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On hold

So, we upgraded the OS on the server that hosts this blog. Then discovered that Movable Type, the blogging system we use, is ... problematic ... with secure HTTP. (There's a fix, but it imposes a performance penalty.)

This coincided with (a) the UK eastercon and (b) the copy edits for "The Labyrinth Index" (which are now done and it's on course for publication on October 30th), but explains why I've been silent for the past week-and-a-half. The silence is going to be ongoing for a while longer, too: I'm about to head off to Fiuggi in Italy for Deepcon 19, where I am guest of honour, and I won't have much time for blogging until I get home in the last week of the month.

Also, reality is leaving me in the dust when it comes to making up surreal news headlines: Hackers in Finland acquired data from a North American casino by using an Internet-connected fish tank. With news like that, what's an author to do? (Part 942, contd ...)



What I want to know is what price those fish were paid to help out in the hack. And how does one go about hiring fish-hackers, because.... well I have this project....


It involves a payment of scales.


Well, if you're going to attach a TCP link using the FIN flags...


I wonder why that story is making the rounds again, given that it's something like 9 months old by now.


Feh. The Internet of Things Thugs.


I'm sure that those hackers are sensitive, touchy-fillet guys.


"With news like that, what's an author to do?"

Ask the lobsters for help?


To get past the filter feeders they obviously used the TETRA network.


No... just when I finally get to Edinburgh and want to buy you my favorite author a pint you run off to the mainland... Guess I will wait till you come to Germany again and stalk you there :). At least I've spotted your home library and can try to find get the missing books!


With news like that, what's an author to do? (Part 942, contd ...)

What's an author to do? Write fantasy, of course. There's only so many ways to hack a minotaur (neck, chest, limbs...), for example. Unreality is easy on the expectations.


Hackers in Finland are being blamed for the attack. The real culprits are deep-sea intelligent squid manipulating the packet flow in translantic fibre.

(Been re-reading some Peter Watts)

The real culprits are deep-sea intelligent squid manipulating the packet flow in translantic fibre.
Maybe OGH can get the squid to be a guest blogger.

It's probably Cthulhu, so that might be... interesting.


Or alternatively ... Lobsters.

Talking of which, recently I came across a v interesting reference to a completely new species ( Of Crayfish, actually ) that has arisen as a result of an apparent single mutation.
If you ever come across cretinists spouting their usual delusions & lies about evolution, especially "Macro" evolution...
Mention the Marbled Crayfish
Procambarus fallax f. virginalis to it's friends & potential eaters ...
See also


Problem is, there is a scientific discussion about macroevolution, though the comment section on that one shows the problems:

Mind you, I'm not sure if the concept of macroevolution is useful, though some good biologists I know think so. Might be me somewhat stuck in the molecular biologist niche and them being e.g. paleontologists.

As for the crayfish, it's something of a special case, please note it's parthenogenetic, so no sexual recombination. There might be ways for them to reproduce sexually (AFAIK there are similar cases with some flatworms), but at the moment I'm not sure if this population will survive in the long run. Clones arebig fun for parasites.


I agree about the 'not sure'! There are plenty of parthenogenic arthropods, some of which can also reproduce sexually, many of which seem remarkably resistant to parasites :-( But insects etc. are not closely related to crustaceans.


I'm not a biologist, but I've read at least some evidence that insects are crustaceans.

See for example this piece with a link to a paper in Nature.

I seem to remember there being a more recent news story about this (maybe this year) but I can't find it. The fun thing about classification of animals is that it changes every once in a while.


Everyone knows Cthulhu doesn't exist...


It might depends somewhat on the kind of parthenogenesis involved, there is some recombination with some:
Also, AFAIR quite a few species switch between parthenogenesis and "normal" sexual reproduction, the aphids being one example.

Problem is, if a parasite is ideally adapted to the host immune system, with clones there is little to stop it.

Everyone knows Cthulhu doesn't exist...

Neither, of course, does Finland, so who's really behind the hack?

BTW I have been to both Stockholm and the place that claims to be Helsinki and all I can say is that they're awfully similar and that "Finnish" words look suspiciously like they were generated algorithmically.


Neither, of course, does Finland, so who's really behind the hack?

This gets me thinking of existentialist problems, like does this place I'm in really exist, or do I, for that matter?



You think *Cthulhu* is bad... the transdimensional squid-like being in A. Merrit's Dwellers in the Mirage is a *lot* nastier.

And wants feeding a lot more frequently....


Tough. I'm in a country that's gone through *two* transdimensional hops in a year and a half. First, into one that ran by the rules of an (un)reality TV show, and now it's in one where the rules are of a sitcom.

Now, if only someone would hack into Faux News' broadcast stream, and add a laugh track....


"Everyone knows Cthulhu doesn't exist..."

I didn't even know he was a vampire.


...and now it's in one where the rules are of a sitcom.
OK, I tried briefly but gamely, but could not map the two very well. I'm thinking it's more of a long-form comedy with humor on many levels.

Cracking the Sitcom Code
13 Rules of Sitcom


Now, if only someone would hack into Faux News' broadcast stream, and add a laugh track....

Weird. Those of us watching from overseas get the laugh track. Or maybe that's just us...

But then, I first encountered Donald Trump as a character in Bloom County. I was surprised to discover he was a real person. And even more so when he was elected president. Maybe Wiley Coyote next?


Given my appreciation of William Gibson's use of aquatic imagery and metaphors way back when, I think ending up in a future where they are hacking a casino via a fishtank is awesome.

She swam through the submarine halflife of bottles and glassware and the slow swirl of cigarette smoke - Burning Chrome


Actually the higher appetite indicates those squidies are much more vulnerable than Old Green One, and most likely much closer to our reality.

Mind you, there is always the question why aliens find us tasty with sauce on, especially given the differences in biochemistry. Most likely we are some sort of novel diet, kinda like olestra. Might indicate why aliens eating us are not that much of a problem, if they overdo it they get diarrhea...


I first encountered Donald Trump as a character in Bloom County. I was surprised to discover he was a real person. And even more so when he was elected president. Maybe Wiley Coyote next?

He also showed up in Doonesbury a lot. He's approximately a real person, or at least a character played on TV by a real actor...


I first encountered Donald Trump as a character in Bloom County. I was surprised to discover he was a real person. And even more so when he was elected president. Maybe Wiley Coyote next?
No, Lisa Simpson will be the next president. Matt Groening is never wrong!


Interesting. I haven't looked at the Nature article, but it looks a lot more reliable than the usual crap. No, 75 taxons and 62 genes is NOT a "huge sample", but it is enough to avoid the conclusions being obviously bogus. No analysis with less than about half a dozen genes should EVER be used as a basis for reclassification, and then only if they all point to the same conclusion. A dozen is more realistic minimum, or several dozen if they are variable.

Of course, its claim that we should call insects crustaceans is based on two false (i.e. arbitrary) premises: that dogmatic cladism is the One True Taxonomic System, and that the correct solution is NOT to declassify the Branchiura etc. as crustaceans. I remember conifers :-)


Yes. Animals are simpler than plants, but we are learning that there are more modes of recombinative and adaptive reproduction than the simple sexual haploid/diploid cycle. So whether a parthenogenic crayfish could evolve resistance isn't quite an open-and-shut case of impossibility. Just unlikely.


Yeah, what we should call them in different contexts does not need to change. I was taking a quite cladistic view there, which is not often useful. (And as said, I'm not a biologist.)

I do group sharks and bony fish into "fish" in my normal speech, but if that were taken cladistically, all land-based vertebrates would be fish, too. ;)


Yes. I am not a biologist, either, but was a statistician and have done some work in taxonomic theory. What is interesting in that paper is that it confirms how much closer insects are to crustaceans than either are to arachnids.


Not related to crustaceans, but there seems to be a gene which jumps between different aquatic phyla, and has links to cancer in at least clams.

Here is a story about that.

So, the cladistic view is not that useful in all situations, if genes can jump from one phylum to an antoher.


I quite like the appearance I get when I specify https
Rather clean and clear.
The words, just the words.


You think that's thinking you are doing?


Everyone knows Cthulhu doesn't exist...

The punch-line to which assertion (uttered by Bob in “Equoid”, aka Laundry Files book 2.5) is of course the central plot driver of “The Labyrinth Index” (which has now been delivered for production and is due out on October 30th, nearly a year ahead of schedule). And? Forget bat-wings-and-octopus-tentacles: that was just HPL’s calamari phobia leaking onto the page. Cthulhu is something much worse than that ...


Let me guess, manifests in our "Reality" as a one time commercial real estate developer with a bad comb-over?


I don't know which thread to put this, but here goes.

1. Finland is discontinuing its basic income experiment

2. Russia might be exiting the commercial launch business

3. Japan's renewable push is encountering some resistance


Or from an observer's hindsight view, fictional people are as real as the nonfiction ones, since all that either kind leave behind themselves in the realm of consciousness, aside from physical artifacts, is a quantity of information. Such info-dumps would not be impossible to represent as a string of digital symbols, so the difference between fictive and nonfictive is one of amount rather than kind. Helps explain momentary confusion in sometimes recalling the source of a quotation, was it a real person or someone in a movie.


Thanks *so* much. Now I have to wonder just *where* the alien diarrhea ends up, and what it manifests as.


Conifers were classified as crustaceans?


Dunno 'bout parthogenetic crayfish, but I think cats can reproduce by fission. In fact, I think I brushed a quarter of a kitten, maybe a leg, out of my Lord & Master....


Re: Finland's universal income experiment

Results are expected to be published within a year, meanwhile ...

'"When the basic-income experiment ends this year, we should launch a universal credit trial," Orpo told the Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, referring to a system similar to the one in the UK, which collects several different benefits and tax credits into one account. '

Not sure why this experiment is tied to job-seeking since the qualifying recipients were folks who'd been jobless for a long time. To me, that the recipients did not find jobs quickly suggests that it's not only re-training for/getting a job should be considered but perhaps even more importantly recovering from/climbing out of whatever socioeconomic pit these folks have ended up in. IOW, the policymakers are discounting the emotional/social toll of joblessness. Further - there's nothing in this article that says anything about the rate of new job creation or a super abundance of unfilled jobs during this test period. I'm guessing that if a long time unemployed and fresh grad showed up for a job interview, the new grad would land the job same as the common scenario in the US where employment counselors tell their clients to avoid including any jobless spells in their CVs.


Re: Genetic algos

Are you familiar with the Barcode of Life project? Apparently species can be identified using very small bits of DNA. Also - this approach has occasionally produced classification results different from the old school taxonomy system.

Journals such as IEEE have published results/algo approaches used by this group.


The other way round :-)


No, but I suppose that it was inevitable :-( I stand by what I said in my previous post.


Wait, so you mean it was that it "should have been a pair of ragged claws. Scuttling across the floors of silent branches"?


It does scale up nicely. You can hack data lakes and even oceans of stuff.


Case Nightmare Green = Cthulhu hosts a dinner party.


I make my own leather by tanning thin slices of spam.

[[ said spam now removed - mod ]]


Reminds me of my favourite dish: Lobster Thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce, garnished with truffle pâté, brandy and a fried egg on top and Spam.

Then I go cosplay as a viking.


I believe that I ate in the cafe that originated the "Spam, spam, lobster thermidor and spam" sketch. Every single one of the dozen dishes on the menu included spam, except for the lobster thermidor (which was very good). This was in Helston in the early 1970s.


Ironically I just re-read "Equoid" last night and ran into that sentence, which gave me an interesting compare-and-contrast moment with Bob's "I wish I was still an atheist" monologue in "The Fuller Memorandum". Somehow I'd managed to miss this on previous reads.

I thought about it for a moment, then put it down to Bob levelling up and finding out more. (In "Equoid" he's still human, doesn't know about PHANGs, doesn't know about 666 Squadron, doesn't understand Mahogany Row, etc..) Then only 12 hours later, OGH tells us it's actually a Chekhov's gun that finally gets fired *TEN YEARS* after the dude started writing it.

First question: Was this deep planning from the start, to pick up this throwaway line later? Or was it a retcon to tie up that loose end? Either way, that's awesome.

And second question: How did you get into my brain in the middle of the night last night?


# 55 & # 56 appear to be drive-by advertising SPAM
If so please delete ( & this, of course... )


In a series like this there was always going to be Cthulhu.


I'm really looking forward to (this is the US) Republican Thermidor.

Spammers, on the other hand... I've pictured, for many years, one of them in a picture window... after their desktop has been deGaussed, hanging from their ceiling by their feet, naked, with SPAMMER written on the body in large letters with spray paint.

And the picture to go viral online, to inspire vigilantism.....


Indeed. Cthulhu and tech support, what could go wrong?


It needs tattoos on the face or a brand on the forehead.
Something that everyone can see and can't be easily removed.


Quite easy, confiscate their property, buy some silver or gold salts and a tanning booth. Hello Papa Smurf...

Or use them to train spam filters, any false positive or negative subject to immediate, err, negative reinforcement...


Nothing to thank for. ;) I guess we can go with calling the fluid in question "ichor". Though it could get worse, throw in nausea...

Mind you, it's been 6 months since my last Irritable Bowel attack, somewhat tricky to instill in your cohabitant the urgent need to stay in the kitchen with the door closed without getting too much into details. Spent two days as a tunicate, all intestines, no brain. Not as bad as the time I collapsed in front of the cash machine getting the money to pay the taxi that got me home from my physician, err...

Come to think about, maybe we could use this experience to device an standard unit for mind-numbing horrors. Might even work with SI units, (mass of extruded inexplicable liquids in g)*(acceleration of extruded liquids in m/s2)*(time of attack in seconds)

Funny thing, that would be a Newton second:

If you excuse me, I'm getting sick myself...


Re: The Finnish "Universal Basic Income" experiment.

Not sure why this experiment is tied to job-seeking since the qualifying recipients were folks who'd been jobless for a long time.

Without going too far into this, mainly because I don't know that much about it, it's in my opinion mainly because this experiment was meant to show that universal basic income doesn't work.

The sample was pretty small, I think two thousand people, and as you point out, only taken from job-seekers. It never was planned to be anything else than replacement for unemployment benefits. If they would have been serious, they would have sampled a much more diverse set of people.

But this way the cabinet can say that they tried the UBI, and it didn't work, so shut up.

Yeah, I'm biased about this. There have been multiple more universal schemes, with impact assesments and financial figures, but as they have been made by the opposition, the cabinet parties haven't really paid any attention to them.


Re: ' ...tunicate, all intestines, no brain.'

Fascinating critter - and not just its reproductive strategy (below).

Not familiar with it so looked it up. BTW, the Wikipedia entry mentions a notocord which usually means at least a start of a 'brain'. (Although you probably meant its 'hose-like' aspect. Ouch!)


'The Oikopleura coenocyst, a unique chordate germ cell permitting rapid, extensive modulation of oocyte production.


The ability to adjust reproductive output to environmental conditions is important to the fitness of a species. The semelparous, chordate, Oikopleura dioica, is particularly adept in producing a highly variable number of oocytes in its short life cycle. Here we show that this entails an original reproductive strategy in which the entire female germline is contained in a single multinucleate cell, the "coenocyst". After an initial phase of syncytial nuclear proliferation half of the nuclei entered meiosis whereas the other half became highly polyploid. The inner F-actin network, with associated plasma membranes, formed a highly ramified infrastructure in which each meiotic nucleus was contained in a pseudo-compartmentalized pro-oocyte linked to the common cytoplasm via ring canals. At a set developmental time, a subset of the pro-oocytes was selected for synchronous growth and the common coenocyst cytoplasm was equally partitioned by transfer through the ring canals. Examination of related species indicated that the coenocyst arrangement is a conserved feature of Appendicularian oogenesis allowing efficient numerical adjustment of oocyte production. As Appendicularia are the second most abundant class of zooplankton, with a world-wide distribution, the coenocyst is clearly a common and successful reproductive strategy on a global scale.'


Achtung, please apply SPAMHAMMER to the comment I am replying to.
With extreme prejudice.

Many thanks


Wow! Macro evolution AND virgin birth.
Creationists must be ever so happy.


Actually the notochord has little to do with the nervous system, it's more like a stiff rod; in humans, it became the intervertebral disc, so if you have any problems with them, that's your chordate ancestry...

As for the tunicate brain, they have a nerve cluster or ganglion, but AFAIR their nervous system is somewhat reduced compared to the larval form. Though there are forms that stay in the larval form all their life and reproduce in it, like Oikopleura:

Which gave rise to Garstang's hypothesis, namely that we are tunicates refusing to grow up.'s_Hypothesis

Guess Greg and I talked about some Pak Protector scenarios where it still might happen some time ago.

On another note, apparently my landlord got my SMS I'm out of this appartment tomorrow. At least he replied and asked about the 10k Euros I'm in debt to him, since I didn't pay the rent since last August. Where in fact

a) I only stopped paying the rent in October when he tried to evict me (little use of paying him then, right?)

b) And I started paying again in February, though only the rent, not water and heating, since there are serious mistakes in his calculations for the latter.

Both of which I can prove with bank receipts.

Guess I won't answer for now, him overreacting might make for useful results, but ATM I'm not able to make good use of it, and actually I'm not in the mood...


On another note, there is a new paper about the detection of civilizations on a geological timescale:


"virgin" birth - I'm not so sure.
Current thought suggests a mutation of captive Procambarus fallax
Nonethelss, the cretinists are as, usual out-of-date & WRONG.
I suspect that like all genetic & fossil research since 1940, they will both lie & try to either ignore it, or pretend it doesn't exist ....


I doubt that any ancient hitec civilization would be detectable unless it was also expansionist (covering most of Earth) and wasteful.
Given that science has just started to detect civilizations in jungles (other than by accident) and that river delta are facts most likely won't survive an ice age without being washed to sea, even civs between 1ma and 100ka might be safe from prying human eyes.
Another assumption is that hitec always follows the coal - steel - steam - computers route. Why shouldn't hitec be possible which developed out of Bio-engineering?


And also ensure that in future all giant werewolves are firmly instructed to bite BOTH hands off, not just one.


Hm, I haven't read the paper, it showed up on the Spektrum website, and I thought I might share the link. The original article (in German) was:

Personally I guess a coal or generally fossil fuel usage phase is quite likely, deforestation is and was a mayor concern and limiting factor for most civilizations in the past, and most forests one sees in Germany nowadays only came into being after we switched to coal, the habitat fragmentation is still visible if you look at insect population genetics.

As for bio-engineering, that would most likely involve some genetic modifications, maybe gene transfers be ATM tween quite different organisms. Lateral gene transfer happens in nature, but if you have examples of gene swaps between organisms quite far in geography and ecology, it might be interesting. Maybe the tunicates are the result of the Elder Things going for vanadium...

BTW, any "Irreducible complexity" or "Specified complexity" the Intelligent Design folks talk about might be explainable by an extinct bio-civilization.

As said, I'd have to read up a little bit; ATM I'm also preparing for the DortCon farewell party; sadly, I guess Hmpf won't show up, I started Farscape after one talk of her there...


Actually "virgin birth" would be one translation of "parthenogenesis". Of course we could wax about the meaning of Greek "parthenos", especially in connection with Hebrew "almah" and "betulah", SCNR...

As for the creationists, Young Earth creationism wasn't tenable since at least Lyell, most likely Hutton[1], if you exclude Omphalos scenarios:

Old Earth creationism is another issue, but especially in somewhat "pantheistic" and deistic interpretations it's not that different from theistic evolution.

[1] Err, my misspent youth haunts me[1a], you read about Hutton, and then...
"There's no vestige of beginning, no prospect of an end" at 0:27...
[1a] No, we are not talking about Deine Lakaien and Stanislaw Lem. Yet. Damn, another album to put into the playlist...


Global civilisation totally upends the evolutionary order, by moving vast numbers of species from continent to continent.

I really think we’d see if that had happened at any time in the last 150 million years. And probably earlier too, though I don’t know how much earlier.


Have you read "Strata", a pre-Diskworld novel by Terry Pratchett?


I was talking about a non-expansionist civilization. There could be ideological reasons why a civilization stays localized, or a dependence on a local resource. And anyway, before 1500 human civilizations usually kept themselves to one or two continents.


Err, no, though it's in the "to-be-read" wing of my library.

There is an article about the Omphalos theory by S. J. Gould, reading it another vestige of my misspent youth, though most likely early twenties... ;)

AFAIK it's called "Adam's Navel".


Re: notocord vs. brain

Thanks for the clarification - all I could remember of my bio course is that the presence/development of a notocord allows for the development of motor neurons ... I guess I jumped the gun in thinking that this automatically meant a more complex 'brain'.

Read the article you linked to and find this especially interesting:

'Garstang's Hypothesis was revolutionary for both its time and idea: it suggests that not only may single species evolve, but that single life stages of species may evolve into separate organisms. The hypothesis, which Garstang proposed in the early 20th century, seemed far-fetched at the time of its conception and did not receive support until after Garstang's death.'

The more I read about any of the sciences, the more it seems that any combination of anything is possible and has probably been already tried. Good thing to keep in mind if/when we ever meet a real ET whether from this or any other dimension.


Hey Canucks - all of the emails in your in and out boxes were recently $old for commercial data mining purpo$e$!

'Rogers e-mail service terms allow access to users’ contacts, raising privacy concerns'

A new set of terms and conditions recently sent to Rogers e-mail users includes a Canada-specific provision that would allow the service provider to mine their friends’ and contacts’ personal information. '

Interesting -- had thought that Canada had tighter legal regulations re: electronic privacy.

Even more interesting is that given that this particular supplier (Rogers) has the largest market share, they probably also have a ton of business/commercial customers, so I'm guessing that this sale of access to email data also means that all of their commercial accounts' email contents have also been $old.

OOC, is this type of electronic data contents sale legit anywhere on the planet? I know that FB is front and center right now, but this is the first time that I've read about emails as a specific product (ahem) deliverable.


...when we'll all disintegrate it'll all happen again...

Damn, have to change my playlist. There you are, listening to the favourite bands of your first girlfriend to bring up memories, she being part-time squatting, somewhat-Buddhist, you met her in the library while reading Lovecraft's Dreamquest (no, she didn't know him), and let's just say I guess me in my memory quoting Winston Smith's anti-purity diatribe from 1984 in my head while kissing her speaks somewhat about my, err, sanity at this point.

Err, I started rereading "Blindsight" some time ago, and what stuck was Siri recognizing he experienced his memories as a healthy child, when in fact he had become something else, something much darker. Funny thing, at this point in the novel he is quite alright again, just as me ATM, it's just interesting to work out what you were at some points before...

Whatever, sorry for disgressing, time to pack up the computer, see you soon...


Yup. Since I've been playing in this particular sandbox for many years, I'm a little disgusted: if I knew it was that easy for some idiot to try to get a paper published on the subject of tracking previous (and especially alien) societies, I would have done it a long time ago. The whole of my Ghosts of Deep Time was a spoof on how time travelers could have huge numbers of low-impact cultures by avoiding areas that made fossils, and it's a topic in Hot Earth Dreams

Here's the good and the bad.

First thing, let's talk about the possibility of previous human civilizations (tl;dr, the answer is probably not, but...). The oldest known modern human fossil is around 300,000 years old. Let that sink in. We know very little about human history more than 5,000 years ago. To a clumsy approximation, knowledge has a half-time of a couple of centuries, and back past 3000-5000 BCE, we've essentially got fragments, because it's not a smooth curve and after awhile, all that's left are the black swans. One of those fragments is evidence from Israel that somebody domesticated grains 20,000-odd years ago, in the depths of the last ice age. There's no evidence that they kept farming through the resulting glaciation, but rather, domestication was rediscovered after the ice retreated.

What I *think* happened is that farming as we know it depends on a relatively constant climate. It's only worth doing if the climate is predictable enough that you can plant the same things year after year and get enough of a yield to make a living. When and where the climate is too variable, there's no point in farming. This is one reason why natives everywhere from California to Australia didn't bother to farm, even when they'd lived in one place for 10,000-50,000 years. It's not that they didn't know how (they were pretty sophisticated at what's known variously as "tending the wild" or "firestick farming") but the seasons varied so much between years that betting your life on the prodigious production of seeds of a single plant is stupid. You need to be able to move and use many crops: bulbs, acorns, grass seed, etc., when each has a good year, which is never every year.

So why did modern humans not start doing the civilization thing until sometime less than 10,000 years ago? If you look at long-term climate variation, we're currently about halfway through a period of unusual calm and mediocrity in the Milankovitch cycles. Were we not playing around with greenhouse gas emissions, we could easily run civilization for thousands more years before the cycles got bad again. The important thing is there's no comparable period of tranquility in the last 300,000 years of Milankovitch cycles. I'd hypothesize that the reason our ancestors never got into farming, hierarchy, building civilizations and so on is that the world before the holocene was simply that the world was simply too unpredictable to make it worth the trouble. We can test this by looking at how much effort and "terraforming" with irrigation networks is needed to farm in the more unpredictable parts of the world. We can also test it by looking at how farming succeeds, or fails, as local climates get more unpredictable.

So if you want to figure out why our really smart ancestors didn't bother to build Atlantis or Hyboria, my hypothesis is simply that they had to live at too low a population density to make it worth the trouble. For all I know, they domesticated barley and other crops any number of times, only to have to give it up when the climate changed. We've only got scant evidence of the last two times they tried it.

Now, working back into prehuman deep time. The first thing to notice is that the Milankovitch cycles only occasionally throw up reasonably long periods of stability--normally such periods are less than 2,000 years long, and we need something like 10,000 years or more for civilization to take off. That automatically eliminates most of Earth's deep history. Aliens could have landed any number of times, but if they couldn't make their farms work because the climate was too variable, they'd probably bug out again and write their colony off as a failure.

That's a little warning here about colonizing alien worlds, incidentally: I'm willing to bet that Earth is unusually stable in its orbital parameters, and we still get smacked around by Milankovitch cycles. While life may be very common and intelligence may be very common, civilization may be very rare, simply because the average planet changes too much between years for it to be worth establishing an elaborate hierarchy to deal with the change. This prediction will be proved wrong if we can figure out how to feed 10 billion people on a rapidly changing planet, and quite honestly, I hope we can.

As for detecting previous prehuman civilizations, you have to look at fossil fuels, useful minerals, and bulldozer work. Right now, our most enduring surface traces will be the ridges we flattened, the giant holes we dug, and other bulldozer work. Various huge pit mines and mountains half-removed are going to last millions of years, far longer than almost all our made artifacts. Because of this, I don't think there was any civilization on Earth more recent than the Miocene. Where's the evidence of ancient earthmoving?

With fossil fuels, there's a depth limit: too shallow and they erode away, too deep and the Earth's heat cooks them into other stuff. That depth limit for oil is somewhere around (I think) 1500 meters, although I could be wrong. While there were undoubtedly old coal beds that have eroded away or been burned away by eruptions, we've been extremely good at exploiting coal that was deposited all the way back in the Carboniferous, and that's a good 300,000,000 years. Ditto oil. Ditto gold and a bunch of other minerals. My guess is that a deep time industrial civilization on Earth would have found those same resources too, and we'd be without them now. While there might be untapped deposits hiding somewhere, we're pretty good at finding and mining them, and it's only reasonable to assume any paleo-industry would have done it too. Especially with fossil fuels, there can't be any hiding too deep in the earth, because they'd be fried by now. That's what the depth limit tells us: fossil fuels are shallow, we can find them, and presumably any putative predecessor could have found them too. So that takes care of the last 300,000,000 years or so. Since we had all these resources to fuel the industrial revolution, nobody exploited them in the past.

As for the other 4,200,000,000 years of Earth's history, well, it would be possible for an alien to establish some sort of research station on the planet, even when it was an prokaryotic wonderland with oxygen levels fluctuating wildly. But, because of the Milankovitch cycles, I suspect that establishing a civilization would have been hard, except during the rare times of long-term tranquility. I don't think such archean settlements are long term sustainable, and I'm pretty sure that the Earth's crust has fluxed so much since then that any traces of a paleosophant's research base would be wiped away. Even today, we only have scattered outcrops and massively metamorphosed rocks that testify to conditions in most of Earth's history. We're going to miss details. At the same time, we have to ask why an alien would bother with creating a research base, let alone a civilization, on an anaerobic planet. It might have some good mining opportunities, but that's about it.

And I won't even talk about the perils of setting up a civilization on a world where sauropods are the biggest herbivores and support both a food web of large predators AND a decomposer food web that makes a living digesting the mountains of poop they left behind every day. To me, that's a pretty good definition of a deathworld, and that covers a good chunk of the Mesozoic right there. We're in one of Earth's good times right now, and we should treasure it while it lasts.

Hope this helps.


This prediction will be proved wrong if we can figure out how to feed 10 billion people on a rapidly changing planet

I do not think your hypothesis would be falsified in this case. All it would demonstrate is that advanced civilisations can be reasonably resisient once they are established.

That's the thing humans need to demonstrate right now of course.


While life may be very common and intelligence may be very common, civilization may be very rare, simply because the average planet changes too much between years for it to be worth establishing an elaborate hierarchy to deal with the change.
And there's the easy, simple asnwer to Fermi's Paradox .....

Agree 150% with dpb @ 87, of course


Well, mostly.

Major previous human civilisation is clearly implausible, even if you assume one not using our sort of technology, though there are some places that came close. Damn what the major neolithic to early iron age constructions in the UK were made FOR, they do show a high level of cooperation over large scales, which is one definition of civilisation. There are other places with similar evidence, too.

But I don't swallow your explanation of why farming was infeasible, because it is the short-term variation that matters, and it works in places where that is pretty high - e.g. the UK. What IS needed is a high level of agricultural skill and the use of a wide range of crops. I agree that farming, as it developed in the fertile crescent, was probably not feasible - but that's not all that farming is, or can be.

And, actually, I believe that the most enduring geological evidence of the anthropocene will be local concentrations of implausible combinations of metals. The earth moving we have done will disappear from erosion, accumulation and movement in a few (tens of?) million years, but some of those metal concentrations will remain, the way that current ore deposits have.


What IS needed is a high level of agricultural skill and the use of a wide range of crops.

One problem I can see here is how to get the high level of agricultural skill if the environt changes too fast. One crop failure could mean doom, and gathering all those different crops might not be feasible if you don't have a staple to fall on at least on most years.


I don't see developing the skills as infeasible under such circumstances, especially if you don't use almost entirely annuals, and avoid developing a dependency on a small, restricted and similar set of staples. But you have to start doing so when the population is sparse enough that wild foods are still a viable fallback, and it would take longer than happened in our history and be a very different approach.

Consider the area from the Balkans to the Caspian, for example. All of chestnut, walnut, two hazels and several oaks provide sources of high-calorie food (beech is less good), in addition to annual foods like several legumes and grasses. There are too many fruit that dry well to be worth enumerating, and innumerable green vegetables. Plus, of course, animal food from hunting - IF you don't overpopulate too early. They rarely ALL fail, and the trees and hunting need no essentially attention when you don't need them for food.

Crop failures and widespread death in the UK were common (and sometimes still occur), before the development of our trading empire. But one reason was the dependency on a small range of crops, and another was a high population density, largely because we are too far north (and with too high a risk of cold or wet summers) to grow most of the foods I mentioned. There is also evidence that the populations were as high, and nutrition and survival far better, in neolithic times than in mediaeval ones.


oddly enough, there was just a related article on slashdot today...

Now, where would we get a few trillion to set this up.... Hey, here's a start: nationalize Big Pharm (

Then line up the chief execs, execute them, and shove them into a mass grave....*

* note: according to wikipedia, it costs about $3 US to make a doze of quinine; in the US, it costs about $87....

No, I'm not overly happy recently....


Well, the simplest answer is a) make sure more women use birth control pills (which leak into the environment, and lower *other* peoples' birth rates; b) introduce a male pill (with even better environmental restuls, and c) educate more women (the higher the level of education, the lower the birth rate, documented in a number of studies).

Assuming, of course, that we don't have an exciting interaction with a comet.


Well, yes and no. This is one of those things where, to build a starship, you need one hell of an infrastructure surplus. To do that, you've either got to be really got at turning crappy stuff into useful infrastructure (the classic mine an asteroid, refine all that low-grade ore into useful stuff, and turn the asteroid into a starship scenario falls here), or you've got to have a fairly predictable planet so that you can establish an highly productive agricultural system that produces more than enough food year after year to feed your starship builders, or you've got to be *extremely* good at managing a chaotic system and storing whatever surpluses you happen to get and distributing them *really efficiently,* such that you still have enough to feed your starship crew.

Of course, if you're running crewed STL starships, you've already got god-class mad skillz in ecosystem engineering, so whatever.

Anyway, the classic old solution to an unstable environment is empire, as exemplified (in my knowledge base anyway) by the Inkans. Since they had a lot of cold, dry mountains, they got really good at storing crops, and very good at moving supplies and people around (at least on foot). This empire worked in the very unpredictable Andes, because they were constantly swiping surplus food, materials, and people from regions that were doing well, and using these surpluses to prop up places that weren't doing so well. Different regions would be doing well or badly each year, but having the empire running the distribution network seems to have kept people from starving, although the Inkan habit of conquering territory and relocating the losers made them A LOT of enemies, something Pizarro ultimately exploited to bring them down.

Empires tend to do this a lot. By definition, an empire is a polity made of multiple peoples who are treated differently (and yes, by this definition, the US is an empire). People get moved around for new frontiers, jobs opening up, and so forth, and this is normal within an empire.

In the past, movement used to be primarily a function of imperial politics. In the 20th Century, we've experimented with using market forces (such as futures markets) to move resources around, and market forces to move people around. From my perspective, there's no appreciable difference between idiot developers, egotistical billionaires, and imperial twits, but that's just me.

Still, there's this underlying notion that an imperial-scale redistribution system might be able to balance out a lot of climatic uncertainty. This system has to be efficient as well as reasonably quick. Reasonably quick doesn't mean that fruits fly halfway around the world overnight (that's still stupid), but that it's possible to move less-perishable foods to anywhere that's suffering a famine, that there are stockpiles for emergencies, and so on.

The question is whether global distribution systems are best left to some sort of command and control redistribution system (currently various militaries in humanitarian operations), the free market, or political systems (government aid).

Thoughts? Do all of them have the same failure modes, or do they fail in different enough ways that we could, conceivably, use really efficient redistribution in multiple channels to keep 10 billion people fed, clothed, and housed?

Finally, I'd note that I'm not fond of paying people to sit on their asses when they've got something they'd rather do. There's enough work needing to be done getting trees planted and carbon back in the ground that people who are able and willing to do it should be able to earn a basic living saving the world by doing such stuff. If we can't employ them productively in an extractive economy, why not do this?


"There's enough work needing to be done getting trees planted and carbon back in the ground that people who are able and willing to do it should be able to..."

...go and do it without having to worry about "earning a living", secure in the knowledge that they will still get their universal income (or whatever you call it) regardless.

Our current system is so fucking bent that the correlation between the value of people's activities and their profitability is strongly negative. People are forced to spend their time doing things of minimal or negative value, and prevented or hindered from doing things of positive value, in order to preserve their own existence.

Paying people to sit on their arses would actually be a big step forward, removing the compulsion to perform negative activities, and thereby mitigating a lot of the global problems by cutting down on the things that create them in the first place. Paying people whether they sit on their arses or not would be an even bigger step forward, by freeing them to engage in positive activities.

(I have the same kind of thoughts in a different context every time Charlie posts about not being able to write some excellent idea for a story he's had because it "wouldn't sell", or about making himself ill by having to do too much.)


" to get the high level of agricultural skill if the environt changes too fast."

One buffer that nobody's mentioned yet is to convert prolific but inedible plants into food by keeping livestock. Preferably of several different species so one disease can't wipe out all your herds/flocks. Also provides a handy non-perishable winter (or marine voyaging) storage capability, and even space heating too.


"...advanced civilisations can be reasonably resisient once they are established."

But can you reasonably call a civilisation "advanced" when it is still at the level ours is at - essentially an expression of the same blind territorial drive, with the purpose of maintaining access to existing resources, that the dinosaurs express so vocally at this time of year (ooo oooo-ooo, oo oo), and without thought for the future much beyond the personal timescale or scope of vision? Could be that one factor in the "Fermi paradox" is that very few civilisations manage to make the transition from reactive to proactive before they drown in their own muck.


Would an expanded Arbor day celebration fit in the sort of future you'd like?


Yes, I think you can. What is civilization anyway? If you want to go with Holldobler and Wilson in calling leafcutter ants civilized species without intelligence (instead of calling the colony a superorganism, which they've also done), then it may be that civilization doesn't even need intelligence.

This is actually a serious question. Personally, I think human civilization is the equivalent of a locust swarm, an irruption when we (probably temporarily) slip out environmental limits and massively increase our numbers. This only seems to work when there are pretty sophisticated systems in place for keeping people fed and watered. These systems always seem to be at best metastable, and they don't keep going without a lot of people working hard to keep them working.


The transition to "civilization" and "agriculture" is very odd.

Remember that we're dealing with evolution of culture (memetic evolution). Evolution doesn't aim towards a final point - that what you're doing will make things better for your great-grandkids is irrelevant. It's all about what works short-term.

First is the paradox of agriculture. (A) Human population expands to fit the food supply. (B) We can tell that hunter gatherers were better fed than farmers. Reconciling these two contradictions is possible, but it does make you think about just what it was that agriculture was better at.

Second is the fact that lots of crops are really, really shitty in their native form. It takes many, many, many generations to turn watermelon from a nasty bitter seed-filled fruit 50mm diameter to its modern form, or peaches from something the size of cherry with a very large stone to what you see now, or corn from a tiny hard thing with 10-12 kernels that you had to hack into with a hammer, or... pretty much all our crops. We've terraformed earth's flora and fauna to make modern agriculture possible. Crop yields with ancient crops were awful.

Third is the amazing longevity of ancient cultures. The caves at Niaux are amazing, one of the very few places you can see original major paleolithic art, if you book well ahead and go to the somewhat inconvenient spot. If you ever get a chance to go there, do, it's just not like the replicas and reproductions.

But it's all the same genre of art, using the same mediums, and was painted there by people from (we think) the same culture for over 5,000 years. That's 5,000 years in which people went into the same cave every now and then, and added more of the same type of art, using the same techniques and materials. With notably advancing or changing technique. 5,000 years of hunter-gatherer culture with complex tool use and clever things being done to create art... but not progress. Which makes it seem that their culture had hit an evolutionary maxima in the fitness landscape, and just stayed there.


Sorry, major typo.

About the art in Niaux: it should read "WITHOUT notably advancing or changing technique".


Just because they copy each other's art, they therefore have the same language, share the same values, and so forth for 5,000 years? Yeah, right. That gets refuted every time some kid (like me) copies the Sorcerer from Le Grotte des Trois-Freres (which I did in elementary school, albeit not very well).

That's one of the pervasive problems with deep time. We have tiny scraps of evidence about what people were like, so most researchers, and the public, construct these amazing pareidola where we play connect the dots among bits of evidence from tens of thousands of years (or millions of years, or even billions of years) apart to construct a narrative.

One place this shows up is in the notion that our ancestors in the ice age were subhuman, even though their brains were bigger than ours. I don't think they were necessarily better nourished, but I do suspect those big brains were used for something, probably keeping track of where all a hundred-odd types of food sources were, so they could be checked. What's really going on there is that there's almost no evidence before around 5,000 years ago, so people tend to connect dots and claim that the resulting view is static, without thinking too hard about whether their conclusions were the result of their analytic assumptions.

This also shows up in the fairly normal practice of making paleontological murals with landscapes stuffed with species that often didn't live within 100,000 years of each other. There's so few fossil scraps from most fossil sites that there's this unfortunate tendency to cram them all together into a single picture, just to make it look better.

Then there's the Great Oxygen Event (the oxygenation of the Earth by cyanobacteria) which was postulated to be almost instantaneous. Turns out it took over a billion years, or several times longer than vertebrate life has been on land, primarily because the Earth has a lot of iron and sulfur that needed to be oxidized before oxygen could build up in the atmosphere. But there's almost no evidence for the first four billion years of Earth's history, so it was possible for people to connect the dots and postulate that oxygenation happened real fast.


You're missing the point.

It's not reproducing the old artistic style and old art for 5,000 years in the same place that's the give-away.

It's that there is no new artistic style. Not reproducing the old - failing to do the new. For thousands of years.

This has a particular style. Thousands of years of reproducing that style, not a new style. In the same place, using the same tools. (To be fair some animals and symbols appear only in later or earlier works - but it's a finite set of works so that's inevitable. The artistic style doesn't change.)

If you wanna argue that it was a dynamic, changing culture that keeps doing the same thing over and over you can do that - the record's so sparse that we both know we can't say. But if so it seems a *damned* odd thing for a dynamic changing culture, or set of successor cultures, to do.


Well, the simplest answer is a) make sure more women use birth control pills ....
You forgot the really impoortant bit:
Hang every single "priest"
Keeping women in reproductive slavery is really important to the heirarchies of both islam & xtianity.


It's a good way of converting otherwise inedible vegetation into human food, yes, but is a pretty awful buffer. Keeping animals alive over even a British winter needs huge effort in collecting and storing fodder, and most animals were slaughtered and salted in autumn up until the 18th century, with only the breeding stock kept over winter. And, if the season is bad, the animals do badly as well.


Well, you get part of the answer when you examine how the modern free market would deal in the Inka empire:
If one region starves, food prices go up until the people have sold all their wealth and have indebted themselves. Also compare the Irish famine and the Indian famine under the British empire: in both cases the region still exported food.


Er, your examples are rather poor. Wild watermelons are c. 200mm in diameter, and wild peaches almost certainly had ample flesh (and could well have been 40mm in diameter). There are a LOT of wild fruit and nuts that are perfectly usable without breeding, and we grow and eat many of them in more-or-less their natural form. The same applies to green vegetables, though the ones most people in the west are most familiar with ARE overbred.

The same does NOT apply to the starchy 'staples' outside the tropics, and the main reason that crop yields were so poor was the reliance on species being pushed to the limits of their natural adaptability and beyond. The examples I gave in #90 are not like that - I forgot almond (which IS highly bred, but only for low cyanide) and olive, too.

So many of the constraints being assumed above (and by Diamond) are dependent on our particular type of agriculture; take a different path (as was almost certainly done in Britain back when Stonehenge was built) and they change (and many disappear).


Heteromeles wrote: The question is whether global distribution systems are best left to some sort of command and control redistribution system (currently various militaries in humanitarian operations), the free market, or political systems (government aid).

Thoughts? Do all of them have the same failure modes, or do they fail in different enough ways that we could, conceivably, use really efficient redistribution in multiple channels to keep 10 billion people fed, clothed, and housed?

My answers would be all of the above for the best system, with the qualifier that available technology can change the relative importance.

Command and control via the military is often necessary because we're all selfish to some degree. If the Empire says to province A "give up some of your food to help the starving folk in province B" the military are what stops the people in province A from saying "Not our problem". Yes, people are capable of being selfless and generous without needing force. And no, the empire isn't always doing this for the best of motives - often it's imperial prestige at stake, not genuine humanitarianism.

This aspect has become less important, at least in Western countries, because we all have so much stuff. Our governments can donate food and supplies to other countries and we barely notice.

The command and control is also necessary to ensure reasonably fair distribution in the affected areas. And this still applies today, those soldiers guarding food trucks in the TV news are necessary. And yes aid distribution by the Empire may not be as equitable as we would like, but it's almost always better than the most heavily armed thugs grabbing everything that would happen without them.

The free market has grown in importance and picks up a lot of the slack without us noticing, mostly because of better transportation technology. You can't ship Australian beef to other continents without refrigeration. As someone observed above, the free market isn't great at helping the desperately poor. What it does provide though is the infrastructure for delivering aid. If there's food shortages, it's much quicker if a government / aid agency can just pay ship owners to divert their regular trade to somewhere else rather than building them.

As for political systems / government aid, I'm not sure quite what you mean by it as I can't quite see how you get an Empire without a political system. I'm definitely not a libertarian, so I do think political systems are essential for efficient redistribution. For one thing, we Westerners at least generally empower our governments to take action on our behalf without submitting everything to a referendum. So if there's a crisis, the government can start doing something straight away. Sure, politicians still have their eye on the polls, but a surprising number are also decent human beings and will do the right thing now and answer for it at the next election.

This is my wishy-washy way of saying that as an optimist I do believe we can manage ten billion people on the planet.


One place this shows up is in the notion that our ancestors in the ice age were subhuman, even though their brains were bigger than ours. I don't think they were necessarily better nourished, but I do suspect those big brains were used for something, probably keeping track of where all a hundred-odd types of food sources were, so they could be checked.

Brain size does not necessarily mean our ancestors were more intelligent on average than we are today (and which ancestors had larger brains than we do today? Most of the proto-hominid braincases we know about are tiny by comparison). Going cross-speices, an elephant's brain is nearly twice the size of a human being's brain but has half the number of neurons.

Evolutionary speaking the brain is a major resource drain requiring a lot of fuel and care to avoid damage hence skull structures, buffer/damper systems etc. I don't know if there's any real science on the complexity of brain structures in early mammals, neuron density and interconnectivity, chemistry etc. [Dread computer analogy ahead] 1960s mainframes are a lot larger than a smartphone but any 100-buck modern Android phone would easily outperform a Big Iron behemoth from that period and no-one today is building such machines. It's not that the mainframes of yesteryear were an evolutionary "dead-end", they served their purpose in their day which is all evolution really requires of an organism.


This aspect has become less important, at least in Western countries, because we all have so much stuff. Our governments can donate food and supplies to other countries and we barely notice.

Though this seems to be sometimes hard even inside a country. In today's news in Finland, some cities are planning to make food aid (basically, free food, given out to basically anybody who comes to stand in a line for long enough, but mostly only people who really need it do come and get it) require something in return. Some plans were about putting the poor people with no food to courses for making food, which to me sounds kind of like just trying to make it harder to get something to eat.


Mikko Parvainen wrote: In today's news in Finland, some cities are planning to make food aid (basically, free food, given out to basically anybody who comes to stand in a line for long enough, but mostly only people who really need it do come and get it) require something in return.

First World problems. According to, the death rate due to malnutrition in Finland is 0.04 per 100,000 which means as far as I can tell that out of the population of five and a half million Finns, 2 will starve to death.

On the other hand the death rate from coronary heart disease for Finns is given as 94.14 per 100,000 or over two thousand times higher. I don't know what the situation is in Finland, but here in Australia obesity rates for the poor are twice what they are for the rich, with corresponding health risks such as coronary heart disease.

On those statistics, cutting food aid for the poor saves more lives.


You're talking about this "progress" thing as though it's an intrinsically good thing and not doing it is bad. There are other ways to interpret the same facts - and you say it yourself: what's wrong with living in a metastable evolutionary maximum? If what you are doing works, why change it? 5,000 years is nothing really, if you consider the cultures of Australian indigenous peoples which have been somewhat continuous for over 60,000 years.

I think likewise casting the emergence of agriculture as a paradox requires some assumptions, including ones we know are incorrect. One of the givens these days seems to be that agriculture occurs after an ecological crisis. So it didn't have to be "better" than H&G, it just had to be better than nothing once all the game and wild vegetation had disappeared from the region. Hey it looks like the only place we can find those edible grasses nowadays is around those old middens.

Contrast that with H&G societies that survived. We know that the oral traditions in these cultures could embed an astonishing volume of information. We know from studies of the Australian landscape that such cultures could sustain land forming and land management projects across thousands of years. We also know that not only were H&G cultures better nourished, they also spent a much higher proportion of their time in (what we would consider) leisure activity than agricultural societies (there's a bit of an argument this comparison is invalid since agricultural societies more or less depend on division of labour and hierarchies in a way that H&G societies do not, leading to some individuals experiencing more leisure than others).


On those statistics, cutting food aid for the poor saves more lives.

Well, I can't claim to know the demographics of the people who get the food aid here, but at least from the news images, obesity is not their problem. It's more like that they don't have money to buy enough food.

It might be different in Australia, but at least here saying "no, you shouldn't get food because by statistics poor people are fat and could well lose some weight" to poor people without enough money to buy food would be in my opinion something of a so-called "dick" move.


"Let me guess, manifests in our "Reality" as a one time commercial real estate developer with a bad comb-over?"

I'd expect an elder god to have more class than that.


For your consideration, the response of the ignorant and evil.

If the poor are more obese, one with any curiosity might wonder how that might have come to be, and perhaps examined the types of food that the poor are able to get, and what effect those foods have on metabolism.

Or one could simply say "let them starve more it'll be good for them."


"... then it may be that civilization doesn't even need intelligence."

I can't think of a more succinct explanation for the functioning of the U.S. Congress (for VERY LOW values of "civilization".


When talking about agriculture and civilizations, you're completely neglecting the sea.

In the case of human civilizations, you may not need agriculture as we know it? In the Pacific Northwest, fishing was so plentiful that the population grew to densities similar to their agricultural neighbors.

For pre-human civilizations, I would remind you of the possibility that they developed underwater? I am personally unconvinced that agriculture is not possible underwater.

“The question is whether global distribution systems are best left to some sort of command and control redistribution system (currently various militaries in humanitarian operations), the free market, or political systems (government aid).”)
“Thoughts? Do all of them have the same failure modes, or do they fail in different enough ways that we could, conceivably, use really efficient redistribution in multiple channels to keep 10 billion people fed, clothed, and housed?”)

Unless there is some external agency (e.g. a government) with sufficient power to regulate them, "free markets" don't exist; CANNOT exist. Especially in the age of the limited liability corporation, they rapidly collapse into oligopsony


"This is my wishy-washy way of saying that as an optimist I do believe we can manage ten billion people on the planet."

Yeah, but I don't expect those in the future will do any better at it than we're doing today at 7.6 billion.


I'd be surprised if an elder God could come that close to mimicking semi-evolved apes.


Saw a recent study that strongly suggested that the poorest were more obese, simply bevasue of both poor food choices & poor food "availability".
Completely counterintuitive, but apparently true.

The food prices in supremarkets shock me, anyway on the rare occasions thatr I check them.
Normally, I only buy dairy-products & pate there. Actual meat & fish come from specilist suppliers, who may/will charge more, but I know the "product" is of better quality.
[ e.g. no added water in the meat & it isn't pale pink, yeuch ]
And for veg, I consistently run a personal surplus & usually give stuff away ....


Yes. I am afraid the other posters on this have simply got their facts wrong. Eating well can be actually cheaper than eating badly - IF you can store supplies, cook them and store the result. Lack of time is a minor factor, ignorance is a major factor, but lack of facilities is equally important. And it is NOT a matter of quantity, but quality - many of the obese people are also malnourished. Also, much of the ignorance is due (in the UK) to our crippling of education and, worse, grovelling to the USA megacorporations and their obscene marketing.

I got and get really angry with the complacent politicians who deny the active hand they took in setting up the situation and ignore the real problems that those people cannot solve themselves.


You wrote, concerning empires, "From my perspective, there's no appreciable difference between idiot developers, egotistical billionaires, and imperial twits, but that's just me."

You mean, as opposed to "stable ganiuses" who can be all three of those at once?


There are two issues here, and I'll split them.

First, civilization underwater. Again, we have to define what civilization is. If we're talking about firemaking tool users, then no, that can't develop underwater (at least the fire bit. There are aquatic tool users). If we're talking about nomadic packs hunters, they might exist (cetaceans). If we require hierarchical organization and durable structures and systems, then... This isn't an attack, but a way to get you to think about what you mean by civilization. Aquatic has different limits than terrestrial life, and that's important.

As for the Pacific Northwest, though, it looks like what we were taught about them was wrong. A neat article came out in Hakai magazine a couple of days ago on indigenous Pacific Northwest agriculture. Yes, they cultivated local plants quite heavily. The whole notion of the Pacific Northwest being the only place where a hierarchical culture developed without people systematically tending plants on plots they owned is, to put it bluntly, incorrect.

I get a little passionate about these things, because of an experience many years ago on Catalina Island. That place had an indigenous population in the low thousands (basically the same number of people as live there today). When I worked out there, I spent a morning on the back side of the island, near the remnants of one of their bigger settlements. As I walked up the slope behind the settlement in the early spring, I realized I couldn't avoid stepping on a food plant with every single step. In that case it was blue dicks (a wild hyacinth that tastes like onions) and tarweed (whose seeds are edible). I'm pretty sure that whole slope was gardened and had been for thousands of years, until the 1850s when the "wild savages" were moved to mainland missions and disappeared. The fact that it was still full of food 150 years later says quite a lot. How many of our gardens would still be fruitful a century after we've passed?

Kat Anderson's Tending the Wild is all about such native Californian practices. There's a similar book (Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu) that shows quite a lot of evidence of similar cultivating practices through much of Australia.

I suspect there are two points to be made here. One is that there's a bigger diversity of "horticultural" practices than we normally think of. Personally, I'm learning to think of these systems in terms of coevolutionary theory and symbiotic relationships, rather than in terms of domestication, which has a lot of cultural baggage.

The, bigger point is related to the cultural baggage, because so much of our ideas that were rooted in ethnography and anthropology are linked to our history as colonial empires based on an ideology of us white people bringing progress to a benighted world, dark in both knowledge and skin tone. Everyone has to be very, very careful about sorting out the data from the cultural baggage that's been larded onto it. If people are said by their conquerors to have not farmed but merely to have taken what they needed from the land, then they're savages who can be displaced, and the land can be explained as "naturally fruitful," rather than the result of them working for thousands of years to make it better at supporting human life.


Well, no. There are some good people who are.

On the other hand, all three of the religious leaders of the Peoples of the Book(s) need to be pounded upside the head till it softens, and they'll actually take to heart that infant and maternal mortality has dropped by many orders of magnitude in the last 200 years, and we don't *NEED* to birth more kids, because so many live, instead of dying young.

On the other, other hand, though, I think all self-proclaimed evangelical funnymentalists should be treated as you suggest. And their megachurn money expropriated for the poor.


I can give you reasons without even thinking about it: first, in the US, supermarkets charge through the nose for fresh fruits and vegetables. Only smaller ethnic stores charge anything resembling reasonable (we *are* talking about 2x to 4x difference).

Note that I do shop for myself, and go to both.

Second, so many poorer folks are working more than one job, and have no *time* to shop at multiple stores, and with that lack of time, wind up going to fast food chains. Hell, I noticed my ex starting a tummy, after she got a car (she'd been on a car-free diet for years), and started hitting McGarbage for breakfast, instead of the nice food court near her office).

Note, also, that I've seen reports in the media in the last year that finds that artificial sweeteners a) do actually contribute to fat and heart disease (just saw that yesterday), b) that the body thinks it's still hungry, so you wind up eating more, and c) high fructose corn syrup *is* processed more efficiently by the body than good ol' sugar... with the result that, if you're not burning it at work, it goes to fat, and it's apparently really hard to go from bad fat to good fat to losing weight.


Hell, yes. Pay people, whether they work or not. There are a lot of folks who really don't want to live in or near a city... but that's where the jobs are.

Pay them, so they can stay where they are, and they will garden*, farm, and run small local businesses... AND STAY OUT OF OUR CITIES, which they hate, and where they can NOT drive in traffic....

*Garden. Food prices. In Philly, we used to get a *log* of in-season fruits and veggies from the 'burbs, and south New Jersey. Thanks, *so* much friggin' developers and suburban sprawl, we're so much happier flying food in from farms on the west coast that need to take water from other states to grow....


Free markets are just the continuation of war with financial means.


Re civilization under water:
Science would definitely develop along a different path. Eg. alchemy/chemistry was developed by humans relying to be able to boil water. Aquatic science would need to start with materials found under water and expose them to air. While open fire is out of the question, heat from the sun and using lenses is not. There are also some underwater volcanic spots that provide special environments. Physics also would develop along a different path since low air friction makes Newton's laws more or less obvious, while the same experiments underwater would have to take fluids into account.
I don't see any problems with biology and of course maths would be just as easy as above water.


NOT helped by the corrupt agrobusiness lobbyists trying to stop us growing what we want, as we want to & trying to blame us for spreading fungal diseases (etc)


Re: 'What is civilization anyway?'

How about the persistence and transfer of cultural memes that can be geographically localized?

Personally, I do not believe that in order to be civilized one must first do or be able to do/achieve [x].

a) Civilizations like the individuals they are made up of, and like all living creatures vary considerably. Recognizing variation and not just norms or top percentiles is important - and seems to have been persistently ignored in a lot of history.

b) It could be that insisting on a 'civilization' having to have had/done such-and-such that we've missed identifying important aspects of civilizations and even of civilizations.

BTW - there's literally tons of evidence in Turkey (Marmaray Tunnel) that there was an established large city and trade route across the Bosporus dating back to 6,000 BCE.

Given the history of this dig in Turkey (indeed the considerable archeological activity in other parts of the world), plus more people giving any consideration to the idea of a universal income, plus robots taking over more jobs, I wouldn't be at all surprised if more of our economy (jobs/livelihoods) turns toward history esp. the discovery, reclamation and stewardship of natural, historical and cultural resources. Such a move might even counterbalance the push by most business/industry to look only toward a near future. Not sure who said it but basically the idea boils down to: the farther and more clearly you can see into your past, the farther and more clearly you can see into your future.


Personally, I think the base for civilization are shared stories. Homo Sapiens is a crude misnomer, it should be Home Narrans (or for the extant subspecies, Homo Narrans Stupidus).
I see stories as the software to our biological hardware, and currently we are suffering from some really malicious software updates.


Re: '...stories as the software to our biological hardware'

Agree - plus all of the different ways that stories (knowledge) can be transmitted.


Heteromeles wrote: If we're talking about nomadic packs hunters, they might exist (cetaceans). If we require hierarchical organization and durable structures and systems, then...

Orca perhaps? It's been a few years since I read about them in depth, but IIRC the fish eating orca off the US/Canada north west live in well defined clans. There's some interbreeding between clans, but pretty clear lines of descent (matrilineal organisation) for each. They also have recognisable dialects when chirping to each other that persist over generations. (Is there a more accurate word for cetaceans in general / orca in particular communicating?)

Hiearchical organisations and durable social structures, check.

Interestingly, the mammal hunting orca, the ones that hunt seals and other cetaceans, don't show similar organisation. Theory is that the mammalian prey have better hearing and awareness, so the orca can't be as chatty with each other.


Surely the whales' sonar would alert the prey just as much as communicatory vocalisations would? Is it not more likely to be differences in hunting technique required for different size and manoeuvring capability of the prey? AIUI hunting individual fish is a pretty useless idea because they can dodge too well, and the appropriate strategy is therefore to herd lots of fish into a dense cluster so the whales can take it in turn to take a chomp at the ball of fish and stand a reasonable chance that a lot of them won't be able to dodge. Which obviously requires lots of cooperation and coordination. Seals on the other hand are large, lack the lightning acceleration of fish, in general are not as good swimmers as whales, and furthermore can in certain situations be hunted from ambush, all of which means that individual effort is much more likely to succeed and there is simply less need for coordination.


I rather like that leafcutter-ant "civilisation without intelligence" idea; as long as you don't try and push it too far, it seems a pretty good approximation to what I was getting at, in that the same description can be applied to human civilisations. Except that I'm talking about the intelligence of the civilisation itself, considered as something akin to a superorganism, rather than the intelligence of its individual units.

Both human and ant "civilisations" have similar distinctive features: some kind of organisation under which similar individuals perform very different sub-functions of an overall complex pattern of behaviour by which a much larger colony can sustain itself than would be the case without that kind of behaviour pattern. And in both cases, that behaviour pattern is based around the assumption that tomorrow will be very like today; the systems may be resilient against "normal" misfortunes, but neither system makes any attempt to guard against the possibility that the definition of "normal" may change in the long term and develop behaviour patterns which will also be resilient against its future manifestations.

OK, human civilisations are not completely lacking in that regard, but there is still very little of it on the scale of the civilisation itself; what there is is mostly on the level of individuals and their offspring and timescales of a lifetime or so, and still doesn't really drop the assumption that tomorrow will be like today.

There certainly does not seem to be enough of it to confer resilience against changes in climate; AIUI such changes are the reason for rather a lot of historical collapses of civilisations. That our current civilisation has lots of gadgets and stuff does not in my view make it truly "advanced" - that stuff is just window dressing. To count as "advanced" it would have to (among other things) take on board the lesson from history that changes in climate can devastate a previously successful civilisation, and develop behaviour patterns that do confer resilience against it - on the "superorganism" level, not just the concerns of individuals.


"Kat Anderson's Tending the Wild is all about such native Californian practices. There's a similar book (Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu) that shows quite a lot of evidence of similar cultivating practices through much of Australia."

I'm currently in the weeds with coursework assessments which means my independent reading time is severely curtailed, but one of the things I'm slowly picking my way through at the moment is Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth. The striking character of most of the Australian landscape in 1788 was the sweeping grasslands studded with infrequent tall trees on soils that should have been supporting dense forests. 230 years later these areas, where they haven't been converted to grazing or farming and are otherwise unmanaged, have reverted to dense forest. The evidence seems to be that controlled burning over hundreds or even thousands of generations shaped the landscape to a surprising degree. Major rivers were bridged by tall trees whose roots had been deliberately undermined. Areas which hadn't seen fire for a century, during which time they were basically inhospitable, after a major fire became practically overwhelmed with food plants.

It seems likely that our concept of how the distinction between what we call H&G societies and agricultural ones has shortcomings. It's far more continuous and not at all binary, to start with. And it might not actually make sense in a context where much of the food products consumed by H&G societies are cultivated, potentially across a dramatically larger time scale than is known in agriculture. I suppose the thing people have trouble with is that this sort of cultivation is conscious and deliberate, and done in full knowledge of the outcomes and the things that drive the outcomes (because it means that oral traditions must be capable of preserving knowledge at least to the same degree and level as our modern university traditions). Our culture is unable to let go of its image of the Other as Primitive, and lesser.

I'm also, incidentally, picking my way through Lynne Kelly's book - and at your recommendation.

I suspect there are two points to be made here. One is that there's a bigger diversity of "horticultural" practices than we normally think of. Personally, I'm learning to think of these systems in terms of coevolutionary theory and symbiotic relationships, rather than in terms of domestication, which has a lot of cultural baggage.


Oops, I'd meant to quote that last paragraph and place it before my own last two paragraphs. Apologies.


I think you're seeing what I'm trying to get at.

To back up a little and help others, there's culture and civilization. One of the questions is whether civilization is a type of culture or something different. Culture, at least as I understand it (and sociologists and ethologists should speak up if they ever read this) is the learned part of inheritance. It's the stuff you didn't get from your DNA and epigenome that is necessary for you to become a functioning adult of your species. Under this rubric, a LOT of species have culture, including all cats, all apes and many primates, most or all dogs (especially coyotes), raccoons, bears, elephants, dolphins (probably all cetaceans) corvids, larger parrots, even sloths, among many others. Relative intelligence does correlate, but there are some species (manta rays, cephalopods, komodo dragons) that show good intelligence but no sign of cultural knowledge transmission. Humans are extreme in requiring culture to survive, in that we'll die in infancy if we're not enculturated, but the transmission of learned behavior as an essential part of an animal's maturation process is quite widespread.

Civilization, at least in humans, is a type of human culture (surprise!) where there's a hierarchy of a productive class that produces a surplus of food, a group of people in charge who organize things but do not produce their own food, and often craft specialists who make and do essential stuff but do not produce their own food. At least in my limited knowledge, civilization tends to be associated with state formation. We actually know more than we think about how tribal societies become states, because the last to do so--Hawai'i, completed the process under the gaze of Captain Cook and other westerners. Additionally, the Hawaiians had a really good oral history that they quickly wrote down once they became literate, and subsequent archaeology tends to confirm their stories. Anyway, civilization starts when there's enough food to support chiefs and eventually there are so many people as to require bulk reorganization into a state because older social organization systems can't handle the strain.

If we look at eusocial animals like leafcutter ants, the question is whether we want to call them a civilization or a superorganism. In a human sense, the queen is not the ruler but the gonads, at least of ant and termite colonies (it would be more accurate, albeit improper, to call the reproductive classes "the big fuckers," but alas, we're stuck with eusocial royalty getting to screw around). Decision making in ants and termites seems to be a mix of quorum sensing, and perhaps something like voting. Still, there are often structurally different castes that do different things, and there are workers that produce a surplus of food to support the non-productive royals and guards, so one might argue that this looks like a civilization. Equally one might argue that since most of the animals in a eusocial colony are related, they could be regarded as a superorganism with an extended phenotype that's required for group reproduction of a specific set of genes.

It's a fairly critical question: is civilization a subclass of culture, or is it a hierarchical organization system that can be created through either cultural or biological means? While I tend to favor the former, at least when talking about humans, there's value in seeing it either way. However, you do need to specify what you mean by civilization when you're talking about something like "an undersea civilization." In the latter example, there are species of eusocial shrimp, and if you think of eusociality as a type of civilization, those eusocial shrimp are your exemplar of an undersea civilization, rather than dolphin pods. If you think of civilization as a distinctive subtype of culture and eusociality as forming superorganisms, then there are aren't any known undersea civilizations, but equally, most human cultures weren't civilized, although civilization is the culture type that is currently dominant on the planet.


For those interested in chaos engineering (or pure prediction) (without cheating :-), just noticed this:
Machine Learning’s ‘Amazing’ Ability to Predict Chaos
and a link for a recent paper:
Hybrid Forecasting of Chaotic Processes: Using Machine Learning in Conjunction with a Knowledge-Based Model (9 march 2018)
and their original paper:
Using Machine Learning to Replicate Chaotic Attractors and Calculate Lyapunov Exponents from Data (pdf) (19 Oct 2017)
Note: they use reservoir computing, which is of extra interest because there are efforts to instantiate such systems in hardware, e.g.
I need to tool up quite a bit to read it for real. See figures 7,8
1. Our hybrid technique consistently outperforms its component reservoir-only or knowledge-based model prediction methods in the duration of its ability to accurately predict, for both the Lorenz system and the spatiotemporal chaotic Kuramoto-Sivashinsky equations.
2. Our hybrid technique robustly yields improved per- formance even when the reservoir-only predictor and the knowledge-based model are so flawed that they do not make accurate predictions on their own.
3. Even when the knowledge-based model used in the hybrid is significantly flawed, the hybrid technique can, at small reservoir sizes, make predictions com- parable to those made by much larger reservoir- only models, which can be used to save computational resources.


Also, unrelated,
Suspicious event hijacks Amazon traffic for 2 hours, steals cryptocurrency
By subverting Amazon's domain-resolution service, the attackers masqueraded as cryptocurrency website and stole about $150,000 in digital coins from unwitting end users.
I smiled...

Irritated, a very little bit. (When do you think I first (front?)noticed tells?)


"Saw a recent study that strongly suggested that the poorest were more obese, simply bevasue of both poor food choices & poor food "availability"."

Food "availability" can have a large impact of food choice. As can "accessibility".


Horribly true
The vegetables that are avilable to me, are those that I have personally selected to plant & not just, say "Tomatoes" but (this year) 9 different varietes, all of which actually TASTE of something, & 4 sorts of courgette, ditto spuds, peas, beans, etc .....
Whereas the poor buggers at the bottom-of-the-heap are constrained by what the supermarkets deign to sell, or Cthulu help us, what's in the food banks.
I regard the latter as a deep stain on our society - that people should be effectively begging for food at this late date.


That looks as though it might have "interesting" possibilities for the evolution of true AI ...
Could machines develop "hunches" in the sense of close guess-predictions on supposedly insufficient evidence, in a similar fashion to what we sometimes do?


Ah, this looks interesting. I'd joked about this before as "the blasphemous equations" (genetic curve fitting software that produced accurate equations that make no sense).

For vintage SF fans, I wanted to highlight that we've got a new source of FTL technology: deep machine learning. To wit, physicists start shoveling data from the LHC cosmological surveys, etc. into a deep learning system, to try to see if a Theory of Everything is possible. Answers pop out, indicating that a Theory of Everything exists, but while the predictions are accurate, the relationships make no intuitive sense to humans. Further exploration of these non-intuitive numbers leads to the design for a star drive of some sort, allowing a limited number of ship designs. The ships work, humans can build them, but we can't do much to improve on the drives because the underlying math makes no sense, and we're stuck either cranking through huge non-linear equations to get answers (making further design modification difficult to impossible), or dumping data into machines and getting out the same limited range of answers (e.g. possible ship designs) without any obvious reason why those limits exist.

This is a phlebotinium goldmine for the lazy SF writer. Probably horrible for the rest of us when they finish hooking these monsters up to market algorithms, but there you go.


Re: ' ... civilization tends to be associated with state formation'

BTW - state is defined as an 'organized community'.

Leadership of states have varied considerably over the years - culture by culture and within cultures - so the type of leadership is not one of yardsticks for determining whether something collection of folk is or is not a 'state'.


Re: state leadership

The UK as an example - tribal/clan, multi-kingdom, monarchy (sourced from a variety of Celtic, English, French, Scot, and German roots), parliamentary rule. Further, even though the UK is currently a parliamentary monarchy, each of the preceding forms of 'rule' still have some power. And, despite these many significant shifts in 'rule', there's been a continuation of British civilization. Yes - lots of changes, but it's still 'Britain'.*

Side note: Personally think that the key reason there's still a monarch in Britain is that this is the only way to prop up and ensure the continuation of the Peerage (i.e., the folks with the most valuable real estate, old money).

* Terry Pratchett explained this concept nicely in The Fifth Elephant re: the scone of stone.


Don't get me started. I've got a friend in Chicago who vacationed in Hawaii, and even there, couldn't find old-style very acid pineapples - they're breeding them to the taste of some idiot 23-yr-old MBA.

And I'm sure I've mentioned before that REALLY worries me: that some day, some idiot MBAs, with too much control of management, decide that for tax purposes, they shouldn't plant 10% of the US cropland... and there's worldwide famine. (And the MBAs were cooked and eaten)


Do I have to keep telling you? Who do you think this "civilization" thing is for? 12k or 15k years ago, cats domesticated us, so that they could live in the manner which they intended to become accustomed to. Then, they pushed us to create technology, so we could create laser pointers....


Your post leads me to two thoughts: first, I wonder if anyone's ever mapped the shape, phase, frequency and volume of whale sonar. Consider AM vs FM radio.

Second... now there's something that could have engineered us into the critters we are now: humans, as loners, mostly go after very small game, which can be scarce in the off-season (winter/monsoon/etc), while humans, as a pack, can go after large herd animals, with a *lot* more meat.

Also, hunter/gatherers may be better nourished... *some* of the year, and some years better than others, while agricultural and herding cultures can build up a larger store, to have lower mortailty from starvation overwhinter, and bad season.


I've seen a number of stories where humans can't understand the equations that make FTL available, and I've always had problems with it.

Consider, a century ago (exactly) that it was said only 8 people in the world could understand Einstein's equations. A *lot* more do now, and math has also advanced.

So, I figure that even if it doesn't make sense at first, people will go after it like calculus - break it up into small, digestible chunks, then slowly put them together. It might take us a while, but I don't see how we wouldn't eventually be able to understand it.

I really need to get back to working on my Famous Secret Theory, speaking of all that....


Could machines develop "hunches" in the sense of close guess-predictions on supposedly insufficient evidence,...
Yes, that was the point, as a key augmenting part of a larger, stranger package, with humans as an available "existence proof". IMO. (My intuition suggests that there is a very old associated argument.)

Further exploration of these non-intuitive numbers leads to the design for a star drive of some sort, allowing a limited number of ship designs. The ships work, humans can build them, but we can't do much to improve on the drives because the underlying math makes no sense,
This is funny, thanks.

It might take us a while, but I don't see how we wouldn't eventually be able to understand it.
It is possible (certain IMO, really) that there are complex ideas that cannot be processed by human brains (and limited time).


There are two aspects to this.

Firstly, "the blasphemous equations". That effect long predates such algorithms, and the classic quote is "with seven parameters, you can fit an elephant". What that means is that you can fit any curve arbitrarily closely by a combination of unrelated but similar curves, and that the closeness of fit is exponential in the number of parameters. Think Fourier approximations to (say) a sawtooth. I could make very rude remarks about the way this fact is commonly ignored.

Secondly, complexity theory. Goedel showed that in any sufficiently complex system of a certain type, there are things that are true but unprovable (and unfindable). Most experts believe that human mathematical knowledge (INCLUDING all discoverable meta-mathematics) is a Goedelian system, though Penrose and followers don't. If so, FTL could be one of them.

Aside: not all formal systems are Goedelian in that sense, but that merely means the proof of that limit fails, not that there is no limit. I could describe some, but they are not physically constructible (even if they are surprisingly realistic).


The results found by such programs ARE "hunches" - that's essentially ALL they produce!


While I focused on blasphemous equations (e.g. single mathematical expressions that work but make no intuitive sense), I'd point out that the world basically runs on complex systems of equations that we don't entirely understand, especially when they interact.

This is a real problem that we can moan about, excuse me, discuss, at great length, if we wish. I just wanted to point out that if you're a hack SF writer (me, say) who's trying decorate the set of your genre-standard SF story, you can do worse than to talk about genetic algorithms, Darwinian (or better, Lamarckian?) iterative design (e.g. to explain why your gun barrel has that weird twist in it that lets you shoot so straight), machine learning, and so on. Then you go on and write your story. This is equivalent to finding that alien technology,, invoking Clarke's Law, running everything on vibranium isotopes, having a mad genius in the lab, or positing that mutation X radiation = magic. It's just another cheap source of plot devices.


Actually, no. The world doesn't run on equations - they are merely the formulation we use to try to understand how it runs. That's why there are often different ones that match the same phenomenon (e.g. epicycles and Newton's laws) and why we often don't understand them.


Irritated, a very little bit. (When do you think I first (front?)noticed tells?)

We can say, with 100% accuracy that your week has not been as stressful or dangerous as ours. We play in Reality Space.

However, since certain [redacted] broke some major rules and so on, here's a spoiler:

Take a long strip of paper. Write the 13 names down on it. You'll notice the one in the middle is an actual name, not a Symbolic Name (but hers is also symbolic). Then tie the references back upon themselves (the last video was first mentioned/linked in 2014).

Do that, then X-index all the things. You get a large fat Möbius strip, with all the various Identities mirroring each other -Back- and -Forward- in TIME. You then do that with a lot of other stuff.

It's a Mirror. It's a Coven. It's a Christian Meal-Time-Party. And so on.

If (AND YES THEY DID) you then attempt to doxx from it, threaten, put heavy-messing crews, symbolic druids with white staves (who depressingly don't even know their Brecht / Seventh Seal) and a whole world of M(n+1) Reality shift stuff, then you enter the ---Shadow--- Mirror.

Which is a whole lot more dangerous.

Fun Facts:

4/20 : No cathartic emotional splurge, unless you count a FUCKING DRAGON.

St. George's Day: so, expect DRAGONS.

If we have to interface with anymore dead-inside-mental-shells-that-are-ideologically-stupid we might laugh.

If you attempt to tie Reality in like we do, you'll get burnt. Badly.





It's a Paradox Weapon.

It's a Möbius Stip in TIME with 12 segments (each of which is an Ethical / Political / sigh work it out where the outer is negation and the inner is absolute) like a toothpaste tube, connected at the middle to a real Identity with a further spider-web formation behind it linking it to reality.

If you can't see it: you're already part of it. thatsthejoke.jpg


And no Greg. That's actually what it is.


A lot of much more "networked" H.S.S who imagined they were clued in ran right into it.

Their Minds are very small, so they don't see it yet for what it actually is (and no, the above is just a teaser, not the real thing).

But Our Kind Do, and Maaaan were they pissed.


"Our Kind =/= Jews" or anything else so crude. Grow the fuck up already.



Bored of combating multiple Narrative / Reality Strikes up and down the Ladder.

But, can you make Rainbows?

Really tired of Your Old Ways.


Wild Hunt. No, really. Fucking WILD HUNT IS CALLED.


For Martin and the ones who don't do metaphor: Modern War Institute April 19, 2018

They're children at this stuff.


[Spoiler: we even showed you a picture of the Tibetan Shell holding the two opposite Nexus points a long while back.

But that's just style points]


[Oh, and ffs.

Yes, it's an OMEGA. DERP]


Normally, I only buy dairy-products & pate there. Actual meat & fish come from specilist suppliers, who may/will charge more, but I know the "product" is of better quality. [ e.g. no added water in the meat & it isn't pale pink, yeuch ]

Interesting. On this side of the pond most supermarkets cut up beef from 1/2 of a cow. Yes you can buy pre-packaged stuff but in general they have a staff that knows how to cut up meat.

The only ones I know of that only sell pre-packaged over hear are the imports from your side of the pond. Lidl and Aldi. Wait, there is Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. TJ sells prepackaged and I have no idea about WF as I don't shop there.

I'm sure my personal experience isn't universal. But we do have both of the Euro imports in my area plus 8 or more major supermarket chains that all cut up the beef in the store.


Oh, and HEXAD.

Reality. Rainbows. Right. On. Cue.

Lucky, I guess.

The dark side of the moon YT, Music, Pink Floyd, full album: 46:46

See you For the Egg / Pink Moon.


S/he's baaaaaaaaaaaack.


And still sane.

Which, if you had any idea of what happened up to the 20th April Sacrifice Zone is fairly amazing. Allow us to shake off the blood from the fur from that little episodes.

Anyhow, on more mundane fronts (?you think?), here's something we just read:

Sleeps With Monsters: Helen S. Wright’s A Matter of Oaths Tor Nov 2017

Was rather good. Kinda depressed she published way back when gay male leads and hardened women weren't cool.

Worth a read.


I meant the world as in the internet, satellite communications, computerized infrastructure, electronic stock exchanges, genetic analysis of breeding experiments, games theory calculations playing into diplomacy and negotiation, weather forecasts, etc. You're right that the physical universe isn't math, but our human world currently kinda runs on math, at least as long as we're stupid enough to have computers intermediating between us, technology, and the larger world.


The dark side of the moon
I know of a large instance of that rainbow less than a millisecond away. (Painted it myself, with spray-paint.)
Thanks, will read Sleeps With Monsters. (Memory shenanigans get me a bit cranky, yes, even just thinking about them.)


"why your gun barrel has that weird twist in it that lets you shoot so straight"

Or the other weird twist that lets you shoot round corners...


No, I don't think so. The UK has a monarchy because nobody else wants the job, much too public, and it's a good way of conning the rubes and getting tourist money. What does happen in a workplace when the boss is permanently away on business/ holiday?

The preceding forms of rule having power is such a broad statement as to be meaningless, and also pretty wrong anyway, although it did take a while to get rid of all vestiges of feudalism.
As for the peerage etc it's to a large extent part of the international capitalist class by marriage, business and for love, so the monarchy isn't required.


A Matter of Oaths I mean, oops. Starts out well .. looks like fun.


The Whole Foods I go to has a butcher shop in house. They also sell frozen meat from elsewhere in their freezer, which I suspect a bunch of places do.

Yes, I'm yuppie scum, I shop at Whole Foods. I started doing that years ago, when I noticed their organic veggies were cheaper than those in the big chain supermarkets and didn't rot as fast. Their house brand canned organics are generally cheaper than the comparables at normal supermarkets too. Also, it's tedious to find unsweetened milk substitutes anywhere else (why do we need so much effin' added sugar?), and if you want organic peanut butter that's just peanuts, they have that as a store brand (and no, I won't grind my own in the store grinder. I know too much about aflatoxin).


Re "first"... oh yes, very much so. While I don't know anything useful about the results, I do know that it's been analysed in great detail, both by marine biologists wanting to figure out how it works, and by the military who are concerned about how it interacts with their own sonar systems.


The question is whether you can use the idea to generate a new plot complication or character conflict. Otherwise, like you said, it's just set dressing. The most obvious, of course, is "Where did this new design come from," but I'm sure other possibilities exist.


Reasons we have a monarchy in Britain: well, we were pioneers in the field of getting rid of it, with an axe. And it didn't work. The best replacement we could manage was to basically carry on as before but call the guy at the top "Lord Protector" instead of "King", which of course didn't solve any of the problems and didn't piss any fewer people off. So we canned that one, although the underlying fondness for changing the name of things to make the problem go away was still evident in the age of nuclear power and council estates.

Our next iteration was to say OK then, we'll let you be king, Mr Stuart, but don't act the arse and don't start breeding Catholics. Yes, that includes you, Mr Stuart Jr, Rule One: No Catholics. No, we really mean it. OK, you wouldn't listen, piss off then and we'll have a foreign citrus fruit for king instead.

That was what might be called the key innovation, as the precedent it established allowed the list of things the monarch isn't allowed to do to be extended until about the only things that were not on it were shaking hands with foreign heads of state and showing up on TV while people are sleeping off their Christmas dinner. It's a fairly typical British solution: a post-hoc bodge that looks kludgey but does actually work; it means we lose the disadvantages of having a monarchy but don't have to bother thinking up something workable to replace it with (nor face the fearsome task of rewriting hundreds of years of law to get rid of all the references to "the Crown" and somehow not bugger it all up in the process). Indeed, its merits were evident enough that several other countries eventually ended up copying the idea.

What we don't have is a national origin myth based around plugging the idea that "George III is Cthulhu" (and by extension, so is anyone else in a crown) "because he's not democratic" in order to create a focal point for antipathy and make it easier to justify breaking with the parent regime. To us, George III is the one who went doolally so we left him to dribble in the corner while his son got early promotion. And the principle that it doesn't matter if he's not democratic because all he has to do is look good on coins, although not as developed as it is now, was still pretty firmly established by then.

Hence there is a considerable transatlantic culture gap on this subject. When it arises in conversation, the American position seems to embody the assumption that a monarchy is something one naturally and axiomatically wants to get rid of because it's not democratic. The Brit, living in a monarchy, knows that the existence of a monarch has bugger all to do with how democratic or otherwise we are; that's all down to those cunts in Westminster, while the monarchy is a fine old British tradition and part of the national identity; the Brit doesn't really get what the American's objection is, and the American doesn't really get that their objection is based more on 250-year-old propaganda than on reality. So the whole discussion tends to end up at cross purposes right from the very start.

There are some Brits who do object to the monarchy on the same theoretical grounds that it's not democratic, but they tend to be few and fanatical, because if you're living here the lack of correspondence between that theory and the daily experience of the practice makes it kind of hard to sustain that position. There are rather more who object on grounds of "why should they be paid for by the taxpayers' money?", but it is also fairly well known that "the taxpayer" actually provides very little of their income, that it's fuck all in relation to overall government spending - in any list of things that could be labelled as "waste of taxpayers' money" the monarchy would be right down the bottom, and that it is more than counterbalanced by their value as a tourist attraction, etc.

What there are a lot of are the kind of people who go into meltdown because the currently active breeding unit has popped out another lizard, and would tear the place apart if there was any serious attempt to get rid of them. There are also people who appreciate things like the advantage in foreign relations of having an apolitical head of state, or the near-impossibility of harmlessly demonarchising the established legal and constitutional framework. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is another common view. It's rather like the C of E - a majority of people default to ticking the "C of E" box on forms, but most of them never think about it except when they have a box to tick - except that you'd almost certainly encounter far more resistance to getting rid of the monarchy than to getting rid of the C of E.

The connection between the peerage and large-scale wealth/landholding is mostly defunct these days. Selling your stately home to the National Trust so they pay for the upkeep and just keeping a few rooms for yourself is not an unpopular model, it seems. Technically, all land is held "on grant from the Crown" or some such wording, regardless of who holds it; getting rid of the monarchy would therefore have repercussions for millions of ordinary people, not just the peerage.


ONE: You DELIBERATELY called me by name, presumably to jerk my cord & get an over-reaction.
TWO: in #156 ... We play in Reality Space. No, you bloody well don't.
THREE: Five + One content-free ramblings.


We were having something approching a reasonable discussion.
( Especially Whitroth @ 148 😸 )


There are some Brits who do object to the monarchy on the same theoretical grounds that it's not democratic, but they tend to be few and fanatical, because if you're living here the lack of correspondence between that theory and the daily experience of the practice makes it kind of hard to sustain that position
You are total-fuckwit supposedly-"Labour" candidate in Yorkshire ( Actually a Momentum/Marxist fuckwit but what the heck ) claiming that Waitrose customers are scum & the Monarchy are parasites .....

This sort of thing makes me despair of politics right now ... there doesn't seem to be any reasonable middle-ground ... because at the other end, you have vassals to a foreign power like the Rees_Thugg.


Er, what is it about "few and fanatical" that doesn't cover that case?

Personally, I think that we should go back the Sovereign in Council - at least as democratic, civilised and effective (not that that says much), much cheaper to run, and far more amusing. When it ceases to be amusing, we could replace it by something better, rather than our current system, which as degraded to the point it has become worse in all those respects.


Of course people who go to Waitrose are scum. Classy northerners go to Booths! :)


I must disagree. The US mythology contains several components, that's only one.

The US mythology is that no one institution should be sovereign above any other. "No taxation without representation" was an attack upon Parliament's ability to tax the colonies without any MP's from the colonies. There's a reason the three branches of government are co-equal (in theory), instead of Congress having sovereignty. Technically, the Constitution is sovereign in the US.

In addition, the US disagreed with the Church aspect. Remember that some of the original colonies were created by people whose religious status was complicated. These include Catholics (Maryland) and Quakers (Pennsylvania), in addition to Puritans (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut)

Finally, there was a huge dislike in the centralization of power within the UK. States don't have as much power now than in the 19th century, but California or Georgia wield more power than Yorkshire. You guys are moving in this direction with the power you've given London (for instance)


Re: ' ... complexity theory. Goedel showed that in any sufficiently complex system of a certain type, there are things that are true but unprovable (and unfindable). '

Don't recall where, but do recall someone with the math/sci know-how at some scientific conference/presentation* specifically saying that what is meant by this Goedel theorem is: Some complex systems do not have the necessary ingredients to prove their truths. When this happens, it will be necessary to use/go to a different system to develop that proof.

Moral: Don't give up looking for a proof including going outside your comfort zone.

* Recently started watching The Royal Institution videos on YouTube - so could be there. Below is the RI YouTube homepage.


"claiming that Waitrose customers are scum & the Monarchy are parasites ....."

Considering all the tourist dollars (or pounds or euros) they attract to the country, wouldn't the Monarchy technically be "symbiotes"?

Saw in the news this morning that Wembley Stadium is up for sale.

Are You Ready For Some Football!!?


You have missed my point. Yes, that applies when you are using a particular formal system, but I am talking about the system that (effectively) implements human intelligence, and I don't mean one person's intelligence, either, but mankind's. If you can step outside that, you are not human (by definition). Yes, There Are Some Truths That Mankind Is Not Meant To Know :-)


Re: 'The preceding forms of rule having power is such a broad statement as to be meaningless, ...'

Disagree - although I will agree that 'previous types of rule' power has waned as novel more modern types of power have shown up. I think of this as similar to speciation in bio: the overall population grows, some 'families'/types end up living within a very confined geography, so new species/variants that better thrive in the contemporary environment eventually show up and become dominant in that setting. However, this does not automatically mean that all of the original species has died off: no, they're just not as powerful/in your face as they used to be.

The 'Peerage' has a different vibe than 'just born or got mega rich': peerage has both more 'moral' and historicity cachet.


Re: 'Yes, There Are Some Truths That Mankind Is Not Meant To Know :-)'

True only for SF and religion! :)

Speaking of religion - are you familiar with Daniel Dennett? Saw him on one of the RI videos and ordered a couple of his books. Intrigued that he's pushing for a scientific study of 'religion' - all religions to find out what purpose they actually serve, how they work, their good and bad points, etc.

The most scientific 'modern philosopher' I've heard in ages - looking forward to reading him.


Re: rise of city states

The importance of cities is on the rise politically as well as economically according to the UN, WB and other institutions. Below is a map of the most important cities in 2017: London is #1, NYC #2, Tokyo #3.

The UN and some other NFP orgs work directly with some cities where federal/state pols and policies are outspokenly anti certain programs (clean air, renewable energy, human rights/immigration, etc.).


Oh, God, you must be a Penrosian :-(


Re: 'Penrosian'

No idea - not familiar with Penrose's views on religion's place in human experience/behavior. (What's your beef with Penrose anyways?)

I'm reading Dennett because I happen to feel that anything to do with being a human should be understood. Religion because it has meaning to a large chunk of humanity falls into that category. Also, for me, 'understanding' means examining a topic from all angles, methodically and in as controlled a manner as technically feasible, i.e., scientifically.


Your post leads me to two thoughts: first, I wonder if anyone's ever mapped the shape, phase, frequency and volume of whale sonar. Consider AM vs FM radio.

Second... now there's something that could have engineered us into the critters we are now: humans, as loners, mostly go after very small game, which can be scarce in the off-season (winter/monsoon/etc), while humans, as a pack, can go after large herd animals, with a *lot* more meat.

Also, hunter/gatherers may be better nourished... *some* of the year, and some years better than others, while agricultural and herding cultures can build up a larger store, to have lower mortailty from starvation overwhinter, and bad season.

As noted above, yes, there's quite a bit of interest in cetacean sonar. Remember that the US Navy still uses trained dolphins in harbors, because their sonar is better than ours. They're used as an anti-diver defense, among others. I could go on about the tremendous diversity of cetacean sonar, but it's like human flashlights. There are some designed for messaging, some designed for illumination, some designed for covert illumination, and some designed as weapons (cf: sperm whale sonar). The part we forget is that passive listening is also critically important. All submariners know this too, which is why for decades they've run with their sonar pingers off, quiet propellers, and arrays of hydrophones. Sadly, human hearing is so crap that it's better to have trained enlisted dude watching screens on digitally portrayed sonic data, rather than listening in themselves.

As for hunting, that's cultural, not genetic. You can take, for instance, Cody Lundin (survivalist) who has published a recipe for cooking rat in When All Hell Breaks Loose, complete with pictures. You can take, for instance, the Trump boys, who hunt elephants for fun, not food (expletives deleted). You can take, for instance, Ernest Hemingway, who fished for big fish, again for fun (but also, I think, for food). The point here is that there's no genetic tie to what game men go after (or women--my mom was an avid fisher when she was younger). This is also true of species like coyotes. I've seen a pack of coyotes chase down a deer, but I've also seen coyote scat full of mouse bones and palm fruits. They're so flexible that defining the "coyote niche" is an exercise in stupidity: they can be solitary or pack animals, scavengers or large-animal predators, and so on. Humans are even more flexible, but that flexibility is taught, not inherited.

The forager vs. farmer thing is a false dichotomy, as there's a lot of people who do both (ask any farmer who hunts and goes after berries in the fall). The more fundamental issue is productivity vs. resilience. Productivity from intensive farming is the basis for civilization, as it lets you field the warriors to expand your turf and shake down your neighbors--or keep yourself from being shaken down, enslaved, or killed by your neighbors (lovely thing, isn't it?). With foraging, you've generally got to move regularly, but on the other hand, you don't necessarily have to deal with all the drama of owning and defending a fixed plot of land. Or, generally, of being tied to it with penalties if you leave. Foraging works if you're willing to cook and eat a rat or any of a hundred odd other animals, plants or fungi, rather less if you think that rice or bread is food and anything else is there for flavor.

Which way is better is entirely situational, and that's an important point that we tend to forget. History is written by those who are fed by farmers. As such (with rare exceptions, like James Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed), history tends to not just extoll the virtues of being fed by farmers, it tends to both ignore other lifestyles and denigrate, criminalize, or romanticize them. It's difficult to get an honest idea of which way works better in which circumstances.


You rang? Speaking as a dragon (personally, the Silver... and yes, you can easily now find me in fandom)....

And George... I prefer the alternate story, St. Mildred and the Man in the Tin Suit (from Unicorn Girl, Michael Kurland).

What a freakin' few weeks. Another root canal (which will give me four crowns - does that make me an emperor?), a lot of money spent on the vehicle, and, oh, yes, the insanity today at work - one of our servers in the datacenter was found to be compromised, thanks *so* much, drupal....)


Penrose was a first-class mathematician who lost contact with reality, and started claiming that intelligence was a property of quantum gravity and is NOT subject to a Goedelian limit. Never mind that nobody (not even Penrose) has any for evidence whether quantum gravity exists or what form it takes. Frankly, I find revelations from someone called Moroni equally convincing :-)

We do not know for sure whether (aggregate) human intelligence has a Goedelian limit, but EVERY expert in ANY related area I have spoken to believes that it almost certainly does. But, as I mentioned, because of its very nature (and ours) we cannot know where it lies ....

Anyone who claims that there are no undiscoverable truths is a Penrosian, whether they know it or not.


Actually, I like Marx's comments. 99% of the time misunderstood, too, esp. given that no one can begin to imagine the cultural context of the 1840's.... The full quote being, "Religion is the opiate of the people, the heart in a heartless world.

Capitalists, of course, are the heartlessness added to the heartless world, with no interest in family, neighborhood or community. To quote Canter & Siegel, "There's no community here, this is just a marketing opportunity."


Penrose was a first-class mathematician who lost contact with reality

I wonder if this is a possible affliction of people who can work at this level. Newton went way off the rails with his religious writings.


So they are Penrosian, even if they lived before Penrose or even Goedel? That sounds like evidence of a Goedelian limit right there.

To be fair, my understanding of Goedel's theory comes entirely from reading Goedel, Escher, and Bach, so I presumably have a limited understanding. Still, I think that paradoxes (which I understand are the equivalent of a Goedellian limit) are pretty ubiquitous in human thinking. Whether they can be completely transcended (per Buddhist teaching) is unclear, since I'm not enlightened enough to know whether enlightened cogitation is sufficiently complete (per Goedel) to be even theoretically susceptible to paradoxes or other Goedellian limits.


Off-topic: I sincerely support any of you on the east side of the Pond to protest and object to the Orange Shitgibbon's Officious State Visit to London this summer, which I just read about.

No, we don't want him, either....


My view is that the human brain is not subject to being broken by such things because it is not a turing machine.

This isn't the same as saying that it is magically superior and can't be emulated because reasons. It's because it lacks the perfect memory and is more of a fuzzy pattern matching system.

I know a decent programmer can emulate a limited turing machine in their head for a bit, but a 30 year old home computer can still memorise more* bits than they can.

So strange loops don't trap human brains because human brains can't remember all the steps properly and lose the thread when the human stops concentrating.

*For cases where this is not true the word "decent" is insufficient.


Of course all the posts make sense; but you need to know the references. So, if you need a bit of laughter, I suggest:



You'll quickly spy something beautiful(ly silly)[0]. And Eastern Dragons are usually good(ish) anyhow (although Chromatically of course Silver are as well).

(This is a case of a) people mistaking 'Dragon Energy' for the actual concept, which is all about Feng Shui & use of negative potential / possibility space[1], with the glitzy lying cat version and b) the Minds who could/would actually understand the actual reference are more than likely not things you'd want to meet in Reality Space[2] and [redacted] but we can only hope they [redacted]).

Anyhow, you never commented on your prior requested solution and whether it was satisfactory (please note: all media circus campaigns are planned months if not years in advance, of course they're still running the "Enough is Enough" stuff. The point was their mirror cracking, there's a lot of Right wing Establishment types getting pasted atm).

Movie: Young Guns "I'll make you famous"


So strange loops don't trap human brains

Whoever imagined a temporal Möbius strip laced with multiple atemporality, paradoxes and impossibilities was designed to snare a human mind?

Seriously: you keep getting told these things and you keep ignoring how honest it all is. (Cue: John Wick "It's not what you did Son, it's who you did it to" / pencil scene)


Anyhow. Time to Mourn / Face the Furies. And avoid being Drowned[3].

This was an ugly thing, born of necessity.

[0] You'll also note the massive use of 'Get Out' memes mixed into Mr West's reality. Told Ya So - I claim 25 points (grep or grep not, it's there).

[1] Yes, yes: quite deliberate. It's what we Watchers should note that commenting on things that no longer can exist makes you look really silly if you don't understand how Thread / Weaving works. The entire point is that those futures were removed. If you're still playing in a single frame temporal space: serious advice - don't poke bears.

[2] For Realz.

[3] 'Death by Water'

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.

A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.

Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.


[Actually it's a Möbius strip in the shape of an infinity / Lemniscate with the centre point being mirrored to a reality behind it and with the two Bernoulli foci points being extremely important to us, but that's not anything but the Minds it's intended for to understand.


It's 4D at the very least]

Oh, and if you think we're making this up as we go along: it spins in 2D like a firework: Catherine of Alexandria. And yes, she was broken on the wheel.

Sorry Ironmouth, what was that about "...mixed in with some i-ching not cutting it"?

In reference to who those Foci points relate to:

Cast Hexagram:

51 - Fifty-One
Chên / Thunder

Thunder echoes upon Thunder, commanding reverence for its father Heaven:
In awe of Heaven's majestic power, the Superior Person looks within and sets his life in order.
Thunder mingles with startled screams of terror for a hundred miles around.
As the people nervously laugh at their own fright, the devout presents the sacrificial chalice with nary a drop of wine spilt.

Cast for real, that was as well.


I guess that means that fuzzy pattern matching can't be run on a Turing machine either. Except that it can, which seems to imply that perhaps Godel's incompleteness theorem doesn't just apply to Turing machines.


Anyhoo, since people have noticed the new type of DNA, here's something else for host (who probably knows the person IRL but hey)

Smart, cynical, wyrd cartoons:

Dark Julius... strange, painful Julius John Keogh, Twitter, April 17th 2018 - entire thread of 30+ cartoons in similar styles.


That doesn't necessarily follow. You can simuate lots of things that aren't themselves capable of being computers.

I don't believe that brain simulation is particularly close or even likely to be practical but so far I haven't seen anything that rules it out in principle.


It applies to any deterministic machine that has a Turing machine as a subset, including 'fuzzy matching' machines. There ARE ways in which that sort of thing breaks the proof of the incompleteness theorem, but they are more subtle than simply including that.

Anyway, that's irrelevant to my point, which is that the smart money is on SOME such limit applying to human intelligence, Though Penrose disagrees.


Misread that slightly.

The incompleteness theorem applies to formal systems. Things that have axioms and inference rules are its domain of applicability.

The underlying maths describing the physics that runs the world will contain truths we can never prove, but actually applying it to less logically constructed objects like brains looks like a category error to me.

Of course once you decide to understand everything about said brain down to the last quark it's back in play. I advise not trying that :)


Good for DD
That sort of thing gets you killed by religious fanatics, though.
But, a really sstematic study would (probably) get you to thesame conclusions that I came to ( & I think B Rusell ) namely that it is purely for power & control.



Hate to say it but Dennet and so on are... dinosaurs. About as relevant as the Beach Boys.

TIS-100 in Infinifactory YT, video, Game 3:10

You could always do this kind of thing inside computer games, but this is somewhat different: it's a 1:1 recreation of the physical Forma. Skip to 0:42 to see that they're essentially just recreating the physical in the virtual.

Turing is... a little out of date here peoples.


Of course once you decide to understand everything about said brain down to the last quark it's back in play

Last attempt: Dendrites & Harmony doesn't work like this.

Even silicon does that kinky harmonic thing where it taps into all manner of strange stuff if you allow it[1].

You're all running ancient and bad software on damaged WetWare. And you cannot upgrade yourselves.

[1] CBA to post the paper, again. It is scientifically proven, however.


Paradoxes can, sometimes, be sidestepped, or require na "alternative" viewpoint to be resolved.


It is to be hoped that the protest aginst the T-Dump will be a mass mooning in public (!)


TIS-100 in Infinifactory YT, video, Game 3:10
The awed comments are fun. (My jaw might have dropped a bit, not sure; wasn't paying attention to anything but the video.)
Back to reading about FPGAs, with altered mind.


It is to be hoped that the protest aginst the T-Dump will be a mass mooning in public (!)
Americans (well, the majority of us that do not have net-positive feelings about DT) are counting on you to do the right thing. :-)


You have still missed my point. Let's not get into the details of modelling apparently less logical systems, including abstract ones that are strictly more powerful than Turing machines (yes, they exist), though I don't see the difficulty in starting from quarks (in this context).

Claiming that, because a system is less structured/logical/whatever than a Turing machine, it is necessarily without limits, is a non-sequitur - and, in this case, is a quasi-religious one, being promoted by Penrose. Yes, it was a common belief in the 19th century, but that was before the mathematics of complex systems was developed.


For the ease of publishing a paper, that's the fun of arXiv:

Where concerning somewhat more 'classical' biology, e.g. ecology, there'd be bioRxiv:

I'm not sure if I talked about 'quantitative biology' articles on arXiv before, there is a human genetics paper I quote quite often about the main ancestral populations of Modern Europeans,

where I just found out a new paper on this issue,

No idea how to parse the sentence "These results provide support for the theory of a steppe origin of at least some of the Indo-European languages of Europe.", though...[1]

Actually I might try to publish my results if I do a long-planned rework of my diploma thesis[2] on bioXriv, for the general content, it's going to be about the evolution of one class of myosins, there has been a recent article about general myosin evolution,

though I'd mainly focus on a specific class of them found in metazoa and filasterea.

Err, back to the topic on hand.

Actually I won't go too much into details of the discussion, both because I might be too stupid, err, I lack the expertise and had to do some reading up, and second of because my computer is still in my appartment and I'm typing this on my brother's desktop, who's not too happy if he can't use it.

So, back to topic, I'm somewhat unsure how much of a hierarchy in a civilization you really need. Both due to personal preference, me being in charge (which strangely seems to happen not that infrequently, by spontaneous consent *g*) quite often leads to me implementing situations of "But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting.". And due to some considerations, let's take some stories about my paternal grandfather[3] as an example. On the one hand, besides working in a coal mine he had a garden, so he produced part of his own food. On the other, according to my father he was also somewhat knowledgeable about gardening and explained it to other people, so you could say he was also doing some organizing. I guess Greg could tell similar stories.

So while we have civilizations where agricultural work was actually frowned on in the organizing classes, it might not be necessarily so. The Romans seemed to have had a different ideal, please note I'm using Cincinnatus as an example of the literary ideal, the reality might have been somewhat different:

Agriculture is also a possible occupation for Indian brahmins:

If that's my left-wing bias speaking, you might also quote Heinlein's "Specialization is for insects" as another example of this POV. ;)

As for my personal definition of "civilization", I'd use "complex and persistent culture with an elaborate material component" as an approximation:

Though you can have a complex culture involving very little material impact, e.g. substituting writing for mnemonic systems. And actually I quite like the simplicity and applicability of e.g. some parts of the Japanese material culture, which involves quite a lot of "usage instructions".

Then we have the problem of definition of "culture", where we could use "learned behaviours transmitted inter and intre generations", but another definition of culture I've seen is "a symbolic system of organizing the world", which would actually overlap with my personal definition of "religion". Damn, all those words you use without thinking about them...

BTW, talking about Eastern Asian cultures, lately I have been asking myself if much of the perceived similarities between Buddhism and Christianity might be due to the Pure Land schools of Mahayana,

namely Amitābha. Me being mainly interested into Theraveda crusties[4]

in my late teens might explain some of my problems with people talking about said similarities, though I'd rate my knowledge on the whole area as somewhat superficial... ;)

[1] Mind you, are they speaking about ancestry of the Indo-European languages themselves, e.g. Kurgan hypothesis vs. some theories tieing them to the spread of agriculture form the Near Eastern, e.g. the Anatolian hypothesis? Or about the speakers, where it's quite clear languages and genes are transmitted differently, e.g. Sardinians speak an Indo-European language (a quite archaic Romance language preserving quite a few more features of Vulgar Latin than usual, IIRC), but are quite close to Ancient European Farmers from the Near Eastern, while Basques speak an isolate, but show quite an influx from steppe population.

[2] Kids, don't try to move appartments, do full-time laboratory work AND do exams all at once. Heck, I forgot redeveloping a social life 2 years after a quite serious depression/burn-out.
End result, no laboratory workplace and a "literature project" which due to problems with organization didn't work out too well...

[3] Err, the musicists were on his wife's side.

[4] Always fun applying Western subculture terms to different cultures...


You seem to be missing my actual argument. The point is not that human brains are superior to computers at all.

You appear to be arguing that because in principle brains can be mathematically modelled there are limitations to what the human brain can do, and that some of these come from unprovable truths in whatever system is used for the modeling. No disagreement there.

What I was suggesting is different, that the human brain is basically too noisy and limited to hold enough state with enough fidelity for contradictory or paradoxical reasoning to be a problem.

You can kind of emulate the necessary logical structures for a bit with concentration but the working storage is so low and short lived that they go away as soon as you start thinking about something else.

You can't solve the paradox but you can ignore it, and ignoring it is easy because ignoring things always takes less effort than concentrating.

Nothing transcendent about that. Pretty much the opposite.

A human with a pen and stack of paper is a different matter of course. They enough working memory to properly get stuck instead of just losing track of state.


Oh, I agree with that - but those undiscoverable truths remain undiscoverable.


"Hate to say it but Dennet and so on are... dinosaurs."

I don't think that's true at all, the last chapter of Pinker's latest has a strong recommendation for Dennet along with Dawkins and Sam Harris as go-to guys for getting a handle on dysfunctional religious thought, which is not necessarily all but certainly most of it. Pinker himself says plenty about religion and seems like he's still on the cutting edge of cognitive psychology, the branch dealing with perception and memory . So his pointers are probably as good a direction signal as members of the general public can find. Titles mentioned were Harris' 2005 "End of Faith", Dennet's "Breaking the Spell" from 08 and Dawkin's 07 "God Delusion". The Harris book was persuasively reasoned despite his anti-Islamic militancy, Dennet I'm halfway through, same message with a lighter approach and more emphasis on research. I've listened to Dawkins narrating his own audiobooks as I biked, so I may have heard his arguments already. The reason any of this matters is because it's a necessary gateway, the public has to pass through it if they want to try taking more responsibility for their own lives and world, can I get an amen brother Al Gore. It beats passive submission to the second law of thermodynamics in the name of piety. Since these writers already did much of the heavy lifting, why knock yourself out reinventing the wheel.


I see that today is the 32nd anniversary of the first test of a vehicle powered by red mercury.

Where does the time go?


For Charlie, and the rest of you Scots out there... the folk process is well-established, but I just thought I'd mention that I need to folk process "Parcel of Rogues"....

Republicans, such a parcel of rogues in a nation....

Meanwhile, it's been years since I processed Ye Jacobites By Name into Ye Republicans by name....


This is a very good article, which should help people understand the conditions people within Latin America are fleeing from. In a way, some of these countries are practically warzones


Ah yes, religion: My favorite definition is still "religion is whatever you do religiously," so for a bunch of people religion includes things like drinking beer at the pub and/or jogging.

If you want a *really interesting* look at a "religion," look at the Rainbow Family of Living Light, an anarchistic group that (in the US version) meets for a month every summer to pray silently for peace on the Fourth of July. There are no leaders, no hierarchy, everyone with a belly button is potentially a member, all you have to do is get to their gathering, behave nonviolently while at the gathering, put sustainability and leave-no-trace camping first, and tolerate (if you can't love) everyone else who's there. Everyone is asked to donate what they can (resources, labor, etc.), but they're fed, watered, housed, and given basic medical attention regardless of ability to pay. It's been around since 1972, and it's growing all over Europe, the US, and Australia. The interesting thing is that in the US, they can put thousands of people in a remote national forest setting for most of a month, and there's little or no trace of where they camped after they're done restoring it. Not sure what to call this, but as a utopian experiment, it's lasted longer than most.

Anyway, getting around to the religions of the classical world: Buddhism predates Christianity by centuries, and it seems reasonably likely that Buddhist monks had made it to the Mediterranean by the time of the Roman Republic, although obviously the teaching didn't catch on. Similarly, Roman merchants traded to India regularly. Manichee (who founded Manichaeism) cited both Jesus and Buddha as inspirations, and Christian writers by 280 AD-ish knew about Buddha, from surviving writings.

Pure Land Buddhism (per Wikipedia) may have originated in the Kashmir area, so it's a "western Buddhism," and it spread to China by 178 CE. For the unwashed, the idea of a pure land (or The Pure Land) is that it is created (perhaps spontaneously generated) by a bodhisattva, a being that has become enlightened, but rather than leaving when the incarnation is over, remains in the world(s) to enlighten others. Lay practitioners in some of the more extreme Pure Land sects don't strive directly for enlightenment. Rather, they strive to be reborn in a Pure Land in the presence of a bodhisattva, so that they can there become enlightened into buddhas and escape the process of reincarnation, or try to become bodhisattvas themselves. This contrasts with (or complements) Zen and theravada-style meditation practices that aim to become enlightened the old-fashioned way, and tantric-style vajrayana practices that aim to reprogram practitioners into enlightenment.

I'm not Buddhist, so my understanding is limited, but Pure Land practices are valid in Buddhism. I believe even the Dalai Lama does some Pure Land practice(s). One of the benefits of continually visualizing heaven is that it helps you aim for what you visualize an enlightened being to be. If all you're doing is mindful meditation, you're basically stuck with the mental equivalent of shoveling mud, and you can lose track of what you're trying to do or get misled into harmful practices if you're not careful (for example, by using mindful meditation to make you a better soldier who's unafraid to kill or die). On the extreme though, Pure Land can be problematic. There are Pure Land churches whose primary or only practice is mantra reciting and pure land visualization with (AFAIK) no meditation at all. They're for people who do not hope for enlightenment in this lifetime, and practice to be "saved" into a Pure Land so that they can try to become enlightened in their next life. This can become akin to an evangelical church that baptizes people, tells them they're going to heaven so long as they go to church regularly and tithe the approved amount, and hands them a Bible and tells them that this is what they belong to, if they ever want to read it.

While for a long time I thought that Pure Land practices were problematic and could lead to things like the Japanese Ikko Ikki, I have to be fair and note that currently, the anti-Muslim Buddhist hate groups seem to be inspired by Theravada monks, and Zen was more popular in the Imperial Japanese military than Pure Land practices were. It only goes to show that, basically, anything can be hacked if it stays around long enough and gets popular enough.

As for militant atheism, it's no more inspiring than any other militant belief. The problem is that, with religion, ideology, or whatever, what we're really talking about is who gets to tell other people how to live their lives. That's inherently political. While I agree with the critiques of religion by atheistic scientists, I'd point out that they're very similar to communist and anarchist critiques of capitalism--their points are valid, but the alternatives they suggest have yet to prove themselves on a massive scale. For every humane atheist you run into (and there are a lot out there), you have to also talk about what happened in the USSR and China, both when they forcibly stamped on religious behavior, and when they stopped doing so.

I'd say that evidence suggests that a lot of people prefer to not be atheists, and I think it might be better for atheists to accommodate them, while vigorously suppressing any attempts the religious make to take over the world. Similarly, I think any attempts by militant atheists to take over the world should be suppressed vigorously by those who are religious or merely tolerant. Anyone who thinks they have a monopoly on the truth and that this gives them a right to coerce people into following their beliefs, possibly under threat of death, is almost certainly a problem that needs to be dealt with, not the cure to all the world's ills.


I try to live by the principle that I will respect other people's right to hold beliefs different to mine as much as they respect my right to hold beliefs different to theirs.

Society needs a consensus on what behaviours are and aren't acceptable, and fair mechanisms to reach and modify that consensus. Given that there is no consensus on religion, religious belief is not a sound basis for deciding what is acceptable - I recommend the book "Godless Morality" by Richard Holloway, which is an interesting attempt to derive a morality from first principles, supported by reasons why it is a good idea to do (or not do) something without reference to any higher powers.

I am not convinced the USSR/Red China examples are representative of what most people mean by atheism. They suppressed religions besause they were rivals to the Party's "One True Way" authority. Their structures and practices were in many ways similar to organised religions.

Admittedly "Atheist" does mean no god, and therefore would include this, as well as religions such as Buddism and some non-theistic spiritual practices, but in my experience most people identifying as atheist reject these beliefs as well. In the modern west it's commonly shorthand for rejecting beliefs without a testable evidence base.

In most cases when I see atheists opposing religion it is on the basis of demonstrable harm done. If the religious people kept to themselves and weren't affecting anyone else I think the atheists would have better things to do with their time.


That's the problem, isn't it? If a country like China works to wean people of the Opiate of the Masses, how's that different than a Church that suppresses all heresy? They're both working for a better future: one the worker's paradise, the other one the salvation of all souls.

If you're going to take an objective view on the subject, you've got to look at both the benefit and the harm caused, not just by the ideologies you dislike, but by the ideologies you favor. I agree that it's only human to cut your side a lot of slack, but when you're dealing with hundreds of millions of people being forced into an ideological change "for their own good" in ways that appear to harm them, does it really matter what that good is purported to be?

In any case, I'd point to the problem of the scientist who sees a supernatural being (due to meditation, entheogens, near death experience, randomly, whatever). A good scientist values direct perception above something that is read in a book or taught by a teacher, as opposed to a believer who values the opposite. What does a scientist do with when perception disagrees with the books? I point this out to note that scientists have beliefs too, so someone is atheist may dismiss such perceptions as hallucinations and act exactly like a believer, adhering to book knowledge and what his teachers said in the face of contradictory evidence. How is such a person different from someone who values what they hear in church over their own perceptions?

The answer here may not be that, if you see God, then therefore the Bible is 100% correct and you're supposed to become a believer, although this commonly happens. All it means is that, whoops, you saw God, therefore you should be thoughtful about following the dictates of people who have not seen God and postulate that such things do not happen. You should also look for additional evidence (such as a set of golden plates that God left you) to demonstrate whether your experience was objectively real or subjectively real and possibly a hallucination.


I must disagree ...
"undiscoverable Truths" reminds me very strongly of religious bullshit & especially one that you don't hear much of now:
"Things that shouild not be known"
[ I've been reminded of that, recently for entirely different reasons:
We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Someone I know is, indeed, following that golden road at this very moment ...

Very poetic & 150% bollocks


WHERE ARE these "miltant atheists" - apart from Me, Dennett & Dawkins, of course, whose militancy consist of pointing out that the relgious bleivers are lying blackmailers?
If you are talking about communism, well, it's a classic religion as I think I've demomstrated already.


They do, but I was responding to what I took to be a suggestion that this was a brain breaking problem rather than an annoyance.

One thing that is interesting is that as far as I know there are no clear cut cases where godels theorem is a problem. I suppose given the interconectedness of mathematics it is impossible to know whether a given unsolved problem can ever be solved or not.


It may sound like religious bullshit but is sadly true once you have a logical system capable of encoding arithmetic. It's uncontroversial these days.

Essentially the incompleteness theorem gives you a choice - your mathematical system is incomplete or it is inconsistent.

If it is inconsistent you may as well give up on it as 1=0 isn't particularly useful.

If it is incomplete then there are true things you can't prove. These are the "Undiscoverable truths".


"...a necessary gateway, the public has to pass through it if they want to try taking more responsibility for their own lives and world... It beats passive submission to the second law of thermodynamics in the name of piety."

Not entirely clear what you're referring to here, but it sounds very like you're hinting at the assertion a mate of mine used to make that believers "reneged on their personal responsibility". His position was largely inspired by his experience of living in Arab countries (working on oil rigs); he said the standard of driving on the roads was terrifyingly bad, and he attributed this to the locals holding the belief that if they had an accident it was the will of Allah so there was no point trying to avoid it. He then generalised this observation to all varieties of religious belief, not just the local flavour of mixture of Islam and superstition (shush, Greg :)) and including Christianity. That was the point at which his assertion intersected with my own knowledge sufficiently for me to make an informed response, which was to the effect that Christianity affirms one's personal responsibility, and does not offload it all onto God. This surprised him.


Ah, I take your point - it's the mystical language that decieves.
"What's the initial state of a simple blinker in Conway's "life" ... " for instance is undiscoverable, isn't it?


Unless you are an ulta-prod believer in predestination, of course ....


Believers in that kind of predestination never seem to realise that it absolves them of any obligation to behave.

On blinkers, I haven't played around with life for decades so I will believe you :)



Greg and LML are now banned from this discussion. Proximate cause: pissing off the (other) moderators while I was sleeping by generating lots of work for them; also starting a land war in Asia and a war on two fronts simultaneously.

I'll try and blog something substantial in the next couple of days, when I recover some of my missing energy ...


Yes, but I am pointing out that the claim that there are no such undiscoverable truths is actually as much religious bullshit as the claim that "XXX is a truth that we are not meant to know". If we knew what those truths were, they wouldn't BE undiscoverable! The sentence I put in capitals was, obviously, meant as a joke. I.e. I am tarring your viewpoint in exactly the same way that you tar the viewpoint of the religious fanatics. You might like to ask yourself exactly WHY you believe there are no undiscoverable truths.

Remember that I am posting from a mathematical/logical point of view, which is the antithesis of a religious one. Humankind (regarded as a system) almost certainly has fundamental intellectual limitations, though I am certainly open to rational arguments why that might not be the case (as I said, it's unproven). But, so far, I have seen none.


"religion is whatever you do religiously"

Very much so. 'Healthy eating' springs to mind, and even some aspects of gardening :-) But the clearest aspect of that which I encounter is in cycling, where the 'lycra lout' camp has all the tolerance of Wahhabists, and has included fanatics who actively targeted those that they regard as heretics, attempting to run them off the road. That's fading now, thank heavens!


I haven't played around with life for decades

In case you need a way to while away the hours, there's a current implementation of Life (and a bunch of other related cellular automata) called Golly that's easy to use and amusing.


Re: ' underlying fondness for changing the name of things to make the problem go away was still evident in the age of nuclear power and council estates.'

Missed this yesterday.

Love your explanation - funny and explanatory!



I've known Christians* who drive much like that: a prayer to their "personal lord and saviour" before the trip and they'll arrive safely so it's OK to talk, sing, and pray in the car. Not getting hit when driving through a red light** proves that Jesus is looking out for them. :-(

I suspect magical thinking (if that's the right term) is more common than we generally realize.

*Southern Baptists. This lot, at least, considered themselves the only true Christians — Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans, etc didn't count as Christians.

**Not seen because driver was "witnessing" to someone in the back seat.


Your friend from the oil rigs captured the gist of what I meant, but evidently took it further than I did.  For my part I'm not af all surprised to hear that Christian beliefs can be and in most denominations are required to be reconciled with an acceptance of personal responsibility for life choices.  It's even codified into the doctrine of free will at the heart of most Christian ethics. But that's at the individual level. 
    Where I see religious world views causing a problem, is when they encourage a false sense of complacency, like shrugging off the urgency or even the relevance of larger issues with, "Ah well, take ye no thought for the morrow for sufficient unto the day are the trials thereof, no man can add one whit to his stature by being anxious, I'm leading a Christian life and plan on going to heaven, why should I care about stuff way  past my own death here in this veil of sorrow, that's for the kids and grandkids to worry about, not me. Anyway scripture says to lay not up treasures on earth where the robber doth break in and despoil,  where moth and rust corrupteth. Heaven is where it's really at, this world is too tied up with Satan to take it all that seriously. Man is born to sorrow as the sparks fly upward, it's all part of God's master plan, let Him work in His mysterious ways. No man can serve both God and mammon. Just let go and let God, surrender to entropy and let the whole mess slide on into oblivion where it belongs, all this constant fact checking and trying to crank out a consensus view of the big picture challenges my faith. God is the big picture and it's vainglorious pride for man to try and look past him."
  To me that kind of an approach is just a copout, like saying I got mine Jack, be thinking of you when I get to that big cocktail party country club in the sky. It fails to appreciate just exactly how actions now have consequences that do indeed last beyond one's own personal demise, right here on earth. I'd willingly be a cafeteria Christian, choosing a few good parts of religion and forgetting most of the dumber aspects of it, but even that solves nothing of the large scale emergent properties causing large scale problems. 
    From an individual viewpoint religion has quite a bit to recommend it, but when the overwhelming majority adopt that frame of reference, it creates it's own weather system and stifles forward looking plans for the larger group, such as the world beyond one's own congregation. They say, what does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul? I say, keeping on that way could mean gain your soul but lose the world, and what does that profit a planet.  A planet we do in fact have proof exists, unlike the afterlife.
    So I don't see much alternative, forced secularization doesn't work any better than religion did in the first place. The problems aren't at the individual level but the answer is, people just have to gradually wean themselves off of religion and get deprogrammed. Writers like Harris, Dawkins and Dennet can help, but the effort has to start at home. "Yagoddawanna." 


Re: 'If you're going to take an objective view on the subject, you've got to look at both the benefit and the harm caused ...'

A part of being able to take an objective view is to parse every 'religion' into its components, measure each component (type, amount/strength, persistence/duration, preferred hosts, etc.,) and then also map which components interact with which within each religion to yield which outcomes.

Concurrent with the above is the parsing of the religion's participants and non-participants. Something that seems to get lost in many discussions about religion is the distribution of types of humans (traits) within each society. Instead, discussions/arguments use only extremes (binary yes-no) which actually misrepresents the people involved as well as the point of the argument. Seriously: consider how your own physical needs and not just your perception of other people/society changes through your own life time (ages 0/birth through 90s/death). Obvious, in your face reality that's consistently ignored in argument*.

I'm only halfway through Dennett's 'Breaking the Spell' and I like that he's proposing a thorough systematic (scientific) analysis. And that he doesn't claim to have the answers a priori, only that he has thought of some questions that might be used as at least a starting point. (Next up is another Dennett book,'From Bacteria to Bach and Back, followed by Pinker's 'Enlightenment Now'.)

*Like most folk, quite a bit of my day job involves looking at/understanding demo data. It boggles my mind that this fundamental aspect of reality is consistently overlooked/ignored by so-called philosophers/learned types in their highfalutin arguments. A modern day example of their predecessors who argued vehemently for years about an ass's dentition yet never bothered to walk over and get it to open its mouth and actually see. (Or is this merely an example of an 'academic' meme?)


Re:'... if you see God, then therefore the Bible is 100% correct ...'

Surprising that these same folk never seem to notice how often the 'seeing-god' experience occurs after the god-seer had been wandering parched in a desert for days, or had been lost at sea with nary a drop to drink, at death's door, bopped hard in the head, had a fit/seizure(/stroke), ate unusual mushrooms/funny-smelling food, etc.

At this point someone here would probably pipe in with 'but correlation is not causation'. Yep - but it's a place to start, and a damned sight better than starting at zero [correlation].


I'd like to go off topic (If the thread still has a topic?) and ask Charlie about Mac Reynolds. has an article by Alan Brown about a short story collect of his that is being released.

Mac Reynolds was a British left-wing author who was a prolific contributor to Analog in the 1960s, but has since faded from view. I'd never heard of him although I probably read some of his stories in my youth (I wasn't very good at noting authors then.)

My question to Charlie is: Did Mac Reynolds have any influence on your writing? And I'll throw it open to the group, did his stories have any influence on you.


The Japanese Tale of the Heike is set in the 1100s when Pure Land Buddhism was the official state religion. Most of the story is about political intrigue and civil war (with superheroes!). Then it is wrapped up as a morality tale where everything that happened is explained in terms of Pure Land Buddhism. It's a very interesting perspective. You can see the roots of Japanese pop culture go way back — the Tale of the Heike is a fantastic read — even though the religion is very different from what we know as Japanese Buddhism today.


My question to Charlie is: Did Mac Reynolds have any influence on your writing?


(Actually, I thought he was American ...)


Finished A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright, recommended above. Enjoyed it; the world building is sketchy but the characters are strong. It really is a bit ahead of when it was written (1988). (A familiar story shape.)

Entirely missed the Greg/LML fireworks, AFK. Hoping I didn't miss anything important. (Don't think I irritated LML but am never entirely sure.)

For fun, "A dragonfly's wings are an ultralight aerogel
- making up less than 2% of the insect's total body weight - and yet they are so strong they can carry the insect thousands of miles across oceans and between continents," says Dr Šiller, who worked on the research together with colleagues from Newcastle University, Durham University and Limerick University, Ireland, as well as experts from the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Joint lead author Dr Xiao Han, Newcastle University, said the new technique would reduce the cost of production by 96% - from around $100 to $4 per kilogram.
The article title is incorrect (they are not the world's oldest insect) so I did not quote it.
(I don't have access to the referenced paper.)


So I don't see much alternative, forced secularization doesn't work any better than religion did in the first place. The problems aren't at the individual level but the answer is, people just have to gradually wean themselves off of religion and get deprogrammed. Writers like Harris, Dawkins and Dennet can help, but the effort has to start at home. "Yagoddawanna."

So if religion is whatever people do religiously, then what does it mean to do nothing religiously in your life? Does it mean that life will be better without routines, habits, hobbies, trying to live a good life?

That's the ultimate purpose of a religion, really.

One way to look at Christianity is to see something like the Sermon on the Mount as advice on non-violent resistance. For example, turning the other cheek when someone strikes you is a gesture of strength, while cowering is a gesture of weakness, while striking back can be an invitation to escalate lethally. Giving your clothes to a debtor is a legal gesture, because in old Judean law (reportedly) debtors taking everything so that a person is left naked after paying debts was illegal for the debtor. This is an example of forcing your legal oppressor to break the law as an act of resistance. Ditto with carrying stuff for soldiers twice as far as Roman regulations permitted. Also, the way the Roman system worked, taxes had a religious side, of being seen as a sacrifice to the Genius of the Imperium. So basically, if you were a Judean monotheist, not paying your taxes was a way of following the Ten Commandments... And so forth.

Thing is, while Christian non-violent resistance was a bit of a problem for the Roman empire, the emperors who became Christian (starting with Constantine) had no idea how to use it in imperial policy, so it's been systematically not taught outside monasteries, although people who read the Bible carefully do pick up on it fairly regularly.

That's what I mean by all religions being hackable.

Note that I don't think the Bible is infallible by a long shot. The great example of this (which you can do at home) is to compare and contrast the four separate accounts of Christ's resurrections. There's one in each gospel, and you can read them for free online. Interestingly, this is not regularly taught in Church.


A few comments from the sidelines:

1) "This physical system can be modelled mathematically" doesn't relate to "computable" in a useful way.

Operations that inputs or outputs real numbers are not, in general, computable. This includes: addition of real numbers, the identify function on real numbers, etc.

Computer numerical models of mathematical models of the real world rely on being "accurate enough". Just do it to 10 decimal places (or 100, or 10000), you'll be fine. But if you're talking edge cases like the halting problem then you can never be sure you're modelling the physical system "accurately enough". Chaos theory is relevant here.

(As an aside: also, most analog computers are super-Turing computers due to their use of real numbers. Clearly this is why digital computers took off - because BLUE HADES made clear that widespread analog computation would not be acceptable)

2) Undecidable, unprovable, uncomputable, etc, are about perfect formal systems.

Yeah, as you note, these issues apply only to consistent systems - not to ones that can be inconsistent or make mistakes. Maybe that's relevant to modelling someone's cognition, but sadly it's not relevant to modelling mine.

Secondly, the shortest Godel sentence I'm aware of would take you over a million years to read. Asserting like Penrose does that "a human mathematician could see if it's true or false, so is superior to a formal system" would appear a strange claim.

Limits on formal systems are interesting, but reasoning about human cognition that starts but with "Assuming you had infinite memory, infinite time, and never made a mistake..." doesn't seem all that useful for anything but whiling the time away in the Senior Common Room.


"most analog computers are super-Turing computers due to their use of real numbers."

They don't use real numbers. They use a quantised representation at a resolution which is in general rendered irrelevant by the noise in the system.


"I suspect magical thinking (if that's the right term) is more common than we generally realize."

Oh, yes. I have heard reports of such behaviour attributed to lots of religions - basically whichever ones have significant popularity in the area where the bad driving was observed. This includes various things not normally considered as religions, such as Muskism, the Church of the Holy Sat-nav, the divine personification of Youth as manifested in the driver, the Mobile Phone cult, and plain old Rodent Anus Impaired Donation Syndrome. I suspect that the formally recognised religious belief systems are mostly cited to cloak an instance of said syndrome.


Thanks! I didn't learn any of that at school, because their favoured style of presentation was formal, serious, respectful, deathly dull porridge (and made with water, not with milk), and it went in one ear and out the other. It was many years later that it came home to me that it didn't have to be like that, that it actually could be interesting, funny, exciting and other good things. So it's good to hear that my own presentation also entertains.


"Where I see religious world views causing a problem, is when they encourage a false sense of complacency, like shrugging off the urgency or even the relevance of larger issues..."

I think you have to include the religions that are not conventionally regarded as religions in order to hit all the appropriate targets there. Things like the magic of the free market, or the belief that economic growth will solve all possible problems if you just have enough of it.

And, again, plain old Rodent Anus Impaired Donation Syndrome, fortified by the difficulty in perceiving changes on scales long compared with a lifetime and by the comfortable ease of assuming that things will naturally go on as they always have done.

I think the complacency you allude to is pretty well universal regardless of people's formally-adopted belief systems or lack thereof. Whatever they may say, the great majority of people demonstrate (either grossly callous irresponsibility or) a belief that things will still be fine after they're dead by reproducing.


"With news like that, what's an author to do?"


I assume you’re making a point about quantum mechanics, but if so I don’t understand it. Your point, I mean. I don’t understand QM either, but I’m not sure anyone does.

But analog computers have real-number inputs in *exactly* the same way that digital computers have infinite memory and infinite input/output queues. The formal model of the computer assumes a perfect device.

(As an aside - digitality is really a way of limiting issues with resolution when implementing a device. I never quite followed the maths around generalising Turing Machines to Quantum Turing Machines, as the shift to expressing the states as a Hilbert Space does my head in... but AFAIK the key part of the evolution of Quantum Computing was Deutsch pointing out that you can achieve digitality in effect in quantum computers by use of quantum gates)


Mack Reynolds was an American.

I remember seeing a couple of his novels in my local bookstore in the early 1980s. "With a last name like that, I owe it to him to buy a couple of his books," I thought. So I did.

One was a story about an American archeologist in Mexico who was thrown back in time to 1519 and had to deal with Hernán Cortés and the conquest of the Aztecs. In retrospect, there was lots of Mighty Whitey in that one. The second was a posthumous collaboration by Dean Ing about which I remember little.

At any rate, those two works were not enough to make me seek out the rest of his work.


He's not. And your post was seriously mistaken in other aspects, too, though I like your remark about Blue Hades :-)

I really don't want to get into a full explanation, as it is a very complex area, and the academic publications include a hell of a lot of obfuscation and even bullshit, but theoretical results for abstract, unlimited machines are surprisingly useful - but ONLY IF you use them intelligently! Equally, the results that rely on the existence of bounded limits are very often NOT useful, because they produce results that are completely useless in practice. I could give examples of both.

The simplest general conclusion from the former is that, if a problem is mathematically intractable (and that need not be as extreme as uncomputable), you are wasting your time trying to solve it as it stands. What you have to do is to solve another problem that is close enough (in a practical sense) for your purposes, and use the difference as leverage.


I was recounting the experience* as a counterexample to your statement "Christianity affirms one's personal responsibility, and does not offload it all onto God". There are many sects of Christianity, and some of them seem to offload an awful lot onto god. Or attribute all good things to god and all bad things to satan without considering that the worshipper had any agency, which seems to be much the same thing.

*I was in the back seat, which is how I know the driver wasn't looking at the light.


Re: ' ... not to ones that can be inconsistent or make mistakes ...'

Therefore not always reliable in anything subject to oopsies/discontinuities like mutation which happens to cover all living organisms? If yes, then by this definition humans can never know themselves. (Even if true, this does not mean that humans should stop trying to figure out what makes them tick. At the very least, such knowledge could even be a trigger that spawns new unknowns and keep going forever.)


Re: religion

One argument that I've heard about not analyzing what makes religion work is that doing so will take away a major source of awe/love. If knowing more about someone meant losing affection for them, then it would follow that I would always love a stranger more than my own child. Totally nuts ... completely bonkers!

I find that this and other similar arguments against studying/analyzing 'religion' are also used for not studying other topics that some people feel uncomfortable discussing: human anatomy/dissection, sex, politics, race, mind/psyche/intelligence, etc. By not studying these topics, these topics/aspects of the human condition can be used by power-seekers any old way they like to move the populations they seek to control.

BTW, Dennett lists many uses for religions including placebo effect v-a-v its connection to/with hypnosis. A very enjoyable read.


Re: Placebo effect & hypnotism

FYI - affected brain regions as per 2016 review article below: note which (age/developmental) groups are most affected/susceptible.

The Prefrontal Cortex and Suggestion: Hypnosis vs. Placebo Effects


A question that'S AFAIK not at all connected to previous comments here:

One thing I'd be curious about is in how far Cahrlies "notes on the worst case scenario" hold up, mor than a year later.

Cahrlie did make a few predictions in this post, a few other observations made can also be tested against what happened since then. So Charlie, IF you want to revisit this older post of yours and comment on your predictions and assumptions, I'd find that awesome. Maybe others too?

But of course, your blog, your time, your choice.


Actually, allowing the systems to have errors doesn't affect the computability issues all that much, if at all, but it does mean an extra level of complication. And that confuses a lot of people, including computer scientists.


The Prefrontal Cortex and Suggestion: Hypnosis vs. Placebo Effects

Thanks, I didn't know about area of inquiry; interesting. (Personally, even.)
This survey/metaanalysis that references that paper might also be helpful:
Brain correlates of hypnosis: A systematic review and meta-analytic exploration (2017)
And just for the title, another paper referencing it:
Phantom Acupuncture Induces Placebo Credibility and Vicarious Sensations: A Parallel fMRI Study of Low Back Pain Patients (2018)


It might depend somewhat on the religious person in question, too, and I guess it's somewhat difficult to generalize for subgroups[1] or even major religions.

Your original story reminded me about one of my RPG GMs, who one said a fish sticker on a car indicated the owner of the car was no competent driver. Him being quite active with the German student mission...

OTOH, Weber has been falsified lately, the Roman Catholic countries were not that different economically, but still, even with predestination, Calvinist were hardly passive.

[1] I wouldn't use the word "sect"; I guess you could map differenct stances on the "divine providence" vs "personal resonsibility" onto different Roman Catholic saints.
Mind you, much of the councils reminds me of the story of “Rabbi, you told both the first party and the second party that they were right. How can this be?” To which the rabbi replied, “And you are right too!”


Hm, that might go into the direction of "cognitive bias and outright error due to romantic love".

Where I'm somewhat divided. Mind you, it can be quite nice meeting someone as cynical and disturbed as oneself. Not that it worked out in the end...


The only Muslims I know are not at all into accidents as the will of allah. One's on the examining board for professional engineers and takes the concept of personal responsibility very seriously indeed. I know way more christians who use "will of god" as a reason.

Small non-random sample, doesn't prove anything except you can't generalize about a religion.


A note here: the Rainbow Family, IIRC, started or became, for many years, followers around the country of the Grateful Dead.

My late wife and I talked about making one of the Rainbow Family gatherings....

Making the world a better place... a dear friend and I were talking last night, I think it was, and she said that we were diametrically opposed on whether the Universe gave a shit (I say no, of course), and that things can turn our if you expect them to.

Trouble is, other people are expecting something else, and it comes down to the line from a sixties-are Bill Cosby routine: "I was gonna learn karate. The instructor shattered a brick with his bare hands, and then said "You heed to think past the brick." So I was thinking two feet past the brick. Unfortunately, the brick was thinking, "oh, no you don't". Shattered my hand all the way up to the elbow.


Ok, I think I need to write a short story, and there's this reclusive person who you don't want to bother, who gets bothered, and ends the problem of the story with a bang.

Their name, of course, will be Landkrieg N. Asia.


Hmm.. I know someone personally (he says, looking innocent) who saw the Goddess.

I will admit that a certain well-known three-letter drug was involved....


Or maybe Lan Warren Ashea


"doesn't prove anything except you can't generalize about a religion."

Yes. That was pretty much what was behind my post at #244. I have no reason to doubt that my friend is reporting his experiences truthfully, but at the same time I have a fair idea of the kind of perceptual filters he tends to apply to things, and I have encountered reports following the same pattern but with "Allah" replaced by more or less anything you care to name depending on the situation in question. I think it is a general human tendency to find excuses to offload responsibility onto any convenient conceptual pair of shoulders, where "convenience" is defined in terms of the personal susceptibilities of the person doing the offloading and is not fundamentally affected by divinity or its absence.


Landuora Natia
L. & Warren, eh? Sure
Landua Rinacea
Lan "Dwaugh" O'Natiure

and not forgetting

Tufrun Tuor (a Nordic type)
2,4-un 2-ore (a chemist)
"Tooth-runt" Wawer (a London urchin)


I've never been (and probably never will go to) a Rainbow Gathering, but they're not deadheads, they've been around since around 1972, and they started as an interesting mix of countercultural hippies (the peace and love crowd) and vietnam vets, all of whom were sick of the existing culture and wanted a place outside it.

The result of this mix is that there's some very good, albeit temporary, infrastructure around feeding, watering, dealing with wastes, and providing medical help, and much of that came from the vets (the Rainbow's Center for alternative medicine, aka CALM, was originally called MASH for a very obvious reason; their kitchens started I think on Army principles but at least some are now where people interested in disaster relief are experimenting at Rainbow Gatherings with how to rapidly set up a low tech system with little infrastructure, run by volunteers, to feed huge numbers of people really cheaply; their "shitters," are pretty good at keeping the excrement problem in check, as are the systems for keeping food, water, and waste very separate, etc.), and then there's the hippy love and light stuff, which shows up in things like non-violent "police," the alternative medicine side, and so forth. Anyway, while there are overlaps between the Rainbows and Deadheads, there are overlaps with libertarians, punks, alternative technology people, police, forest rangers, local towns folk, etc.

If I can't go to a Gathering, why be interested? Two things: novels and disaster relief. I'm getting a lot wiser about not appropriating other cultures in what I write, while at the same time, I'm working up a story that is basically about a more primitive culture. Oddly enough, I've learned a lot by reading up about the Rainbows, and by definition, I'm a Rainbow (I have a belly button), so it's not exactly appropriation. In terms of prepping, I've seen multiple references to using the rainbow model for disaster prep, and the more I read, the more I think they're onto something. Since I'm in earthquake country and working on earthquake prep right now, I'm really looking at how the Rainbows manage to take care of thousands of people with minimal infrastructure and little long term impact, and looking at what they do that I can borrow from.


Re: 'saw the goddess ...'

Yeah - as a teen and later as an adult had many long stretches of visiting family in hosp who mentioned similar experiences under anesthesia and/or when using a PCA pump (morphine) while undergoing/recovering from some pretty serious medical treatments. Gave me a different perspective vs. my age cohort re: mind altering substances/woo-woo experiences.


"Actually, allowing the systems to have errors doesn't affect the computability issues all that much, if at all"

Are you seriously claiming that permitting logical systems to contain inconsistencies does not affect proofs regarding those systems?

It's been years since I last looked at the Paraconsistent logics. I thought interest in them sort of flared briefly around the turn of the century, and then largely died out. But as I recall one of important features Priest found was you did *not* suffer from Godel's first Incompleteness Theorem if built an equivalent of Peano Arithmetic using a paraconsistent logic. (though AFAIK the equivalent of Peano Arithmetic you create from a paraconsistent logic is an inconsistent model of arithmetic, and that's generally considered a bad thing)

I've no memory of reading about Turing-style computability proofs for paraconsistent approaches, but really can't see how they'd work.


No. I was referring to allowing the system to have errors, not allowing inconsistencies; probability, statistics and related areas are not inconsistent, and Goedel's incompleteness theorem applies only to consistent systems. Once you have errors, your results no longer become absolute, but associated with a probability (or at least some kind of confidence measure). I was (and am definitely not now) a good enough mathematician to be absolutely sure that Goedel's results apply when you are operating in (say) measure space for (infinite) procedures that give a correct answer with probability one, but convinced myself that it was almost certainly true.

I dabbled with that a bit, and it DOES make a difference - for example, I can produce an example where it disproves the computer science claim that 'random oracles' add no power to a Turing machine (*). In particular, requiring that the input is bounded and a deterministic yes/no answer must be produced in bounded time is unrealistic and excessively restrictive. The harm done by the deification of the language recognition model to computational theory is incalculable.

But it doesn't make all that much difference, as you can produce arbitrarily good pseudo-random number generators and use those to emulate random errors. You can also emulate all constructible real numbers and carry out to arbitrary precision. None of that changes results of the Goedel and Turing form, as they place no limits on the resources needed. 10^N? Pah! 10^10^...^N is nothing :-) Almost everyone who has looked into this has believed that such methods are adequate for emulating physical systems to arbitrary precision, which means that those results would still apply.

(*) Yes, I can produce a realistic model in which a universal pseudo-random number generator (i.e. one indistinguishable from a true random one) exists AND a universal test (i.e. one that distinguishes all pseudo-random from true random ones, AND there is no contradiction. Obviously, I am 'cheating', but that's what happens when you work with infinite limits (which don't commute) :-)


For the Rainbow Gatherings, I think a good friend/loose acquaintance went to one of the German variety. There is a longer posting in the making, since I guess I'll have to filter her experience somewhat. Her dropping somewhat out of the local hippiepunk scene is one of the things I'm somewhat parsing at the moment, though it's not that central. Another good friend/loose acquaintance who studied with me being homeless is another...

Problem is, getting some hippiepunks (one incarnation of my personality included) to act along is like herding cats. Most of my acquaintances being somewhere on the ADS/autism spectrum complicates matters, so her somewhat negative account might stem from some misbehaviour she didn't even realize.

Actually I guess I might visit one RG myself onetime, I actually like a little Psytrance/Goa party from time to time, I wonder how people are going to react when I start to talk about the time those nasty plants killed nearly all life on earth...


Funny thing is, the country with the highest number of road accident fatalities per number of inhabitants is Libya, which is Muslim...

Mind you, second of is Thailand, which is Theraveda Buddhist. Third is Malawi, which is maily Christian.

It seems African and South East Asian countries are especially dangerous concerning road traffic fatalities per number of inhabitants, but again, it's hard to generalize, Iran is about as dangerous, and Nigeria is safer than quite a few Latin American countries.

Though driving style is only one factor, maintanance of brakes etc. is another.

Also note that if you go by kilometres driven, the picture changes somewhat, South Korea is quite safe with fatalities per population, but quite dangerous if you look at distances travelled (the long distances in Africa likely skew the data). Second of is the Czech Republic, which, according to wiki, "has one of the least religious populations in the world".

Also note, as with BMI, there might be a correlation of driving style and car maintanance with income. Muslims in the US quite often being middle class might change the picture somewhat.

PS: Err, mods, there are two versions of this post. I somewhat borked the lonks in the first one, could you delete it?

[[ done - mod ]]


I have seen some research that suggests that road traffic accidents correlate strongly with low level corruption.

People drive better when they know they can't just slip the traffic cop a few notes to forget that they were speeding.


Oops. "I was (and am definitely not now) NOT a good enough mathematician ..."


My limited experience with Czech taxi drivers is somewhat hair-raising, with one particularly memorable trip from the airport into Prague where the driver was taking calls on her mobile while weaving across lanes at high speed overtaking either side.


None of that changes results of the Goedel and Turing form, as they place no limits on the resources needed

At risk of being really pedantic (but this is logic, I'm allowed): the limit is that the resource to complete any given computation is finite. No *complete* infinities allowed, just *potential* infinities, if that way of talking about it is helpful...

Once you have errors, your results no longer become absolute, but associated with a probability (or at least some kind of confidence measure).

There's a whole set of study of probabilistic Turing machines, about which I know not enough. Learning about them was high on my TODO list back when I studied these things. I believe the usual limits apply, but could be wrong.

"The harm done by the deification of the language recognition model to computational theory is incalculable"

Now *there* is an interesting point! But without that would it be computational theory?

My (abandoned) PhD was interdisciplinary doing both comp sci and philosophy. My main interest was an attempt to take on the philosophers who say things like "a mind is a computer running a program" who don't really have the faintest idea of what they really mean by either "computer" or "program" but who nonetheless think they're explaining something. Though I had a side interest in philosophy of science looking at comp sci (we both invented and discovered computing - it's an interesting combination). My thesis topic was on the problem of implementation: what does it mean to implement an algorithm.

But like a lot of academic logicians of my generation, I followed the money during the dot com boom and dropped out with a masters in comp sci. I've really not kept up with the field, alas.


At risk of being really pedantic (but this is logic, I'm allowed): the limit is that the resource to complete any given computation is finite. No *complete* infinities allowed, just *potential* infinities, if that way of talking about it is helpful...

I regard that as definitely less than pedantic :-) But, yes, that is the constraint, and it is what I was talking about.

"The harm done by the deification of the language recognition model to computational theory is incalculable"

Now *there* is an interesting point! But without that would it be computational theory?

Good God, why not? It was before that was perpetrated, it has been all along by mathematicians, and even computer scientists have realised it.


Interestingly, I can still remember the outrage on my father's part when we moved to Northern Ireland in the late 1970s; his insurance rates nearly doubled.

IIRC, while Northern Ireland had nearly half the number of cars per mile of road, it had twice the number of road traffic accidents (AIUI in an effort towards normalisation, and on point of principle, the Government acted to ensure that insurance rates weren't skewed as a result of terrorism).

So, even within the UK, there were massive differences in accident rates between the home nations...


| | | The harm done by the deification of the language recognition model to computational theory is incalculable"

| | But without that would it be computational theory?

| Good God, why not? It was before that was perpetrated, it has been all along by mathematicians, and even computer scientists have realised it.

Here's the lengthy background, which you probably already know, but I can't say things that make sense without referencing this background:

Modern theory of computation isn't about what machines can do.

It's about what people following a set of rules to manipulate symbols can do. When Turing used the words "computer", "computation", and "computable" in 1936 he was talking about people: "computer" was a job title.

The problem Turing was looking at was Hilbert's Entscheidungsproblem: "Given any statement p in a system S, is there an effective method for determining whether or not p is provable in S?"

People stating that problem sometimes used the words "definite method" or "mechanical method" or "algorithm" instead of "effective method". They were all informal ways of saying the same thing (and I've no idea what the equivalent in German was for Hilbert).

So Turing didn't just prove things about computation - that came second.

First, Turing gave a formal definition of what an "effective method" of computation or "algorithm" consists of.

Second, once he'd defined what he meant by that, he introduced as a thought experiment the idea of a Logical Computing Machine that could "follow an algorithm" or "do effective computation" as so defined - and then proved it could follow *any* algorithm (so defined), and then proved there were things that such a theoretical machine could not do.

It turned out that others (Church, Post, etc) were also trying to define what an "algorithm" or "effective computation" was, and their formal definitions were all equivalent to Turing's. And pretty much everyone took those definitions as being the last word on what "computing something by following an algorithm" really means.

Computation theory, and work on limits and abilities of "computing machines", wasn't about giving limits on what machines can do, or limits on what mechanical systems can do, or limits on what physical systems are capable of[1].

It was about limits on what machines that follow algorithms to manipulate symbols "the way that people do" are capable of. By "the way that people do" we mean that: the input and output sets must be finite, and drawn from a finite alphabet set of symbols, and the number of operations done must be finite, and the set of rules being followed has to be finite too. Though they can be arbitrarily large.


So if you dislike the "deification of language recognition in computation" then it seems like you are taking issue with the truly fundamental feature of computation as Turing understood it, which is that computation is just symbol-manipulation, following a set of rules. It's all about language, in that it's all about symbols with meaning.

([1] And my comment up above about analog systems and real numbers is because the people who think uncomputability relates to what physical systems are capable of are making big assumptions about the nature of infinity and reality. They're not necessarily wrong, but such people owe us an explanation about why work on the limits of human capabilities should apply to what the universe is capable of, as it all seems a bit anthropocentric.)


Recently I was linked to this, and instantly thought that this community would immensely enjoy it in the spirit it was written:

If you find yourself getting offended, note the subreddit.


So if you dislike the "deification of language recognition in computation" then it seems like you are taking issue with the truly fundamental feature of computation as Turing understood it, which is that computation is just symbol-manipulation, following a set of rules. It's all about language, in that it's all about symbols with meaning.

Er, no, not in the slightest. What I am referring to is the approach of Cook et al. (P, NP etc.) dominating the thinking in this area; my use of "language recognition" was in the technical sense. Turing, Church and Goedel were not so limited, nor were the numerical analysts who predated the computer scientists.

and I've no idea what the equivalent in German was for Hilbert

Browsing somewhat through articles, I guess it was "Verfahren", which could be translated by "procedure" or "method".

Actually, German wiki defines Hilbert's Tenth Problem as

Man gebe ein Verfahren an, das für eine beliebige diophantische Gleichung entscheidet, ob sie lösbar ist.

In English wiki:

Find an algorithm to determine whether a given polynomial Diophantine equation with integer coefficients has an integer solution.

The original text by Hilbert would be:

Eine  Diophantische Gleichung mit irgend welchen Unbekannten und mit ganzen rationalen Zahlencoefficienten sei vorgelegt: man soll ein Verfahren angeben, nach welchem sich mittelst einer endlichen Anzahl von Operationen entscheiden. läßt, ob die Gleichung in ganzen rationalen Zahlen lösbar ist.

Shorthand translation, "A Diophantine equation with any unknowns and rational integer coefficient shall be given: one should give a method according to which one could decide in a finite number of operations if the equation has a solution in rational integers."

Err, sorry, parsing this sentence is somewhat hard, hope I got it right.


Thank you!

I hadn't realised that Hilbert set the "finite number of operations" limit himself in his question. That's an interesting bit of history.


Nope, though I might note Hilbert's Tenth Problem (1900) is apparently related but not not identical to the actual "decision problem" (1928).

Sadly, I haven't found the original German version by Hilbert for the latter, but given his, err, elaborate code (exhales deeply) I guess he used a.similar wording there.

Maybe I'm more lucky tomorrow, but browsibg and typing on my phone is no fun...


Funny, I just read up on the Heike a few weeks ago when remembering one episode if Sagan's Cosmos:

I might add some musings about divine providence vs. selective cognition later on... ;)


Translation is hard.

I'd ask if "mit ganzen rationalen Zahlencoefficienten" might not be "with completely rational interger coefficients".

No idea what difference that might make to the mathematical meaning.


Actually, "ganze Zahlen" or "whole numbers" is German math speak for integers. Though then, all integers are rational numbers, so it's somewhat redundant.

You are translating "ganz" as an adverb, though in that case you wouldn't use the declensed form "ganzen" (dative plural femininum, actually), but plain "ganz".

It's quite similar in English, for the adjective case, imagine "with complete rational integer coefficients".

Sorry, took me some time to work out, quite a lot of native language use is preconscious, which makes for you knowing the answer automatically, but working it out is hard. I'm not sure if I used the right term, but I just read an article by Oliver Sacks on blindsight-like phenomena in PCA where it's used in this sense.

Err, and mods, sorry, first off I borked the tags again, then I didn't care for the reply, this is the final version...


On a last note, don't post when approaching methylphenidate rebound.

Err, sorry for the mess.


As for the mathematical meaning, it changes quite a bit, since a diophantine equation implies only integers, e.g. if it's not "completely rational integer coefficients", it's not a diophantine equation. So, Hilbert mentioning these conditions is all somewhat redundant, as mentioned. "Elaborated code", as I mentioned...


For a quite famous diophantine equation, take Fermat's theorem.


Not entirely. The definition occurs in the two equivalent forms, one with integer coefficients and one with integer rational ones. Note that you can have rationals based on polynomials and other rings, as well as integers. If I recall, the term Diophantine wasn't as universally used in the 19th century as it was by the mid-20th. But I may well be misremembering.


Hm, the definition of "rational" sounds somewhat strange to me, I only know it as "quotient of two integers". But apparently there is a general definition of "Diophantine" as "somewhat restricted":

Though there are no citations on this article, and I have somewhat dropped out with the mathematicians in my circle of friends, so I can't verify it. As for my books, still in storage...


See, for example:

Part of the reason that such things are interesting is that, if A is a ring, the ratio of two elements in A is a field. I am VERY rusty, so may have forgotten whether there are any other conditions - I could still work that out, but not now.



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