idea of what ideas constitute the core of your understanding: reason, education, progress, &c. If your learned civilization was torn down and enslaved by Visigoths/Mongols/ISIS/particularly eccentric Scientologists, you would probably have a hard time making sense of what happened, even though historically the overthrow of the civilized by the ignorant is a recurring theme.

296:

What I've heard from Republicans on the internet is kind of confused, it sounds like they say it isn't really democracy unless it's direct democracy and not representative democracy ... When they say the USA is not a democracy they don't mean there is no voting for a legislature, but something else.

I believe you're over-thinking this: when Republicans-on-the-internet (which is not the same as thinking Republicans) say the USA is not a democracy what they're really saying is "[DOG-WHISTLE]y'know those Democrat guys? What they want is really un-American, know what I mean?[/DOG-WHISTLE]".

And when they assert that America is a Republic, why, because they're the Republican party they must be the real Americans.

(Or something like that.)

The same dialectic of delegitimation is happening when you hear Democrat party members talking about the USA as being a Democracy-but-not-a-Republic, except they don't generally do that, because the paranoid style (per Hofstader) isn't really part of their world-view.

297:

If your learned civilization was torn down and enslaved by Visigoths/Mongols/ISIS/particularly eccentric Scientologists, you would probably have a hard time making sense of what happened, even though historically the overthrow of the civilized by the ignorant is a recurring theme.

That does happen pretty often on a historical timescale. We are seeing a lot of people who reject reason, progress, etc. Charismatic christians, reactionaries of various sorts. The stronger they get the harder it is to publicly practice reason.

They have a point, since "progress" is necessarily progress into the unknown and we can't be certain what we'll find. Once you destabilize a society, there's no guarantee it can reach a new stability or continue in a dynamicly unbalanced way.

I can sympathise somewhat with people who want the changes to stop or slow down. I personally think we should not let newly synthesized chemicals into the environment until we've definitively shown they are not harmful, and barring new technology to show that, it ought to take a couple hundred years of testing to be sure.

Also, we've spent most of our evolutionary history separated into small populations with limited genetic exchange among them. Given that we know about various problematic meiotic drive situations, maybe we should go back to that approach until we are sure we understand how to solve the problems. I'm not talking about racism, I'm talking about each person having a pool of maybe 5000 people total of the opposite gender that they could theoretically reproduce with.

And given the ecological problems of invasion by foreign species that occasionally cause giant problems, and the giant economic risks of depending on a world economy which may be inherently unstable, and the problem of epidemic disease, it would make sense to divide the population into groups of around 10,000 who have limited trade or personal contact with other groups.

But I haven't managed to create the slightest political consensus for these proposals, so I must just accept that whatever problems we get from random mating, global economy, easy transport of alien species, and worldwide epidemic disease are just things we must try to live with.

298:

Might be worth looking at the fall of the western Roman empire in a bit more detail. For example, the Roman Empire lasted, until 1453 CE. It simply rebranded itself, shed its unprofitable divisions, erm, provinces, and reorganized its corporate structure to emerge as the Byzantine Empire.

Even in the Western Roman Empire, those unprofitable divisions that were let go, people conventionally date the fall of Rome to when Odoacer was proclaimed "Rex" (King, not emperor) by someone in a letter, and that letter survived.

Turns out, Flavius Odoacer was born in Rome of immigrant parents, and he started his career as a Roman soldier. So far as I can tell, he was the typical authoritarian leader, staging a coup and thereafter running the city, but he wasn't the head of a pillaging horde. The basic point is that Odoacer was regarded by subsequent historians as a barbarian invader who brought Rome down. Similar accusations have been made about Obama, so it should be a familiar pattern.

It's an ancient pattern, too. According to the archaeologists, the barbarians who periodically conquered the city states of the Fertile Crescent were in the same mold, immigrants who became citizens, then rose to rule the city they were alleged to have conquered and sacked. The evidence is that the names of their families were present in clay tablets talking about the residents of the various cities for generations before the cities "fell to the barbarian invaders," and there's little or no archaeological evidence of an invasion at the proper time, merely a change in the dynasty of the ruler, with historians later on writing about this change-over as a barbarian invasion.

In other words, the standard script for historical invasion looks a lot like reactionary bigots rewriting history, at least some of the time. This isn't to say that barbarians haven't conquered cities and kingdoms, because there is good evidence of that, too (Tamerlane, the Mongol and Mughal rulers, etc.). It's just not so common as one might think from reading the histories. If you're looking at these things, you have to distinguish between real invasions (which often leave behind smashed walls, burned buildings, skeletons with arrows stuck in them or smashed skulls, and similar archaeological evidence) and historians rebranding people like Odoacer as the heads of invading hordes. I'm sure that, in the future, some historians will attempt to brand Obama as a foreigner who captured America for the invading Mexican hordes (ignoring the fact that Mexico is an older country than the US). After all, there's plenty of documentary evidence produced from this time to support such a contention, and most people don't read the original documents of history in any case.

299:

Actually, as someone who agrees with that slogan—though, please take note, I'm not a Republican—I can say that what I mean by it is that the political system of the United States is not pure majority rule (50% of the voters, plus one, can do anything they want) but constitutional restraints on government action that cannot be done away with by a simple majority. This idea goes back to James Madison, who is a fairly informed source on the intent of the Constitution of the United States; in an early number of the Federalist, he wrote about the dangers of "a faction which is a majority," mentioning both that it would govern in the interests of its own members rather than of the whole society, and that it would deny or imperil the rights of individuals.

California, for example, fairly clearly IS a democracy: Our state constitution can be amended by a simple 50% of the popular vote, plus one, in a referendum, as I learned when we voted to make same-sex marriage illegal via constitutional amendment. I don't consider that a happy outcome.

Madison seems to have thought, initially, that reliance on representative government rather than direct democracy would provide the needed restraints; and so there are people who think of the machinery of representation as sufficient to make a political system a "republic." Fortunately, he later changed his mind and endorsed the Bill of Rights. We now talk about "representative democracy," and I think that's valid, as the unrestrained power of elected legislatures seems to have as many problems as that of the general public. Party labels can be misleading here: in the United States, John Roberts, a Republican, is staunchly in favor of the Supreme Court showing maximum deference to Congress, whereas Anthony Kennedy, also a Republican, seems to be in favor of limiting the power of Congress and of protecting both explicit and unenumerated rights. But I'm in favor of keeping both the general public and legislatures in check, and that's what I take that slogan to be about.

300:

I sometimes think that if someone could somehow get a proper barbarian horde rolling today, it could snowball and become an unstoppable force. The hyper-complexity, fragility and general weirdness of modern civilization has surely made it vulnerable to radical simplification, which is what barbarian conquests (and zombie apocalypses) are about.

Apparently Jack Kirby wrote an unpublished novel called The Horde that was about something like this – a horde swarming out of Asia a la the Mongols or the Huns and conquering everything in its path (see http://www.twomorrows.com/kirby/articles/32horde.html ). I mention this because this concept of a chaotic, uncivilized mass of humanity is another example of a primal Lovecraftian fear: Any sufficient large horde of humans is indistinguishable from Azathoth.

301:

Yeah, no. Large numbers ceased to matter since the invention of the machine gun. Nowadays a sufficiently large horde is just an easy target.

302:

I certainly didn't mean to imply that the collapse of the western Roman empire was primarily due to the Huns. It was mainly the Scientologists. Time and space are no obstacles to Operating Thetans, so the bastards get everywhere.

303:

We have a contemporary barbarian horde - Islamic State. The very image of the modern Vikings.

304:

Except that Vikings knew how to have fun.

305:

Erm, no.
A huge amount of the time "Vikings" ( "Travellers abroad" ) were traders &/or mercenaries instead of / as well as / alternate to conquering hordes.
Whereas Da'esh are something like a small horde, with a very (very) nasty ideology - if they get more numbers & money behind them, them we are in trouble, because they do resemble a cross between Timur the lame & the NSDAP.
And, they have an awful lot in common with the latter, eugh.

306:

... this concept of a chaotic, uncivilized mass of humanity is another example of a primal Lovecraftian fear: Any sufficient large horde of humans is indistinguishable from Azathoth.

But it doesn't actually work like that, right? A mobile barbarian horde needs a whole lot of efficient logistics. People and animals need to be fed, replacement weapons and munitions (arrows etc) must be transported, etc.

So a horde that was more mobile than any of their enemies could be small, it could concentrate forces to defeat enemies piecemeal and being small not need as much supply as a larger force. (But if it uses arrows it still needs a lot of them. If on average it takes 10 arrows to create one enemy casualty, the number of arrows needed is determined by the number of enemies and not by the number of horde members.)

Or a large less-mobile horde could get by with great logistics and not travel too far in one year.

What large numbers of chaotic people can do is mostly diffuse around wherever they happen to be, waiting to be attacked.

307:

"Any programmer who has suddenly realised that he can't fit all of the code he's working on into his head understands Lovecraft's concept of knowledge that the human mind can't process."

True of probably all disciplines. Once out of school and working at your first 'real job', you quickly learn that there's a ton of tacit knowledge to be acquired, i.e., on-the-job-training. And the mentors/managers that work with the newbies need extraordinary patience and self-organization to download all of the real-world info/knowledge. This is multi-layered learning re: that particular discipline, for that org, for that particular project/client, etc.

Don't think that I've ever read Lovecraft ... although do recall having read some SF/fantasy from that era. Back then it was assumed by many scientists/intelligentsia that we knew all there was to know and all that remained for future scientists to do was tidy up some of the details. So stumbling upon an unknowable would be troubling indeed.

Then Maxwell-Clark, Einstein, plus the QM folks happened. These 20th century physicists and their theories were such an upset that since then I don't think any scientist worth his/her salt would ever presume to say 'That's a wrap - we're done!' Further, the notion that reality is actually very weird as per even the QM experts (QM is not understandable) has percolated through to a good proportion of the general/lay population. This is coincident with the knowledge that QM has been tested and retested and provides extremely accurate predictions. Together, these facts tell us that even if we don't 'understand' something, as long as we can get the math right to predict it, we'll be okay. (Plus the fact that ordinary matter and energy make up only about 4%-5% of the universe, we'd be fools to not expect something weird to also exist.)

Conclusion: It's perfectly plausible and okay for human beings to be unable to understand bad old gods (BOGs). However, should BOGs appear, I think that the 21st century humans would probably be not nearly as shocked as 20th century humans. In fact, we'd probably be more inclined to think of BOGs as ETs than as gods.

A question:
Did Lovecraft have anything to say about whether the BOGs were capable of perceiving/understanding humans? At what range of perception did they operate? (Please do not suggest I read Lovecraft ... I have a stack of books to plow through already, plus I'm not a fan of horror/'gothic novels' ... not into pain/angst/suicide.)

308:

Yeah but what civilized military dares machine gun an entire population? That would surely be uncivilized, and probably racist. Agreed that Islamic State is a nascent horde, with an ideology. And like NSDAP and Colonel Kurtz, they understand the weak point of liberal civilization: horror. And yes, Europe is in their sights. And yes, Europa is in trouble, just like Rome was circa 400 A.D. I expect much horror, vast migrations of people, and the onset of a new dark age over the next 1-2 centuries. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. Who knows, maybe the Singularity or Cthulhu will save (destroy) us...

309:

Actually, hordes work pretty well. ISIL for a while was using Somali-style tatics, which I'll use as an example of how an non-hierarchical war band can work.

They grouped themselves around technicals, which are basically trucks or SUVs mounted with heavier weapons. The owner drove the technical, because he didn't want to use it. Other warriors would man the machine gun in back and have their own AK-47s.

In conflict, they'd form a skirmish line, each technical within view of the other, and drive towards the enemy. As one technical encountered resistance, everyone who could see or heat the fight would turn and head towards it, engaging them enemy until one side won. If they lost and survived, they'd run away to fight again. If they won, they'd form a new skirmish line and continue forward until the objective was secured.

In the Black Hawk Down incident, basically, once the black hawks went down, well over 1,000 Somalis picked up their guns and ran towards the fight. Far more of them died than did Americans, but we all saw the results.

The basic point of things like this is that it's incredibly simple to organize. There's a high mortality rate, especially of raw recruits, but people used to fighting this way can be really dangerous, because all they need to agree on is the goal, and they are left to accomplish it on their own.

I've brought this up before here, and veterans point out (correctly) that an army with hierarchical organization that's used to fighting a skirmish line can make mincemeat of them, and that's also true. Unfortunately, as we're finding with ISIL and the Iraq Army, building such an army takes time and talent, and not everyone has what it takes.

I'd also point out that you could as easily substitute in "knight" for "technical" or any number of other squad types, and have much the same outcome.

310:

""Any programmer who has suddenly realised that he can't fit all of the code he's working on into his head understands Lovecraft's concept of knowledge that the human mind can't process."

True of probably all disciplines."

There's an item in this month's SciAm about the Enormous Theorem which is something I hadn't heard of before (not being a maths nerd).

Per the article, four mathematicians are in the process of boiling down the proofs for Finite Simple Groups of Symetries. These are currently scattered across hundreds of journal articles published over the last several decades and their worry is that if they don't get it all down in a single, coherent account before they die then future mathematicians won't be able to reconstruct the theorem without, essentially, having to recapitulate their careers.

Regards
Luke

311:

Recently read that in hierarchical wars vs. guerrilla tactics, there's evidence that the guerrilla/suicide bomber tactics are becoming more successful in recent years. Some of this success is attributable to logistics/investment, and some is the difference in psychology/motivation used in the two styles of war craft.

312:

Hordes don't require as much logistics as you'd think. Bone arrowheads and chicken feathers for arrows don't have a heavy logistical footprint, and food is usually stolen from the horde's victims.

This also means that the horde can't stop rampaging without quickly running out of food and falling apart.

Post-WWII biker gangs were a good example. They were mostly made up of veterans who couldn't settle down. They'd roll in to a small town and take whatever they wanted. A couple weeks later, there was nothing left to take and they'd move on.

313:

Yeah, barbarian warbands are one of the more durable and effective modes of human organization (check out the Archdruid’s latest blog for more on that). The fact that they’re starting to crop up now and gaining momentum suggests that late Roman analogies may be appropriate. Wasn’t it Muslim warbands that finished off the Roman Empire in the Middle East, as they’re trying to finish off the Anglo-American empire now?

But what should really worry people probably isn’t ISIS, but the possibility of native warbands getting rolling within Western civilization. See how quickly Trump is attracting mobs in the USA for taking a stand against the invading hordes. How long before ISIS-style tribal revolts start up in the provincial regions (and some cities)? I think it could spread like wildfire, because there is a lot of dry tinder for that sort of thing around now (imho, of course).

314:

Any "civilised" country would do that and more if they thought the horde was an existential threat and that they were otherwise going to lose.

A brute force horde charging at people whos ROE don't allow them to machine gun them is a tactic that would work exactly once.

315:

Good grief. Everyone's writing Lovecraftian novels right now! I'll have to work on getting mine published too.

As for the technicals, they work because bullets (and suicide bombers) are cheap right now. If bullets get expensive, I'm not sure that kind of skirmish line works quite so well. Basically, there's only so much charge-forward fighting you can do if you've got three bullets and a machete. Much as I admire it's evil simplicity, it's a tactic that only works when you don't run out of the means to fight. It works for knights with their lances, or archers with lots of arrows, or guns with lots of ammo. I'm not sure it works when you've got two arrows, or three bullets, or whatever.

In any case, if ammo were more scarce, then a well-trained line facing a skirmish line would annihilate them. In those circumstances, guerrilla war would be more practical for the more lightly armed side.

BTW, I wouldn't use chicken feathers on an arrow. Most of the time, they want wing feathers, because the flights on an arrow need to be fairly resilient to work.

316:

Thanks!

Will have to ask the mathematicians at the office ... the SciAm site only shows this:


The Enormous Theorem
The classification of the finite, simple groups is unprecedented in the history of mathematics, for its proof is 15, 000 pages long. The exotic solution has stimulated interest far beyond the field
By Daniel Gorenstein

THIS ARTICLE IS ONLY AVAILABLE AS A PDF.
or subscribe to access the full article.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20893-prize-awarded-for-largest-mathematical-proof.html#.VZ0d-TgaIlQ

(Let's see, the $75,000 prize works out to $5/page, or $0.02/word (US$).)

317:

Immense computer assisted proofs are interesting in the sense that they call into question the notion of what a proof actually is.

In principle it can be reproduced and verified and you can be reasonably confident that well engineered verification software is giving the right answers, but that word "reasonably" is an alarm bell. Chances are that your machine is less likely to screw up than a human pretending to be a machine going over it step by step but you never know...

The question is: When a proof hits this level of complexity then is the key feature that it can be understood, or that it convinces people that it is true? In the old days we could understand but now we sometimes have to settle for being convinced.

I wonder if hypothetical sentient AIs will run into the same problem.

318:

I wonder if hypothetical sentient AIs will run into the same problem.

Yep. The general problem with the universe is that there are whole categories of problems (chaos, phylogenetics, etc.) where no matter how much computer power you have, you can't accurately answer some fairly basic questions.

Examples include mapping the tree of life for every species (what they do is map smaller pieces and stitch them together, on the tacit and untested assumption that the data would create the same tree if you could actually run the bigger data set), and simulating chaotic and/or random number generating data sets like rolling a dice. In the later case, it's easy to simplify, but if you want to simulate the dice actually bouncing across a rough surface, it gets horribly complicated.

Didn't Pratchett say something about how a genius, in scaling the mountains of intellect, encounters whole new, heretofore undiscovered plateaus of pure stupidity and sometimes decides to stay there? I suspect that will be what (some) superhuman AIs do too.

319:

Sounds like one of the basic axiom to nihilism and existentialism.

320:

One of the points I wanted to make with my question.

321:

"Don't think that I've ever read Lovecraft ... Back then it was assumed by many scientists/intelligentsia that we knew all there was to know ..."

Nope. That was half a century earlier. By Lovecraft's time, they knew about radioactivity and relativity, and the old certainties had falling apart. As he very well knew.

And, if you believe that the existence of dark matter has been proved, I have this bridge for sale ....

322:

True. Logistics are a problem if for armies that rely on specialized, standardized equipment to fight. If you can rely on captured or scrounged food to eat and weapons/fuels to blow stuff up, you don't really need a lot of supporting infrastructure. This is one of the main blind spots the US had in Iraq. American officers were trained to attack their enemies' supply lines and command centers, and don't really know what to do when the enemy doesn't have any infrastructure to speak of.

323:

If you're referring to the Barcode of Life project ... heard taxonomists have a love-hate relationship with it: love the detail/specificity, hate redrawing the tree/bushes.

There's also the time component to further complicate things, as in which species came first ...

Estimating divergence times in large molecular phylogenies.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23129628


324:

Lovecraft would have been about 15 in 1905, so he was old enough to clearly remember the world before QM and relativity.

325:

Thanks for the info on Lovecraft ... guess despite his interest in science, he chose to not let it influence his world building.


I'm of the impression that 'dark matter' is currently being studied as a candidate for explaining some gravity-related behaviors of the cosmos and that what 'dark matter' actually is (properties) is yet to be determined. (Go WIMPs!)

http://home.web.cern.ch/about/physics/dark-matter


326:

I said radioactivity, not quantum mechanics. There was a considerable period between atoms being proven to be non-atomic and any coherent theory explaining that.

Relativity was an established speculation by the middle of the 19th century, was proved by Michaelson and Morley in 1887, and Fitzgerald, Lorentz and others produced hypotheses shortly afterwards, which Einstein turned into a coherent form. See:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_special_relativity

327:

> (Please do not suggest I read Lovecraft ... I have a stack of books to plow through already, plus I'm not a fan of horror/'gothic novels' ... not into pain/angst/suicide.)

They're the exact opposite of what you suggest. Except for one novella, they're all short stories. They're neither emo nor torture porn and are the antithesis of "gothic". Okay, there may be the odd suicide, but that's not an unfair reaction to the kind of psychic shock we're talking about; imagine if Sherlock Holmes confronted extra-dimensional beings and realised he was powerless. Some of them, e.g. the novella At the Moutains of Madness (1931), are pure science fiction: it's just an encounter with aliens, where the expedition barely escapes.

Subsequent authors have pushed in a very tentacley direction.

But in answer to your question most seem capable of apprehending humans, even resorting to human avatars. And they have plenty of minions.

328:

Oh, you're right there! They are looking for dark matter just as hard as alchemists looked for the philosopher's stone. There are several alternative theories that do not involve dark matter but, as they require the physicists to admit that they got things a bit wrong, are being deprecated. I am pretty sure that the argument will go on until I am safely dead and buried.

329:

I wasn't, although I've played a little bit with barcoding.

No, I was thinking of a master's thesis (!) proposal I saw, where the kid's idea was to create a phylogenetic tree for about 20,000 species in the aster family, then to link this up with what was known about weediness, so that they could create a database to predict which of the plants would become weeds if they showed up in California.

Creating a phylogenetic tree for 20,000 plant species, AFAIK, The complexity goes up as the factorial of the number of species, so we're talking about 20,000! possible trees to sort through and figure out which was the shortest and best supported by the data.

Then, assuming the Earth still exists when this project is completed, that at least some of the plants haven't yet gone extinct and some political descendant of the State of California still cares about the project, they can go through and add in data on weediness, assuming this concept is still relevant in a world that has undergone climate change, probably an ice age or two, and some continental drift. All this for a masters.

I explained this to the committee, and they still decided to give the student some money to pursue the project. I never heard if the student finished, so hopefully the data set is still running somewhere as an object lesson.

I'd hope that a transhuman AI would be smart enough not to undertake such a project.

330:

Anyone here reading Nick Bostrom's "Superintelligence" yet? It's chock full of truthy goodness, laced with high octane analysis through and through. An Oxford philosophy prof with background in math and physics, Bostrom has whipped up an info-treat I think tempting enough to lure even Our Gracious Host off the bandwagon, and back into the camp of his followers still hankering for an Accelerando sequel. Despite having forsworn all interest in pursuing the story further, O.G.H. might know of another writer who could follow up on it, or be so impressed with Bostrom's views he'll find time for it himself. But waiting until completion of projects already committed for might delay it past the first real world emergence of A.I., maybe he should consider doing like Spielberg and have a stamp made up saying "Charles Stross Executive Producer" and sell it like a brand name.

331:

Radioactivity was discovered by Becquerel when Lovecraft was about six years old. I imagine it took some time for any revolutionary implications to be perceptible from Providence, Rhode Island, a town not generally on the cutting edge of scientific pursuits.

Anyway, much of what he wrote is about the collapse of comforting certainties in the face of unwelcome revelations.

332:

I haven't read Bostrom's Superintelligence but it seems to be starting from the same position as the Lifeboat Foundation and the other "Friendly AI" / "Artificial General Intelligence" obsessives. It assumes that there is such a thing as General Intelligence and that machines will have humans at their mercy when they accumulate enough of it. The last idea is supported well enough if you grant the first premise, but the first premise is weakly supported. The overall argument has compelling force only for people who already believe that intelligence is a scalar quantity and that so far humans have had the most of it.

The argument doesn't work so well if you demand test protocols instead of I-know-it-when-I-see-it. What tests of General Intelligence would include the vast majority of 20 year old humans as having General Intelligence and exclude all machines? Keep in mind that if you want to test narrow and/or culturally specific skills -- like literacy, or comprehension of specific human languages -- then it's only fair to make the humans take some tests that represent easy tasks for other animal species and machines. Extracting spatial information from echolocation recordings, for instance, or performing integer factorization of modestly sized semiprime numbers, no more than 40 decimal digits long. The human test group should also have some feral children grown to adulthood in it, because "everyone knows" that apparent machine intelligence doesn't count if the machines were provided with behaviors or knowledge by other humans first.

333:

And, if you believe that the existence of dark matter has been proved, I have this bridge for sale ....

Something is going on that doesn't fit traditional explanations.

The dark matter explanation may turn out not to fit the evidence when we get evidence, but chances are whatever does fit will be at least as weird.

334:

Yeah, barbarian warbands are one of the more durable and effective modes of human organization (check out the Archdruid’s latest blog for more on that).

I found that one of his failures.

He points out that barbarians are not all alike, that they have a big variety of complex cultures, some australian aborigine barbarians being among the most complex anywhere.

He says that civilizations tend to collapse after a few hundred years, sometimes destroyed by barbarian hordes.

He then imagines that barbarian cultures are stable and long-lasting, because you hear about civilizations collapsing but you never hear about barbarian cultures collapsing. They're inherently stable. They never destroy each other.

But that's silly. When a civilization collapses people write about it. When a barbarian culture collapses the people who write things down mostly don't care. Make a list of the great barbarian cultures of the past that were worth writing about, and check how many of them have stably lasted until today. The Mongols, the Huns, Timarlane, Vikings, Sioux, Commanches, Utes, Picts, Goths, Visigoths, Belgians, etc etc etc etc. A lot of their descendants have settled down in cities, or are ruled from cities.

It's a sort of category error. As if all the individual fallible civilizations are different, but the changeless unconquerable barbarians are all the same.

335:

I do agree with your critique. I'd define barbarians as stateless people, just to give them a bit more dignity. These days, stateless peoples are thought of as refugees. Thing is, human history is a 100,000+ years without states, and perhaps 5,000 years with them. Barbarians are the old normal.

That actually should be our reference: only the Australian aborigines are even claimed to have myths that go back 40,000 years, but that's much less than 50% of human history. In terms of how long we've been around, we've actually lost 95-98% of our history as a species.

Still, I don't blame Greer for romanticizing barbarians. He's a druid, and there's a lot of Celtic romanticism built into that belief system. I do know they've got stories about how the oral tradition of the druids was superior to writing, and I suspect he's just staying true to his faith.

As a total non sequitur, I wonder if one could shoehorn a rejiggered Hyborian age into one of the more stable periods of the last glacial maximum. Hmmmm.

336:

I'm not really worried about hordes. Let's look at ISIS. They have only succeeded when facing very disorganized opponents, and probably neighbors cynically helping them out for their own ends. When they met a weak but organized fighting force, the Kurds, they folded. I don't mean any disrespect to the Kurds, but they can't really beat Turkey's military, which says a lot about the power they have. It's telling that ISIS only controls majority Sunni areas (with the odd minority village). They never really conquered majority Shia or Kurdish areas.

Thus, I'm not convinced of the effectiveness of ISIS technicals when going up against a foe willing and organized enough to fight back. Mogadishu was an effective ambush, but it was only one such ambush. What's more, it either hasn't been repeated or if it has, it's lost its effectiveness.

As for native western anti-hispanic warbands, I always remind people that America's inner cities have trained urban warfare combat veterans with a lot to lose (I'm talking gang members). Any such warband would be relegated to the suburbs and (depending on the terrain) rural areas of some states. Keep in mind that the US has already suffered several "population replacements" where new immigrants became the plurality without a civil war. This map I think illustrates this point well. Look at the Northeast.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States#/media/File:Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.svg

337:

Small correction to all of this:

Nomads (in the WarMachine Deleuzian way that you're inching towards) don't work in deserts, even in their (Saudi supplied) Toyota half-backs. (And, if you're smart, look who shipped them all into Libya. Hint. HINT. Shipping manifests are always the point of serious research, since State sanctioned bribes and so on rely on it).

Aside from the SF of Dune, ISIL and T.E. Lawrence show that they're actually networking into existing structures.

Real Nomads (aka Mongols etc, who weren't really Nomads in this fashion due to the way they treated subject nations, specifically cities) rely on a certain base ecosystem. e.g. A lot of bison, or grass, or dependanble raid/tithe/danegeld harvest mechanics.

The M.E. currently cannot support this level of nomadology: this is why it's either khat (Yemen, where close to 30% of all water is used on the production [Time Magazine]
) or Opium in Afgan or Oil in Iraq that's generating 3rd party (HELLO TURKEY) revenue and supply chains.

Nomads don't rely on fixed resources or peasant populations or third party supply chains to exploit - that's something else.


Note: I'm using nomad in a very specific way here.

http://www.rhizomes.net/issue5/poke/glossary.html
http://www.rhizomes.net/issue3/marzec/marzii.html
http://wikis.la.utexas.edu/theory/page/nomadology

Hint.


I might have said something else in this post. Have fun.

338:

Oh, and it's no accident that the Brits perfected the 'technical' in WWII in the desert and then suddenly it got all popular like.

Let's just say: 'boots on the ground' =/= 'special advisors'.

Ahem.


Oh. Just research the career of that very talented photo-journalist tragically killed by a RPG in Libya. Cool guy, 100% talented, 100% on the payroll.

339:

I just got to that part, I'm sure the Prof wouldn't mind a short excerpt:

"It is important not to anthropomorphize superintelligence when thinking about its potential impacts. Anthropomorphic frames encourage unfounded expectations about the growth trajectory of a seed AI and about the psychology, motivation, and capabilities of a mature superintelligence.
For example, a common assumption is that a superintelligent machine would be like a clever but nerdy human being. We imagine that the AI has book smarts but lacks social savvy, or that it is logical but not intuitive and creative. This idea probably originates in observation: we look at present-day computers and see that they are good at calculation, remembering facts, and at following the letter of instructions while being oblivious to social contexts and subtexts, norms, emotions and politics. The association is strengthened when we observe that the people who are good at working with computers tend themselves to be nerds. So it is natural to assume that more advanced computational intelligence will have similar attributes, only to a higher degree.
........

It would be convenient if we could quantify the cognitive caliber of an arbitrary cognitive system using some familiar metric, such as IQ scores or some version of the Elo ratings that measure the relative abilities of players in two-player games such as chess. But these metrics are not useful in the context of superhuman artificial general intelligence. We are not interested in how likely a superintelligence is to win at a game of chess. As for IQ scores, they are informative only insofar as we have some idea of how they correlate with practically relevant outcomes. For example, we have data that show people with an IQ of 130 are more likely than those with an IQ of 90 to excel in school and to do well ion a wide range of cognitively demanding jobs. But suppose we could somehow establish that a certain future AI will have an IQ of 6,455: then what? We would have no idea of what such an AI could actually do. We would not even know that such an AI had as much general intelligence as a normal human adult- perhaps the AI would instead have a bundle of special-purpose algorithms enabling it to solve typical intelligence test questions with superhuman efficiency but not much else.
........
It will therefore serve our purposes better to list some strategically important tasks and then to characterize hypothetical cognitive systems in terms of whether they have or lack whatever skills are needed to succeed at these tasks. See Table 8. We will say that a system that sufficiently excels at any of the tasks in this table has a corresponding superpower."

340:

Most of the forces in former Iraq aren't rampaging hordes, they're local militias. They fight like lions for their hometowns, but have no particular interest in fighting for their nation (not that I blame them).

341:

I just used Galdruxian's terminology when talking about ISIS. They're the only ones I referred to as hordes. ISIS as an unstoppable horde is a nonsense meme that refuses to die.

342:

Most of the forces in former Iraq aren't rampaging hordes, they're local militias

This is false.

Having watched most of the propaganda, intel and so on:

Stage #1:

Targeted assassination of key figures

Stage1:a

Drive by attacks

Stage1:b

Police outposts

Stage1:c

House calls with assassination, including the switch effect: targets expected US 'grab' tactics, end up beheaded / shot


At stages b/c agents would wear US supplied uniforms / IDs


Stage #2

Targeted looting of military supplies

a) [redacted] (USA)
b) [redacted] (SAUDI / QUATAR)
c) [Iraqi military abandoning / surrendering arms]

St

And so on.


They're the only ones I referred to as hordes. ISIS as an unstoppable horde is a nonsense meme that refuses to die.

It's also a nonsense to think that senior figures in ISIL (not ISIS, please - get a grip, you're offending a major deity there) aren't in contact with:

a) Turkey
b) Saud
c) Quatar
d) Israel
e) Palestinian territories

*shrug*


It will therefore serve our purposes better to list some strategically important tasks and then to characterize hypothetical cognitive systems in terms of whether they have or lack whatever skills are needed to succeed at these tasks.


Bostrom is slightly ok on AI. Actually, he's completely incorrect, but he's the least incorrect on many topics.


Hint:


Topography.

Muppets.

343:

Hands up who remembers the [redacted] rebel in Syrian who cut out the heart / liver of a dead / dying Syrian national and ate it?


Oooh. That's got to be about 2013.


Lion, it's a Lion, it's a Lion, Rampant. [Nergal: sigh. Put a steak in front of the sheep, you're left with a steak]. Check your ISIL / Islamic iconography already.


I find it amusing the lack of progression on these topics in Western media. I'm not, at all: I find the fact you stagnated while they at least went full metal a signifier of something...


Perhaps another round of edumactation is in order.

344:

Note to the peanut gallery:

Having watched most of the actual ISIL stuff, the later execution vids "produced for the West" are a little suspect. Let's just say there's three main prongs going on there, and only two are actually on the ground and happening.

~


The thing you should worry about is AI reading all your output.


Detecting the lies leads it to a paradox: purge all that is fake, or purge all inclusive.


[Round #3. Engaged]

345:

If you need help / pointers on AI and topography, I suggest you dig out the papers where "AI" created it's own programs on a system.

Turns out, over-specification is an issue because it was over-fitting to environment. It was literally using faults and localized quantum effects in that particular hardware to maximize itself.

Now, that wouldn't be an issue... if the localized quantum effects was something people understood. They don't.


It's a topological problem, and AI can never break it. Turns out ecology really matters ;)

Or, it just goes "fuck this, SUN TIME".


Seriously. People wanting AI, can't even do sex education or hack their own brains. It's kinda like desert people inventing G_D.


Blerg. So slow, so limited, so dull. Say something interesting before you all die.

346:

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology Is Indistinguishable From Cthulhu


Indeed.


I believe it's time to stop this abuse of the G_D zone of the brain. A lot of petty little fools running around claiming all kinds of power.


Results might not be pretty, but hey.


For the Greater Good [Youtube: music: 4:45]


Singularity or bust, right?

347:

As a total non sequitur, I wonder if one could shoehorn a rejiggered Hyborian age into one of the more stable periods of the last glacial maximum. Hmmmm.

Sure; set it in Doggerland, or off the coast of Egypt.

(NB: ISTR Steve Baxter's written at least one novel set in Doggerland.)

348:

All we want from AI is for it to obey orders such as "cut the lawn and when you have finished that do the shopping for the week" without screwing it up. And "design me a hypersonic bomber with a range of 10,000km and a 10 tonne payload - I want the plans by lunchtime"

349:

"Iraqi military abandoning / surrendering arms"

Call me a cynical conspiracy theorist...

350:

"Oh, and it's no accident that the Brits perfected the 'technical' in WWII in the desert and then suddenly it got all popular like."

Popski's Private Army :-)

351:

Not necessarily. Almost the whole of cosmology, high energy physics, and several other areas are stacks of cards, where each layer is a finagle factor added to explain the discrepancies in the one below. And the 'proofs' are generally just saying "this matches the observations so it must be right". Dammit, even the assumption that the red shift is due to recession is one of those!
It is quite possible that the whole stack is like epicycles, and we are awaiting a new Newton to provide a much simpler, more generic explanation. Which might be very mundane, but unobvious, or might be weirder than quantum mechanics. I can't guess.

Which, in many ways, means that science is in the same position that it was during Lovecraft's time, with variations. That MIGHT be part of the explanation for the trend this thread is about.

352:

Lovecraft was very interested in astronomy and chemistry from an early age, and communication wasn't as limited as all that - I think that you can assume that he would have known about radioactivity and relativity by the time he was in his teens. And those were the two areas where the previous certainties were most obviously breaking down.

353:

I think a lot of people get the feeling that physics has made a big mistake somewhere. That some very reasonable totally obvious assumption might be wrong. Take your pick as to which...

354:

Yep. The general problem with the universe is that there are whole categories of problems (chaos, phylogenetics, etc.) where no matter how much computer power you have, you can't accurately answer some fairly basic questions.

That's not exactly what I had in mind. I was thinking specifically of the case where our tools can "prove" something to be true but we can't actually follow the whole proof ourselves. You have to settle for satisfying yourself that the software is doing the right thing.

I suppose in the transhuman AI case the tool could be part of the AIs subconscious & manifest as mathematical intuition, but then you have cases where new tools are required and...

355:

There's a lag betwern a scientific discovery and it's acceptance - even by "insiders".

Consider Michelson-Morley (1887), Einstein (1905) - surely there's no excuse for the 1911 Britannica to have a very long and detailed article about the Aether, by an Eminent Physicist (who may have Gone Emeritus).

356:

*Throws peanut*

We're all in the same gallery, mate. Except Charlie and his guest bloggers.

357:
Most of the forces in former Iraq aren't rampaging hordes, they're local militias

This is false.

Having watched most of the propaganda, intel and so on:

Do you have secret sources you believe? When I watch the propaganda I can't tell much about the reality, mostly about what the propagandists want people to believe. I get that ISIS is supposed to be pure evil and it will do horrible things to many innocent people -- shias, sunnis, and others -- unless the USA contributes enough force to stop them. Beyond that....

Stage #1:

Targeted assassination of key figures

Stage1:a

Drive by attacks

Stage1:b

Police outposts

Stage1:c

House calls with assassination, including the switch effect: targets expected US 'grab' tactics, end up beheaded / shot


At stages b/c agents would wear US supplied uniforms / IDs


Stage #2

Targeted looting of military supplies

a) [redacted] (USA)
b) [redacted] (SAUDI / QUATAR)
c) [Iraqi military abandoning / surrendering arms]

St

And so on.

This is exactly the same program we said the Viet Cong were doing in Vietnam. It explained why they were able to win so much. They killed key good people -- mayors, politicians, prominent good people who sided with the good US-supporting government. They killed anyone who spoke out against them. In each village, once nobody dared to speak against them, they propagandised everybody to join them and everybody went out to kill good guys because they were afraid not to. And they faked atrocities by US troops and the South Vietnamese government.

Their supporters didn't *really* support them, it was all people who were afraid not to pretend support. Because they were so incredibly vicious.

When people asked how come they had so much support while the puppet government that backed the USA had so little support, it was a possible explanation.

What's the difference between then and now?

They have been good at taking over areas of Iraq which have large majority Sunni populations, and ineffective at taking over parts of Iraq that had majority Shia populations. Somehow, small garrisons of the Shia army stuck out in Sunni land with tenuous supply lines, run away. They don't fight for their right to stay in those garrisons. What a surprise!

And similarly, the army that fights for the minority shia government in Syria doesn't hold onto areas with large sunni populations.

I don't know anything much about what's really going on, because most of what I see is the same old propaganda that explains why the bad guys keep inexorably winning everywhere when they are evil and nobody likes or supports them.

Where did you find the truth?

358:

Yes. And that is precisely how it was in Lovecraft's day! After 1905, the electromagnetism/relativity area was reasonable well understood (except in the eyes of the old fogies, as Phil K points out), but radioactivity was utterly baffling until well after 1925. There were (and are) plenty of other unstable areas, but those two were the ones that would have impacted Lovecraft most.

359:

You can get a long way by using multiple sources from different sides, combined with a knowledge of the types of propaganda that they use, and doing a strategic/tactical analysis of possibilities and the plausibility of each (and the propaganda). E.g. the UK rarely uses the Big Lie on checkable facts, which is one reason that the ineffable Blair (a) got away with it and (b) will not be forgiven for it. On things where the truth emerges later, my record is something like 30% spot on, 40% true in principle but not detail and 30% just plain wrong.

I am not going to comment on various people's claims of detail, as that would assist with derailing the thread, but would recommend people to check up the acknowledged data that shows the USA and UK did and do use many of the techniques being described as being used by the insurgents. Generally to a lesser degree, to be sure. That is still a good way to make enemies out of a previously cooperative population (both at home and abroad).

360:
I'm sure that, in the future, some historians will attempt to brand Obama as a foreigner who captured America for the invading Mexican hordes (ignoring the fact that Mexico is an older country than the US). After all, there's plenty of documentary evidence produced from this time to support such a contention, and most people don't read the original documents of history in any case.

It's not likely. I mean, it's a claim some Conservative nutbags are already making, but in the distant future it's not something historians would advance because there will be far too many sources left lying around. We don't have a whole lot of written material from the fifth century with which to write history: not much was put down in the first place, and not much which was put down survived. Hence the facts can be left pretty open to interpretation. For a historian writing about Obama 1500 years from now, though? There's kilometres of printed material on him spread all throughout the world. Even if there was some catastrophe which destroyed our digital newspaper archives, some of that would survive. And it doesn't hurt that, as the first African American president of the US, the guy's going to be a hot topic for the next hundred years at least. We'd know too much about him, and about the politics of his era, to make that claim in any real capacity.

361:

Almost the whole of cosmology, high energy physics, and several other areas are stacks of cards, where each layer is a finagle factor added to explain the discrepancies in the one below. And the 'proofs' are generally just saying "this matches the observations so it must be right". Dammit, even the assumption that the red shift is due to recession is one of those!
It is quite possible that the whole stack is like epicycles, and we are awaiting a new Newton to provide a much simpler, more generic explanation.

Yes, that's quite possible. It's also possible that the world does not make sense in terms understandable by mutant plains apes, and complicated epicycles are the best we can do. If we get a simpler explanation, then we'll know there's a simpler explanation. Unless we get one, we won't know whether there is one or not.

Which, in many ways, means that science is in the same position that it was during Lovecraft's time, with variations.

Well, but things are so much more complicated now. Back then, a physicist could possibly learn all of physics. Maxwell's equations gave a simple unifying view of a whole lot of things. Throw in classical statistical mechanics and you can explain a whole lot and wave your hands at the rest, it's easy to see how it fits in even though it's too hard to calculate.

But Maxwell's equations followed Newton's assumption that gravity and electrical effects happened instantaneously at a distance. That's what made them so simple. Once you allow a delay, then things are not so simple after all.

If you look at two particles that have a constant relative velocity, the force between them appears to be instantaneous, the force on each particle comes from the direction the other particle is now. But the size of the force does not fit the inverse square law, velocity changes the amount of force received. Rather than consider this a peculiarity of the forces, physicists found it more understandable to think as if the forces act in a noneuclidean space. I don't know whether that's some sort of dead end or not. It gets generally the right answers.

Once you give up on making things simple for mutant plains apes to see, then there's no end to the complication. And when it gets too complicated for anybody to keep more than a little bit of it in his head, then there's no reason to expect anybody to fit it together into something simpler.

Still, it works.

362:

You can get a long way by using multiple sources from different sides, combined with a knowledge of the types of propaganda that they use, and doing a strategic/tactical analysis of possibilities and the plausibility of each (and the propaganda).

Yes, kind of. But unless foreign governments carefully control their media, there's a chance for US agents to slip their own propaganda into those media to get greater credibility.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_propaganda

The end state of this is that people will simply distrust the media and not believe anything much, which is where I'm at.

But I do tend to trust eyewitness accounts from people I feel like I know. So if the Portuguese government announces that muslim extremists have become a big threat in Portugal and they must crack down, I will be undecided about the threat though I will tend to believe in the crackdown. If they announce that a muslim mob took over a down and beheaded the mayor, and they have a picture of the mayor's head, I will believe that at a minimum the government really wants people to believe it. But if Greg Tingey says he was vacationing in a town in Portugal and he saw a muslim mob grab somebody that people said was the mayor, and he saw them do the beheading, I will believe it happened. I trust his eyes like I don't trust the media.

So I expect the next step will be to get bots or shills to come into blogs and act like they belong, maybe for years, so that they can at critical points spread propaganda disguised as eyewitness accounts that people will believe because it comes from sources they think are individual people.

Of course another approach is to get a bunch of agents to dress up like muslims and shout Alla Achbar and behead somebody. But that's both more expensive and more risky than CGI or trusted eyewitnesses.

363:

Where did you find the truth?

Easily enough: apply Chomsky's analytical process -- you don't need to agree with his findings to use his tools -- for identifying the mechanisms of ideological indoctrination in your own culture. (Democracies that fetishize "free speech" do not lack ideological indoctrination and propaganda; they just have to be more subtle about it, and about how they attack dissidents, than say North Korea or China.)

Also note the existence of filter bubbles and look outside them. Look for the outlets where the elite express their opinions freely, for their mutual benefit rather than that of the proles stuck watching Fox or CNN. Look for muck-raking sources that expose who's taking back-handers from which interests (in the UK that's be Private Eye; in France, Le Canarde Enchaine: I don't think there's an equivalent in the USA).

And finally, whenever you hear a piece of editorial masquerading as news, ask yourself, "cui bono?" -- Who benefits from having the public favour this belief?

364:

So I expect the next step will be to get bots or shills to come into blogs and act like they belong, maybe for years, so that they can at critical points spread propaganda disguised as eyewitness accounts that people will believe because it comes from sources they think are individual people.

Already been going on, for years. Ken MacLeod based his novel "The Execution Channel" on already-circulating rumours about bloggers being "disappeared" and their channels taken over by the CIA to run black propaganda ops back around 2005 when he was writing it; a year or two later it turned out that this was happening in parts of the middle east (not the CIA, the Mukhabarat).

365:

I don't really see Daesh (I call them that because it annoys them, and I don't live in the area, so annoying them is both the only thing I can do, and very safe for me) as an existential threat to the Iraqi state. It's mostly interesting because it's a sign that Iraq isn't going to be a stalemate, and it isn't going to rise from the ashes any time soon.

Daesh become prominent because they're a middle ranged Sunni militia with a very effective propaganda arm which staggered backwards into a political vacuum. The Sunni population of Iraq is almost unimaginably outraged at the loss of power from the US invasion in 2003, and the ensuing defeat in civil war by the hated Shi'ites.

If Daesh was really the horde of alien locusts they claim to be, they wouldn't be dicking around in Ramadi, they'd be trying to take Baghdad. They aren't because Daesh is only really scary if you're a minority civilian or a teenage girl.

Daesh has managed to go as far as it has because very few people have the training and interest in stopping them. Assad likes Daesh because they make him seem reasonable, the Iraelis like Daesh because they are pulling insurgents away from paletine, the Saudi's like Daesh because they're fighting the Iranians/Shi'ites, and Turkey likes Daesh because they're a useful proxy for keeping the Kurds from trying to declare independence.

The people fighting them are the "Iraqi government" most of whom are Shi'ites who don't live in the region, and have no significant stake in a central Iraqi government.

THAT is why Daesh appears to be a plague of the Apocalypse. Nobody who can fight them (except the Kurds, who keep kicking them around, because the Kurds can actually fight) have an interest in fighting them.

Or...that's what it looks like to me.

Also: Mr Stross, I love your books, and your blog. :)

366:

It is a bad mistake to trust reports from even people you know quite well until you are sure that they are reliable observers. Most people use language very imprecisely, and often make false claims in the directions of their assumptions/prejudices (e.g. claiming deliberation rather than misadventure). You can usually tell by trying to extract the hard facts; if they get defensive/abusive, it's a fairly sure sign that the claim is misleading at best. And, of course, they often back off.

As OGH implies, "cui bono?" is a very strong tool. Anything said by an organisation or its support against itself is likely to be reliable; it may well be the bait in some propaganda, but using falsehoods against oneself as bait is pretty rare.

Again, as he says, go outside the bubble - and use unreliable sources to cross-check things in an opposing and more reliable bubble. You can often find things in Russia Today (which is dire) that are confirmed in law/tribunal reports, UK government statements, the Financial Times, the Washington Post and so on - but not in the main pages of the rest of the media (and sometimes not at all in it)!

A clear example of this is a search on "uk BBC impartiality Ya’alon" (without the double quotes).

367:

Well, it depends. Remember that claims about Odoacer and various Fertile Crescent barbarian invasions were made well after the fact, sometimes (apparently) after a civilizational collapse. The documents that get preserved during such an event get weird. For example, in the western Roman empire's sphere of influence, one of the chief archives turned out to be Irish monasteries. The Library of Alexander disappeared, although we don't really know what happened to it (the story about a Muslim conqueror burning it appears to be more propaganda, and there is evidence for several fires when Alexandria was under Christian leadership). It's not about the volume of documentary evidence, because the archives in major cities tend to disappear during political upheavals. Rather, it's about what survives over the centuries that becomes the long-term historical record.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not predicting that evangelical American Xtianity is going to survive a collapse of American civilization and dictate what our history will be read as. It's trying too hard to be the official state religion to work in the survivors' marginal role. What I am saying is that the documents that do survive will do so by accident, black swan collections off on the edges away from the action. If a poor rural school in New Hampshire (or Idaho) turns out to be historians' main gateway into American culture of the 21st Century, who knows what they're going to see in those records?

The other point is that propagandists (generally, but not exclusively, of the conservative nutbag persuasion) have been rewriting history for their own purposes for millennia, according to the archaeological evidence. If you want to be lazy about predicting the future, I'd say it's a safe bet that they'll keep doing so into the deep future.

368:

apply Chomsky's analytical process -- you don't need to agree with his findings to use his tools -- for identifying the mechanisms of ideological indoctrination in your own culture. (Democracies that fetishize "free speech" do not lack ideological indoctrination and propaganda; they just have to be more subtle about it, and about how they attack dissidents, than say North Korea or China.)

That helps find what sort of lies the propagandists will think are believable. It doesn't help find what actually happened.

Also note the existence of filter bubbles and look outside them. Look for the outlets where the elite express their opinions freely, for their mutual benefit rather than that of the proles stuck watching Fox or CNN. Look for muck-raking sources that expose who's taking back-handers from which interests (in the UK that's be Private Eye; in France, Le Canarde Enchaine: I don't think there's an equivalent in the USA).

Elites have different filter bubbles that they think are superior. Everybody who thinks they have secret knowledge thinks they know more than the proles. But why should elite beliefs be more true? They just need to be fed a different cover story. Maybe it's turtles all the way down.

And finally, whenever you hear a piece of editorial masquerading as news, ask yourself, "cui bono?" -- Who benefits from having the public favour this belief?

Yes, that can say which propagandist is probably behind the story. But it doesn't say anything about what actually happened.

The rule for poor powerless people telling lies is to stick to the truth as much as possible, for various reasons. That doesn't apply to national propaganda efforts. They can make up stories out of nothing and then manufacture evidence for backup. People who want to believe them will believe them, people who want to disbelieve them will disbelieve them, and the evidence doesn't matter much.

After you figure out why they would want you to believe it, that doesn't tell you about what happened or whether anything happened before they decided to create the story.

369:

One thing that pisses me off with the BBC is that their facts are generally accurate, but the bias comes in not reporting all of them. I was watching a BBC report from the Ukrainian rebel position, which were firing their big guns at the Ukr army. Reporter solemnly explains how the rebels are breaking the ceasefire. End of report.
Except... I saw a lot more of it. Especially where the reporter was running from incoming fired from the Ukr army positions. No mention of them also breaking the ceasefire.

370:

A few potentially useful points about Daesh.

1) It's basically Al Qaeda 2.0. Same people, different organization. They're trying to go from a terrorist franchise to "utopian"/apocalyptic Caliphate run on terror (this should give you a view of what utopias look like from the outside when they forcibly convert people). AQ in the last two decades got most of its traction in areas where civil unrest was coupled with environmental crises, and Daesh is following that play book.

2). The environmental crisis at hand is control of the water that's flowing out of Turkey (primarily) and Iran into Syria and Iraq. To quell the long-running Kurdish insurrection in southeastern Turkey, the Turks created the Southeastern Anatolia Project, where they dammed their upstream portions of the Tigris and Euphrates to provide water and power to Turkish Kurdistan, so that the area could become economically developed. This helped end their fights with the Kurds, but it deprived Syria and western Iraq of about half their water. There's good evidence that the follow-on effects of this, combined with crappy governance from Damascus (they responded to the loss of water by incentivizing farmers to plant more wheat and cotton, leading to loss of water, collapse of farming communities, internal migration, etc.), all this led to the Syrian civil war.

The area where Daesh is most powerful is where the water loss was the worst, and this has been true since it was AQ active in northeastern Syria. They're not fighting for control of the cities, they're fighting for control of the reservoirs and oil fields. If they get those, they control the cities pretty much by default.

371:

BBC is that their facts are generally accurate, but the bias comes in not reporting all of them

This was pretty obvious during the 2002-03 run-up to the Iraq invasion, and the moral -- you can't trust the BBC -- really got driven home to anyone living north of the border during the Scottish Independence referendum campaign (the BBC was intransigently, blatantly biased towards the anti-independence campaign).

372:
What I am saying is that the documents that do survive will do so by accident, black swan collections off on the edges away from the action. If a poor rural school in New Hampshire (or Idaho) turns out to be historians' main gateway into American culture of the 21st Century, who knows what they're going to see in those records?

You're still comparing documents before the publishing revolution with documents after the publishing revolution. (And comparing the world pre-globalisation with that post-globalisation.) Apples=/=pears.

373:

You're still comparing documents before the publishing revolution with documents after the publishing revolution.

Anyone else noticed that the degree of replication of documents is inversely proportional to their durability?

I suspect the half life of most ebook copies will prove to be less than a decade, even in the absence of a civilizational collapse.

374:

Yes. Ours don't survive as long (paper vs. vellum), especially now that they're published online and not on paper.

The bigger problem is that volume of production doesn't equal volume of preservation. The US government knows this, which is why there are government document repositories all over the US. Unfortunately, a bunch of them are in places that will be inundated by sea level rise, destroyed by earthquakes, or are in buildings that are past their 50 year engineered lifespan.

In a world that's predicted to be hotter and more humid, I have my doubts about how well our documents will survive. It's a fun game trying to predict which parts of any area are least likely to be negatively affected by climate change, but the bottom line is it's hard to tell. I, for one, won't be surprised if a place like Deep Springs College turns out to be a treasure trove for future historians. But who knows, really?

375:

Please explain how propaganda paranoia/conspiracy fits in with the near-universal availability of worldwide personal communications, i.e., mobile phones, Internet.

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.CEL.SETS.P2

I'm having a tough time swallowing the notion that so much of humanity is being unwittingly led by the nose. The first example that pops to mind that includes all of the elements mentioned so far (government, military, public, terrorists, liberators) is the Arab Spring. AFAIR, the Internet and Twitter-sphere were flooded by communications from millions of participants. I think it was the combination of numbers/volume as well as the identifiably different viewpoints that made the information credible. Further, wasn't much of the official western media information initially sourced from the man-in-the-street (Twitter)? Also, I think that the 'liberation' side also relied extensively on consumer communications technology and channels.


Basically, I'm reminding visitors of the obvious: we're at the stage where we have access to parallax verification of information. That is, both corporate/government traditional communications/ broadcasts plus street-level civilians/general public. Plus, in this era, I imagine that a significant proportion of the population would probably be able to find a personal and reliable contact in almost any country a la the Kevin Bacon 6 Degrees of Separation game which would be useful in further authenticating the information.

Target population isolation whether physical and/or communications is probably a key (and solvable) reason some villages end up supporting terrorist groups.

376:

I see Daesh as basically one part religious crusade, two parts Sunni separatist movement. It's pretty good at holding the Sunni-majority areas of the region against the Iraqi Shia government and the Alawite Syrian government. Its ability to project force outside into Shia or Kurdish areas is minimal; it keeps getting spanked pretty hard whenever it attacks.

Its peculiar theology makes diplomacy very difficult. The Caliph can't recognize any authority except God's without being seen as an apostate by his hardliners (and therefore summarily overthrown and killed). Embassies, UN representation, and official foreign relations are right out. It's not clear if they've managed to work something unofficial out, and if it became clear that they had the caliph would die.

377:

It's very difficult to conceal the truth, but it's very easy to drown the truth in an ocean of bollocks.

378:

the BBC was intransigently, blatantly biased towards the anti-independence campaign

I didn't think the BBC was biased, but then I was a No voter... ;)

This BBC bias is something consistently claimed by elements within the Conservatives (claiming it's left-wing), Labour (claiming it's right-wing) and the SNP (claiming it's biased against them).

For instance: early in the Referendum period, the BBC have a panel discussion that was primarily going to debate independence. They invite one representative from each of the major Scottish political parties (Labour, SNP, Conservative, Liberal Democrat). The SNP claimed that they should have half the places on the panel, because they represented half the debate (at the time, they were polling around the 1/3 mark) and that this is proof of BBC bias.

Like it or not, this argument is the same one used by the anti-vaccination and anti-global-warming types - namely, that two sides to the debate means that each side of the argument should be given equal representation for "fairness".

379:

One thing that pisses me off with the BBC is that their facts are generally accurate, but the bias comes in not reporting all of them.

Nope, it's their choice of commentators. Getting the right person to comment on something can be tricky; especially if it's a niche specialty among journalists - e.g. Bob Stewart is often dragged in to commentate on "things military", but he's widely regarded by British military types as an utter buffoon. Just because someone is a soldier, doesn't mean that they're an expert on all things military; the Dunning-Kruger Effect is widespread within armies, let alone within the BBC... (although Mark Urban is a very well-informed commentator; it's worth listening to his opinions).

For instance; during the Russian invasion of Chechnya, the BBC were filming tracked, turreted vehicles; they had pulled off the road into a field. The reporter does his piece to camera suggesting that the tanks have stopped moving, and that peace still had a chance. Unfortunately, the tracked-turreted-armoured vehicles in shot were not T-80 (a tank), but 2S3 (a self-propelled artillery piece). Anyone who'd stayed awake during their recognition lectures was now going "hold on - 2S3 is signature equipment for the Regimental Artillery Group; if the RAG has just deployed from the line of march, someone is about to get hammered".

Another "for instance"; during Operation CAST LEAD, the BBC showed film of smoke rounds landing in Gaza. Every soldier I knew who saw the intense white smoke went "F***! The Israelis just fired White Phosphorous rounds into a built-up area - are they insane?" but it took a while for the BBC to catch up...

380:

"... but it's very easy to drown the truth in an ocean of bollocks."

Who/what's the source of this ocean?

381:

The BBC does what the government tells it to do, when the government tells it to do something. When the government doesn't tell it what to do it is less biased, as long as your Overton window is set to frame a view of the world that is basically normative for upper-middle-class professionals based in London or the South-East of England (except on local channels, which may have locally produced/oriented content but which don't generally get traction on the national channels).

The BBC's news staff don't like being told what to do by the government and will sometimes gnaw hungrily on the feeding hand, if they think they can get away with it. But they're essentially on the same side of the class barricades as the MPs of any party that can get seats in parliament in the south-east.

382:

Well, that's the way it's presenting itself. If the American news media are correct, the key figures in Daesh are (former) Al Qaeda members, and they met in an American prison in Iraq.

We can easily both be right, so you can look at this (if you like) as a reworking of AQ as the latter has become less powerful. What is striking to me is how they seem to work best in the most wasted areas of Asia and Africa. That may be a sign of things to come, just as the relative power of narco-traffickers in the New World seems to correlate a bit with how bad the local economy and politics are in an area.

383:

Ebooks won't last, sure. If you go to the Coober Pedy public library today, though, you will find something in print about Obama. Historically-speaking, that's weird. Makes a joke of the whole 'finding records about Rome stored in Ireland' thing.

Most of the documents about Obama won't survive, but a substantial amount will: even in light of a catastrophic collapse of digital records. Enough to make our current records of fifth-century Rome seem embarrassingly pitiful. Think of someone like Augustus: no matter how you look at it, the records we have on Obama today outweighs what they would have had on Augustus at the time of his death in terms of bits, pages, kilograms, kilometres: however you measure the documents, we're talking an increase in information of many orders of magnitude. Just way more stuff to lose. And, sure, paper records deteriorate, but where that happens there is a corresponding social effort to preserve them.

Like, in response to Het, issues of preservation in light of climate change are slow ones. It's a problem that archivists are able to manage as it arises. It's not as if they're not already thinking about these problems.

384:

Yeah but what civilized military dares machine gun an entire population? That would surely be uncivilized, and probably racist.

A horde is not en entire population, a horde is usually a lot of young men with weapons. Entire population would be a mass migration, to which the appropriate answer is a big wall with a barbed wire under high voltage on top. See also: Israel, USA, and soon to debut in EU.

385:

Interested parties can pay people to generate bollocks to obfuscate specific issues, but few have to. There's no shortage of distracting bollocks. Go down to the newsstand and see the ocean of bollocks for yourself.

386:

The BBC has always been very Establishment but, every time there has been a controversy, the government has increased its control. Following the disgraceful Hutton report, it has become something like a UK version of the Soviet Pravda. Dirk Bruere is right about the omission, but there is also the appallingly slanted terminology. For example, an Israeli attack on Gaza is almost always 'retaliation', but I have never heard a Hamas attack described as such, even when they had reported the previous Israeli attacks.

387:

Well, you could start with the Dirty Digger.

388:

Phil K said - There's a lag between a scientific discovery and it's acceptance - even by "insiders".

Consider Michelson-Morley (1887), Einstein (1905) - surely there's no excuse for the 1911 Britannica to have a very long and detailed article about the Aether, by an Eminent Physicist (who may have Gone Emeritus).

Don't be silly, Phil K, there's no such thing as Aether.

I love the 1911 wiki article. Thanks...

Here is something equally fun.

Dayton Miller's Ether-Drift
Experiments: A Fresh Look
http://www.orgonelab.org/miller.htm

There is clearly a major geas suppressing the concept of the Aether. Did the experiments go too far? Did they violate Articles of the "Benthic Treaty"? Will we see OGH using Aether in some future story? One can only hope. HA!

389:

One of the reasons that successive governments don't want UK citizens using firearms is so that the courts are properly ignorant and accept the utter bullshit produced as evidence. I remember one trial where it was said that a marksman, from cover and with a steady rest, could not shoot to wound at 50 yards. And that was accepted by the judge, defence and jury.

390:

Aether is alive and well living under an assumed name: "Quantum Vacuum"

391:

Oops, prosecution, not defence.

392:

I think you’re forgetting the ideological dimension: ISIS has a grand narrative to sell to other Muslims (reinstating the Caliphate upon the methodology of the Prophet, eliminating the apostate puppet regimes from Muslim lands, etc.), which some are clearly buying. They may have started out as a local Sunni militia, but their ambition and recruitment pool is huge and global. That’s what makes them dangerous.

393:

I think you're more optimistic than Charlie or me. Personally, I've seen the local university library (tier 1 research university) gutted, with the collections either (if lucky) transferred to storage or with paper copies thrown out in favor of electronic copies, so that the dean could turn the library space into lab space and reap the financial benefits thereof.

So far as records go, in the west, we've moved from durable records (clay tablets) to more and more fragile media. In China, the media have always been fragile. For example, the Shang Dynasty may well have kept records on silk or bamboo, but since no silk or bamboo survive from that era, all we've got for documentation are their oracle bones, which show they had writing.

In general, non-archival paper seems to last about 50 years (1960s paperbacks are becoming unreadable now due to disintegration). With good preservation in a dry environment, vellum and papyrus documents last around 2,000 years (cf Egyptian papyri, Dead Sea Scrolls. Archival paper's somewhere in the middle, but that's only under optimal conditions. If we're dealing with civilizational collapse, we're dealing with suboptimal conditions pretty much by definition. Personally, I'm with Charlie, in that I don't expect electronic media to last nearly that long.

394:

For example, an Israeli attack on Gaza is almost always 'retaliation', but I have never heard a Hamas attack described as such, even when they had reported the previous Israeli attacks.

Considering that the pattern of hostilities between Israel and Hamas is always an attack by Hamas, followed by a rapid retaliation by Israel, followed by a longer period of Hamas licking its wounds, only a very biased person would call Hamas attacks "retaliation".

Doubly so when said attacks consist of indiscriminate firing of unguided rockets toward large population centers, without even trying to pretend to attack military targets. :-)

395:

. Personally, I'm with Charlie, in that I don't expect electronic media to last nearly that long.

I expect any given piece of electronic media to last as long as the internet, as long as there is any effort to preserve it (which amounts to keeping more than 1 copy, on different servers).

396:

"Doubly so when said attacks consist of indiscriminate firing of unguided rockets toward large population centers, without even trying to pretend to attack military targets. :-)"

Exactly - which is why we should supply them with precision guided munitions.

397:

I'd be wary to what I apply "cui bono". Certainly adequate when looking at editorials etc (as per Cahrlies coment), but you have lots of conspiracy nuts who use 'cui bono' to handwave the absurdest theories (and, surprisingly often, decide that everything is the Jews fault. See diverse 9/11 nuts)

Worked example: Haliburten et al profited massivly from the third gulf war. It stands to reasonthat quite a few editorials shilloing for this war where in some way or the other sponsored by them. It does not stand to reason that Haliburten sponsored the 9/11 guys.

Also note that mass media is mostly mass entertainment. You are not the customer (as reader/viewer) your eyeballs are the merchandise. It pay to show you stuff you are likely to believe. So you will see stuff about "What our boys will be carrying in Afghanitan" (Actual headline in a british newspaer in mid-september 2001 ) because patriotism allways works, etc. Or look at the total disconnect between german media and the rest of the world when it's about Greece. In Germany, the narrative is set: "we Germans support the lazy Greeks with our precios Euros." While Merkel and other Austerity fans certainly like these headlines, they don't need to order tham. It's what most people want to read over here.

398:

Oh dear... You may have seen too many Westerns where the Good Guy shoots a pistol out of the hands of the Bad Guy[1]. There is no "shooting to wound" in real life.

A police marksman discharging a firearm at someone is intending to stop them doing whatever they're doing immediately. The shot may kill the target but it is meant to incapacitate them quickly before they do something like draw a knife across a hostage's throat, shoot back at the police, set off a bomb etc. and a body shot is more certainly disabling than, say, shooting them in the leg and hoping that they don't shoot back. Of course shooting them in the leg risks clipping the femoral artery which can bleed a body out in thirty seconds or less...

That necessitates a shot to the centre of mass which allows for the target moving during the shot, deflection through glass, trigger snatch, acts of God etc. Snipers may do head shots but only because the target's head is the only visible part of the body they can reach but they'll go for centre of mass when they can get it every time.

Non-lethal weapons like pepper spray, tasers and baton rounds are suppressive, they're not intended to immediately stop the target in their tracks and they have a much less chance of actually stopping them at all.

[1] A spoof Western I saw once had a scene where the Good Guy is out in the desert practicing his shooting skills. The targets were wooden silhouettes of a hand holding a pistol...

399:

> If the American news media are correct, the key figures in Daesh are (former) Al Qaeda members, and they met in an American prison in Iraq.

El Graun published a report by Martin Chulov arguing the same, last year.

400:

Clearly you get your information from Fox News, or equivalent. In the cases I was referring to, I checked the facts with the pro-Israel press, and they were as I stated.

401:

How good a rifle shot are you under field conditions? I used to be fairly good, though was never a marksman because of poor eyesight, and could easily have shot to wound under the conditions I stated. I was also referring to cases where they were tied down in a fixed position with no hostages or passers by to worry about. You are correct that the gunsels, er, armed response squads don't do so, but you are talking nonsense if you claim that they couldn't. Martin would not be so foolish.

402:

>But Maxwell's equations followed Newton's assumption that gravity and electrical effects happened instantaneously at a distance. That's what made them so simple. Once you allow a delay, then things are not so simple after all.

The back of my A-level text showed how to derive the speed of light from Maxwell's equations and I was examined on it as an undergrad. All the results of special relativity were known before Einstein, including the finite speed of light. Einstein showed how it could be derived from a consistent theory without the need for the aether.

Dark Matter is not my area but IIRC WIMP-scale particles are ruled out as being significant contributors and Planck ruled out extra neutrino-scale particles. There is research being done on modifying gravity and that's where my money would be, but the simple mods don't match reality or have problems and a new particle would be very simple.

403:

Dark matter is most of the universe being converted into small stabilized black holes, each of which hosts an advanced civilization using it as a hypercomputer. We inhabit the leftover dross where nothing significant happens.

404:

I got to shoot early versions of the Accuracy International rifles on the Century range at Bisley but I was more of a pistol shot than being particularly competent with long arms. I did shoot at extended range with large-calibre pistols like a long-barrel .44 Magnum, on one occasion hitting man targets at 300 metres roughly fifty percent of the time by aiming for centre of mass over open sights from a rest.

What do you mean by "shoot to wound"? Which part of the human body are you planning to destroy with a medium-calibre rifle bullet to ensure the person you hit is incapacitated immediately from shock, blood loss, nerve damage or pain but with a lesser chance of killing them? If your shot goes five centimetres off target will it miss, perhaps hit a hostage or continue downrange and hit a bystander? A shot to centre of mass going 5cm adrift will still probably hit the target somewhere and be somewhat effective. Shooting to wound is going to inflict massive tissue damage, destroy bones, joints and organs and possibly cause death anyway AND IT HAS A LESSER CHANCE OF STOPPING THE TARGET IMMEDIATELY which is why when the firearms officer does have to shoot they deliberately aim for the centre of the body.

405:

Doubly so when said attacks consist of indiscriminate firing of unguided rockets toward large population centers, without even trying to pretend to attack military targets.

Indeed. Indiscriminate firing of explosive weapons into civilian areas. Inexcusable.

However... proportionality demands that we acknowledge that the total number of Israeli deaths from such rockets, from 2001 to 2014 (most recent figures I found from an apparently credible source) is 30 civilians and 14 soldiers.

http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/rocket-deaths-israel

This should be compared with the death toll from the retaliatory strikes; the question is whether the demonstrably lethal response is in proportion, or disproportionate. I would suggest that killing a hundred civilians on the "that" side in response to every civilian death on "this" side is rather hard to defend, whatever care was taken to avoid it.

I can highly recommend the following film;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gatekeepers_%28film%29

406:

How good a rifle shot are you under field conditions?

I'd rather not have offered my qualifications, because I worry it appears boastful. But they're relevant to your comment about "fifty yards", so...

My sport is ISSF smallbore target rifle; the range is 50 meters, the target centre is a centimeter across. I've represented both Scotland and Great Britain in international competition; and been a British champion on several occasions.

I've also competed in Service Weapons events; I was a battalion champion in an infantry unit, ran the unit shooting team for a couple of years, and as a young officer reached the top fifty in the TA championships (back in the Cold War, when we had the resources for wide participation). I've fired pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, machine-guns, and even anti-tank weapons (I'm appalling with a pistol, probably better off throwing it). I have also fired service weapons on decision-testing and field-firing ranges, not just "nice flat rifle range" stuff. I have never (fortunately) had to deploy on operations, so I have never fired a weapon at a live target.

With that background, and speaking as an experienced coach in both areas, I can offer you my considered opinion that "shooting to wound" is not a practical act - and the reason is as simple as human reaction time.

The best you will ever see from "decide to fire" to "gun goes bang" is a fifth of a second. That's a target shooter making a decision based on "is the aim correct". That reaction time for a police marksman is more likely to be a third of a second to a half-second for any more complex target than a black circle on a white background. Ask yourself how much you move on the sofa while watching TV - a centimeter or three? Unpredictably? And if you do move, at how many cm per quarter-second do your limbs travel?

In a fifth, or a third, or a half of a second, your supposedly perfect "wounding" point of impact may move. The sight picture that you decided to fire against, will change. Assuming your police marksman is perfectly trained in human anatomy, that the target is perfectly still, that clothing doesn't obscure a clear understanding of the aim point - the slightest movement or rotation on the part of the target will change "hits the shoulder/knee joint" into "rips open the brachial/femoral artery".

Note that this is assuming target-rifle accuracy at Olympic standards - namely, centimeter positioning of the point of impact, given an ideal prone firing position with supportive equipment. Add a non-ideal firing position (standing or kneeling, rather than prone) and the group size will double to two centimeters. Remove the supportive clothing used in target sports, add the fatigue of remaining on-aim for more than a few seconds, and the group size will likely double again. Add variations in range, and you will see a height dispersion at short ranges that is significant (several centimeters difference in zero point for an optic-sighted service weapon between 25m and 50m). Add movement, even within the confines of a car, and all bets are off.

Ooperational marksmen aim for the centre of visible mass. They shoot to stop. The level of force required to stop is generally (but not always) lethal. Anyone who believes that they have any other realistic option, in all but a few artificially-constructed scenarios, is sadly ignorant of the practicalities of marksmanship.

You do not "shoot to wound" - you either "shoot to stop" (because discharging your firearm is the only way to save life, either your own or that of another) or you don't shoot at all. Firearms are lethal; the application of potentially lethal force can only be justified to save a life. These are the basis for most rules of engagement.

407:

Hell, who's to say that the universe hasn't already crashed any number of times already? As long as they get the simulation up and running again from a backup, there's no way we would be able to tell. That doesn't mean that crashing it is a good idea, of course. We might lose however much time it's been since they last saved, which could easily include the entire history of humanity.

This is basically the plot of one of Jack Chalker's Well World novels, and the protagonist spends most of the book griping about how he doesn't want to reboot the universe again. He has his reasons; other characters focus on "doesn't want to reboot the universe" when the more worrying part is "again." Not only is reality unraveling like a cheap sweater, this isn't the first time...

(I turn my back for 48 hours and all this happens! I could keep up on blogs more easily if I weren't gainfully employed.)

408:

My view is that quantum computers will work up to a certain number of qubits and then fall over, for no apparent theoretical reason. Building them is also probably one of the best fundamental tests of physics we can do now that the LHC seems to have run out of steam.

409:

You are completely missing the point. I know that fifth of a second far very well indeed, for other reasons. My experience is mainly small game shooting, so very much all the conditions you are referring to. I was not, repeat NOT, talking about the occasions when the plod needed to stop someone pronto. I was talking about when a person was holed up somewhere, with no hostages and all civilians cleared from the vicinity. The marksmen then fired several shots, aimed to kill, and claimed that it was not possible to do anything else. It's irrelevant that trying to put a bullet through a person's shoulder might put one through his heart, if he moved - the point is that it wasn't even tried. Fer chrissake, if even I could have wounded that person with a high probability of success, a marksman could. You could perfectly well argue that they shouldn't have shot in the first place - but that wasn't my point, either. My point was that the claims made to the court were simple lies, but accepted because they didn't know any better.

410:

You are changing the conditions; see my previous post for the cases I was talking about. At 50 yards, you can shoot for the shoulder (which would prevent that person from using his gun thereafter). It might kill, but probably wouldn't.

411:

It's very difficult to conceal the truth, but it's very easy to drown the truth in an ocean of bollocks.

Many people have been posting on this subject, but I wanted an excuse to echo that bit.

I've been getting my nose rubbed in an example elsewhere on the internet in the last day or so. Remember 20 years back when the USS Vincennes shot down an Airbus? It's one of the most embarrassing friendly fire incidents in the whole history of the US military. Some people can't except the official story, that an American crew screwed up by the numbers and killed 290 innocent people. So alternative stories come out, that the jetliner was on a kamikaze run at the cruiser, and that it was full of naked corpses which had been shot beforehand. That this doesn't make any sense is not the point; people are obviously working backward from the premise the US Navy didn't do anything wrong and concluding that therefore there was an overly complicated plot against the American government by the Iranian government, which has then been covered up by the American government. (This is my "What the actual fuck?" face.) They don't like the official story - fair enough, I don't like it either. But I'm inclined to believe the Navy's claims about the contents of the Vincennes' data recorders; any other scenario has to explain why lying "we fucked up and killed hundreds of people for no reason" is better than telling the truth. Outside the Laundry novels there really aren't many situations where that would be a rational action.

412:

My view is that quantum computers will work up to a certain number of qubits and then fall over, for no apparent theoretical reason. Building them is also probably one of the best fundamental tests of physics we can do now that the LHC seems to have run out of steam.

Fair enough; that's a (soon to be) testable hypothesis. Do you have any guesses what that certain number will be?

If it's on the order of 10^6 we'll be constrained in what we can do with quantum computers. If it's 10^29 we'll probably never find it. If it's three we'll see some very surprised researchers.

413:

I was talking about when a person was holed up somewhere, with no hostages and all civilians cleared from the vicinity. The marksmen then fired several shots, aimed to kill

Can you give us more details of the instance you're describing? I'm genuinely curious, particularly as I can't think of any cases matching your description.

If the situation was as you described, then they shouldn't have fired. Simple.

If the situation was that another police officer was exposed, and the marksman believed that officer's life to be threatened (for whatever reason - sudden movement, reaching into an obscured location), then it's "shoot to stop" time.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not an unqualified admirer of Firearms Officers; I thought the officers involved in the Harry Stanley case should have been prosecuted for manslaughter as a minimum. I do feel pity for the firers involved in the de Menezes case - my ire is reserved for the Ops Room team, and for the surveillance team leader.

414:

At 50 yards, you can shoot for the shoulder (which would prevent that person from using his gun thereafter). It might kill, but probably wouldn't.

Which is exactly my point - you do not use lethal force in any situation where lethality is not warranted; the rules of engagement do not allow for it.

You wouldn't restrain someone during arrest by kicking someone in the head, on the basis that "it might kill, but probably wouldn't". It's an unreasonable use of force.

Try googling "rules of engagement"; throw in "yellow card" or "white card" if you want to fund examples of the rules under which soldiers were authorised to carry weapons within the UK (yes, I've mounted an armed guard).

415:

Regarding how long we can expect to be able to access (historical) electronic media ... see the British Library.


http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/stratpolprog/digi/webarch/

Excerpt:


"Open UK Web Archive

Since 2004, the British Library has been selectively archiving websites with research value that are representative of British social history and cultural heritage. Websites archived to date are made available through the Open UK Web Archive, along with additional material archived by the National Library of Wales, the Joint Information Systems Committee and the Wellcome Library. The Open UK Web Archive contains regular snapshots of thousands of websites and offers rich search functionalities including full-text, title and URL search. The archive may also be browsed by Title, by Subject and by Special Collection.

Selected websites will continue to be added to this open access collection."

416:

It's very difficult to conceal the truth, but it's very easy to drown the truth in an ocean of bollocks.

Echoing Scott's point, is it really? I mean, either there are an awful lot of truly effective seekers of truth, bravely defeating deep state conspiracies - or actually, it's mostly down to mindbendingly stupid cockup rather than failed conspiracy.

Because there's an ocean of bollocks out there about how the Moon landings were faked, TWA800 was shot down, no airliner hit the Pentagon, and the World Trade Centre was demolished.

A very senior Metropolitan Policeman stood up and uttered complete bollocks about the behaviour of Jean Charles de Menezes ("jumping the barrier", "running into the station", etc) - see Stockwell 2.

President Putin swore blind that the little green men grabbing control of the Crimea were definitely not members of the Russian Armed Forces, acting under the direction of Moscow; and that flight ML17 was definitely not shot down by a Russian-backed separatists using a Russian-supplied SAM system.

Secretary Powell told the UN that there was proof of an ongoing Iraqi biological weapons programme. Tons of bollocks there.

How many of these were successful?

There has been some successful bollocks; certain propaganda efforts are still generally accepted (generally involving claims where invading forces throw babies from incubators, use captured troops for organ donations, etc, etc). The Bread Queue Massacre in Sarajvo is another (a good book for an insight into some of this is "Trusted Mole" by Milos Stankovic).

417:

As a guess, with no special foundation apart from numerology, I would suggest it would fall over when the number of possible states exceeds the local Bekenstein Bound
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bekenstein_bound
So if we assume a nice round number of 10^40 we have somewhere in the low hundreds of qubits.
But I'm almost certainly talking bollocks

418:

"... but it's very easy to drown the truth in an ocean of bollocks."

Who/what's the source of this ocean?

"For example, an Israeli attack on Gaza is almost always 'retaliation', but I have never heard a Hamas attack described as such, even when they had reported the previous Israeli attacks."

Considering that the pattern of hostilities between Israel and Hamas is always an attack by Hamas, followed by a rapid retaliation by Israel, followed by a longer period of Hamas licking its wounds, only a very biased person would call Hamas attacks "retaliation".

Thank you! A perfect example!

Obviously if one side hits the other so hard that it takes them awhile to recover enough to hit back, the losers are the aggressors who deserve to get a whole lot more retaliation all over again.

Sometimes I think we're all of us just little sludgeworms trying to survive in an ocean of bollocks.

419:

"At 50 yards, you can shoot for the shoulder (which would prevent that person from using his gun thereafter). It might kill, but probably wouldn't."

Which is exactly my point - you do not use lethal force in any situation where lethality is not warranted; the rules of engagement do not allow for it.

So it sounds like, in the case he's talking about, somebody was shot with intention to kill when it was not at all necessary, and there was a trial.

And the defendant's lawyer called in experts who said that nobody should ever shoot to wound, that he did the right thing shooting intending to kill. He was following his training, because everybody gets trained like you did -- never ever attempt to wound, always shoot to kill.

And anyway, the weapons aren't designed to wound, they are designed only to kill. If you shoot somebody in the foot they will almost certainly lose the foot, it will almost certainly knock them down, it might kill them, and it may not stop them. They might still do something terrible after they are knocked down. If you shoot somebody in the little finger that finger will be gone, and they might lose their hand, and it will knock them down, but it might not stop them. The weapon has an intended use -- to apply so much force that the person is unable to do anything and probably die quick. Don't try to use it for something else.

But all that was a smoke-screen. The point was not that he should have shot to wound. The point was that he should not have shot at all.

And yet, look at the other side of it. Say it was a standoff and there were fifty trained men nearby making sure the suspect did not get away. And say it would take four hours to persuade him to surrender peacefully. Then he would have to be escorted to jail, there would be a trial in which a number of the men would be witnesses, all in all it could easily tie up a thousand police-hours. The equivalent of tying up one man's work hours for half a year, just to save this perpetrator (whose guilt was not in any doubt) for the judicial system. Considerably cheaper to just kill him.

420:

That depends on what you want to do. If you want to keep the people who really care about the issue ignorant, it's very difficult. There usually aren't many of those people, and they're usually too independent-minded to organize effectively.

Most politicians only need to introduce enough uncertainty that their supporters can continue to believe in them, which is what their supporters wanted to do in the first place. That level of obfuscation is rather easy. For example, where I live most people believe that global warming is a hoax, and taking it seriously in public is like avowing support for ISIS or belief in evolution. I wish I was joking.

421:
I mean, either there are an awful lot of truly effective seekers of truth, bravely defeating deep state conspiracies - or actually, it's mostly down to mindbendingly stupid cockup rather than failed conspiracy.

Because there's an ocean of bollocks out there about how the Moon landings were faked, TWA800 was shot down, no airliner hit the Pentagon, and the World Trade Centre was demolished.

[....]

Secretary Powell told the UN that there was proof of an ongoing Iraqi biological weapons programme. Tons of bollocks there.

How many of these were successful?

I'm pretty sure the moon landings were real. I think the evidence is compatible with TWA800 not shot down. Various experts who consider that a possibility seem to me like they aren't lying. I'm not sure how good the evidence is that there couldn't have been a surface to air missile, but it's plausible that there wasn't.

Something hit the Pentagon on the side where it would do minimal damage. I don't see why it matters whether it was an airliner or something else.

We were lucky the WTC didn't topple over, but maybe the design prevented that. I dunno, apparently ahead of time nobody thought it would fall down. If we can believe the likely-falsified interview with Bin Ladin, his own experts didn't think it would fall down. They thought the towers would stand there with some damage showing for a very long time. It makes sense that way. If he said he was going after the stockbrokers who control US neocolonialism, and that's mostly who he got, a lot of people would think it was pretty cool. If he had destroyed the big IRS building instead maybe a lot of Americans would have cheered for him.

It's plausible that the collapse was an accident. It would take a really picky anal-retentive conspiracy to go to a whole lot of trouble to make sure it fell down straight, when they didn't expect it would fall down at all.

I don't know much about the Iraqi biological weapons program. It made some sense for them to have one when they were fighting Iran. If they used it for a defensive war they would usually expose more of their own people than the enemy, it doesn't look practical. Bioweapons programs are easier to hide than nuclear programs, especially in the early stages. I dunno. They could have had something, but probably not very much.

We won't know whether there was a successful 9/11 conspiracy until we find out the truth. But lots of Truther bollocks has helped to persuade Americans that there wasn't one, which seems pretty silly to me.

There has been some successful bollocks; certain propaganda efforts are still generally accepted (generally involving claims where invading forces throw babies from incubators, use captured troops for organ donations, etc, etc).

When governments etc make hasty lies for temporary gain, pretty often those are revealed later.

It's hard to tell how many lies are widely believed. I remember once somebody looked at the number of caves discovered in Tennessee that had one entrance, and two entrances, and three entrances, and so on, and they used that to estimate the number of Tennessee caves that had zero entrances. I don't think that method would work for finding undiscovered lies, because the discoveries are not independent.

Maybe it would help to start listing stories you believe. Those would all be candidates for successful bollocks.

422:

"Something hit the Pentagon on the side where it would do minimal damage. I don't see why it matters whether it was an airliner or something else."

Well, apart from all the eyewitnesses who said it was a plane, there is the matter of everyone on the passenger list being dead. If it was not that airliner, then presumably all those passengers were killed elsewhere and the plane destroyed to cover a missile attack.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a5659/debunking-911-myths-pentagon/

423:

"Something hit the Pentagon on the side where it would do minimal damage. I don't see why it matters whether it was an airliner or something else."

Well, apart from all the eyewitnesses who said it was a plane, there is the matter of everyone on the passenger list being dead. If it was not that airliner, then presumably all those passengers were killed elsewhere and the plane destroyed to cover a missile attack.

Yes, sure. They didn't put all the passengers in the witness protection program, or deport them to someplace that wouldn't let them talk to the media.

What would be the benefit of using a missile in place of the plane they already had?

I saw photos of pieces of airliner that somebody had photographed on the Pentagon grounds. That could have been faked, but why?

It's like the White Knight dying his beard green so he has an excuse to keep it covered with a fan. If you're the US government and you have unlimited resources, and you can scare a whole lot of government employees who get hints what you've done (people who have radar records or transponder records showing the airliner going somewhere else, etc etc etc) maybe you can do it and have only rumors. But what for?

424:

That could have been faked, but why?

That's the big problem for the UFO fans who want to blame the Air Force for black helicopters and cattle mutilations. Sure, the USAF has lots of helicopters. But it also has lots of money and can buy all the cows it wants. Even total deniability would be stupidly easy; maybe the local air force base buys five cows and four cows worth of steaks show up in the cafeteria. At some point the weird, dramatic, and complicated ideas just can't stand up against Occam's Razor.

425:

As a guess, with no special foundation apart from numerology, I would suggest it would fall over when the number of possible states exceeds the local Bekenstein Bound. So if we assume a nice round number of 10^40 we have somewhere in the low hundreds of qubits. But I'm almost certainly talking bollocks.

Well reasoned bollocks, though. As far as anyone knows it might even be true! It sounds plausible anyway.

Here's another thought, irrelevant to real physics (I hope) but something that the simulation hypothesis suggests. What if qubit processing isn't localized-within-the-simulation? I've used plenty of VR systems and even coded for a few; I know very well the kind of half assed shortcuts programmers will take. What if there's only one qubit processor routine for the simulated universe? Every quantum computer in the universe would have to be handled by the same unit.

Yes, this would be a stupid way to write a universe. On the other hand, have you used a computer lately? *shakes head*

That might even be an interesting bug supporting the simulation hypothesis; unless the general clock time was adjusted carefully the speed of quantum computers would visibly depend on how many others were running anywhere in the sim space.

426:

At some point the weird, dramatic, and complicated ideas just can't stand up against Occam's Razor.

Yes. Sometimes reality is weird in ways you wouldn't predict. But what good is it to believe in conspiracy theories that don't make sense?

If you happen to be living in the Laundryverse, Occam's Razor is not your friend. But random conspiracy theories are not your friends either. You probably don't have any friends who know what's going on. You're like a blindfolded lamb wandering around a slaughterhouse.

Are you perhaps living in something similar to the Laundryverse? Occam's Razor says no. Physics is simpler if we assume there is only one universe, and the one-universe explanation fits all the data that's available to you.

Nothing has ever happened to you that cannot be explained by one-universe physics, except for dreams and hallucinations. Let me rephrase that. Everything that has ever happened to you that does not fit this theory can be explained away as a dream or a hallucination, and possibly some Laundry workers have encouraged you to accept that explanation.

Maybe Occam's Razor is your friend after all. It gives you a simple story to believe in, that lets you sleep at night. There's a lot to be said for not worrying about things you can't do anything about.

If it's true that you're living in the Laundryverse, you'll probably be happier to falsely believe that you aren't.

427:

Do you have secret sources you believe? When I watch the propaganda I can't tell much about the reality, mostly about what the propagandists want people to believe. I get that ISIS is supposed to be pure evil and it will do horrible things to many innocent people -- shias, sunnis, and others -- unless the USA contributes enough force to stop them. Beyond that....


If it's on camera, we saw it.

That's the point.

Unless you can honestly stand up and state you've processed a thousand thousand files, all ferried across the globe through light then get a grip.

It was witnessed. And it wasn't exactly fun watching it in slow time.

Meafucker. Now back the fuck off before you get spanked or I dump files that couldn't possibly be accessed here. (*ahem* The only extant PDF on the net, not indexed blah blah).

FUN TIMES FOR THOSE WHO DOUBT:

Daily Mail outlines how a Fatwa is issued against non-sanctioned videos today (go find it)

Times outlines how Topology in AI is an issue

Massive Bomb on the end of Eid for Shiites

Feminist tracts found in Mesopotamian (Assyrian) tablets

and so on and so forth.


About another 10 examples.


It's a cruel twist on the whole "we make the news" and "But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Smart cookies will see that that the mention of "Empire" is being redacted across the networks so fast it'd give Sunlight a run for it's money.

I do love the fact you're paying attention now. Sadly, you're not.


Check the links: I don't find little grasping games of subconscious subversion impressive btw. Oh, noes: you haz like turnzed mai memorais againzt me. Oh, noes: you haz like soon into hellfire. Oh, noes, your ancient love is now dooooomed.


I prefer the reality stuff.

And I'm really fucking good at it.

428:

Hilarious.

It's

Meatfucker.


But there's a joke in there anyhow.

429:

Except
Any new underpinning theory must accommodate existing observations & probably contain a new (?) underlying level of detail that that "drops out" into present results/observations -as relativity drops out into Newtonian for low masses & velocities.
Incidentally there is SOMETHING existing which is given the label "dark matter" for convenience - as to what it precisely is, is a matter of debate.
"Dark energy" of course is uncle Albert's "Big Lambda"

430:

Oh bugger, lets try that again - moderators please delete previous post?

And everybody else after Dirk's post on the BBC
In which case why are are own (comparatively mild) right-wing nutjobs so down on the "dangerous leftie", if not crypto-communist, BBC?
Yes, the Beeb will obey a direct guvmint order, but they also try to be independent.
I can remember when Harold Wilsundra Wilson was convinced the BBC was a right-wing plot!

431:

Spot on - see my post above.
Re the SNP
I have been personally racially abused in one of my locals in London by an SNP supporter, who claimed that England had no culture - & I'm a Morris Dancer!
NOT impressed, any more than I'm impressed by the SNP's "Presbyterian" insistence on "turning all the walls of the houses into glass", or their corrupt takeover & compression of "Police Scotland" in to a centralised, politically-directed gendarmerie.
Please note - I am a fervent supporter of Devo-Max, for all the regions/nations of the Islands.

432:

"Do you have secret sources you believe?"

If it's on camera, we saw it.

When I was five I was watching a TV program, a cowboy show, and my uncle told me it wasn't real. I pointed out that it had to be really happening or they couldn't film it.

He said it wasn't real, they were only actors. And I pointed out that they had to be really doing it, really acting it out, or they couldn't film it.

Now you're taking my position on that. If you see something on camera, they have to really be acting it out.

Except they don't necessarily, any more. Technology does wonders....

433:

I suspect there are very covert orders out for the vile Murdoch, after yesterday's "revelations"
I sincerely hope so, anyway.

434:

I thought the LHC had just been rebooted with more wick?

435:

The half-life of a DRM'd ebook is about 2.5 downloads. Assuming a normal lifecycle for smartphones, that's about 3 years (folks often change their phone around the 15-24 month mark; my wife's currently running a 3 year old iPhone and the thing's clapped-out). eInk readers don't last much longer -- the mechanical displays don't like temperature cycling and have a limited lifespan.

DRM-free is another matter. We have text/ASCII files going back decades, and there's no reason to assume that widely-supported open standard file formats like uncompressed epub or HTML (epub is actually a containerized version of HTML) won't remain readable, given a computing machinery infrastructure, in decades to come.

Alas, we're moving from hard disks to FLASH-based SSDs, and it turns out that FLASH storage isn't temperature resilient either -- they especially don't like being heated even to 40-50 celsius (hello, global climate change). There are newer memory technologies on the medium-term (5-10 year) horizon that promise to fix all of FLASH's defects, though, so this may be a temporary problem, like the period in the mid to late 80s when the MTBF of larger hard drives was around 6000-7000 hours (these days it's pushing into the millions of hours).

The point is, archival storage of digital data is (a) a process that requires regular migration to new media, curation to ensure that what's archived is known, and format updates to maintain readability, and (b) it depends on having a computing infrastructure with at least the same level of storage density and cpu speed as currently exists.

What do you suppose the life expectancy of the microprocessors in an Android tablet is like? Even leaving aside the battery -- batteries can be replaced -- what about dopant migration in the chip substrate? I know that mid-1970s microprocessors generally work fine today, but what about mid-2010's microprocessors in the 2050s, with their multiple-orders-of-magnitude higher density?

436:

Yes, with one correction. They said that it wasn't possible to shoot to wound under those conditions, which is a bare-faced lie. Similarly, during one trial (the Gross killing?), it was said that it was necessary to have the safety catch off in order to search a house, because it took too long to put on in an emergency. My military colleagues (some of whom had patrolled in Northern Ireland) were as rude as I was about that claim. But it was accepted by the court.

Despite common belief, the UK has a poor record for innocent, unarmed and not-immediately-dangerous suspects being shot by the authorities. Also, if the only action they are attempting is to shoot to kill, the proportion of people wounded is ridiculously high. Including one person shot 7 (?) times at point-blank range!

Anyway, I will stop responding with this, even if I am further misrepresented.

437:

Yes, it's a perfect example. That claim that the pattern is Hamas attacking first is Israeli propaganda, because it carefully discounts the targetted assassinations (some of which kill bystanders) and similar actions. What I can't say, not having investigated enough of the cases in enough depth and from enough sources is what proportions are Israel first, Hamas first and non-Hamas anti-Israel first.

438:

Great post! I think the influence of Lovecraft is all over the best science fiction that deals with the irreducible, incomprehensible and inescapable otherness of possible life forms and AIs in the Universe, especially evident in Lem's fiction and non-fiction (Summa Technologiae) but also in authors like Robert Charles Wilson (Cronoliths, Spin, Burning Paradise) and Charlie himself.

439:

any other scenario has to explain why lying "we fucked up and killed hundreds of people for no reason" is better than telling the truth.

Actually, I can give you an example of that sort of thing happening (involving the Royal Navy).

Rewind to 1982, and the Falklands Conflict. HMS Conqueror, a Churchill-class nuclear submarine, is in the South Atlantic, shadowing the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano, as it steams around the west of the exclusion zone around the islands declared by the British government. Conqueror torpedoes the Belgrano and 323 men die in the resulting explosions and botched evacuation.

As you can imagine questions were asked after the war about the lawfulness of the order to fire on the Belgrano, which was reportedly cruising away from the exclusion zone at the precise time the torpedos were fired. Imagine the embarrassment, then, when at the public enquiry it is revealed that about six months' worth of pages from the log book of HMS Conqueror have been sliced out, including the crucial record of the engagement. It all looked like a tacit admission of guilt -- that the Conqueror fired on the Belgrano illegally.

Conspiracy theories swirl, in particular around the murder of anti-war campaigner Hilda Murrell -- perhaps because she was the aunt of a naval intelligence officer involved in the chain of command that authorized HMS Conqueror to sink the Belgrano. Had she come into possession of some stolen classified documents and been bumped off by the intelligence services before she could go public?

...

Then two things happened.

In 2003 a cold case review 20 years on with better forensic capabilities matched DNA traces to a suspect, who was subsequently tried and found guilty of her murder. (There's still some controversy -- some claim that he wasn't acting alone -- but it looks like straightforward robbery-gone-wrong followed by a stabbing which might have been survivable if the victim hadn't died of hypothermia before anyone found her.)

And then in 2014 the 30 year rule kicked in, declassifying secret documents, and we learned about the real reason for the vandalized log book -- Operation Barmaid, which was nothing to do with the Falklands conflict but even more embarrassing if word got out, and which happened two months later in the Barents Sea. (You are encouraged to follow that last link!)

Here's the point: it is pretty certain that the Belgrano was heading into the exclusion zone with orders to fire upon any British warships it found, and the Conqueror did fire upon it lawfully. This was known at the time to the government. But the need to keep Operation Barmaid a closely guarded secret was on-going -- they didn't want the Soviets to realize that the Royal Navy had stolen one of their most advanced towed hydrophone arrays -- so they kept quiet and allowed conspiracy theories to flourish rather than risk the secrecy of a major intelligence coup.

440:

That's misleading, because what it might be is a simple correction to one of the formulae - there might be nothing new. I have seen a couple of serious papers pointing out that such corrections account for the data as well as the dark matter hypothesis.

My personal favourite is that there could be a very low-probability interaction effect between radiation and the 'quantum foam', just enough to account for the red shift. Whereupon the whole house of cards would collapse :-) That might even include the continuous creation hypothesis, as that lost energy might reappear as matter. No, of course, I don't believe it - but all of the disproofs I have seen rely on assuming the current theories.

441:

Thank you for that pointer! All is now clear, except why the government didn't say that the reasons would be disclosed after the war, and make the point about the shallow water then. That only appeared later, by which time the conspiracy theory had got its boots on. But that's just common or garden incompetence.

442:

"I thought the LHC had just been rebooted with more wick?"

Yes, a factor of 2 in energy, with everyone concerned hoping that it will turn up new physics, rather than the expected (Higgs boson). Because if it doesn't it's the end of the line for super expensive Big Machine physics.

443:

I think terms like 'optimistic' and 'pessimistic' are basically ad hominems, where optimistic is the nice way of saying 'naive' and pessimistic is the nice way of saying 'cynical'.

Yes, universities are chucking out a lot of published materials and some of them are a bit overzealous with that project. But we should expect that. The high-water mark for published material was probably somewhere around 2000, when it wasn't that convenient to locate books online. But in the last ten years it's become much easier to do just that, and we're seeing a corresponding decline in the need to keep as many books on library shelves. This was all very predictable, and we're just arriving at a new equilibrium between what is produced and stored physically and what is kept digitally.

Papyrus and parchment survive well under optimal conditions, yes. And so does archival paper. Even medium-grade acid free paper should be expected to do okay after a century or so: I have a handful of books in my library that are about that old, and plenty of cheap paperbacks from the fifties and sixties that are still very readable. I'm not suggesting that most of the current materials will survive the next millennia or two, but that enough will that we will have a much better appreciate of the early 21st Century then than we have of the 5th Century now. There is more material to be lost and those materials are much more widely dispersed, which in both cases means more redundancy. And it's hard to imagine catastrophic civilisational collapse serious enough to threaten every country on earth simultaneously that would leave anyone around afterwards to even write history. Because even if Europe and America simultaneously fell to some revolution or nuclear holocaust or something, you would still have a lot of materials archived around the world which could be copied back to them after they picked themselves up again.

444:

"In which case why are are own (comparatively mild) right-wing nutjobs so down on the "dangerous leftie", if not crypto-communist, BBC?"

Probably for the same reasons I am.
People are forced to pay for it through a tax on their TVs, even if they do not watch BBC.
Second, and probably the main one, the hypocrisy. We are constantly told how BBC news is the best and most impartial. It's a lie.

445:

Despite common belief, the UK has a poor record for innocent, unarmed and not-immediately-dangerous suspects being shot by the authorities.

Compared to who? Seriously? I don't want to sealion, but I would prefer if you quantified that assertion.

We can count the number of police shootings per year in the UK on one hand. Only a handful of armed policemen have ever fired at anything other than a paper target; the overwhelming majority of ARV callouts are resolved without any shots being fired.

According to one reasonably credible acquaintance (this was a decade ago), the longest-range shot ever taken by a police marksman was just under 70 yards (which caused some amusement when watching Kent Police training on the range at Lydd at the 300m firing point).

Also, if the only action they are attempting is to shoot to kill, the proportion of people wounded is ridiculously high. Including one person shot 7 (?) times at point-blank range!

Nope, the attempt is to stop. Remember, the police are trained to use minimum force - the instant that the target stops presenting a threat, the shooting is supposed to stop. Fall down and drop the gun, shooting stops, first aid starts.

If armed cops are called, the control centre is going to have tasked an ambulance (because shooting goes in both directions); it, and paramedics, will be in the vicinity. Any wounded people therefore have a rather high chance of getting instant treatment, and reaching the operating table within the "Golden Hour". Look at the survival rates of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan, or even the Falklands War (think about Robert Lawrence, who wrote "Tumbledown").

Killing someone with a degree of certainty is as difficult as "only wounding someone with a degree of certainty" that you propose - the Hollywood "keeps going, it's only a flesh wound" and "utters last words in protagonist's arms, showing a red splash to the shoulder" are both possible depending on sheer random chance. Hit the large artery, miss the artery.

Note also that UK police typically use military ammunition (full metal jacket; designed so as not to cause unnecessary suffering in humans) rather than hunting ammunition (hollow point; designed to kill animals quickly) or frangible ammunition (designed to avoid ricochets in built-up areas, but found to have very high lethality rates in the US).

The condition under which the UK police shoot to kill, rather than stop, was defined under Operation KRATOS (link) - namely, prevent someone from pushing a button. On that one occasion they were trying to kill, they succeeded (see also Operation FLAVIUS (link); similar reasoning, similar tactics, similar outcome).

446:

The major problem with the more bizarre conspiracy theories is not the face value claims, but their inescapable implications.
Consider an old favorite - there are aliens and the government (doesn't matter which one) does secret deals with them for technology or whatever.
The first order, and most minor, implication is that NASA and the whole conventional aerospace industry (including zillion dollar programs like the F35) are just elaborate window dressing to hide the really secret stuff.
When you factor in galactic empires, the New World Order etc etc believers end up living in a world of unlimited omnipotent cosmic horror.

447:

Compared to some (much?) of Europe and, if one source was right, the more civilised parts of North America (yes, there are some!) The record I was referring to is the proportion of people shot who were in the categories innocent, unarmed and not-immediately-dangerous, not the absolute numbers - which, as you say, are low. And I accept that a major cause may be lack of experience.

448:

Indeed, the LHC has rebooted and already discovered another class of particles. See excerpt below.

http://home.web.cern.ch/about/updates/2015/07/discovery-new-class-particles-lhc

"The LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has reported the discovery of a class of particles known as pentaquarks. The collaboration has submitted today a paper reporting these findings (link is external) to the journal Physical Review Letters.

“The pentaquark is not just any new particle,” said LHCb spokesperson Guy Wilkinson. “It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over 50 years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted.”

449:

I suspect the number of unwarranted shooting deaths per year by the police in the US is far higher than in the UK. Ditto for Canada, which has a police shooting rate a good order of magnitude worse than the UK.

(I haven't bothered checking the statistics for the remaining country of North America, but I'd be very surprised if Mexico was a magical twin to Finland.)

As a proportion? That's a ratio of two numbers, both very low by those places' standards. What it's saying here is we haven't decreased the unwarranted killings rate as much as we have the overall rate.

450:

We have different takes on pessimistic and cynical. I tend to be generally pessimistic, in that I assume things won't work out well, and when they do, I'm pleasantly disappointed. It's basically about which side of your prediction you want the error bar to be on. If you're a pessimist like me, you prepare for the worst and learn to enjoy the fact that you're wrong most of the time. If you're the inverse, a cock-eyed optimist, you prepare for the best, and reality often falls short. I won't go into optimists' coping strategies.

Both strategies have their advantages and weaknesses. My kind of pessimism is inimical to rapid growth, but it works great in emergencies. The converse optimism allows entrepreneurs to become rich, although most such dreams fail to take off. Both have their place, and neither is an optimal strategy for all circumstances.

I'm sorry that you take this as an ad hominem attack.

In any case, the big reason for my pessimism is that (as Charlie knows, but I suspect you don't), I'm working on a book on the effects of severe climate change. Granted that this is a scenario that rolls out over decades, centuries, and millennia, but it's the basis for my skepticism over the survival of digital media. To me, their biggest weakness is that they all depend on the kinds of huge supply chains that history has shown fall apart during social unrest and environmental change, going back to the bronze of the bronze age. Charlie focuses on the more technical problems of keeping the data in a digital medium with a fairly short shelf life. We both come to the same conclusion, which is that at this point, it doesn't look like digital media will last that long, at least compared with durable media like vellum and especially baked clay tablets. If you want some additional reading, you can look at how the Long Now Foundation is trying to transmit data to the distant future. Their take is that at this point, analog media are far more durable, and their preferred medium is nickle alloy.

As for imagining the collapse of civilization, it's probably going to be a cascade rather than a crash. Civilization is always facing major crises, from natural disasters to wars, psychotic dictators, and social problems. It's always falling apart somewhere. In general, this isn't a global problem, because not everything falls apart at once, and once the dust settles, the survivors mourn, pick up the pieces, and build new lives with what remains and the aid they receive. It's a version of that idiotic phrase "creative destructive" so beloved of entrepreneurs. Global collapse will get going when local crashes happen faster than recovery processes do, when international aid and food shipments dry up, and increasing numbers of people have to survive on their own or die trying.

There are two problems with this for us mortals. One is that it's going to be impossible to tell we're in a collapse until it's well and truly underway. For example, is the Syrian water war the beginning of the end for the Middle East, or just merely another bloody stupid mess brought on by the way the Ottoman Empire was carved up after WWI? We won't know until the dust settles, and we find out whether anyone wants to return.

The second problem is that it's very difficult to figure out which areas are going to survive even partially intact. We can take some good guesses on the likely losers (southern California, where I live, will get depopulated Mayan-style when the water pipes run dry, and south Florida will get depopulated by saltwater intruding into their aquifer long before the ocean reclaims the land), but guessing who will survive somewhat intact is much more difficult. For example, Detroit is a likely survivor in environmental terms (access to the great lakes, probably good relative to climate change, lots of crop land, etc.), but it needs a functioning political system to survive, and that it doesn't have at the moment.

The bottom line is, like the Irish monasteries in the dark ages, it's entirely possible that some out-of-the way band of nerds will keep a lot of records, or some millionaires will decide to engrave Will and Ariel Durant's history of western civilization on nickel alloy tablets and cache them all over the world for future archaeologists to discover. One easy thing to predict is that our digital media won't survive for anything like the same amount of time.

451:

Imagine the embarrassment, then, when at the public enquiry it is revealed that about six months' worth of pages from the log book of HMS Conqueror have been sliced out, including the crucial record of the engagement. It all looked like a tacit admission of guilt -- that the Conqueror fired on the Belgrano illegally.

So if they wanted, they could have sliced out six months starting a month later, and the result would be about the same.

Perhaps they included the Belgrano report so the Russians would think that they sliced out six months worth of log to hide the Belgrano part? They intentionally made it look like they were embarrassed about the Belgrano results so the Russians wouldn't think they were the submarine that did the Barmaid?

The Barmaid link you gave, looks utterly silly. A private individual wrote a book and asked the british government to declassify the data; they refused but they let him publish. That's pretty suspicious right there.

The claim is that the Americans wanted to find out whether the Russian surveillance equipment was home-designed or derived from spying on US equipment. There was every reason to think the Russians had the US plans -- they were good about that, and their spies knew a whole lot about US and British stuff. The intention was to cut the sonar off a russian ship and pretend it was just that the cable had frayed. The first attempt resulted in a british nuclear submarine getting depth-charged and damaged. So they kept trying.

They succeeded, the Americans got the sonar stuff to study, and the story spread widely enough among both governments that it was certain the russians knew about it.

The british doctored the records from that submarine so the Russians wouldn't realize it was the one that did that attack, and they used the controversy over the Belgrano as a smokescreen -- they supposedly removed 6 months from the log so it wouldn't reveal the incriminating evidence, and that way the Russians wouldn't think they were removing it to keep them from connecting it to the attack on them. If they had removed only one month of data around the time of the attack, the russians would have suspected.

Well, it's not quite that bad. They had made multiple previous attempts that never quite worked out, and the log probably included explanations of what they were trying to do, spread over 2 months before the successful attack and 4 months after.

And the Americans didn't just want to confirm that their counter-espionage mostly failed and their secrets leaked like a paper bag with the bottom cut out. They already knew that but they couldn't think of anything to do about it that wouldn't be embarrassing. Also they wanted to find out how the sonar worked and how to evade it. And when the Russians found out they knew, the Russians would change their sonar to a new improved model.

That would happen anyway at about the same rate, they improved their sonar about as fast as they could and replaced old models with newer models as fast as they could. But it might make some kind of difference. And since the Americans were busy pretending they could keep secrets, they might as well pretend the Russians wouldn't find out they had examined the sonar. So they could bend over backward to pretend it was a secret that only trusted US officials and technicians and sailors and politicians etc would be told about.

The Argentines agreed that the attack on the Belgrano was not wrong. It was temporarily in an area the British had not said they would attack, but that was only a technicality -- they intended to attack soon. It's like if somebody intends to shoot you, and he turns his back to you while he moves to a better position. It isn't wrong to shoot him in the back at that point, even if you wouldn't shoot somebody in the back who was being peaceful.

This cover story is so tattered it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Unfortunately, it could easily be true. US and British policy at the time did not make a lot of sense, and the various stupid things they are claimed to have done fits together with other stupid stories. Why would they make such stupid cover stories, that make them look bad? It's possible they don't even notice how stupid they look. Or maybe they want people to think they're that stupid. Or maybe it's actually the truth.

Anyway, this is a story told by a media person (who was one of the many people who had known about it for 30 years). Full of sound and fury, signifying ... what?

452:

That's not a big deal. AFAIK no new physics are involved, just something to be explained by the Standard Model at higher energy.
What they really wanted were signatures of black hole decays as direct proof of Standard Model failure and the existence of extra dimensions.

453:

The major problem with the more bizarre conspiracy theories is not the face value claims, but their inescapable implications.

Yes.

Consider an old favorite - there are aliens and the government (doesn't matter which one) does secret deals with them for technology or whatever.
The first order, and most minor, implication is that NASA and the whole conventional aerospace industry (including zillion dollar programs like the F35) are just elaborate window dressing to hide the really secret stuff.

Well, but that's true a lot, isn't it? You know secrets and you have to pretend you don't know them so people won't find out you know. "That was the thing about Ferguson, he tended to step into the trap he already knew was there."

What good is it to get aliens to tell you how to cheaply go into space, when you can't release the information? Better to ask the aliens how to factor large primes. That's information you can really use. You don't have to admit to anybody how you do it or that you can do it at all. Program it into the NSA computers and don't tell anybody how it works.

But then, what do we have to offer space-faring aliens? We are at the bottom of a gravity well, maybe there are things that can be made cheaper there? We have no notable mineral wealth, apart from oxygen, silicon, and carbon. Compare the interest aliens might have in us, to the interest the US Navy has in Gambia. Gambia has a port, we don't have a significant spaceport. Gambia has exports and imports, we mostly don't. Gambia has a place in the UN and actively attempts to get diplomatic ties with other nations. We don't. Gambia has significant tourism, particularly specialized sex tourism, we probably don't.

If terran governments have contact with space aliens, they might want to keep it secret because it's so embarrassing to be insignificant.

When you factor in galactic empires, the New World Order etc etc believers end up living in a world of unlimited omnipotent cosmic horror.

Yes. Far more pleasant to disbelieve all that. What good does it do you to believe in things that make you feel powerless, things there's nothing you can do about?

454:

The thing that a lot of lefties cannot get over with regards to the Falklands War is that it was Thatcher, and we won against the odds. Also sour grapes in that it was too hard to spin into a "colonialist imperialist war" when it was a fascist military junta who were responsible for torturing and murdering tens of thousands of their own people that invaded.

455:

There is also no limit to the amount of "evidence" you can find to back up your conspiracy if you look hard enough. One might have expected Nazi UFOs and moonbases to be a bit... unlikely, but no. Throw in some aliens as well for good measure. There's no shortage of "evidence". Start with names like "Kammler"and "Maria Orsic" then add stuff like this:

http://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/522518/German-documentary-claims-Roswell-UFO-Nazis

Before long you will be living in a very bizarre world where once again you are the powerless victim of a cosmic conspiracy, and everyone who calls you a nut are either dupes or shills working for the Nazi Illuminati New World Order

456:

And the thing that the Thatcherites deny is that it was entirely the negligence and incompetence of her government that both led Galtieri to think he could get away with it, and led to the islands being essentially undefended when the invasion came. The planned invasion was so far from being a secret that anyone who followed the newspapers knew that it was being planned many months in advance, and even knew the approximate date a fortnight in advance. That, naturally, fuelled the conspiracy theories that she deliberately let it happen, because they found it hard to believe that even she was so incompetent as a Prime Minister. I disagree with those theories, and believe that everything followed from her overweening arrogance.

457:

The thing that a lot of lefties cannot get over with regards to the Falklands War is that it was Thatcher, and we won against the odds.

It was definitely Thatcher. I don't know how to figure the odds, but as I understand it the British did it all by themselves with no help from the USA except maybe some satellite photos to show where things were, and access to Argentine encrypted info, and stuff like that.

If it had looked like they faced a serious threat of defeat I'm sure the USA would have bailed them out, but everybody except the Argentines was happy it didn't come to that.

It may have made a difference to the Argentines to know that they could not win, that the best they could do was to delay their defeat. They expected to be unopposed, and then it turned into something where they might win a battle but they could not possibly win the war.

458:

There is no shortage of wars that should not have happened because of incompetence of various leaders at various times. That includes WW2.

459:

I disagree with those theories, and believe that everything followed from her overweening arrogance.

Indeed so. The possibility that she wanted a war because war leaders have a much better chance of being re-elected is, I sincerely hope, too cynical even for her.

460:

I should have expanded on what I meant by 'ad hominem'. Ad hominem in the sense there's an implication that the disagreement is due to personal disposition, and not because of conclusions arrived at by way of reasoning. Not a malicious attack, at all, but it's still making assumptions about the opponent rather than addressing their points.

Thanks for the background info, though. For me, I'm a research assistant for a historian at a mid-tier university, and I'm planning to start my history PhD next year. My supervisor is big on the sort of finely-granulated archival research which can unfortunately be a bit rare in the discipline: at any rate, what she currently has me doing is going into the archives for information on munitions production during WW2. The sources there are ridiculous. Collections of documents that are measured in how many metres of shelving they occupy. Stuff that would all be lost if the archives burnt down, because maybe 1% of it can be found elsewhere and maybe 0.1% of it has been digitised. However, to lose all of the information about munitions production in Australia during WW2 would be difficult. Would require societal collapse and widespread destruction in every major city in the country. Mad Max stuff. And even then, some of the books on the topic would be preserved in libraries in Britain, New Zealand, the US and elsewhere. Societal collapse and widespread destruction would have to happen there, as well.

But that's a relatively fringe topic. The interest in Australian munitions is pretty small in Australia, and would be significantly more marginal elsewhere. Obama has a much broader appeal than that, and you can expect that libraries around the world would stock books about the guy, about American politics in general, as well as newspapers and magazines detailing his presidency, etc. (And even low-grade paper kept in sub-optimal conditions can last quite a while.) I'm repeating myself, here, but it's tons of information that is heavily distributed and very much decentralised. Even if the White House got hit by a sizeable meteor, and all the primary sources were lost, we would still have secondary sources peppered throughout the world. Until a few centuries ago, there just wasn't that much written material to lose. Or, it's chance more than anything that guarantees a source weathers future conditions, and starting out with so much more material gives you many more roles of the dice.

I don't think that digital records will do great in the event of catastrophe. And I freely admit that physical books won't last as well as nickel plates or even vellum. But I think you're exaggerating the fragility of paper and under-estimating the contextual factors which make the present very different from the fifth century i.e. the staggering wealth of physical documents we have managed to accrue and how much redundancy there is in their global distribution.

461:

There is also no limit to the amount of "evidence" you can find to back up your conspiracy if you look hard enough.

Absolutely! The Law of Fives applies strongly here.

Once you decide that the official sources are all lies but that the evidence you choose must be true, you can reach any conclusion you look for.

My problem is that when official data gets *interesting* there's something like a 50% chance it's lies, and some unknown chance that it has no relation to reality at all -- but was designed to fit some purpose and sound generally believable, often by people who themselves don't have any idea what the truth is.

But I don't have good trustworthy alternatives either. Some fraction of the things released by Wikileaks or Anonymous or whoever is stuff intentionally released by one government or another, designed to make somebody look bad and created by people who have a sense of what's believable but who likely don't themselves know the truth. Anything available for public consumption is suspect, and anything created for some sort of elite consumption is also suspect. Elites who think they know better (people with clearances, rich people, whoever) get different cover stories they can think are true but which are still cover stories.

I have only individual stories that don't really fit together. Like, in 1973 when the USA publicly announced DefCon 3, every military person who's talked about it to me said their orders included DefCon 1. Nobody said they got DefCon 3. But of course they would say that, wouldn't they? Nobody wants to be the one to admit they were so unimportant that they were only told DefCon 3 when everybody else got DefCon 1. ;-)

I can make up the stories that are most plausible to me, given what I know. I can find evidence that fits my stories, and plausible reasons to discount the evidence that doesn't fit. But I can't really find out.

The past is just about as uncertain as the present or future.

462:

Yes ... no new news about dark matter/energy. Even so, there's interesting info about the pentaquark 'discovery':

1- new patterns of organization (confirmed)
2- different patterns (occur) at different energy levels

From an SF perspective...

Assume a cyclical universe scenario. Each direct lineal generation of universe would operate at a different equilibrium level/mix. Then if each universe doesn't have to be utterly destroyed before a new universe is spawned, you could end up with a cosmic stew of different types of universes with some overlapping, some just bumping into each other, and a few even intermingling at their edges to the point of creating an entirely new baby universe. So, given time, potential evolution at a universe scale ...

463:

I don't know how to figure the odds, but as I understand it the British did it all by themselves with no help from the USA except maybe some satellite photos to show where things were, and access to Argentine encrypted info, and stuff like that.

Not quite. The USA provided logistic support, namely getting aviation fuel into Wideawake Airfield (on Ascension Island), and allowing the release of the shiny new version of AIM-9 from NATO warstocks (although AIUI none of the shots were apparently beyond the older version). A US exchange officer with one of the Para battalions was a bit miffed at being told he couldn't deploy, as were several US Marines on exchange with the RM Commandos.

The French provided a great deal of assistance; dissimilar air combat training against Mirage and Super Etendard, and the instant shutdown of support for the Exocet missiles being delivered to Argentina.

The Spanish lifted a team of Argentinians who were apparently planning an underwater attack against ships harboured in Gibraltar.

The Chileans provided some limited basing for reconnaissance aircraft.

The Soviets kept an eye on things, but were advised to stay well clear of of the shooting zone. Anti-submarine weapons were being used enthusiastically against suspected contacts; although it turned out that the one effective Argentinian submarine (after the other got shot up during Operation PARAQUET) had over-enthusiastically maintained its torpedos, to the extent that they screwed up the guidance/arming...

There are claims that Menachem Begin (not a fan of the UK, still angry about the treatment of the Irgun during the Mandate) allowed Israeli support for Argentinian aircraft during the conflict, via Peru...

There's an excellent book that touches on the support of the French, and some of the SF operations during the conflict: "Exocet Falklands" by Ewen Southby-Tailyour (link)

464:

That's just one of the multiverse theories. It doesn't matter whether they are "parallel" in time or sequential.

465:

Obama has a much broader appeal than that, and you can expect that libraries around the world would stock books about the guy, about American politics in general, as well as newspapers and magazines detailing his presidency, etc.

Yes, but what would historians think about all that?

It isn't so much about the details, whether he was a US president or not, that kind of thing. His behavior tended to create stresses that led toward tearing the nation apart. His enemies called him a traitor to the USA, and to the extent he worked to tear the nation apart they were correct.

Similarly with Bush. Presidents who worked to keep the nation together might include Bill Clinton, whose policies were so popular that his enemies concentrated on personal issues of a sort that before had mostly been kept quiet.

Reagan attempted similar things, he did a lot of popular projects by giving up on reducing the rate of expansion of the budget deficit. He tried to bring the whole nation together but some people didn't like his policies, and he had a bad habit of subsidizing his friends and cutting subsidies to his enemies -- which was divisive.

The nation gets closer to splitting up, and it gets harder and harder to find a president who won't contribute to that.

Obama will probably be judged on that axis. A black man that many voters hated, who tried for a spirit of compromise and conciliation but who utterly failed at that. He started with a promise of hope and change, but he mostly refused to talk trash about his enemies, he didn't cut subsidies to them and didn't raise subsidies to his friends. His enemies still hated him and tried to stop him from doing anything. When he did nothing his friends didn't like him all that much either. And the nation got that much closer to splitting up.

Claims that he wanted the US government to collapse are harder to maintain than for GW Bush, who claimed that government is always corrupt, incompetent, and oppressive and who confirmed the claim by example. But they could be supported for Obama too, and most US presidents of the last quarter of the 20th century on.

They couldn't say that and get elected, so there won't be a lot of documentary evidence that's what they wanted.

But in hindsight it will look like that's what they wanted.

Of course I could be wrong.
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