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We're sorry we created the Torment Nexus

(This is the text of a talk I delivered at the Next Frontiers Applied Fiction Day in Stuttgart on Friday November 10th, 2023. Note: early draft, contains some typos, I'll fix them next week when I get home.)

In 2021, writer and game designer Alex Blechman inadvertently created a meme:

Sci-Fi Author: "In my book I invented the Torment Nexus as a cautionary tale."

Tech Company: "At long last, we have created the Torment Nexus from classic sci-fi novel Don't Create The Torment Nexus!"

Hi. I'm Charlie Stross, and I tell lies for money. That is, I'm a science fiction writer: I have about thirty novels in print, translated into a dozen languages, I've won a few awards, and I've been around long enough that my wikipedia page is a mess of mangled edits.

And rather than giving the usual cheerleader talk making predictions about technology and society, I'd like to explain why I—and other SF authors—are terrible guides to the future. Which wouldn't matter, except a whole bunch of billionaires are in the headlines right now because they pay too much attention to people like me. Because we invented the Torment Nexus as a cautionary tale and they took it at face value and decided to implement it for real.

Obviously, I'm talking about Elon Musk. (He named SpaceX's drone ships after Iain M. Banks spaceships, thereby proving that irony is dead). But he's not the only one. There's Peter Thiel (who funds research into artificial intelligence, life extension, and seasteading. when he's not getting blood transfusions from 18 year olds in hope of living forever). Marc Andreesen of Venture Capitalists Andreesen Horowitz recently published a self-proclaimed "techno-optimist manifesto" promoting the bizarre accelerationist philosophy of Nick Land, among other weirdos, and hyping the current grifter's fantasy of large language models as "artificial intelligence". Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is another. He's another space colonization enthusiast like Elon Musk, but while Musk wants to homestead Mars, Bezos is a fan of Gerard K. O'Neill's 1970s plan to build giant orbital habitat cylinders at the Earth-Moon L5 libration point. And no tour of the idiocracy is complete without mentioning Mark Zuckerberg, billionaire CEO of Facebook, who blew through ten billion dollars trying to create the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, only for it to turn out that his ambitious commercial virtual reality environment had no legs.

(That was a deliberate pun.)

It'd be amusing if these guys didn't have a combined net worth somewhere in the region of half a trillion euros and the desire to change the human universe, along with a load of unexamined prejudices and a bunch of half-baked politics they absorbed from the predominantly American SF stories they read in their teens. I grew up reading the same stuff but as I also write the modern version of the same stuff for a living I've spent a lot of time lifting up the rocks in the garden of SF to look at what's squirming underneath.

Science fiction influences everything this century, both our media and our physical environment. Media first: about 30% of the big budget movies coming out of the US film industry these days are science fiction or fantasy blockbusters, a massive shift since the 1970s. Computer games are wall-to-wall fantasy and SF—probably a majority of the field, outside of sports and simulation games. (Written fiction is another matter, and SF/F combined amount to something in the range 5-10% of books sold. But reading novels is a minority recreation this century, having to compete with the other media I just named. The golden age of written fiction was roughly 1850 to 1950, give or take a few decades: I make my living in an ageing field, kind of like being a classical music composer or an 8-bit games programmer today.)

Meanwhile the influence of science fiction on our environment seems to have been gathering pace throughout my entire life. The future is a marketing tool. Back in the early 20th century it was anything associated with speed—recall the fad for streamlining everything from railway locomotives to toasters, or putting fins on cars. Since about 1970 it becme more tightly associated with communication and computers.

For an example of the latter trend: a decade or two ago there was a fad for cellular phones designed to resemble the original Star Trek communicator. The communicator was movie visual shorthand for "a military two-way radio, but make it impossibly small". But it turns out that enough people wanted an impossibly small clamshell telephone that once semiconductor and battery technology got good enough to make one, they made the Motorola Razr a runaway bestseller.

"Artificial intelligence" and "computer controlled" became marketing buzzwords decades ago. They're used to mis-sell cars described as "self-driving" and technologies like Tesla's so-called "autopilot". In reality, aircraft autopilots don't do what most people think they do (they require constant monitoring by pilots). And self-driving car software is dangerously insufficient to do the job, as witness the recent revelation that self-driving taxi firm Cruise—recently banned from San Fracisco after a pedestrian was dragged under one of their cars—requires constant human supervision. But as long as it sells cars to customers who think it means they can relax and watch a movie while they commute, why should Elon Musk care? Science fictional TV shows like "Knight Rider" in the 1980s primed those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s to expect intelligent self-driving cars in the near future, and there has been a gold rush to sell self-driving cars, even though the technology isn't ready yet and has lethal failure modes. Because anything that tastes of the future is marketing gold.

It's becoming increasingly unusual to read a report of a new technology or scientific discovery that doesn't breathlessly use the phrase "it seems like science fiction". The news cycle is currently dominated by hype about artificial intelligence (a gross mis-characterisation of machine learning algorithms and large language models). A couple of years ago it was breathless hype about cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies—which turned out to be a financial services bubble that drained a lot of small investors' savings accounts into the pockets of people like convicted fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried.

It's also driving politics and law. Recently in the UK, Elon Musk paid a visit to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Last week we were given a preview of the government's legislative program for the coming year, and guess what it contained? Yes: new laws to permit self-driving vehicles on the roads, and regulation of artificial intelligence. And while some degree of government monitoring and regulation of these sectors is welcome, the UK has much bigger problems right now—and I'd rather the laws weren't drafted by an Elon Musk fanboy.

Now I've shouted as passing clouds for a bit—or dangerous marketing fads based on popular entertainment of decades past—I'd like to talk about something that I personally find much more worrying: a political ideology common among silicon valley billionaires of a certain age—known by the acronym TESCREAL—that is built on top of a shaky set of assumptions about the future of humanity. It comes straight out of an uncritical reading of the bad science fiction of decades past, and it's really dangerous.

TESCREAL stands for "transhumanism, extropianism, singularitarianism, cosmism, rationalism (in a very specific context), Effective Altruism, and longtermism." It was identified by Timnit Gebru, former technical co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team at Google and founder of the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR), and Émile Torres, a philosopher specialising in existential threats to humanity. These are separate but overlapping beliefs that are particularly common in the social and academic circles associated with big tech in California. Prominent advocates on the transhumanist and AI side include Ray Kurzweil, a notable technology evangelist and AI researcher at Google, philosophers Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky, and going back a long way earlier, Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, whose writings brought Russian Cosmism to America. Sam Bankman-Fried is an outspoken advocate of Effective Altruism, another element of this overlapping web of beliefs. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, as noted, both seem to be heavily influenced by Tsiolkovsky's advocacy of space colonization. Musk's Neuralink venture, attempting to pioneer human brain-computer interfaces, seems intent on making mind uploading workable, which in turn points to the influences of Kurzweil and other singularitarians. And hiding behind these 20th and early 21st century thinkers are older influences—notably the theological speculation of 19th century Russian Orthodox priest Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov.

How did this ideology come about, and why do I think it's dangerous?

(Longtermism is the belief that we should discount short-term harms to real existing human beings—such as human-induced climate change—if it brings us closer to the goal of colonizing the universe, because the needs of trillions of future people who don't actually exist yet obviously outweigh the needs of today's global poor. If you accept that it's our destiny as a species to take over the cosmos, then it follows that longtermist entrepreneurs are perfectly justified in moving fast, breaking things, and ruthlessly maximizing profit extraction, as long as they spend their wealth on colonizing Mars. Which is just the first step on the road to conquering the galaxy and a bunch of other stuff like mind uploading, becoming immortal, creating artificial intelligences to do all the tedious work, resurrecting the dead, and taking over the universe. It posits a destiny for humanity, which of necessity makes it a secular religion. It means that if you don't believe in their plans, then you're some kind of anti-science backsliding reactionary heretic. And if this sounds just slightly insane to you, well, that's probably because you're not Elon Musk or Peter Thiel.)

Speaking as a science fiction writer, I'd like to offer a heartfelt apology for my part in the silicon valley oligarchy's rise to power. And I'd like to examine the toxic role of science fiction in providing justifications for the craziness.

So, here's the thing: science fiction is fiction. And while we can dress it up in fancy clothes and declare that fiction is an artistic form for exploring the human condition, we're tip-toeing past the slaughterhouse with attached sausage factory—the industry that takes the raw material and puts it in front of us. As an editor once told me, "you can write anything you want, but we don't have to publish it." And without publishers, or some mechanism for replicating and advertising the existence of your text, you won't have any readers.

[[ Publishers, incidentally, are not monolithic. They're hives of human activity where people working in different departments each do their bit to try and turn the product they're taking in at one end—raw book manuscripts are about as appetizing as a raw animal carcass, they take a lot of work to make them appealing—into saleable books or tasty-looking sausages. I'm not going to get into the minutiae of trade publishing or we'd be here for the rest of the year, but as an author, my job is to convince an editor to buy my book. The editor's job is then to convince the marketing department that this book is commercially viable. And the marketing department try to push it in the very specific media channels that bookshop staff read to decide what products to order in next month. So there's a long chain of whispers between the author and the reader, and because a book that doesn't sell will cost each intermediary money, and there are hundreds of books per month to choose between, it's easier for them to say "no" than to say "yes".

I'm focussing here on a very specific channel, namely novels that are written and sold via traditional big publishing companies. Different constraints apply to different formats and different sales channels -- say, short fiction or web serials, sold via anthologies or self-published direct to Kindle or other ebook storefronts. But there's almost always a middle-man, even if you're self-publishing (the middle-man in this case is Patreon or Ko-Fi or Amazon an ad exchange somewhere: it's whoever processes payments for you). The only way to completely avoid middle-men is to give your work away for free.

The same is true of other media, such as film, TV, music, and games. If you refuse to compromise with your audience's expectations they will put the book down, flip channel, or leave a one-star review on Steam.

So I exist in a symbiotic relationship with my readers. They keep buying my books as long as they remain enjoyable. And my publishers keep publishing my books as long as the readers keep buying them. So like other SF writers I've got a financial incentive to write books that readers find enjoyable, and that usually means conforming to their pre-existing biases. Which are rooted in the ideas they absorbed previously. Science fiction as a genre has inertia, and it's hard to get new ideas to stick if they force the readers out of their comfort zone.

The science fiction genre that today's billionaires grew up with—the genre of the 1970s—has a history going back to an American inventor and publisher called Hugo Gernsback. Gernsback founded the first magazine about electronics and radio in the United States, Modern Electrics, in 1908, but today he's best remembered as the founder of the pulp science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in 1926.

The early 1908 issues of Modern Electrics would be instantly recognizable to a teenage personal computing enthusiast of the 1970s and early 1980s—the same generation as the tech billionaires this talk is really about. The first two decades of the 20th century saw a huge explosion of interest in the field of wireless—radio broadcasting as we know it today, but also amateur radio. Radio sets back then were hand-built and repaired by local enthusiasts, much like many early personal computers. Gernsback founded Modern Electrics to carry adverts for radio components and to promote the amateur radio hobby. He curated a directory of amateur radio users and their call signs and equipment, published articles about building and operating your own wireless set, and editorialized about the future of radio. Amateur radio grew explosively in the nineteen-teens, and just like computer hobbyists half a century later, many of the radio hobbyists ended up working in the industry.

Gernsback began to publish general articles about science and technology, then fiction with a focus on the science—including some of his own stories—culminating in starting the magazine Amazing Stories as a vehicle for fantastic tales about a technological future. And as a runaway commercial success, Amazing Stories spawned imitators and, eventually, an industry.

(We can skip over the details of how SF publishing developed from the earnest technophiliac visions of Gernsback to the two-fisted planetary romances of the pulp magazines in the 1920s, survived the collapse of the pulp magazine distribution network in the 1950s and migrated to paperback novels sold in wire racks in supermarkets, then colonized the heights of the publishing industry bestseller lists from the 1960s onwards.)

American SF was bootstrapped by a publisher feeding an engineering subculture with adverts for tools and components. There was an implicit ideology attached to this strain of science fiction right from the outset: the American Dream of capitalist success, mashed up with progress through modern technology, and a side-order of frontier colonialism. It's not a coincidence that the boom in planetary romances occured shortly after the American frontier was finally closed: the high frontier had a natural appeal and gradually replaced the western frontier in the popular imagination.

(As futurist and SF author Karl Schroeder remarks, every technology has political implications. If you have automobiles you will inevitably find out that you need speed limits, drunk driving laws, vehicle and driver licensing to ensure the cars and their drivers are safe ... and then jaywalking laws, the systematic segregation of pedestrians and non-automotive traffic from formerly public spaces, air pollution, and an ongoing level of deaths and injuries comparable to a small war. You also get diversion of infrastructure spending from railways to road building, and effective limits on civil participation by non-drivers.

The new radio enthusiast magazine readers Gernsback was cultivating didn't ask about the politics of radio, although it would come back to bite them in the 1930s with increased regulation, then state censorship and the use of wireless broadcasts for wartime propaganda. They were just having fun and maybe trying to build a local radio repair shop. But there's been a tendency in American SF, ever since those early days, to be wilfully blind to the political implications of the shiny toys.)

There is a darker element to this era of science fiction. Gernsback's publishing empire arose around the time the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his Manifesto of Futurism (in 1909). Futurism was an explicitly ideological program—an artistic movement that rejected of the past and celebrated speed, machinery, violence, youth and industry, and argued for the modernization and cultural rejuvenation of the Italian state. In 1918 Marinetti founded a Futurist Party, but a year later it merged with Benito Mussolini's movement, and Marinetti is credited as the co-author of the Fascist Manifesto of 1919.

Hugo Gernsback didn't consciously bring fascism into American SF, but the field was open to it by the 1930s. Possibly the most prominent contributor to far right thought in American science fiction was the editor John W. Campbell. Campbell edited Astouding Science Fiction, one of Amazing Stories rivals, from 1937 until 1971. (Astounding is still with us today, having changed its name to Analog in 1960.) Campbell discovered or promoted many now-famous authors, including Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, E. E. Smith, and Jack Williamson. But Campbell was also an anti-communist red-baiter. He was overtly racist, an anti-feminist, and left his imprint on the genre as much by what he didn't publish as by what he did—and how he edited it. For example, Tom Godwin's classic short story The Cold Equations was sent back with editorial change requests three times before Godwin finally gave Campbell the ending he wanted: one that, as Cory Doctorow put it, turned the story "into a parable about the foolishness of women and the role of men in guiding them to accept the cold, hard facts of life".

Later in his career, Campbell fell victim to just about every pseudoscientific grift that was going. (If he was alive today he'd probably be selling NFTs.) He had a weakness for perpetual motion machines, was an enthusiast for Dianetics (which L. Ron Hubbard later turned into the Church of Scientology), and he was a firm believer in paranormal powers -- telepathy, telekinesis, and astral projection, (all now thoroughly disproven by research at the Koestler Institute of Parapsychology).

(Confirmation bias may have been at work here: a belief in psi powers implicitly supports an ideology of racial supremacy, and indeed, that's about the only explanation I can see for Campbell's publication of the weirder stories of A. E. Van Vogt.)

Campbell wasn't the only wellspring of right-wing thought in golden age SF. No quick tour would be complete without mentioning Ayn Rand, the Russian emigre and bestselling author who invented the far right philosophy of Objectivism. This centred (quote) "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute". Reason which, of course, was positioned as emotionless, neutral, factually grounded, and thereby exempt from accusations of bias and subjectivity. Rand held that the only social system compatible with this obviously-correct philosophy was laissez-faire capitalism: you can probably see why this appeals to sociopathic billionaires and their fans.

Perhaps the weirdest ingredient in the mix of ideas that gave rise to what became known in the 1990s as the Californian Ideology is Russian Cosmism, the post-1917 stepchild of the mystical theological speculation of a Russian Orthodox theologian, Nikolai Fyodorovitch Fyodorov.

The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy is your one-stop shop for batshit philosophers who unduly influenced the space program and gave rise to modern Transhumanism. As it notes: "Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov (born 1829, died 1903), was founder of an immortalist (anti-death) philosophy emphasizing "the common task" of resurrecting the dead through scientific means."

The illegitimate son of a Russian prince, Federov grew up a devout Russian Orthodox Christian. He worked as a librarian and as a teacher, and through his writings he was the formative influence on the Russian cosmists, a Russian philosophical movement that prefigured transhumanism (and specifically extropianism). The cosmists in turn influenced Tsiolkovsky, who was a major inspiration for Soviet attitudes to space exploration.

"Fedorov found the widespread lack of love among people appalling. He divided these non-loving relations into two kinds. One is alienation among people: 'non-kindred relations of people among themselves.' The other is isolation of the living from the dead: 'nature's non-kindred relation to men.'" ... "A citizen, a comrade, or a team-member can be replaced by another. However a person loved, one's kin, is irreplaceable. Moreover, memory of one's dead kin is not the same as the real person. Pride in one's forefathers is a vice, a form of egotism. On the other hand, love of one's forefathers means sadness in their death, requiring the literal raising of the dead."

Federov believed in a teleological explanation for evolution, that mankind was on a path to perfectibility determined by god: human mortality was the biggest sign of our imperfection. He argued that the struggle against death would give all humanity a common enemy -- and a victory condition that could be established, in the shape of (a) achieving immortality for all, and (b) resurrecting the dead to share in that immortality. Quite obviously immortality and resurrection for all would lead to an overcrowded world, so Federov also advocated colonisation of the oceans and space: indeed, part of the holy mission would inevitably be to bring life (and immortal human life at that) to the entire cosmos.

(The wikipedia article on Federov discusses his transhumanist program in somewhat more detail than the IEP entry.)

The final word probably deserves to go to Nicholas Berdyaev (secondary source here) who in 1928 wrote, in a collection of liturgical essays on the Orthodox church:

The novelty of Fedorov's idea, one which frightens so many people, lies in the fact that it affirms an activity of man incommensurably greater than any that humanism and progressivism believe in. Resurrection is an act not only of God's grace but also of human activity. We now come to the most grandiose and bewildering idea of N. Fedorov. He had a completely original and unprecedented attitude towards apocalyptic prophecies, and his doctrine represents a totally new phenomenon in Russian consciousness and Russian apocalyptic expectation. Never before in the Christian world had there been expressed such an audacious, such an astounding concept, concerning the possibility of avoiding the Last Judgement and its irrevocable consequences, by dint of the active participation of man. If what Fedorov calls for is achieved, then there will be no end to the world. Mankind, with a transformed and definitively regulated nature, will move directly into the life eternal.

I'm going to confess, at this point, to having in my youth read translations of Tsiolkovsy's writing, but not Federov—he was relatively obscure in the west until recently. The forebears of the American space program—Robert Goddard, Jack Parsons, and of course Wernher Von Braun—also read Tsiolkovsky. And through their writings, his plans for space colonization (and the ideas of Russian cosmism) leaked directly into the minds of science fiction authors like Robert Heinlein, Hal Clement, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Finally, I haven't really described Rationalism. It's a rather weird internet mediated cult that has congealed around philosopher of AI Eliezer Yudkowski over the past decade or so. Yudkowski has taken on board the idea of the AI Singularity—that we will achieve human-equivalent intelligence in a can, and it will rapidly bootstrap itself to stratospheric heights of competence and render us obsolete—and terrified himself with visions of paperclip maximizers, AIs programmed to turn the entire universe into paperclips (or something equally inhospitable to human life) with maximum efficiency. He and his followers then dived into a philosophical rabbit maze of trying to reason their way into minimizing harms arising from a technology that does not yet exist and may not even be possible. (In contrast, Nick Bostrom focussed on the philosophical implications of digitizing human brains so we can all be raptured up to live in the great cloud computer in the sky, a very modern riff on the Christian eschatological theory of resurrection.)

American SF from the 1950s to the 1990s contains all the raw ingredients of what has been identified as the Californian ideology (evangelized through the de-facto house magazine, WIRED). It's rooted in uncritical technological boosterism and the desire to get rich quick. Libertarianism and it's even more obnoxious sibling Objectivism provide a fig-leaf of philosophical legitimacy for cutting social programs and advocating the most ruthless variety of dog-eat-dog politics. Longtermism advocates overlooking the homeless person on the sidewalk in front of you in favour of maximizing good outcomes from charitable giving in the far future. And it gels neatly with the Extropian and Transhumanist agendas of colonizing space, achieving immortality, abolishing death, and bringing about the resurrection (without reference to god). These are all far more fun to contemplate than near-term environmental collapse and starving poor people. Finally, there's accelerationism: the right wing's version of Trotskyism, the idea that we need to bring on a cultural crisis as fast as possible in order to tear down the old and build a new post-apocalyptic future. (Tommasso Marinetti and Nick Land are separated by a century and a paradigm shift in the definition of technological progress they're obsessed with, but hold the existing world in a similar degree of contempt.)

The hype and boosterism of the AI marketers collided with the Rationalist obsession in the public perception a couple of weeks ago, in the Artificial Intelligence Safety Summit at Bletchley Park. This conference hatched the Bletchley Declaration, calling for international co-operation to manage the challenges and risks of artificial intelligence. It featured Elon Musk being interviewed by Rishi Sunak on stage, and was attended by Kamala Harris, vice-president of the United States, among other leading politicians. And the whole panicky agenda seems to be driven by an agenda that has emerged from science fiction stories written by popular entertainers like me, writers trying to earn a living.

Anyway, for what my opinion is worth: I think this is bullshit. There are very rich people trying to manipulate investment markets into giving them even more money, using shadow puppets they dreamed up on the basis of half-remembered fictions they read in their teens. They are inadvertently driving state-level policy making on subjects like privacy protection, data mining, face recognition, and generative language models, on the basis of assumptions about how society should be organized that are frankly misguided and crankish, because there's no crank like a writer idly dreaming up fun thought experiments in fictional form. They're building space programs—one of them is up front about wanting to colonize Mars, and he was briefly the world's richest man, so we ought to take him as seriously as he deserves—and throwing medical resources at their own personal immortality rather than, say, a wide-spectrum sterilizing vaccine against COVID19. Meanwhile our public infrastructure is rotting, national assets are being sold off and looted by private equity companies, their social networks are spreading hatred and lies in order to farm advertising clicks, and other billionaires are using those networks to either buy political clout or suck up ever more money from the savings of the poor.

Did you ever wonder why the 21st century feels like we're living in a bad cyberpunk novel from the 1980s?

It's because these guys read those cyberpunk novels and mistook a dystopia for a road map. They're rich enough to bend reality to reflect their desires. But we're not futurists, we're entertainers! We like to spin yarns about the Torment Nexus because it's a cool setting for a noir detective story, not because we think Mark Zuckerberg or Andreesen Horowitz should actually pump several billion dollars into creating it. And that's why I think you should always be wary of SF writers bearing ideas.

1520 Comments

1:

Half remembered is spot on. Musk named his new chatbot Grok and said that it was based on Hitchhikers Guide. If he remembered HHGG he'd have called it ChatGPP

2:

Maybe somebody should found the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation.

Or not, come to think of it.

I also have mentioned elsewhere that I recently read Banks' 'Surface Detail' and the antagonist there is basically scifi Musk, up to escaping via a secret passage leading to a tunnel where he drives a car away. It's not even something Elno read in his teens, as it was published in 2010.

3:

At first uninformed blush, this sounds horribly like Ian Banks' territory, specifically Surface Detail ... however ....,
*Because we invented the Torment Nexus_Handmaid's Tale as a cautionary tale and they took it at face value and decided to implement it for real.

In the same way ... some people { Notable in your existing list is the arsehole P Thiel } obviously beleive ( a.k.a. "think" - they are actually only emoting } that, of course, & before we get to this techno-utopia, "we" - meaning "they" will have go over to an authotarian, quasi-fascist totalitarian regime - with themselves in charge, naturally!
You may have missed a vital contributor to the fascism/tecnophilia love-in, namely the utterly bonkers Gabrielle D'Annunzio ... an awful lot of Theil et al's ravings sound a lot like him.

Question: How much of Feodorov's lunacies are embraced by Putin & N. Patrushev? Nasty idea, I know.

4:

Not fiction, but taxonomy for the behaviour of Artificial General Intelligence (Google DeepMind)

"The highest level in our matrix in terms of combined performance and generality is ASI (Artificial Superintelligence). We define "Superhuman" performance as outperforming 100% of humans. For instance, we posit that AlphaFold (Jumper et al., 2021; Varadi et al., 2021) is a Level 5 Narrow AI ("Superhuman Narrow AI") since it performs a single task (predicting a protein’s 3D structure from an amino acid sequence) above the level of the world’s top scientists." from Levels of AGI: Operationalizing Progress on the Path to AGI https://arxiv.org/pdf/2311.02462.pdf

5:

Charlie, have you read the excellent "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science" by Martin Gardner? It has a chapter on Korzybski's General Semantics that completely explains the Van Vogt Null-Aleph books (and IIRC Jerry Pournelle also took that claptrap seriously).

6:

They remember Heinlein's Libertarianism, but forget that his characters were always decent human beings (as 'decency' was defined at the time he was writing) with strong moral centers.

I'd have to grant that the definition of "strong moral center" has also changed since Heinlein wrote, but he was generally well-ahead of the game.

If Zuckerberg was a Heinlein character he'd have pulled the plug on Facebook when he discovered that the best way to engage users was to make them angry.

8:

Thanks for the fascinating skim of how SF has influenced global culture. Thought provoking.

At first, the essay appeared to be about how a few great men have powerfully influenced the world through fiction. Then it seemed to be about how the invisible hand has led us to dystopia. But throughout there is the idea that we could have behaved differently.

It brings to mind a metaphor of culture formation. A raindrop falling on the continental divide could end up either in the Pacific or the Atlantic because of a tiny difference of position. And its path is both influenced by topography and creates it by deepening existing pathways.

Your article seems to be a call to action, but can we raindrops have choice? I'm fascinated by deadly technology and at the same time I believe that all people deserve a life of dignity and agency. Thinking about awful things probably deepens those pathways. Dark things are way more interesting than peace and love. I guess I like thinking about the former but experiencing the latter.

9:

Yes, I know - a prime example of the crap described in this post :-( I was in contact with some of the people who worked on 'AI' in the 1960s and 1970s and, even then, we could write computer programs to outperform 100% of humans. Consider solving large sets of linear equations, searching for large primes, etc.; protein folding is merely a more complicated example of such tasks. But nobody serious ever called that actual intelligence; that came later, when some ambitious second- and third-rate academics took over much of computer science.

Life extension is similar. For slightly shameful reasons, I have just read a 'brain ship' novel (no names - no pack drill) - oh, God, oh, America! Absolutely NO WAY is the brain even resistant to aging, and the scientifically estimated limit of about 120 years applies to that. Yes, there is reason to hope to 'eliminate' Parkinson's and possibly dementia as such, but the gradual decay isn't limited to those, and there are solid theoretical reasons to believe that it is unavoidable.

That ignores the body lifetime issues, which are similar.

10:

a belief in psi powers implicitly supports an ideology of racial supremacy,

I either missed this over the years or just forgot it. Can someone point me to details on this path?

11:

For those not familiar with Andreessen's "Techno-Optimist Manifesto" (a manifesto in the same sense as the Unabomber's, but in a different direction), here's some background: https://ovid.github.io/blog/marc-andreessen-techno-babble.html

The Manifesto gives a great sense to the shit we're showered with today by the techno-elite who have no care about who they're shitting on.

As for whether or not LLMs are AI, that gives me pause because I've dabbled in this field a time or two. There's a joke amongst AI researchers that once an AI problem is solved, it's no longer AI. This is due, in part, to the problem of not being able to define intelligence. Perhaps we're all stochastic parrots, but merely so advanced that we can't recognize this in ourselves.

Nonetheless, even if LLMs are AI-snake oil, they're already putting a lot of people out of work. I've been a software engineer for decades and I'm pretty good at it, and I find this work scary and it's only in its infancy. It used to be that labor-saving technology would free workers up to do work only humans could do (after the inevitable pain of the phase transition which saw people homeless and starving), but at least there was a way forward.

Today, we see an existential threat where there may well be less work available that only humans can do. All of society is now facing that phase transition and without some miraculous post-capitalist society arising (mercantlists couldn't envision a post-mercantalist society), we're fucked. And not in a good way.

12:

Yeah, Heinlein was complex. His Libertarian streak required people to be better than they are. I've started taking notes on a book I want to write, "No True Libertarian," and in most of the Libertarian attempts to create a Libertarian society, what I see is that they fail because humans are ... human. Libertarians don't seem to get that.

PS: I laughed heartily at your Zuckerberg comment. It was great.

13:

Speaking of which...

https://twitter.com/brianroemmele/status/1721197147943829558

Douglas Adams: In my radio series and the novel I adapted it into, I included a passage about "robots with Genuine People Personalities(tm)" as a cautionary tale and/or spoof of how people thought the future would look back when we still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea.

Tech Company: At long last, we're debuting electronic digital assistants with Genuine People Personalities(tm), including one based upon famous science fiction author Douglas Adams himself!

sigh

14:

Can someone point me to details on this path?

If you're a glutton for punishment, (re-)read Slan by A. E. Van Vogt.

Secret superrace with super-mind powers! It's totally a meme in vintage SF (goes back at least as far as Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race in the 19th century) and you rapidly end up with eugenics and breeding for desired traits (eg. psi powers).

15:

I remembered "grok" as being from a badge I saw in the mid 70s. "I Grok Spock".

16:

But nobody serious ever called that actual intelligence; that came later, when some ambitious second- and third-rate academics took over much of computer science.

You missed the reason why though. Artificial Intelligence as a term was created around 1955. But to to over promising to get funding, it got a very, very bad reputation, and by mid-75 AI-related research went under other names, like "optimization" or "dynamic programming" or "inference" under pain of not being funded. The term became acceptable again around the mid-80s, and exploded as a marketing gimmick with the generalization of the deep neural networks.

So the only reason they did not called their research intelligence was for money reasons. They very much did before.

17:

Today, we see an existential threat where there may well be less work available that only humans can do.

Back in the 50s there was a lot of noise around the impending problem of too much leisure time. With increasing automation in factories, however would people occupy their days when they only had to work 30 hours a week, or maybe only 20?

We all know how it turned out: those in control cut the workforce (rather than hours) and kept the productivity gains for themselves. There were other paths available (including Mack Reynolds' People's Capitalism) but we (as a society) didn't take them.

In my more cynical moments, I think that those in control are deliberately preserving the only form of human work that won't be replaced by machines: being proper subservient minions for those in control to feel superior to.

As someone relatively recently retired, it's nice not to have to work, but to have time for the things I truly want to do. Experiments with universal basic income have shown that people still work, they are just pickier about their working conditions (having the audacity to want a meaningful job where they are treated decently).

This seems to be at odds with what the techlords want, which is retinues of servants jumping to their every whim and telling them how great they are.

18:

I either missed this over the years or just forgot it. Can someone point me to details on this path?

Psi was usually presented as a hereditable trait, so two psis having children would have greater odds of those children being psi (and possibly stronger psi than their parents).

Psi powers were also generally seen as good, and controlled by the psis themselves being moral people, or possibly by a psi-police of stronger moral psis.

Not always, and some writers inverted the tropes, but it was pretty obvious even to teenage me that a lot of the psi societies in SF had those who by natural abilities were best suited to rule the rest.

19:

Might want to check out the just-published book "A City on Mars" by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith (Zach writes the SMBC webcomic). It's a book by self-described "space bastards" who began researching it thinking they were going to write a book on near-future space settlement and ended up writing a book about why settling space is really hard, there's no pressing need to do it, and it likely won't happen any time soon due to the mountain of issues that are basically being completely ignored. And they like the idea of space settlement as much as anyone, they're just very... skeptical.

Of course Mr. Stross wrote "The High Frontier, Redux" years ago, but this tackles many of the same issues in book form, with some amusing space stories and funny cartoons to help the medicine go down easier. I think it's a great antidote to TESCREAL style thinking.

20:

If you're a glutton for punishment, (re-)read Slan by A. E. Van Vogt.

Always.

breeding for desired traits (eg. psi powers)

So not generally universal such as eyesight.

21:

Grok

I thought it came from "Stranger in a Strange Land".

And a quick search says yes. 1961

22:

Ovid @11: Perhaps we're all stochastic parrots, but merely so advanced that we can't recognize this in ourselves.

I think scientific theories are a pretty thorough debunking of the idea that all humans are stochastic parrots. There are numerous examples of theories predicting things which had not been observed at the time of formulation, but were later found to match what the theory predicted. The instances I can think of off the top of my head are several elements predicted based on holes in the periodic table, and particles predicted by quantum mechanics. We can establish the truthiness of postulates and work towards a truer understanding of things.

That said, the above is not an argument against some people being stochastic parrots. I personally would rather avoid entertaining the notion, as it removes personhood.

23:
"Tom Godwin's classic short story The Cold Equations was sent back with editorial change requests three times"

Is there anywhere the average consumer of Sci-Fi (i.e. ME) can find comparative versions of Godwin's story to SEE how his original differed from what Campbell would accept & publish?

24:

While that may be true in the USA, it assuredly wasn't in the UK. I can easily believe there were some idiotic USA academics in the 1950s as well as in the 1980s onwards, but that was before my time.

There were people investigating leads that they felt might, eventually, lead to true machine intelligence, but they never deluded themselves that what they were doing was even a poor approximation. Look at what Edinburgh were doing in the 1960s, for a start. There were others I had contact with, but Edinburgh were the leaders in this area.

https://www.ed.ac.uk/informatics/60-years-of-computer-science-and-ai/highlights-of-edinburgh-computer-science-and-ai https://web.inf.ed.ac.uk/aiai/history-of-ai-edinburgh

25:

The grain of truth behind "AI safety" is that "AI" is a statistical model - essentially a black box - that does whatever is on the curve that best fit its training set, and that thing is often not what any sane person would actually want.

The extent of any risk is precisely the extent to which we let AI cause physical effects in the real world. When it produces an image with a few too many fingers, we laugh and move on. When it drives back and forth over a pedestrian, well, not so much.

26:

Grant @ 15:

I remembered "grok" as being from a badge I saw in the mid 70s. "I Grok Spock".

FWIW, "Grok" is a Martian word from Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land

A lot of people use the word who have never READ the novel ... they don't "grok" Grok. 🙃

27:

comparative versions of Godwin's story to SEE how his original differed from what Campbell would accept & publish?

Foot note 1 of the Wikipedia article?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cold_Equations

And no I didn't follow the link(s).

28:

Sturgeon's Law, extended by the popular myth of American superiority. I can't see that the proportion of racist stories about psi is any higher than those about demagogocracy or capitalism being the only good forms of society, or the superiority of humans in space opera with humans vs aliens.

PSI is no different from any other purported human ability, and basic evolution shows that a 'superior' race will necessarily emerge at some stage. The only way to stop it would by fascist restrictions on the breeding of the exceptional people (a standard trope in this area), and I fail to see that is morally any different for breeding FOR the trait. There are also stories where it is no different from mathematical or physical ability (e.g. The Demolished Man), and so on. To conflate The Chrysalids with Slan is grossly unfair on Wyndham.

29:

David L @ 20:

If you're a glutton for punishment, (re-)read Slan by A. E. Van Vogt.

Always.

breeding for desired traits (eg. psi powers)

So not generally universal such as eyesight.

Influenced by 19th & 20th Century Eugenics movement, scientific racism and Social Darwinism.

The last one always confuses me. How can people who reject the Theory of Evolution so thoroughly adopt Social Darwinism ... yet they do?

30:

I just plugged TESCREAL into the Rearrangement Servant and its best suggestion was at the top of its list:

TREACLES.

Also:

EEL CARTS

CLEAREST

and CAR STEEL

but really I think TREACLES is the winner here :)

31:

Great speech. thanks!

32:

David L @ 27:

comparative versions of Godwin's story to SEE how his original differed from what Campbell would accept & publish?

Foot note 1 of the Wikipedia article?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cold_Equations

And no I didn't follow the link(s).

Thanks.

Even accepting the premise that there's "no margin for error" it's a flawed story. If fuel was that tight, by the time the stowaway was discovered the mission was already doomed; the damage was done.

I remember a similar short story from Heinlein (in The Green Hills of Earth anthology?) where a child stows away on a Moon flight ...

After first jettisoning baggage & cargo and finding it's still not enough, the hero pilot comes through by recalculating the required engine burns on the fly ...

Heinlein as an author does seem to recognize that the damage is already done by the time the stowaway is discovered.

33:

Grok is "drink".

And much else.

34:

There's a wide anti-authoritarian streak (probably not quite what you mean by socialist) in classic sf, and I wonder how it got lost.

I just reread The Stars My Destination and I'd say that's tear-the-roof-off anarchism.

Heinlein's Red Planet has a revolution against a greedy, irresponsible company, and is probably interesting about the politics of putting a revolution together.

He was also interesting about mostly side-lining esp as a useful skill that doesn't lead to an elite.

"Telek" by Vance is a rare example about psychic powers being given to the public, but we don't see the resulting society.

35:

I’m sure you’ve read Jon Evans three piece history of the same crowd, Extropia’s Children - because I believe you feature in the early part.

What I think he missed, and you picked up on, is Nick Land. I think if you were purely moving in tech circles in the 90s, or American, his prehistory would pass you by. But if you were also peripherally involved with the music scene, the whole CCRU thing was interesting - to my mind, very much a modern update on COUM. At the time, they were still nominally leftist ( the Living Marxism crowd were also pushing something akin to accelerationism) and I don’t think Land had discovered his blend of Nietzsche and machine god cultism yet. But it was pretty much impossible to believe anyone would take this nonsense seriously, beyond the few music journalists who liked to talk about Baudrillard.

(It’s interesting that Mark Fisher - also of the CCRU - took an almost opppsite path back towards democratic socialism)

36:

Troutwaxer @ 6
Yes
R.A.H's eleventh commandment was - as far as I could see, always: - "Don't be a dick"

vulch @ 7
Back to the US Gilded Age, when there were (effectively) zero worker-protection / Health & Safety laws, eh?
What a surprise that wasn't.

David L
IF
you have "psi" powers
THEN
You are superior { And, theoretically } - so will your descendants also be superior
ELSE
You are an Untermensch

Rbt Prior @ 17
Very occasionally, someone in the "managerial" class realises this.
The example I remember is from a book called "Up the organisation" { & its sequel - "Further up ... } by one Robert Townsend .. a very senior executive for the US car-rental company Avis.
He said: "Work is natural, most people want to do it ... provided they feel it's both worthwhile & rewarding { I paraphrase }
And STILL, most company executives & far too many politicians refuse to grok it.
{ IIRC "grok" comes from R.A.H. "Stanger in a Strange Land" - yes? } - Oh, yes - David L @ 21. Thanks.

37:

Libertarianism / Objectivism - I was introduced to game theory in a "maths camp" kind of thing in my final year of high school (where they were trying to excite would-be university maths students about the possibilities; we got the theory behind public-key crypto too, it was interesting). Twenty years later, studying economics and legislation for an environmental management masters, we got game theory again, this time as immortalised in The Beautiful Mind; there is a game-theoretical justification for e.g. environmental legislation to maximise the outcome (or utility or whatever your philosophical definition of "good" is) for each individual in society, if they accept a slightly higher cost to themselves. In this instance, selfishness not only causes pollution but encourages everyone else to pollute and ruins the environment for everyone including the selfish individual, collapsing the result to the worst outcome over time.

Mind blown: I had been raised Catholic and could not reconcile the fact that the Golden Rule (do unto others, etc.) clearly works in an ethical society, with the claim that it takes a punitive deity to make it work. Here was my completely secular proof, mathematical and everything. Also demonstrated that the "tragedy of the commons" was a libertarian fable (completely ahistorical and made up in the sixties as it turns out).

So when someone claims that it's only rational to be completely selfish, devil take the hindmost, etc, I know that they are a bigoted parasite, claiming a justification for their selfishness that they don't understand. Ayn Rand ended her life on welfare, by the way. (Do I sound angry? perhaps I am.)

The long-termists also don't understand basic economics*, in the form of Net Present Value. Because money depreciates and the value of investments accumulates, it is better to make investments now in social infrastructure than to neglect them in favour of some nebulous future project. If they want to colonise the universe in the future there will be a greater surplus to do it with if they build up society now**. Robert Heinlein understood this - one of his books, The Day After Tomorrow had that as the basis for a universal basic income; not something that the RAH-RAHs tend to obsess over.

I think it would be fascinating to push this set of principles among a generation of geeks, perhaps by stories, games and movies where co-operation saves the day against the individualists, fascists and oligarchs. It's why I think the ending of The Postman was a cop-out, and I wonder about the Deep Space Nine version of the Federation, although that might have been influenced by the Culture Special Circumstances division. There again, I think maybe co-operation has become a harder sell to producers and publishers, wonder why?

*Economics is not difficult to understand, It's just been obfuscated by academics and hijacked by political hacks. I saw Bloody Stupid Johnson scoff once that you couldn't raise taxes because of the Laffer Curve - that sounds impressive until you know that it's only true when taxes are above 70%. And the household, "tighten our belts" analogy for economies is a complete lie; an economy is a closed cycle and money is best viewed as the circulatory fluid. OGH has made financiers into vampires and it's a really good metaphor...

**This is how I play Alpha Centauri - bunker up and expand production and social goods, push advances as fast as possible, and then when I have grav tanks switch to war production and go on a rampage

38:

Apologies.

My excuse is that I last read Stranger in a Strange Land in about 1974 so, even if I noticed then, I have forgotten since.

I tried a few Heinlein recently to see which would go to the charity shop. Suffice to say his "The Day After Tomorrow" actually went in the bin and several I found nearly unreadable. SIASL is still on the pile to reread.

39:

So much of the arc of “Artificial Intelligence” research (at least in the US, where I’ve followed the general flow since the 1970’s and have known some of the players) has to do with dueling grant proposals. In the late 60s Minsky and Pappert “proved” that neural nets couldn’t be generalized to perform arbitrary logic operations, so connectionism was unfundable until Hinton, et al, showed that it could be generalized just by adding extra layers. Now “AI” is largely synonymous with neural nets. In between Minsky and Hinton funding wars broke out between “neats” and “scruffies”, but nobody remembers what those are anymore.

40:

One research direction that was a casualty of the funding wars, that I personally think should have been given much more consideration was the work of Douglas Hofstadter‘s Fluid Analogies Research Group (Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies).

[[ link fixed, smartquotes removed - mod ]]

41:

Thank you for this!

Both because it is good in it's own right, and I learned a lot, and because it inspired me to go re-read Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum", which hammers on a very similar point.

42:

I'm weirded out by an artificial intelligence called Grok from Elon Musk. Grokking is the thing the sort of AIs we've got can't do.

43:

This is how I play Alpha Centauri - bunker up and expand production and social goods, push advances as fast as possible

Hover-workers FTW!! I do likewise, but naively used to think that was what everyone did. I like a full tech tree :) I'm playing Cosmoteer ATM and have realised that I play it more like Sim City: I kill anything that comes and bothers me, but otherwise focus on building a really cool space ship, then using that to basically obliterate everything in the game (the limit is crew, which you get by killing things... so my designs are more "best ship with the crew available"). I should just buy Cities Skylines and be done with it I think.

But then playing Warcraft II or III I'd get slaughtered by grunt spammers just about every time. Games have to be designed so the Civ "infinite city sprawl" doesn't really work or it becomes too easily dominant (many cheap bases producing many cheap units)

In real life I suspect I do similar things, when I've been voluntarily "unemployed" I've ended up so busy that when I run out of money it's hard to find the time to look for a job. Sadly even the useful things I like doing are not valued by capitalism - even being a bike mechanic pays ~minimum wage, let alone writing submissions on legislation. Or, you know, going out and disrupting things that need to be disrupted.

44:

Think of it like "The People's Democratic Republic" or "Fair and Balanced"... they're aware that they're missing something important but hope that putting it in the name will hide its absence.

45:

Re: 'Economics is not difficult to understand, It's just been obfuscated by academics and hijacked by political hacks'

Have you read Mariana Mazzucato - an academic economist whose books discuss many of the points you mentioned? Circular economy is a key aspect.

Charlie's talk/essay about old SF's influence on contemporary billionaires includes both stated and implied the-then current economic ideas that have since been thrown out/revised by contemporary economists. Too bad the pols who most often reference 'economics' haven't bothered keeping up with the findings. Weird - the tech billionaires mentioned in the talk and comments come across as absolutely convinced that the future is absolutely about tech advancements yet refuse to accept/are blind to the idea that other fields also advance. ['The old order changeth, yielding place to new ...']

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariana_Mazzucato

'Her career has emphasised translating economic ideas into policy and she holds numerous high-level policy roles. Currently, she is chair of the World Health Organization's Council on the Economics of Health for All,[7] a member of the Scottish Government's Council of Economic Advisers,[8] the South African President's Economic Advisory Council,[9] and the United Nations' High-Level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs.[10]'

Folks in Scotland (Charlie) would know more about how her ideas/suggestions are being discussed wrt to local policy and funding.

Rabidchaos @ 22: 'Stochastic parrots'

Interesting term - seems to describe BoJo quite well. Wanting to appeal to the more snobby (Tory) Brits, his LLM of course had to include some Latin.

Is there an 'Excel spreadsheet' variant of a LLM? Just asking given some of the economic policies the previous as well as current PM have recommended.

46:

The Day After Tomorrow had that as the basis for a universal basic income

Is that the book where he goes into detail on an economic system that is basically Social Credit?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_credit

We actually had a Social Credit Party in Canada. Unfortunately it mixed social credit economics with really mean-spirited Christianity and racism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Credit_Party_of_Canada

47:

I think it would be fascinating to push this set of principles among a generation of geeks, perhaps by stories, games and movies where co-operation saves the day against the individualists, fascists and oligarchs.

Virtually everything that I've read by Cory Doctorow has that as a background theme. Or sometimes foreground (in his Little Brother series).

(That could be a selection bias on my part, as I haven't read everything he's written.)

48:

Wow, Social Credit in Aotearoa morphed into The Greens. Must have been a different set of weirdos :)

49:

it's going to take me a couple of re-reads to grasp every point raised in CS's presentation... I'm not sure what it was I had been reading... so try again tomorrow...

what caught my OCD-infested-eye and triggered my tech writer itchy fingers was the proliferation of parentheses and square brackets... not all of which matched up... and worst yet, asides by way of parentheses ought not run into hundreds 'n hundreds of words...

50:

And that's why I think you should always be wary of SF writers bearing ideas.

There’s a lot I want to say about this, but instead I’m enjoying seeing a lot of people who normally lurk showing up. Moar pleez!

But I can’t resist two modest suggestions:

I DO NOT create a SF world you don’t want to end up living in. No, “But it’s so cooool!” is not an adequate excuse. Just remember Buddhism’s first Noble Truth, the one every thoughtful person agrees with: Life Is Unsatisfactory. No matter how nice your world is, things about it is going to seriously suck for everybody sometime, because it’s still gonna be innately unsatisfactory. That’s an infinite source of story fodder. No need to give rich sociopaths more ideas. Better to imagine worlds without them maybe?

B. DO NOT write cautionary stories in any genre. Too many people take them as recipes and planning documents, not warnings. This includes nonfiction, where Barbarians At The Gate was written as a cautionary story and became the how-to book for a generation of corporate raiders.

That’s enough time on my little soap box. Who wants it next?

51:

SpeakerToManagers, your link is broken.

JHomes.

52:

After first jettisoning baggage & cargo and finding it's still not enough, the hero pilot comes through by recalculating the required engine burns on the fly

Back in the day when one of the major airlines code shared a lot of the Carribian Island flights on somewhat small planes, luggage would get left behind for a flight or day due to weight issues. One load of luggage kept being left behind due to weight and weather and finally after a few days the local manager told them to just fly a plane without passengers to get the bags to the people on some small island without much if any of their possessions.

Off it went. Then developed engine trouble. To make it back for sure they started tossing bags out the door.

You can only imagine the next few days/weeks....

53:

By the way, if anyone is going to re/read Stranger in a Strange Land, be sure to check out the full unedited version that his widow found maybe 30 years ago. The full version is almost twice as long as the published version and is an even better read IMHO.

54:

Too bad the pols who most often reference 'economics' haven't bothered keeping up with the findings.

My time in the "war against YEC" changed my mind about much of this. It is not that they don't keep up with new findings. They are aware of them. They just refuse to believe (or admit for the more cynical me) the validity of anything that doesn't fit the answer they have decides is true. Or at least the answer that they plan to use for power.

Pick an answer and work backwards ignoring data you don't like is so widespread that no one seems to be able to see it.

Like vampires, most of us can't see ourselves in the mirror.

Personally for a while now I try and notice when I'm looking in the mirror and not seeing myself. And TRY to figure out just who bit me when in relation to what subject.

55:

The problem with so many of these SF morphing into the real world guide books is they tend to leave out the folks who clean or fix the toilets and similar.

The pat answer is it will be automated. Yep. Sure. Takes care of it all. Anyone owned or know of a Rumba auto vac that has encountered a cat hairball or bit if pet poop. At some point someone has to get their hands very dirty.

I've had to cut out a clogged 4" iron pipe from my toilets to clear it. And part of it feel into the utility room floor. It was ugly.

No amount of automation keep things from working perfectly forever.

In the back of my mind I keep thinking of Elon's failed attempt to automate EVERYTHING about the assembly of Teslas. They had to give it up. Some things just needed a person with a bit of a brain to do correctly due to variations in the process that just could not be automated. And the rest required human supervision to deal with situations not in the pre thought out solutions.

56:

Delurking here: an excellent essay, Charlie. Good to see you have picked on the TESCREAL thing and cite Drs. Gebru and Torres and their work on the topic. If blog-commenters wish to dig deeper, a good recent article by Torres about Effective Altruism can be found at Truthdig:

Fraud, Lies, Exploitation and Eugenic Fantasies

57:

I'm very upset that the longtermists are often the first people hear of effective altruism because I think the fundamental idea that we should actually try to do the most good with our monetary donations is a very important one.

GiveWell does very important work evaluating actual charities that actually help people. There have been huge advances in animal welfare, and a lot of money channeled into malaria prevention, deworming, child nutrition, direct donation to the global poor (GiveDirectly is one of the crowning achievements of effective altruism and is explicitly anti paternalistic, giving cash for people to do what they choose with) and so on.

Effective altruism being coopted by a few toxic people is just like the thing where some vegans go around deliberately antagonising meat eaters - a few people ruining the reputation of a beneficial movement.

58:

There's some hilarious-if-it-wasnt-exactly-what-this-article-is-warning-against discussion on hubris relating to this article over on hackernews. I particularly enjoyed this quote "The story of Icarus is the story of inadequacies of wax as an adhesive."

Don't worry sci-fi authors! We'll get the torment nexus right this time, it was just technological limitations that made it go wrong last time!

59:

David L
VERY old trope ...
The Machine Stops - 1909 .... 114 years ago, yes.

Kastaka
Oh dear, yes.
IIRC some, um, "Vegan Puritan Nutters" ( My description ) have successfully forced vegan-only meals on some local councils in this country.
Thus antagonising every Omnivore & Vegetarian in the name of some fake "purity" ... And getting real Vegans a very bad name, through no fault of their own.

60:

As Greg says in #59; also published (UK) in "Before the Golden Age", edited by Isaac Asimov.

Also also referenced indirectly in the film {Brazil}(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_(1985_film) ).

61:

As others have said, great talk/essay. Really enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

Whenever I read about fringe politics I have Umberto Eco's checklist of "Ur-fascist" attitudes in mind. (Acutally "checklist" isn't a good word; its more complicated than that. But anyway).

Item one on his list is "syncretic traditionalism". Item two is a "rejection of modernism". But this is a kind of weird "modernist tradition". Eco spoke of modernism as the Spirit of 1789 and 1776 (French and American revolutions), the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, whereas the ur-fascist embraces irrationalism, romanticism and thoughtless action. But here we have something like Marxism-Leninism in the USSR; a structure of superficially modernist reasoning built on evidential sand and used as an ideological justification for autocracy.

But apart from this TESCREAL doesn't seem to tick off many of Eco's other points. It's not ranting against intruders or the powerful wealthy elite (rather, its followers are part of the wealthy powerful elite). Its not appealing to a frustrated and fearful middle class, or educating its followers to go out and die heroically. It is aristocratic, elitist and contemptuous of the weak, but its not the kind of popular elitism ("you proles are all members of a superior race") that Eco describes.

Eco warns that "it is enough that one of [his list] be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it". In other words, fascism is an attractor in idea space. As long as TESCREAL remains a subject of bad TED talks and BOFs at Davos it won't spread further. But if it starts to gain genuine mass appeal we will start to see it morph into something much more like traditional fascism. If Musk ever becomes God Emperor of Somewhere he will find himself constrained to talk and act like Mussolini for exactly the same reasons that Stalin did.

62:

David L @ 10:

a belief in psi powers implicitly supports an ideology of racial supremacy,

I either missed this over the years or just forgot it. Can someone point me to details on this path?

See also PsiCorp in Babylon 5, which explores this in some detail.

A telepath is assumed to be superior to a mundane, because obviously having a superpower is better than not having it. Also telepathy is a tool of control and coercion: if you can read someones mind then you can blackmail them into doing your bidding. So if telepaths existed they would a) feel superior to mundanes and b) have power over the mundanes. Add a genetic component to telepathy and the rest of the script pretty much writes itself.

63:

I will quibble with the characterization of psionics a bit, mostly because my favorite psionics and space opera author is James Schmitz. He published quite a lot in Astounding, lived in California, and primarily used female protagonists who were just as resourceful as the men, and wouldn’t know a feminine wile if it accidentally wandered into one of his stories.

As for psionics, it’s basically the science of magic. I think most authors used it as magic, so dragons could speak and breathe fire, for instance. Disproofs don’t particularly matter in fantasy, and one could argue that it became less popular for a bunch of reasons. One is the popularity of neopaganism in the 1990s, which gave everyone, including evangelical Xtians, a whole new set of exercises and tropes to play with. Don’t forget ley lines as a magical power grid. Another is the normalization of martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine (and the opening up of China) gave authors chi to play with instead of psionic generators.

Nowadays, with China trying to reinstall Maoism, magic in SFF is quantum woo and life energy is mana, not qi. Telepathy is probably less popular because social media has shown us that most people’s unfiltered thoughts tend to be a disjointed sewer, and living with access to other people’s thoughts would be more painful than productive.

And so it goes. Magic, and the explanations for how and why it works, have been changing for millennia. We’ve just picked up the pace a little.

64:

Too bad the pols who most often reference 'economics' haven't bothered keeping up with the findings. Weird - the tech billionaires mentioned in the talk and comments come across as absolutely convinced that the future is absolutely about tech advancements yet refuse to accept/are blind to the idea that other fields also advance.

I think most of the politicians and capitalists don't give a dingo's kidney about economics as such; they are looking for a fig leaf to cover themselves while they grab an ever-larger share of the pie.

As to the techlords, well, I remember being in engineering and how many engineers were absolutely convinced that everything could be solved with engineering principles. By engineers, naturally. And how being good at engineering thus made them good at everything. This was particularly obvious in engineers working in computer/communications tech.

It's like that xkcd cartoon where the physicist wonders why other fields need a whole journal…

But I think it's mostly that they view economics as providing a plausible excuse for looting. Which is why we still see zombie economics like supply-side. (See the excellent book Zombie Economics by John Quiggin for more details.)

https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691154541/zombie-economics

Which isn't to say that economics is free from groupthink and biases. I rather like Ha-Joon Chang's books on the lack of evidence that free trade benefits anyone but the already-powerful. I particularly recommend Bad Samaritans (which was banned as subversive by the Korean military!) and 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism.

https://hajoonchang.net/

And the same applies to "effective altruism": I'm gonna make lots of money now, so I can donate lots of money in the future. Really. I promise. Cross my heart. Have we heard that before? Cut taxes now, and we will collect more tax revenue later. Let capitalism run free, and the benefits will trickle down to everyone! But we know what trickled down, and it wasn't wealth. We're being pissed on again.

65:

The problem with so many of these SF morphing into the real world guide books is they tend to leave out the folks who clean or fix the toilets and similar.

Or famously in the case of Star Trek, leaving out the toilets themselves. IIRC the unofficial explanation was that you took a dump in the corner and disintegrated it with your phaser. :-)

66:

The story of Icarus is the story of inadequacies of wax as an adhesive.

In a nutshell, that sums up so much engineering R&D!

67:

RabidChaos @ 22: I think scientific theories are a pretty thorough debunking of the idea that all humans are stochastic parrots.

(I read this to mean that the creation of scientific theories which predict things is beyond "stochastic parrot" capability).

Its an interesting thesis. Daniel Kahneman's idea of the fast "System 1" and slow "System 2" thinking might be relevant. I strongly suspect that System 1 is a stochastic parrot, but System 2 is something else. There is also some evidence that we have inbuilt "folk physics" and "folk psychology": instinctive theories about how the universe works and how other people work which provide a starting point for learning.

The current generation of LLMs are based purely on words and pictures harvested from the Internet, and they are also amazingly inefficient. In the future we'll probably look back at the current crop of algorithms much as we look at a Newcomen steam engine. It was just efficient enough to let you dig out more coal than it took to run, and it proved that the thing could be done. But it was eclipsed by newer and more efficient engines in an ongoing process which led to the Industrial Revolution.

So I'll make two predictions about the future of LLMs (which I've made here before, in case this sounds familiar)

  • They will get much better on every dimension, including computation and the volume of information required for training.

  • They will get hooked up to physics and psychology. Physics in the form of manipuators and legs, and psychology in the form of human beings to talk to and interact with. And they will still also ingest the entire Internet as well, because why not?

  • Both physics and psychology are amenable to "stochastic parrot" training. You learn to walk by falling over. You learn to talk by hearing other people talk, and trying to talk back. You learn social manners by being trained. The "mirror neurons" in our brains are there to let us see someone do something and then imitate them, and we get better by trial and error. All of this is achievable by something with the same general architecture as an LLM plus some ad-hoc short-cuts like mirror neurons. And it seems to me pretty likely that such a mechanism is actually how "System 1" actually operates.

    So we will likely crack the System 1 part pretty fast (say, 10 years or so). At that point we will have robots which can do useful stuff like picking fruit, hanging up the laundry or preparing food. They will accept instructions in everyday language, and explain what they are doing and why. But they won't be conscious in the way that we are. At least I don't think they will be. But whenever we teach them to do something, they will rapidly become much better at it than we are, and what one of them can do, all of them can do.

    (Obligatory noir thought: your household robot's brain will have a direct line to Google, so everything that your robot knows about you, Google will know, and will sell to advertisers.)

    But where does System 2, the slow contemplative thoughtful system for makin decisions, come from? That's a harder question. It might be another LLM-like mechanism layered on top of System 1. It might be some feedback mechanism allowing an LLM to try and reject ideas. It might even be something akin to the sort of inference engines beloved of the AI researchers in the 1980s, but somehow informed by output from the LLM level. Once we have that cracked, we'll be able to build robots (physical instantiation is an essential component in this) which can create new ideas, discuss them, and build on them, in the same kind of way that we can. And that looks to me like human-level intelligence in a can.

    Of course that assumes that System 1 and System 2 are a complete theory of human cognition. That's a big assumption.

    68:

    basic evolution shows that a 'superior' race will necessarily emerge at some stage.

    Um… you're gonna have to show your working for that jump mate.

    69:

    If you want my prediction for AI as we currently understand it, here goes:

    The choke point for the next ca. 5 years is Taiwan. American AI runs largely on chips manufactured in Taiwan. China is similarly stuck. Both China and the US are racing to try to build chip manufacturing facilities to get around Taiwan. But in the short term, China can basically end the threat posed by AI by invading Taiwan, at which point Taiwan will blow up its factories and the world AI industry will rapidly grind to a halt as computers break down and can’t be repaired or replaced. Taiwan’s current defense is in part sacrificing those factories to make an invasion profitless, but that only works if their chips cause more good than harm…to China.

    In the longer term, AI is power hungry. An AI-assisted search engine uses about an order of magnitude more energy per search than do search engine queries now. Current plans are for all the big players to enable AI search in the next few years, which means that searches will use ca. 10% of the world’s electricity supply, while only being somewhat more useful than bitcoin mining, which currently uses a few percent of the world’s electricity.

    As we switch to solar and wind, we’re going to have less electricity to work with. This drop will be compounded by natural disasters, unrest disrupting supply chains, and climate migration turning infrastructure planning into more of a nightmare than it already is.

    What use is AI in such circumstances? It’s if some use, of course, but AI enabled searches, chat bots, and most of the other cruft probably will have to be abandoned as unsupportable. AI resources will likely be concentrated in things like climatology where having a lot of computing power is actually beneficial.

    Since I’m a cranky SFF type, only a fool would plan the future based on what I just wrote. But that’s the way I see it. If nothing else, realize that trends are not immutable, and history goes backwards or sideways as easily as it marches forward.

    70:

    All right, I accept that the human species might simply die out first.

    Evolution shows that ALL species eventually die out or turn into one or more other species, and the first step in that is for new races (a technical term) to develop (*), which are necessarily 'superior' because they replace the original. Yes, there ARE loons who claim that human evolution has stopped, and others who claim that current humans are perfection (as a species), but they fall into the level of insanity and bigotry described above.

    (*) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_fossil

    71:

    which are necessarily 'superior' because they replace the original

    Sorry, but that's an absolute BS. A new species replaces the original because it is better at surviving. That is all. Sometimes it happens because the new species is faster or smarter. And sometimes -- actually much more often, -- because it uses less energy. Which invariably means LESS brainpower.

    Every parasite had a free-living ancestor somewhere in its evolutionary tree -- and more than half of all multicellular animals are parasites. Koala bears are herbivores stupid even by marsupial standards, and almost certainly evolved from a much smarter omnivorous ancestor. Domestic cows are the most prevalent mammal on Earth by biomass, while their auroch ancestors are extinct -- and they got there by becoming symbiotic with humans, and largely incapable of surviving outside said symbiosis. Same with domestic turkeys and chickens.

    72:

    A telepath is assumed to be superior to a mundane, because obviously having a superpower is better than not having it.

    Can't remember the name, but I once read a SF novella where being a telepath was very much a curse. The telepath was a boy of about 10, and he had no idea that he was a telepath -- or that he was in any way different. All he knew was that everyone, both other children and adults, hated him for being a "snoop" and "tattletale". He would tell everyone things about other people, which a) he was not supposed to know, b) he had no idea he was not supposed to know. He just knew things, which to him was entirely natural, and he had no understanding that other people did not know them.

    When the main character finally figures out that the boy reads minds, she is stumped -- "A telepath did not fit into Earth's scheme of things". He eventually finds his niche as an ambassador to aliens, but without this deus ex machina he would have remained a hated outcast, rather than a superior anything.

    73:

    Tl;dr Sci-fi author flips out when billionaires try to actually implement sci-fi tropes and concepts. Unclear whether he is more concerned that they will fail or succeed.

    74:

    Add to the "have you read" list David Forbes' history of the right wing in SF, The Old Iron Dream. She covers a lot of the early stuff in detail and follows the threads to relatively recent works. (David is a trans woman who kept her birth name.)

    Another huge influence on the TESCREAL gang is Robert Anton Wilson: his combination of techno-utopianism (the SMI2LE economy - Space Exploration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension - he developed with Timothy Leary) and occultism was widely read in Silly Valley circles. He's also one of the few of their fave writers who actually met Ayn Rand.

    (I remain a fan, but I'm a woo-woo nut... who nonetheless sees the holes in his thinking: but I can't help but note the absence of the space colonies that he and Tim said we'd have by the late Eighties.)

    75:

    Couple of rebuttals

    I don’t think people like Musk exist ‘Because Sci-fi’ or that sci fi has anything to apologize for. Sci-fi has always been pretty eclectic in its political and social philosophies, for every Starship Troopers there is a Forever War, for every Slan there is a Star Trek Next Generation

    It’s always been a vast soup of philosophy and ideas. I’d actual give it credit for talking the teenage me OUT of ideas like libertarianism not into them.

    And I am the same age as Andreesen and Musk. Can’t blame sci-fi for those guys any more then you can blame philosophy for Hitler because of Nietzsche.

    It’s more that oligarch billionaires cherry picked some ideas that appealed to oligarch billionaires

    Secondly it’s a huge resounding terrible misconception to lump AI/ML in with Blockchain and the Metaverse. Those two ideas were obviously deeply flawed from day one. ML is already being used all over the place to do incredible and useful things. You can’t assume everything that comes out of Silicon Valley is the Real Deal but you also can’t assume it’s all bullshit cons either. Silcon Valley has it’s blockchains moments but there are also smartphones moments

    ML can essentially be thought of as a new programming paradigm that enhances and replaces traditional iterative programming, and is much more effective at dealing with massive scale and complexity. As such, it allows programmers to use computers to solve problems in ways that were not possible before. It’s a real sea change.

    76:

    Speaking of longtermism et al., a timely discussion between the wonderful Stephen Fry and John Cleese:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ9W_Pq3v0Q

    Skip ahead to ca. 2.5 minutes for starting the discussion of ethics and ca. 4 minutes for objectivism and longtermism.

    77:

    Being of the same age range as some of these tech bros, I was exposed to similar science fiction literature in my teenage years. One that had a deep impression on me was the Foundation series. Looking back, I can see that the original planned ending, where the benevolent Mentalics of the second foundation ruled the Galaxy, was rather fascist and supremacist (Campbell's influence?). Maybe because of this, when Asimov returned to the series in the 80s and wrote the sequels, he introduced Gaia (sort of a communist society) and changed the course of the story to deviate it from the ending he was not happy with anymore.

    78:

    Grant @ 38:

    Apologies.

    None necessary.

    79:

    "benevolent Mentalics of the second foundation ruled the Galaxy, was rather fascist "

    I always read the Second Foundation as a direct metaphor for the Catholic Church. And the first three books as a scifi retelling of the fall of Rome.

    80:

    Nancy Lebovitz @ 42:

    I'm weirded out by an artificial intelligence called Grok from Elon Musk. Grokking is the thing the sort of AIs we've got can't do.

    Neither, apparently, can Elon.

    81:

    suspect that System 1 is a stochastic parrot

    Perhaps some autism symptoms are a broken or misprogrammed stochastic parrot? Hence the autistic folk who slowly puzzle their way through everyday interactions that neurotypical types do without thinking.

    82:

    Robert Prior @ 46:

    The Day After Tomorrow had that as the basis for a universal basic income

    Is that the book where he goes into detail on an economic system that is basically Social Credit?

    I think y'all have got the wrong book ... Beyond This Horizon is the one with all the "Social Credit" stuff (along with Eugenics and the bullshit about "an armed society is a polite society").

    The Day After Tomorrow is the alternative title for Sixth Column, the "Yellow Peril" story.

    I think a lot of people forget that Heinlein wrote "Science Fiction" and like OGH, was constrained by having to write what his editors would buy1.

    Heinlein would later say the story was pushed on him by John W. Campbell and that he had "re-slanted the story to remove racist aspects of the original story line" (so consider just how bad the ORIGINAL must have been).

    The story is also notable for the debate it sparked among scientists about whether it was possible to tailor bio-weapons to target specific ethnicities.

    1 Originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction during January, February & March 1941, "at a time that the Second Sino-Japanese War was in its fourth year and large parts of China had been occupied in brutal fashion by the Japanese" (and the racism runs both ways in the story - the Asians hate white people as much as white people hate the Asians).

    83:

    Kastaka @ 57:

    I'm very upset that the longtermists are often the first people hear of effective altruism because I think the fundamental idea that we should actually try to do the most good with our monetary donations is a very important one.

    Just gonna' have to find a new name for it because the swindlers have stolen the label.

    84:

    Really? It is superior because it is better adapted to the conditions in force at the time. Where DID you get the assumption from that superior means 'more brainpower'? 1930s SF? :-)

    85:

    fwiw, Charlie, it's hard to blame SFF authors (or any other authors) for having their words misinterpreted. There's always some sociopath who can find a way to deliberately misinterpret what you've written.

    For example, it's not like most of Christ's words as reported in the Bible are difficult to understand -- yet look at the situation for conservative Christianity in the U.S.

    86:

    Where DID you get the assumption from that superior means 'more brainpower'?

    From your post #28:

    PSI is no different from any other purported human ability, and basic evolution shows that a 'superior' race will necessarily emerge at some stage. The only way to stop it would by fascist restrictions on the breeding of the exceptional people

    Perhaps you should explain what you meant by "exceptional people" if you do not want anyone to jump to conclusions.

    87:

    In my experience, the sort of people who jump to conclusions do so even more readily if you explain things to them in detail.

    I put superior in quotes, I said "any other purported human ability" without restricting it, and there are plenty of SF stories where such abilities are physical (including the ability to thrive on less food, in at least two cases) rather than mental. From the context, 'exceptional people' are clearly those that have the ability to an exceptional degree.

    88:

    Moz @ 81:

    suspect that System 1 is a stochastic parrot

    Perhaps some autism symptoms are a broken or misprogrammed stochastic parrot? Hence the autistic folk who slowly puzzle their way through everyday interactions that neurotypical types do without thinking.

    FWIW, that "do without thinking" plays way too large a role in social interactions. We'd all be better off if some people would stop and think (even if just a little) before doing.

    89:

    It's like that xkcd cartoon where the physicist wonders why other fields need a whole journal

    I've noticed people with the narrowest IT specialties are often the ones who make somewhat dismissive assumptions about the depth of other areas of expertise. I think this is just a special case of the widespread failure to imagine complexity. It's not enough to have one field of expertise to understand that complexity is common. People seem to need to learn at least enough depth to know what they don't know in two or three fields before the pattern (turtles all the down and all that) becomes readily apparent. Maybe it takes doing this for several fields before it becomes unmissable for some. This isn't isolated to STEM either. My lawyer cousin once indicated he struggled to understand what computer science even is, why it's a separate field.

    Ha-Joon Chang

    Thanks for the reference! I'd seen the name around, but now find myself adding Bad Samaritans and 23 things to my reading list.

    90:

    There are endless examples, even on this very blog, of people thinking that their 'idea' of a field is a sufficient summary of that field to dismiss it as unimportant. This is an extremely common predisposition among STEM types towards anyone with a Humanities education, for example.

    I have had more than a couple of humorous conversations with people who say something like 'Well, at least my son won't do something stupid like get a Political Science degree', followed by me laughing and pointing at my graduate degree in that field. The bottom line is that most people have no clue what a Political Science education is about, any more than I can accurately describe the use and practice of advanced calculus.

    I'd argue that the main point of a lot of Humanities educations is to give you an understanding of just how complex everything is, and some clues as to how to learn more about any given topic. Unfortunately, one of the results is that everyone who gets such an education acquires some awareness of how much they don't know, and so are often shouted down by people who entirely lack that awareness.

    91:

    I'm not convinced that the creation of new ideas is a counter-argument to human being at least in a large pat stochastic parrots.

    I mean the number of neurons in a human brain is many orders of magnitude above the current state of the art LLMs.

    When I look at the failings and successes of these systems, it always makes me think about Minsky's society of Mind, even if Minsky didn't explicitly think of it as an architectural model for a general purpose AI.

    LLMs do though hallucinate things, which is the starting point for new ideas - given a larger system or society of stochastic models and random noise to fact check and evolve such an hallucination into a new theory.

    People make mistakes as well getting things right, my worry withthe current AI rush is are we building these complex systems which are no more reliable than people, but have less accountability (and other social downsides)?

    92:

    I'm not convinced that the creation of new ideas is a counter-argument to human being at least in a large pat stochastic parrots.

    It may be a case of survivor's bias -- we remember new ideas which turned out to be correct, and not the much larger number of new ideas which turned out to be false.

    And I am not only talking about cranks: serious scientists all the time come up with new ideas which never see the light of day because preliminary testing shows them to be false -- at which point why bother telling anyone about them?

    93:

    REMINDER: "evolution" is never about eagerly advancing towards a shining destination upon a high hill, it is reluctantly moving away from a miserable mess down in the muck 'n mire

    ======

    All this chatter about lofty ambitions and galaxy-spanning plans for a purified humanity is just so, uhm, yick. (Yuck? Yucky? Icky?)

    All of it, ought be documented. Then someday when it was safe, written up as an assemblage of 'worst practices' -- as deliberate refutation of promises made by all those instant experts proclaiming 'best practices' -- and published anonymously.

    Call it, "Fraud, Blindspots, Delusions, Filtering, Lies, Exploitation and Other Flawed Fantasies Of The Ruling Elite". Volumes one through seven.

    Likely with more to be identified which also ought be documented, assembled, published, also done anonymously.

    94:

    Heteromeles @69:

    In the longer term, AI is power hungry. An AI-assisted search engine uses about an order of magnitude more energy per search than do search engine queries now...

    As we switch to solar and wind, we’re going to have less electricity to work with. This drop will be compounded by natural disasters, unrest disrupting supply chains, and climate migration turning infrastructure planning into more of a nightmare than it already is.

    Very glad you brought this up, Heteromeles.

    A lot of the discussions about AI seem to proceed from the assumption that humanity will find, somehow, somewhere, increasing amounts of energy that we can access in orderly fashion.

    I'm not trying to open that discussion here--that would provoke an unfortunate diversion of the conversation, I think--but to suggest a different perspective on AI:

    Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we will not gain access to lots of energy soon enough to preserve our high-tech civilization, AI will be a brief, complicated, interesting flash of brilliant capability.

    If we manage to create aware AI beings, they will not last long. We will watch our information-based children die. Or possibly, we will predecease them, and they will be left alone to await the final shutdown.

    This feels tragic in the formal sense of the term.

    There will, of course, (under the above assumption) be appalling amounts of human tragedy; but I can't let go of the concept that AI will become, not a civilization-destroying monster, but a briefly flickering candle.

    95:

    And yes, there is a story in there. My working title is For Bones on the Moon, You'll Need a Special Telescope. As I emerge from my longstanding brain fog (which I'm finally doing, apparently), I'll be working on it. I'll let you good folk know if I get it done. :-)

    96:

    You’ve surely noticed how very dismissive people with ‘classics’ education (canonically UK senior civil service & politicians) are of any science? Not to mention that in my younger years it was assumed that engineers (no software engineers to speak of back then!) were all oily handed spanner wielders not fit to be let in through the front door. Which rankled a bit for those of us with multiple postgrad degrees.

    I guess these days it seems somewhat the other way around because so much relies on technology. I remember sales & marketing types getting really annoyed when the big salaries started to go to software people during the first dot com boom.

    97:

    You’ve surely noticed how very dismissive people with ‘classics’ education (canonically UK senior civil service & politicians) are of any science?

    When I was at uni in the early 80s engineers were dismissive of practically everyone else. Many were almost as dismissive of science students as they were of 'artsies', with their airy-fairy impractical research while engineers built things that worked.

    I studied classics while I was working as an engineer, and none of my profs were dismissive of science. (Indeed, they quite liked it, because of all the cool tools science had given archaeology — like carbon dating.)

    I suspect that you are describing a very UK-specific problem. I'm reminded of Northcote C. Parkinson's essay on the selection problem, and how the role of both universities was to train young men for the civil service, while the role of the civil service was to provide employment for graduates from both universities…

    98:

    ======

    “Perception is more important than reality. If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is in fact true.”

    --“The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, Ivanka Trump

    ======

    There's more to it than merely seeing power, avoiding accountability. So many other paths to prevent lawsuits from being won, from prosecuting DAs from succeeding in spanking felony prone amongst the ruling elite.

    So why is there the 'Torment Nexus'?

    Pictures of his nose leaking bits of white powder, notwithstanding, lots of clues that Donald Trump is old. Still there are these moments when Trump's vibe is not just sullen five-year-old denied unlimited candy. Those moments when he seems to see himself as the next immortal god-emperor. Not just President-For-Life, but President-For-Life-Everlasting.

    Makes me wonder just how many of those illegal immigrants passing through 'mass scale temporary housing' will be swabbed for DNA, and just how obvious it will be there are some whose paperwork is misplaced, they themselves moved and moved again until nobody can back-trace 'em.

    Spare parts.

    Is that what this absurd focus upon the Mexican-American border is really all about...?

    Spare parts!?

    ======

    99:

    The uni I went to had a "new" site and an "old " site (now the central city "arts centre" precinct), and since the engineering school was the first part of the new site built the rest was occasionally refrred to as the "engineering annex". Helped by being on the other side of the creek (or to Australians "mighty river"). It was pretty easy to get a four year engineering degree without meaningfully engaging with the rest of the place, or even visiting it beyond the first day of signing up and getting student cards etc.

    OTOH staff at least in my department were engaged with the rest of the university and encouraged students to take courses outside engineering. First couple of years you were allowed/encouraged to do a paper outside, and the restrictions were more against duplicating engineering coursework (notoriously electrical engineers were not allowed to do final year "Physics of Semiconductors" because we did a half-semester course on the topic. IIRC said physics paper had been exploited as an easy A for a few years. This did not help for those inclined to scoff)

    My experience of doing various outside papers was that the mindset change was often difficult. Simple example is that engineering essays were often marked up to the word limit, but social science ones regarded anything under twice the word limit as too short to get an A. Unless you thought to ask you'd only find out the hard way. One philosophy essay got handed back with the remark "that was incredibly concise" (earned ~A). My engineering head of department also mentioned to me at one point that my doing Intro to Feminist Studies "had been discussed" in the staff room and he'd encouraged anyone who thought it would be easy to have a go (at the time staff could do a couple of papers a year free, which made that a more reasonable offer than it might look). Apparently no takers though :)

    That said, the real difference was workload. Engineering was a full time job, in the sense that if you did an hour of prep/assignment per contact hour you'd have 50 hour weeks as your minimum, obviously more around exams. And that was generally necessary, lots of lecturers liked to start with the equivalent of "moving on from your reading...". They did not let people work full time + study full time. Meanwhile I'd be turning up to final year arts/social papers having done the required reading and find that I was the only one who had, occasionally including the damn lecturer or tutor. Once I got the hang of the assessments social science papers really were easy, at least in terms of workload.

    100:

    -"Those moments when he seems to see himself as the next immortal god-emperor."

    Yes, I would say "Project 2025" is a tell that he and his party "seem[s] to" see him that way.

    101:

    I literally wrote a book on that topic just over eight years ago, called Hot Earth Dreams. In there I basically blew off self aware computers on precisely those grounds.

    What little I’ve read on the current situation is rather more interesting and troubling,

    One issue is that the AI makers are aware of the energy issue I brought up, but they’re not designing it into their systems. What they’re trying to build are systems that dominate markets, so they can become (or stay) the god kings of tech. Those systems are, reportedly energy hogs. So even if they win, they’re unsustainable. I shed no tears for the creeps making these decisions, but I do worry about everyone else being forced to join them in their waste. That’s where we are now, more or less.

    Another issue is the nature of AI. I’d posited an old school super brain n a box, whose tragedy was that they’d know how to fix climate change, but they wouldn’t have the resources to even save themselves. Instead we’ve basically got horribly complicated maximum likelihood calculators that literally can’t learn from each other so far.

    So you give a modern AI the problem of, say, dealing with billions of people on the move due to climate change while protecting national sovereignty and property rights, AND the answer must also protect the company’s finances and the manager’s job status.

    Am I the only one who thinks that the maximum likelihood model might well choose triggering a nuclear war as the best way to meet all those goals? Its not necessarily smart in ways that allow it to avoid batshit options like trying to zero out functions and end simulation runs to meet give problem parameters.

    102:

    REMINDER:

    20: Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly.

    From "The Infamous List of Things I'll do if I ever become an Evil Overlord"

    https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvilOverlordList

    some of the stuff on this thread, starting with CS's speech ought be cross-checked against the 'list' to see if there's anything new for an Evil Overlord to incorporate into his -- her? they? their? which pronouns are currently street legal? -- criminal scheming

    103:

    timrowledge
    Oh dear, yes ....
    My own encounter with potential MBA's { Whilst doing my own MSc, incidentally } was "most enlightening" - & earned my unyielding & permanent contempt for those arrogant arseholes.
    I've also seen a considerable number of farts-graduates attempts to write pseudoscience & total bollocks, written simply because they don't even want to try to understand what's going on - yes the "complexity".
    The one I really remember was when I was doing some compulsory "liberal arts" sub-course, because all the STEM people are not "broadly" educated, right?
    There was a pathetic article, basically claiming that the hard sciences were innately in favour of totalitarian propaganda, by their control of information & how the very word "broadcasting" { NOTE # } indicated this { WE are giving you curated information, plebs } - this was about 1975-80, before the Internet or mobile phones, remember ... Which I promptly shot down in flames to crash & burn.
    I reminded { Told them for the first time? } that, until very recently, bandwidth was very limited & a very few radio channels was all you could get, that FM radio was, at that point, only about 15-20 years old .. etc. The limitations were imposed, not artificially, but by the science & technology available at that tine & "stop talking ignorant bollocks".
    I'm glad to say, that about 95% of the class got it, but the supposed teacher & the remaking 5% really didn't like a few hard facts up them.

    It doesn't seem to have changed over the years ....
    It is STILL assumed that even a retired Physicist/Engineer like me will know nothing of Literature or the performing or representational Arts, at all - yet more bollocks.

    Moz
    ...but social science ones regarded anything under twice the word limit as too short - YES.
    The Farts required vast amounts of padding & bullshit, rather than, um, actually addressing the subject?

    { NOTE # : I pointed out that, in German, the word for Radio was, originally - "Rundfunk" - in other words this "Arts-graduate" had made a fundamentally wrong cultural assumption! }

    104:

    Heteromoles @ 101: One issue is that the AI makers are aware of the energy issue I brought up, but they’re not designing it into their systems.

    I guarantee that isn't going to last. The usual suspects may be throwing money (i.e. energy and computers) at the problem in the hope of gaining a short term edge, but meanwhile lots of much smarter people are looking very hard at optimising the process.

    There is a lot of work going on with "neuromorphic" computing in which neuron-like devices are built directly in silicon rather than simulated in arithmetic. There is also work to reduce the numerical precision required, because AI applications require much less precision than traditional high performance computing applications. So hardware specialised for low-precision arithmetic would likely have much better energy performance than the current generation of hardware, which is mostly based on video cards.

    This also has implications for actuators. Traditional robotics has relied on high-precision sensors and actuators controlled by high-precision numerical models. Meanwhile biology has gone for low-precision sensors and actuators with feedback mediated through low-precision neuron networks that actively adapt to the quirks of the hardware to achieve high precision results. If we can do the same then robotics will become a lot cheaper because its those high-precision electromechanical components that make it so damned expensive.

    At the same time there is a great deal of activity on the algorithms. I can't speak to this; you first need to be an expert in linear algebra and then spend a lot of time thinking hard about how to organise the vast amount of computation needed into video-card sized chunks. But we've already seen significant advances here, and I'd be very surprised if this trend stops soon.

    105:

    Back on the original topic, the article Ends Don't Justify Means Among Humans on Less Wrong takes aim at the "rational long-termism" idea. TL;DR We are running on hardware that has been corrupted by evolution to ensure we survive and reproduce. Hence our judgements on Trolley Problems and the like are untrustworthy, and we are more likely to make correct decisions by sticking to traditional heuristics than coming up with hyper-rational justifications for the thing we wanted to do anyway.

    "We are running on corrupted hardware" is an interesting way of putting it. I'm going to remember that one.

    106:

    "In the longer term, AI is power hungry."

    What is currently called AI is, yes, because it uses crude global searching and pattern matching as a substitute for understanding. But examples from the natural world (including humans) indicate that what it does can be done much more efficiently, if we knew how. And, as previously discussed ad tedium, it only dubiously approximates its targets.

    Genuine understanding and innovation are handicapped in our neoliberal, corporately dominated world, but there is no reason to believe that progress has stopped. I remember when people thought computers necessarily consumed huge amounts of power, because those of that era did.

    107:

    Elaine @ 37: Also demonstrated that the "tragedy of the commons" was a libertarian fable (completely ahistorical and made up in the sixties as it turns out).

    I've seen this said a number of times, and I'm going to take this opportunity to check my thinking on it. Of course the bit I quote was only a parenthetical aside in your post, so please feel free to respond or ignore as you see fit.

    Hardin's original article of course told a parable rather than a fable: he wasn't thinking of an actual commons that was destroyed by having too many cows on it, rather he was trying to illustrate the underlying mechanism. His tragedy was based on treating the individuals in the story as libertarians intent on maximising their own benefits: ... we are locked into a system of fouling our own nest, so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free-enterprisers. His solution was actually not libertarian but authoritarian: either property rights or grazing rights to be enforced by a strong government. His essay identified many other sorts of commons, including pollution, where simple privatization won't work and so he advocated authoritarian solutions instead.

    Against this is set the observation that in reality there are a lot of social groups at all levels of technology that have managed to maintain stable commons, sometimes over centuries, by mutual agreement of one sort or another. This information was available to Hardin, but he either wasn't aware or chose to ignore it. His solution was either total privatisation, or the smack of strong government handing out grazing licenses.

    My own view is somewhere in between. On the one hand, there are certainly commons that work, contrary to Hardin's bland assertion. But on the other there are commons that don't, or didn't. And again, these are at all levels of technology. On Easter Island the human population literally cut down all the trees. On New Zealand the arrival of humans was followed very shortly by the extinction of the Moa (a giant flightless bird). Meanwhile the North Sea cod fishing industry is a shadow of its former self due to overfishing. There is a lot to be learned by studying cases where commons are effectively managed by a community, but there is a great danger of survivorship bias. If a commons is well managed then it survives to be an example for us to study. If it collapses then the resource is gone, the society around it disperses or dies, and we don't see it. Only in cases where this led to a major catastrophe, such as on Easter Island, do we see the failure. We need to study the failures as well. What stopped us from creating a sustainable North Sea cod fishing industry? Why are we still failing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions? These are just as much tragedies of the commons as anything Hardin wrote about, and his logic of one more cow/boat/car applies.

    Also, Hardin's main point in the article was that human population cannot expand indefinitely, and so we need to do something about that. As it happens he was unduly pessimistic; it turns out that a combination of generally available birth control, female education and emancipation, and rising prosperity cause birth rates to drop well below replacement levels without authoritarian measures such as enforced contraception or China's one child policy (which is now a problem they are struggling to reverse). But this was sheer luck due to a quirk in human behaviour rather than being down to any notion of communal management, whether by strong government or local social pressure.

    108:

    it turns out that a combination of generally available birth control, female education and emancipation, and rising prosperity cause birth rates to drop well below replacement levels without authoritarian measures such as enforced contraception or China's one child policy

    isn't rising prosperity likely to lead to rising resource consumption tho, somewhat counteracting the benefits?

    109:

    Me @ 107: When I had to cut and paste my post because something went wrong in preview, I added the references back but forgot to emphasise the quotes. Sorry about that.

    110:

    adrian smith @ 108: isn't rising prosperity likely to lead to rising resource consumption tho, somewhat counteracting the benefits?

    Yes. But that is more manageable than rising population. If the population levels off then we can limit resource consumption without killing people.

    111:

    So I exist in a symbiotic relationship with my readers. [..] I've got a financial incentive to write books that readers find enjoyable, and that usually means conforming to their pre-existing biases

    This kind of reverts the argument you made before with the long chain in commercial publishing (author has to convice editor, editor has to convince marketing), especially for new, so far unpublished authors. With all the filters between author and reader the output is streamlined and uses recipes working before commercially. But this is not necessarily caused only by the bias of the readers - no one will ever know if they wouldn't buy books with a complete different point of view.

    112:

    I live in Los Angeles, and the blue chip gallery Deitch Projects used its exhibition schedule to display work by Refik Anadol in January - the resulting show had all the aesthetic character of a pop-up Apple Store. Screens mounted to the walls displayed hectic miasmas of animated AI-generated shrapnel, the source imagery scraped from "art history" and other vaguely defined, establishment-endorsed "subject matter". The work looks like a cross between a screensaver and a lava lamp; Anadol has made a career of projecting it onto whatever surface art world money has made available to him. And it turns out it's tied in with an NFT scheme, so there you go.

    When promoting his work, Anadol utilizes the same future-fetishizing talking points as our contemporary techno-billionaire business class, claiming Gibson and PKD as inspirations while giving a wide berth to the authors' critical position, as if the futures described in their books were presented as a good thing. Inspiration only occurs on the most surface level, and the philosophical ideas contained in these texts are scoured away so they can be rendered down like everything else caught beneath the engineer-hero's crosshairs: grist for the mill, points of data, fuel for a machine - Their machine.

    Ben Davis wrote a review of this show for Artnet News in which he brings up the "wilful misreading of dystopia" - the phenomena you describe here.

    It's an evergreen concern. Gordon Gecko became the role model for 80s wall street traders. I still remember 'Fight Club' hitting testosterone-afflicted high school classmates in their adolescent soft spots, dead center - Tyler Durden seen as a guy worth emulating. Many punches thrown that year.

    Speaking of Fincher, I saw 'The Killer' last night (thematic spoiler ahead), and was surprised to find it a quietly hilarious takedown of the self-mechanized, optimization obsessed, grindstated sigma male. It points the lens at a social participant who often gets a pass in these conversations: that of the handsomely rewarded, philosophically hollow technical specialist, the person who justifies their own evil as a necessary part of some psychohistoricized future. Call them Fait accompli[ces].

    113:

    So far as Rapa Nui goes, there are some big fights in the archaeological community about what actually happened. For example, there are lots of old palm seed husks gnawed open by rats. And for a bigger one, it’s unclear how useful the palms were to settlers, and they may have been cleared for farming.

    Less well known is that the archaeologists of Polynesia have found evidence for extinct bird species and extirpated seabird populations on pretty much every island they’ve worked on, usually as bones in the middens of the oldest settlements. New Zealand was fairly normal for their treatment of the island fauna, not an outlier.

    In Hawai’i as on Rapa Nui, the original lowland forest was primarily native loulu palms with an understory of plants that are now exceedingly rare or extinct. Loulu palms are still around but rare, but they were mostly replaced by coconuts, breadfruit, and other plants the settlers brought with them. You can also google Moa nalo if you want to find out what the first Hawaiians wiped out.

    The grim point, from a modern conservation angle, is that wild islands can’t really support human life. Settling them requires radical transformation, which the Polynesians did, just as the Japanese and British did. Once they settled, the Polynesians mostly did an okay job at land management, on the do it right or starve rubric. They were and are considerably better at land management than are the capitalists who succeeded them, because they had no need to extract a surplus and send it off island.

    Rapa Nui was not a failure, it fairly typical, if small. It’s quite possible, although not proven, that their biggest population declines came after European contact, due to disease. Much of their cultural destruction came when 19th century slavers raided the island. Excuse me, blackbirders, because slaving was illegal by then. The story of them killing themselves by whacking their trees doesn’t hold up.

    IIRC, seven or eight islands were settled by Polynesians and later completely abandoned. The most famous of these is Pitcairn. Those are the failures.

    If you want to talk about failed island settlements, look at capitalists. Do it right or starve is never a management goal, but extracting a surplus is. Hence all those abandoned whaling stations and mined out guano islands. We can always move somewhere else or get protected by a government safety net (/bit of snark in there). In this regard we capitalists are worse than the Māori, Rapa Nuians, and other Polynesians. Their system more or less worked for at least 1,000 years. Ours probably won’t last that long.

    114:

    His tragedy was based on treating the individuals in the story as libertarians intent on maximizing their own benefits

    So, corporations?

    I'm not being flip, but since the 80s "maximizing shareholder value" has become the only purpose of corporations, with activist shareholders enforcing it on management. Earlier you had widespread corporate opposition to things like the Clean Air Act, or before that the FDA and food safety regulations.

    Corporate psychopathy seems to be a failure mode of capitalism (treating corporations as Charlie's slow AIs to psychoanalyze them).

    And I'm possibly being flip, but the libertarians I've met seem to be either borderline psychopaths or dangerously ignorant of what psychopaths are like (and thus totally unprepared to deal with them). Someone here recommended the book A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear, which is at root about what happens when people intent on maximizing their own benefits (and ignoring community) get their way.

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/21534416/free-state-project-new-hampshire-libertarians-matthew-hongoltz-hetling

    115:

    That said, the real difference was workload. Engineering was a full time job, in the sense that if you did an hour of prep/assignment per contact hour you'd have 50 hour weeks as your minimum, obviously more around exams.

    Totally. At the mid level school where I went (not MIT or Sanford but not a degree mill either) We figured 3 hours outside of class for every hour in class to get a high B or an A. And you had to take 18+ hours of class time every semester for 4 years to get out in 4. I think you could have 4 electives from "other". And I couldn't figure out what those other majors were doing to get so much party time.

    116:

    When I was at uni in the early 80s engineers were dismissive of practically everyone else. Many were almost as dismissive of science students as they were of 'artsies', with their airy-fairy impractical research while engineers built things that worked.

    Raises hand. Some of us got a bit wiser as we aged. But many of us wound up in jobs that, at least initially, re-enforced that mindset.

    It didn't help that so many of my pre-college classmates thought a sociology degree would let them fix all the problems of the world. It was the 70s.

    117:

    Thanks! Hot Earth Dreams purchased.

    118:

    Writers like Harry Harrison and Fred Pohl were reinforced in their pacifist and anti-authoritarian tendencies by being conscripted as enlisted men for WW II (Jerry Pournelle had a brief army career during the Korean War, so that was not a panacea, but IIRC as an officer and starting as a very poor high-school graduate). Some of the right libertarians have anti-authoritarian instincts and don't see (or don't let themselves see) that right libertarians are fine in practice with the tyranny of parents over children, bosses over employees, or rich over poor; its very hard to find anyone in the American Libertarian cannon who stood up for Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s, and easy to find members of the canon who objected to enforcing civil rights because it would be an infringement on liberty.

    119:

    R Gammans @ 91: I'm not convinced that the creation of new ideas is a counter-argument to human being at least in a large pat stochastic parrots.

    That's why I specified theories, not ideas. The difference between relativity and quantum mechanics in the one hand, and "string theory" on the other. Despite its name, string theory isn't a theory as far as physics is concerned: it doesn't make predictions. Making sentences formulated as predictions is within the capacity of LLMs and stochastic parrots; making precise predictions with a coherent justification that matches physical reality is not.

    The idea I was trying to push back against is that humans are stochastic parrots. That AI will replace humans because we are nothing more than statistical models spouting a random, somewhat erroneous mishmash of our experiences. That plagiarizing people is fine because everything is already plagiarism. It is the mindset of those who see the world as populated by NPCs.

    I don't think Ovid holds the above belief, but it is seriously advanced by AI proponents. To me, the original post read as idly entertaining the concept. I think even that is more dignity than the idea deserves.

    120:

    Pixodaros
    .....who objected to enforcing civil rights because it would be an infringement on liberty. - which leads us to the classical paradox of "Liberty" vs "Freedom", or alternatively: "My freedom vs your liberty itself versus _"Your freedom vs my liberty".
    Whose Liberty &/or Freedom are we discussing? Does my Freedom impact your Liberty, or the other way around? Or Both or Neither?
    The usual answer is that ... Your freedom to swing your arms & fists about: - that stops at a mm from my nose.
    Shouldn't be difficult to understand, should it?
    Yet many people ( Especially in the USA? ) really can not or will not see any room for either compromise or understanding.
    Strange. I don't think that ( usually ) this is down to pure selfishness, but a deeper level of blank incomprehension & myopia.

    121:

    right libertarians are fine in practice with the tyranny of parents over children, bosses over employees, or rich over poor

    I've met far too many who are overtly in favour of slavery, usually debt slavery but brute force comes up disturbingly often.

    What they usually do is euphemise around it, talking about debt as an inalienable property right of the lender that of course is inherited by their family. Or freedom meaning that the rich must be free to brutalise the poor and since a poor person is worth less than a rich one the rich can afford to pay for what they break. {aaarrrggh!}

    122:

    I don't remember much about Slan, and I'm not going back into that cesspool again, thank you very much, but there's a further aspect to consider. From what I read at the time in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, SF fans seemed nerdish at a time when being a geek was not popular. You got the sense of people on the fringes forming their own clan, with its own cant, inventing words like "filk." And one of the sayings going around conventions was that "Fans are Slans."

    That isn't at all to deny that racism played a role. Campbell and Lovecraft, for example, set the tone for that, and people who feel marginalized easily fall into it. A lot of the reason for the psi stuff seemed to be that if you feel powerless or trod upon, it's seductive to think that you're secretly Superman, or that you're part of a group that's unfairly despised, and clearly has knowledge and power that set it apart from the ignorant and corrupt mainstream. If you take that sort of fantasy seriously, it's a short step to thinking your group is uniquely positioned to find simple solutions to all social problems, however ham-fisted and Pyrrhic they may sound to outsiders. If you're too grand to worry about science and ordinary moral standards, something like eugenics just seems like common sense.

    This didn't actually amount to a political movement, though, and, needless to say, a lot of other things were going on in the field. Growing up in a small town, I found science fiction opened things up for me, in much the way travel books influenced the Enlightenment. If you read accounts of other religions and other cultures, you're made to realize that you can generalize about "religion" and "culture," and that the examples you happened to grow up with don't occupy privileged positions. Heinlein, for all his faults, played a central role in that. It's not surprising. He was born in 1907 and grew up in what he himself called the Bible Belt, so getting perspective was likely to be one of his concerns.

    All of this feels like a backwater now, and I was happy to forget about it, but recently I came across Alec Nevala-Lee's Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction. It's quite informative. For example, Campbell started off being enthusiastic about the New Deal, but made the mistake of mentioning it to his abusive father, who bulldozed it right out of him. He was personally and intellectually adrift when he went to college, for all the airs he gave himself later about seeing things like a scientist or engineer, and that's when he got interested in the Rhine ESP experiments.

    123:

    If you want to talk about failed island settlements, look at capitalists.

    I saw it somewhere on a TV documentary (NOT THE HISTORY CHANNEL) where of the first 1500 or so people to try and get by in the New England area of North American, about 80% didn't make it to 5 or 10 years. Most all from the UK. Most came over to get rich. Either for themselves or for PE back home.

    I think the odds are better in Vegas.

    124:

    I think there are some questions in life with no good answers, like "who will best represent the interests of a child: the child's parents or public servants?" Any answer you choose will go horribly wrong some of the time, but you have to choose. And when it comes to questions like "who will make better choices, the federal government or local resistance?" I think an extroverted black welder in Virginia will tend to have experiences which give a different answer than an introverted white software developer in California.

    The blog Fardels Bear goes into some relevant history like the local governments in the South which chose to close public services rather than desegregate them https://altrightorigins.com/2023/03/01/f-a-hayek-and-the-false-promise-of-a-racially-just-libertarianism/ while anarchists like James C. Scott can point to different history.

    I have never met one of the American libertarians face to face, its all weird Internet and bookstore ideas to me.

    125:

    I couldn't figure out what those other majors were doing to get so much party time.

    I remember a semester when I was taking nine classes (labs were counted as a separate class from lectures) when a full load was considered five classes for Arts & Science students — and some were taking as few as three classes and complaining about their workload.

    Looking back, I'm fairly certain that the workload contributed to our feeling of superiority (as well as being young!). I'm also certain that we'd have benefitted from the ability to take a greater variety of classes outside our field — after all, university is supposed to be a time to explore and we just didn't have time with only a half-class in literature and another half-class in something else as a requirement.

    (And to be honest, the interesting classes were often deliberately scheduled to that they weren't full of engineers who might be disruptive. My literature prof admitted that he was the only one who volunteered to teach the only half-class that fit our timetables, and that he did so because he knew it was the last chance to convince engineering and business majors that literature had value.)

    126:

    Yet many people ( Especially in the USA? ) really can not or will not see any room for either compromise or understanding.

    I get the distinct feeling that the word "Freedom" in America means something different than to does to the rest of the world (especially when capitalized). It is something unique to the American Way of Life™, and exceptional.

    It is also something used to trump (not to mention Trump) an argument — if you can link whatever you support to "Freedom" you win. Thus we get Freedom Fries served in cafeterias, and Freedom Units used to measure things.

    Browsing the American Reich-wing, I'm increasingly reminded of the Freedom Party in Turtledove's alternate history epic, including their use of the word as a membership identifier.

    127:

    I wish I had the right education to talk about that, because on one hand there is a tradition of "freedom means my freedom to do violence to my neighbours" which goes back to Classical Greece, on the other hand there has been a marketing campaign in the USA for the past 100 or 150 years pushing a pro-capital understanding of Freedom (eg. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market (Bloomsbury, 2023) which I have not read). In the eighteenth century Samuel Johnson already noticed that some of the colonists shouting loudest about Freedom were the "drivers of the Negros." I just don't know who has written about the dark side of freedom outside the United States at greater length.

    128:

    My literature prof admitted that he was the only one who volunteered to teach the only half-class that fit our timetables

    This was why the school I went to did not make outside courses compulsory. Phrased as "because it wouldn't have the effect we want", but from the other end, disruptive students. A few staff desperately wanted to create that result, and we had an early essay assignment on a random topic given by a distinguished professor (who had sufficient gravitas that I suspect even those who wanted to object did not). IIRC my year it was "neoliberal economics has failed" or similar and students were encouraged to pick a side and argue it for ~1500 words. Professor sat down with each student one at a time and went through their essays. That was also educational.

    129:

    Paul @ 107:

    Elaine @ 37: Also demonstrated that the "tragedy of the commons" was a libertarian fable (completely ahistorical and made up in the sixties as it turns out).

    I've seen this said a number of times, and I'm going to take this opportunity to check my thinking on it. Of course the bit I quote was only a parenthetical aside in your post, so please feel free to respond or ignore as you see fit.

    The "tragedy" is selfish assholes over-exploiting common resources, spoiling things for everyone else. Doesn't require an authoritarian government to regulate their behavior; democratic systems can do it too.

    130:

    I remember a panel some years ago about Jewish themes in science fiction and a couple of examples were Mutant by Kuttner and Slan by van Vogt. ESP wasn't at all thought of as a fascist theme, people who persecuted telepaths and such were analogous to antisemites.

    The beginning of Slan was a young man being chased by a mob. He could perceive their hatred, but that didn't protect him.

    Mutant had a lot about whether to be public about being a telepath (Baldie) or conceal it by wearing a wig.

    I don't know whether the take on psychic powers people are showing in this discussion is at all typical (I don't think it is), but it does seem like a remarkable change.

    131:

    =+=+=+=

    Cathexis Rex 112:

    please define "grindstated" (or a link)

    ditto: sigma male; psychohistoricized future;

    regrettably I've become all too familiar with: philosophically hollow; optimization obsessed; Gordon Gecko as role model; future-fetishizing;

    =+=+=+=

    Paul 104:

    One of the funnier things arising in late 1990s from needing/wanting massive data centers (internet web and private corporate and federal government) was the issue of cooling.

    There was demands by politicians for increasing the workforce in an under-developed county, but few to none were technically educated. Mostly high school graduates and/or dropouts. Low skilled. Cheap land. Good roads.

    So there was a number of attempts to include in design a set of extensions to insulated pipes from data centers to secondary locations at a distance (1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile, etc). Intent was to scavenge that waste heat into specially purposed greenhouses to grow out-of-season veggies and organic fruits. Load up strawberries, basil, etc, onto trucks for sale in cities 300 miles away.

    Problem was the low pay, backbreaking stoop labor, tedium of agro work, zero respect, etc. So while there were locals close enough to be a labor pool, the concern was unemployment rate locally was too low to coerce native-born American citizens into taking such jobs. Transporting legal agro workers would defeat the purpose of such secondary projects.

    So greenhouses were quietly dropped from planning.

    Cooling ponds are an ongoing headache, along with sourcing enough clean water. Re-circulation requires filtration and/or closed loop flows, not cheap nor simple. Headache not just for data centers but office parks, light industry, etc.

    So for those looking for 'secret labs' and/or 'hidden AI strongholds' and/or 'Doctor Evil headquarters', if outside an urban center you need only wait till nighttime, fly drone swarms over lakes to detect anomalous thermal patterns.

    Now add that to your novels and/or screenplays with my blessings. Boring but based upon engineering basics.

    =+=+=+=

    132:

    Now add that to your novels and/or screenplays with my blessings. Boring but based upon engineering basics.

    While I'm sure I can't think of a specific SFnal example off the top of my head, I'm pretty sure this has been done, and longer ago than the 90s. Tom Clancy comes to mind, but I've no references for it. What I do remember is that it's definitely a thing in real life.

    133:

    Going to take a leap into the, and guess that psychohistoricized future, whatever its exact-to-the-dotted-t definition (he says, his eyes crossed), has its roots in Asimov...

    134:

    “I suspect that you are describing a very UK-specific problem” - well, yes. I mean, I did all my uni in the UK (hey, just passed the “half my life has been out of UK” mark) so no surprise there. But my undergrad was Imperial College, which back then was all eng & sci with around 7500 students. Despite that we had to do a second language, assorted philosophy , sociology, history, economics etc courses as well as almost as much maths as the pure maths people. These days IC is bigger (and richer) than some minor nations. I also did an actual art master’s at the royal college of art, and basically none of the artists were properly numerate, rarely had any education in anything related to science and mostly didn’t care. Potters and jewelers would often have good practical knowledge about some materials science by necessity.

    135:

    Thanks! Hot Earth Dreams purchased

    Thank you! Hope you enjoy it!

    136:

    there's plenty of crazy (and bigotry and viciousness) to go around... and here's an example of one of those people who encouraged it... five hundred years old and still it sends the chills of dread down my spine...

    “Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.”

    --Martin Luther (1483-1546)

    137:

    Out of habit, looking for a (primary, obviously) source for that quote (not out of any attachment to Luther, but out of habit)- and having trouble finding any. Any ideas?

    138:

    ESP wasn't at all thought of as a fascist theme, people who persecuted telepaths and such were analogous to antisemites.

    This seems a bit strange to me - being of a certain culture sounds to me a tad different from having ESP. Especially if there is little or no inherent downside to ESP, it feels to me that comparing persecution to antisemitism seems a bit... preposterous. To me this comparison would mean that being of that culture means just being better than other people and being persecuted for that.

    I think there's a word for that, too.

    Then we can go on to D&D-like fantasy and start thinking why high-level wizards don't basically run everything. (Eberron is one D&D campaign world which at least tries to address the high-level wizard issue. Others, like Forgotten Realms, mostly don't.)

    139:

    I am not sure I entirely agree with CS here. Even the wealthiest billionaire can not but make a nudge on the social forces. If people didn't want something like FB, they would not flock onto it. I do agree that the techno-enthusiasts/engineers who have read a lot of SF do try to make the up the half-forgotten dreams from their childhood's favorite books. However, when the new technology matures enough, the enterpreneurs and the governments come and - the former to cash in, the latter to snoop in. I don't think putting your money into an attempt to build in something is wrong. Misusing a technology to dupe/manipulate/spy on people is where the wrong begins. BTW, I suspect we only know of a few successfully implemented dreams and have not heard of the millions that have failed, despite the time/money/effort that have been put into them. And I also suspect that many of them have failed, not because the time/money/effort were insufficient, but because the people didn't want/need them. I think it was Cory Doctorow, who wrote in one of his books (more or less) that the technology is able to enslave us, but also to save us.

    140:

    Eric 137:

    https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/martin_luther_151410

    not exactly originating tome with page number but that's where I found it a couple years ago...

    141:

    ooking for a (primary, obviously) source for that quote (not out of any attachment to Luther, but out of habit)- and having trouble finding any. Any ideas?

    There are a LOT of quotes from Luther floating about. And hard to source. But very ingrained. And I suspect they are mostly true.

    The problem is he was German and there were a LOT of dialects spoken/written in his time. I suspect from some of my search attempts for similar was that his words went through multiple translations into various versions of German then out to other languages. With a few of them being written in Latin originally.

    Sort of like reading the Bible in English. And arguing over which version is an accurate translation.

    142:

    Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and ... know nothing but the word of God.

    and

    Reason is the Devil's greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil's appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom ... Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism ... She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.

    143:

    By the way, if anyone is going to re/read Stranger in a Strange Land, be sure to check out the full unedited version that his widow found maybe 30 years ago. The full version is almost twice as long as the published version and is an even better read IMHO.

    I'm amazed it's twice as long, as I couldn't see much difference. An extra cannibalism scene.

    If you disliked the original (as I did - partly on it being too long) you are unlikely to enjoy the "ginny" version.

    I think the original editor did us a favour.

    144:

    basic evolution shows that a 'superior' race will necessarily emerge at some stage

    that's not actually how evolution works. For starters you have to define "superior". I can program a computer (well sort of), so I'm "superior" to a chimp. Unless it's a tree climbing competition or a fight...

    145:

    Cartoon I recently saw.

    Room full of chimps at typewriters. One person walking out the door talking to another.

    Well no Shakespeare so far but this is the 3rd "Art of the Deal" this month.

    146:

    At the time IQ tests, at least in the U.S. were scoring Jews a little higher than everyone else. So if you think in terms of ESP = IQ the whole thing works... a little too well. (I don't know if IQ tests are still scoring Jews higher.)

    147:

    Oh, a pox upon it ...
    My post @ 142 is missing it's first half, about US "freedom" ...
    Freedom to own a gun & kill innocent people knocking at your door, basically, as opposed to "freedom from" which is very much the UK/European attitude.

    Meanwhile, the clown-show in UK politics reaches new heights of absurdity, with Cameron, of all people, becoming Foreign Secretary.
    At least he knows the ropes & knows where all the bodies are buried, but, of course, unlike the rest of Sunak's showe, he is not an actual "Brexiteer" which coiuld make lif very intersting indeed.
    Of course, in the past others have been PM & then Foreign Sec - Arthur Balfour & { looking it up } ... Arthur Wellesley.

    148:

    Unfortunately, you didn't give a source for those quotes, though just looking at the style, they don't look modern.

    https://www.stephenhicks.org/2015/12/08/martin-luther-on-the-jews/

    This does seem sound. Modern Lutherans (in the US, and maybe in Germany) seem harmless enough these days, which goes to show there are some drawbacks to being familiar with one's founding texts.

    I'd heard that Luther said that belief should be based on logic (reason?) and the Gospels, which made modern emotion-driven evangelicals look bad, but either he never said it, or it was from a different period in his life.

    Editions of Stranger in a Strange Land: I've read both, and at least used to know the edited version pretty well. There's a lot to be said for the edited version. If you compare the beginnings, the edited version is tighter and more interesting.

    I think some of the most striking bits are in the long version, but a lot of what I noticed as only present in the long version were logistics-- a lot about getting people organized and into the right places.

    149:

    If you disliked the original (as I did - partly on it being too long) you are unlikely to enjoy the "ginny" version.

    I tried to read "Stranger in a Strange Land" when I was 17, and found it so boring and unrelatable, I never finished it.

    Funny thing, several times since then I told people how SIASL bored me, without mentioning when exactly it happened. Each time I was told "You are supposed to read it at a certain age. Around 17."

    150:

    I get the distinct feeling that the word "Freedom" in America means something different than to does to the rest of the world (especially when capitalized). It is something unique to the American Way of Life™, and exceptional

    I caught a brief video clip when an American was saying with apparent sincerity and certainty that "Europeans envy Americans' Freedom".

    Speaking from the UK, I don't think we do. We are not aware of what this unique American virtue actually is

    151:

    Ditto, age ~23, and not so much "bored" as "aggressively uninterested" - to this day it is the only book I remember actively* giving up reading.

    *There are plenty I've put down fully meaning to come back to and haven't yet (some day I'll finish The Quantum Thief); SIASL remains the only one to suffer the full metaphorical wall-throw.

    152:

    This does seem sound. Modern Lutherans (in the US, and maybe in Germany) seem harmless enough these days, which goes to show there are some drawbacks to being familiar with one's founding texts.

    500 years ago, well, times were different. Bias against other was considered normal by most everyone. Especially Christians against Jews. Then Luther did his thing and made it a 3, err 4 way argument.

    153:

    Speaking from the UK, I don't think we do. We are not aware of what this unique American virtue actually is

    Think about the phrase "nanny state". Many of the "freedom" folks think that Europeans like being told by the government how to wipe their butt and how many sheets to use and how many swipes. That is is not true isn't the issue. Just like some of Greg's sweeping comments about folks in the US that are based on some headline he read and is applying it to everyone.

    While Suella Braverman and Ted Cruz are not in the center of the bell curve on most any opinion in their respective countries, they sure do get the headlines.

    154:

    I tried to read "Stranger in a Strange Land" when I was 17, and found it so boring and unrelatable, I never finished it.

    I suspect a lot of such novels and stories impact people in various ways due to the life they have lived up to the point of reading.

    Didn't you spend some of your youth digging up bomb fragments in your garden plot in Russia. In terms of lived experience that is an alien experience for most anyone in the US or Canada. And a lot more.

    155:

    If SF made Fascism then fantasy made Nazism.

    (Before any cites Spinrad's brilliant parody "The Iron Dream" as an example of Nazi SF, remember that he was not using mil-SF to parody Nazism - he was using Nazism to parody mil-SF.)

    If you look at the occult societies, literature and "philosophy" predating Nazism you'll see deep roots in fantasy and mysticism:

    Ice moons, the earth is concave and surrounded by infinite rock, Shamballah in Tibet, Knights of the Round Table, the Holy Grail, Madame Blavatsky, civilization at the center of the Earth entered via the north pole, the spear of Longinus, Thule Society, Atlantis, Ernst Schäfer's expedition to Tibet and the whole SS Ahnenerbe "research" department. Even the use of the swastika had occult significance.

    "Raiders of the Lost Ark" wasn't that far off.

    156:

    I also did an actual art master’s at the royal college of art, and basically none of the artists were properly numerate, rarely had any education in anything related to science and mostly didn’t care.

    So like engineers from the other side, then?

    I'm not certain I'd count as properly numerate by IC standards. I can handle algebra and simple calculus (although div, grad, curl, and that stuff confused me at the time and I've forgotten it now). Very simple statistics but not with any confidence. Haven't used anything more complex than high school algebra in decades.

    I met a fair number of research scientists through my father. They were all very broad folks with an amazing range of interests. (That may be a selection effect of my father's choice of friends rather than a common trait in research scientists.)

    I have a friend who's a photographer, and he says that the fine art field is incredibly clique-ridden, and to succeed in it you have to be seen to be doing your time and respecting the right people, and that if you don't start young and do it 'right' the odds are against you. So rather like a young academic who has no time for anything but whatever might land them that tenure-track position, someone trying to make a career in the fine arts establishment pretty much has to put all their time into it, to the exclusion of other interests. (And visibly having other interests can make you appear 'unserious' and so hurt your career.) This is his view, but one that matches some of what I've seen in the Canadian art world.

    I think looking down on other professions isn't terribly unusual. We see the complexities, skill, and hard work in our own field but not in others'. I've seen it within the sciences where people look down on other sciences (physicists being notorious for this, at least in comics).

    157:

    https://lite.cnn.com/2023/11/13/opinions/trumps-mental-gaffes-obeidallah/index.html

    The Beatles, like all bands, has their 'greatest hits'. Whereas T(he)Rump has his most public misses.

    At the rate he's dissolving the sad possibility if he's elected in NOV 2024, by the time he takes office in JAN 2025 he'll be unable to repeat word-for-word the oath. Which on any sane timeline would disqualify him.

    But we're on the wrong one.

    So of course we'll have a succession crisis, since the 25th Amendment is interpreted to applying to the sitting president, not the president-elect. Oh, what a miserable shitstorm this is gonna be.

    But leastwise it will make for a lot of quasi-funny skits on cable teevee's Comedy Central.

    158:

    "Think about the phrase "nanny state". Many of the "freedom" folks think that Europeans like being told by the government how to wipe their butt and how many sheets to use and how many swipes. That is is not true isn't the issue. Just like some of Greg's sweeping comments about folks in the US that are based on some headline he read and is applying it to everyone."

    Speaking as an American, be it a left leaning one, the "nanny state" term comes with a bit more context then that in the US. Americans are big believers in self reliance, and there is no self reliance like that which comes from the knowledge that the government is happy to let you starve to death, or let your children die of illness. That you are operating completely without a net.

    A lot of this "self reliance" is mental fiction but there is some truth to it, especially in rural America. It does tend to toughen up the ones that survive it, for all the good and bad that comes with that.

    I sometimes think that America as a society is designed to produce a small set of global alpha predators, loose them on the world, and then reap the spoils. It is willing to make a lot of sacrifices to achieve that goal, with the understanding that the spoils will make up for the sacrifices. Europe is designed to optimize the greatest good for the most people. That's a fundamentally different goal.

    Europe seems to be on the one hand, dismissive of the American system because it doesn't optimize for what they think it should optimize for, and on the other hand, pretty blind to what the American system DOES do well.

    That comes with A LOT of bad as well, and I think overall that the European system, especially the Scandinavian variant is overall superior at least based on my values. But there are real, tangible advantages to the US system as well. The American private sector is quite often fast, efficient and brutal, hard to compete with, and the place really is a fountain of innovation.

    It's also interesting how much of this social harshness is shared by the US and China, even though those two countries are so different in so many ways. It's possible if you want to end up on the top of the global capitalist pyramid you have to push your people with fear to get there.

    The jury is also a bit out to me on whether the European system can really compete economically long term in the world that has the Americans, the Chinese in it. Global capitalism may well be a prisoners dilemma where societies must become like America or China or gradually become economically irrelevant and impoverished.

    159:

    Greg Tingey @ 147:

    Oh, a pox upon it ...
    My post @ 142 is missing it's first half, about US "freedom" ...
    Freedom to own a gun & kill innocent people knocking at your door, basically, as opposed to "freedom from" which is very much the UK/European attitude.

    Yeah, well the knuckleheads at the NRA aren't the only ones with ideas about what "freedom" means ...

    Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address - "The Four Freedoms"

    Some of us still hold with the old meaning.

    160:

    Re: Zombie Economics

    Thanks!

    I just found a pdf of the book - will try to read it within the next couple of weeks.

    Now back to catching up on the comments - if time permits, might count expletives in [Greg's] comments about the UK's new Foreign Secretary.

    161:

    At the time IQ tests, at least in the U.S. were scoring Jews a little higher than everyone else.

    And blacks lower, which led to what you'd expect.

    Back when I was at teachers' college I came across a study that pointed out that black SAT scores were increasing at a greater rate than white scores, but every time they came close the tests were revised and black scores dropped much more than white scores and the cycle would repeat.

    (Apparently the College Board revises the tests to keep a certain mark spread for each question (because a question that every student gets right doesn't help decide who gets into which college) and because black students (for a variety of reasons) score lower when their scores improve those questions are no longer useful, so they're dropped.)

    (What the SATs actually measure is how likely students are to have had a financially-secure middle-class upbringing where they learned the 'right' test-taking skills. The correlation between household income and test score is much stronger than the correlation between success at college and test score.)

    I know that IQ tests did (and almost certainly still do) incorporate a lot of cultural assumptions in them, as well as assuming a whole lot of knowledge that someone from a different background might well not have.

    Back when I took my first psych course the instructor (who was a grad student) pointed out that in each of the several different theories of psychology that we studied the 'best', 'most adjusted', 'balanced', etc person was always purely-coincidentally the one most like the chap who came up with the theory. So logically if the people who created those IQ tests were jewish (or more precisely from a jewish culture) it would be expected that the test preferences traits and abilities valuable in jewish culture, and that people from that culture would test higher.

    (No idea if that's actually the case. I do know that a lot of people use 'intelligence tests' without ever wondering what precisely is meant by 'intelligence'.)

    162:

    I suspect a lot of such novels and stories impact people in various ways due to the life they have lived up to the point of reading.

    Yup.

    One of the reasons I like Ian Tamblyn (musician, not author) is that no matter what stage of life I'm at, he's written a song that resonates with me. (Which kinda makes sense as he's older than me, so has passed through those stages first.)

    https://www.iantamblyn.com/

    163:

    ilya187 @ 149:

    "If you disliked the original (as I did - partly on it being too long) you are unlikely to enjoy the "ginny" version."

    I tried to read "Stranger in a Strange Land" when I was 17, and found it so boring and unrelatable, I never finished it.

    I think I was 12 or 13. I had read every bit of Sci-Fi in the children's library at the Durham Public Library & sneaked upstairs to the "adult" library to see if they had any more.

    It didn't bore me, although I'm sure there were parts that I wasn't old enough to understand.

    164:

    David L
    Sorry, but a stranger, knocking on the wrong door by mistake, asking for directions was shot & murdered ... & the murderer wasn't even arraigned for trial.
    It's a recent case that I think we all know about.
    NOT a sweeping assumption - it's fact.

    SFR
    Cleverly is a vast improvement on Braverman, not that that was difficult (!) - Home Sec
    I think Camoron will be better than Cleverly, for reasons given
    I still think it won't save the tories, or I hope not, anyway.

    165:

    I suspect a lot of such novels and stories impact people in various ways due to the life they have lived up to the point of reading. Didn't you spend some of your youth digging up bomb fragments in your garden plot in Russia.

    LOL! Never thought of it in these terms but you are probably right. Yes I did. And by the age of 17 had never been in a casino or even met anyone who had ever been in a casino, did not know what a televangelist is (maybe heard the term, but certainly did not know what it actually MEANS and why people follow them), and had not met anyone for whom religion was more than a social activity. Or anyone who thought drugs were more than just a way to break ice at parties.

    That's a mindset very unprepared to "grok" SIASL.

    166:

    For "old enough", substitute "mature enough".

    167:

    The American private sector is quite often fast, efficient and brutal, hard to compete with, and the place really is a fountain of innovation.

    My daughter did her final year of schooling before college as an exchange student in Germany. At a Gymnasium. One of the things that struck her were that almost all of her classmates thought to become rich they'd have to move to the US.

    The jury is also a bit out to me on whether the European system can really compete economically long term in the world that has the Americans, the Chinese in it.

    The Ariane 6 project has got to be on a few minds.

    168:

    Sorry, but a stranger

    Guns and gallons? Seriously?

    169:

    It's also interesting how much of this social harshness is shared by the US and China, even though those two countries are so different in so many ways.

    They aren't nearly as different as most Americans (who seem to be stuck thinking of China as Communist) think.

    China hasn't been truly Communist for a long time, just as America hasn't been truly Capitalist. In both countries the government and large corporations are intertwined. In China the government has the edge, in America the corporations, but the effects are similar.

    You are more likely to disappear in China if you displease the government. In America that only happens if you're poor and non-white. In China Musk might well have vanished by now. In a second-term Trump America, billionaires who don't kiss the ring might well be redefined as criminals. (With an Originalist rationale to make that Constitutional.)

    I know that my friends from mainland China tell me that the reason their Chinese business partners prefer right-wing governments (in both Canada and America) is that they are much closer to the Chinese government they are used to, and thus much easier to operate under. It's those left-leaning governments that worry about things like worker rights that are hard to deal with!

    170:

    One of the things that struck her were that almost all of her classmates thought to become rich they'd have to move to the US.

    I wonder if they realized what the odds of becoming rich were, as compared to the struggle to hold on to what they had in Germany (health care, access to education for their children)?

    I also wonder how they defined "rich". Was it how much stuff they had (or could have)? Or was it having more stuff than the people around them? There's considerable evidence that people are happier being poor (in absolute terms) when everyone is poor, rather than less poor when they can see people who have a huge amount more than they do. "We were poor, but we were happy in those days." (Not poor as in starving.)

    171:

    Guns and gallons?

    Can't you just smell the Freedom?

    Freedom Weapons and Freedom Units. Y'all are so Free™!

    (Sarcasm, hopefully obviously.)

    172:

    Speaking here from what is clearly the far side of a perceptual divide, I can say that we lowly 'Arts' students are frequently astonished at the sheer level of political and social ignorance on display from the STEM side of the chasm.

    It is likely a uniquely Canadian issue, but I have lost count of the number of people whose entire political awareness is rooted in infantilistic notions like 'left and right' which they picked up from the evening news or (worse) workplace conversations.

    No doubt STEM work is hard, but anyone who wanted to actually learn in the Humanities was working pretty hard as well. Of course, my experience cannot trump your perception, and like most people who spent a decade or so working on this stuff I've long since given up on convincing any engineers or scientists that they might, maybe, not know everything worth knowing.

    I remember a conversation I had with a classmate who was taking one of her required 'Arts' courses. She said 'I am taking Science because I heard only stupid people take Arts'. My response was that 'I heard only stupid people don't check for themselves'. We did not become friends.

    173:

    The Ariane 6 project has got to be on a few minds.

    Compared to that beacon of cost effectiveness and schedule keeping that is the SLS project you mean?

    174:

    "Compared to that beacon of cost effectiveness and schedule keeping that is the SLS project you mean?"

    More likely the intent is to compare to SpaceX.

    175:

    I'm sure it was, but which continent a political project is from makes very little difference to how big a cock-up it becomes. "We'll save money by converting the production line" and "We'll save money by reusing major components from a previous rocket" are both caused by people thinking their expertise translates between fields.

    176:

    Here I thought the purpose of the European system was to stop the debilitating wars of conquest that swept across Europe continually. Seems to be working pretty well, so far.

    I also wonder how they defined "rich". Was it how much stuff they had (or could have)?

    Indeed. This nonsense of comparing your accumulation of stuff to everybody else's seems to be a prime ingredient of discontent. WealthGrade, for instance, calls it your "social financial ranking". Ranking? I'm not entirely sure this isn't some kind of performance art. For instance,

    Tired of opening multiple apps a day to manually calculate your total worth across all your account balances? Wealthgrade is here to help!

    What kind of people are mired in that kind of insecurity trap?

    177:

    "No doubt STEM work is hard, but anyone who wanted to actually learn in the Humanities was working pretty hard as well. "

    What does 'hard' even mean in this context?

    • One definition is "hours of study the class required to get a grade" which is pretty arbitrary. You can make it as hard or as easy as you want it to be.
    • The second is "hours of study required to master a concept" which is easy to measure for, say Physics, and much more arbitrary for "writing a good essay"
    • A third is "level of competition from other classmates."

    Like I told my wife after writing my first book. "Writing a book is not hard. Anyone can do that. Writing a GOOD book is hard." What defines 'good'"? It's not objective, as opposed to say "being able to solve a differential equation correctly." But there is clearly a gradient, it's just a subjective one.

    I think one reason STEM is considered "harder" then the humanities is this non-negotiableness of the answer being correct. It's an all or nothing field in many ways while humanities more naturally supports a gradient. Sure individual problems are harder or easier but grasping the core concepts is a requirement to being able to move on to the next subject, failure to do so results in complete failure going forward with little opportunity to recover.

    Another reason for the 'STEM is harder' meme is that the level of competition in STEM can often be more intense given that those fields are considered more lucrative and also they are less likely to be taken as free electives by complete non-experts. The same reason Law and Medicine are "hard."

    Also, humanities are widely used as free electives by the other majors. I wonder how much of "boy the humanities are easy" comes from most students experiments being in elective versions of those classes, which are, by design, not for experts.

    I've always been a polymath, equally good in most academic subjects. I generally demolished my free electives and struggled considerably more in my STEM majors. But I was not competing with history majors in my history classes, i was competing with a random assortment of other majors.

    I think a fourth dimension of 'hardness' however which is something along the lines of "how naturally do monkey-brains think like this, and as a corollary how likely is it that a particular monkey-brain can contort itself into such an unnatural state?"

    I do think a lot of humanities can boil down to communication. telling stories, and trying to understand other humans and groups of humans, that is a very natural act for Home Sapiens. If you believe Yuval Noah Harari it's almost our distinguishing characteristic. It's not surprising to me that the ability to be competent in these areas is more common then say grasping general relativity, or higher maths. These are really WEIRD things for talking monkey brains to be doing at all, and the ability to do them is likely rarer. It's pretty surprising we can do them at all.

    178:

    "I do think a lot of humanities can boil down to communication. telling stories, and trying to understand other humans and groups of humans, that is a very natural act for Home Sapiens."

    "It's not surprising to me that the ability to be competent in these areas is more common then say grasping general relativity, or higher maths. "

    Demonstrating in a couple of sentences why people who do not actually study humanities do not understand humanities.

    The point of a humanities education is to learn how to differentiate between a 'good story' and 'a logical argument'. It is surpassingly difficult to apply empirical methods to understanding human behaviour like politics or social dynamics. That difficulty does not make the effort a pointless waste of time, it makes it essential if we are to avoid the traps and weaknesses of human foibles (most currently relevant being the relentless gravity of tyranny).

    I would reframe the first sentence I quoted as 'A lot of humanities boils down to trying to understand how and why humans do what they do, and how to identify blind spots in what we think and how we act.' Just as the ability to perform basic math is necessary but not sufficient to be a physicist, the ability to write a marginally competent essay, or read a book and learn something, is not sufficient to the study of humanities.

    Much of our current cultural grasp of the 'point' of humanities education has been lost in the transition of education from 'learning how to be a citizen' into certification mills.

    179:

    visibly having other interests can make you appear 'unserious' and so hurt your career.

    I think that's fairly specific to visual arts, where what counts as art is arbitrary, let alone what counts as good art. So what matters in an artist is that they're embedded in the social/cultural context from which good art comes. Otherwise, by definition, what they produce cannot be good art.

    This seems to be very not the case for STEM people. The ongoing "should take a humanities paper" is a symptom of that, and "everyone needs to learn basic maths" is not equivalent. I'm well used to engineers who are in it for the money and their passion is elsewhere, or at the higher levels they love the subject but have to get out of it every day to give their miond a break. I have a friend who's a professor at a reknowned university and his bio page at the university says "blah blah academia and Lego, also punk band". He is now a very experienced shit guitarist :)

    But you don't tend to see that on the other side. Friends in humanities fields don't seem to weld up projects in their garage, or even collect stamps. At best they garden. They mostly socialise as a hobby instead.

    180:

    I can say that we lowly 'Arts' students are frequently astonished at the sheer level of political and social ignorance on display from the STEM side of the chasm.

    Have you worked with engineers? Lots of willful ignorance and Dunning-Kruger on display there — and that's among non-Albertan engineers.

    I worked with a chap (in Alberta) who believed that because engineers designed circuits that worked they should rule the world because everything they did would be good. Mind you, he also believed that if he drove so fast the other cars appeared stationary he was safer, because they were easier to avoid. He had so little ability to self-reflect I wonder if he could see himself in a mirror. (Also wasn't that good an engineer, because he couldn't see the possible failure modes for his designs.)

    Engineering students? Even more arrogant and uninformed. At least, we were when I studied engineering.

    I'm grateful for the job my English prof did. A class of engineers and business majors forced to take it is a tough audience, but he was pretty good at getting us to engage with literature and actually think a bit. In hindsight I wonder if he didn't realize we were uncomfortable with ambiguity, or if we were totally missing many of the points he was trying to teach. To teenagers from a small monocultural prairie city, it was the first time many of us had been asked to consider things from another perspective.

    181:

    We're getting well into telling stories about other people now, though. Most humanities don't frame their discipline as "understand how and why humans do what they do", they frame it as understanding what humans have done or are doing. Or should do, in the case of things like economics and law. There are definitely people within those fields asking how and why, but the majority of academics don't, let alone the practitioners.

    And when it comes to the "making predictions and testing them" side of science, a lot of humanities seem to reject the idea. Or in the case of law and economics, regard falsification as the gold standard for validating a theory. "this has never worked so it's a great idea".

    Law seems to be most blatant: ask a member of the "justice system" to define justice and the answer will likely be tautological: justice is the application of law*. "we kill people who step out of line, thus breeding more obedient citizens over time"... eugenics or justice, you decide.

    * which reminds me of the Judeo-Christianic "it is unlawful to kill someone unlawfully", normally rendered as "don't murder".

    182:

    A proper humanities education is about ideas and their consequences. All the philosophy, literature, art, music, history, and even science are just carriers for those ideas. Any education that's just about techniques instead of ideas is broken, whether it be art or software or chemical engineering.

    183:

    "ideas and their consequences" is just a story we tell. Nothing more.

    184:

    "Friends in humanities fields don't seem to weld up projects in their garage, or even collect stamps. At best they garden. They mostly socialise as a hobby instead."

    I give up. I'll go back to eating paste and doing finger paints on the walls of my play area with all my fellow simpletons. Good luck with the whole 'operating society like an engineering problem' thing. It's easier if you ignore the body counts, I've heard.

    I also wholeheartedly reject any notion that Economics is a study of humanities. It, or at least its most common aspects, are entirely an attempt to operate society like an engineering problem.

    185:

    "ideas and their consequences" is just a story we tell. Nothing more.

    Everything else is, as well. Knowing the stories, and learning to tell your own, is the mark of a successful education, however obtained.

    186:

    @150 writes: "I caught a brief video clip when an American was saying with apparent sincerity and certainty that "Europeans envy Americans' Freedom". Speaking from the UK, I don't think we do. We are not aware of what this unique American virtue actually is"

    That viewpoint was less nonsensical a century ago when the wretched, tempest tossed huddled masses were still thronging to the U.S. from Europe's teaming shores (here I have sloppily paraphrased the poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty.) WWI busted out the political and military strength of hereditary aristocratic power with the Austro-Hungarian empire's downfall, along with the empires of the Kaiser and the Czar. Since then Europe modernized and democratized right up to and even past American standards in some cases. With occasional setbacks, but the overall trend seemed favorable until the last few years. Pretty dumb sounding for an American to spout these zombie platitudes, but old habits die hard. No shortage of such astounding silliness, we even had a tv show called "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" in which otherwise competent, capable and upwardly mobile interviewees on the street couldn't find certain continents on a map. Youtube probably has it.

    187:

    Maybe there are just three kinds of stories - Stories that can be verified via experiment (Science, Engineering) - Stories that can be verified via proof of internal consistency (Math, Logic) - All other stories (Humanities)

    188:

    s/"Europe modernized and democratized/"Europe was democratized by force, and then the rubble was rebuilt"/g

    if you think about Eastern Europe the platitudes are only a few years out of date, places like Poland were most certainly "envying our freedoms" as recently as the 90's.

    189:

    Yeah, except that they’ve adapted phylogenetics methods from biology to study the histories of how texts changed via copying errors, and maybe even ported phylogenetics into linguistics (not sure about the latter, but I know a little bit about phylogenetics and it could work). Also, if you think scientific logic is the only real kind, don’t deal with lawyers unless you want a fairly brutal intellectual beat down.

    190:

    Do you honestly not see any connection between recreational engineering and any other sort? I don't doubt that such people exist, I deal with them far too often "this bicycle is an impossibly complex machine that none can understand, so I will refuse to maintain it and just accept that it's horrible to use". The idea that that's desirable bothers me.

    reject any notion that Economics is a study of humanities

    So there's science here, and humanities there, and never the twain?

    For all that some economists are fixated on applying maths to spherical consumers in a vacuum, economics is at least nominally about humanities, the "why humans do what they do". And some of it has real predictive power, it's not entirely authoritarian forcing.

    What's the alternative? Give up and just say "humans cannot be the subject of scientific inquiry, let alone engineering methods"?

    191:

    The point of a humanities education is to learn how to differentiate between a 'good story' and 'a logical argument'.

    I think part of the problem is that most STEM students experience humanities subjects only as introductory or survey courses, which are be design shallow courses intended more to bring everyone up to some base level. Psych 101, Soc 101, and so on, typically taught in huge classes where the average student does't ever meet the prof in person. (When my niece took Psych 101 at UofT the class was 1800 students — the first 800 there got to sit in Convocation Hall and see the prof in person, the remaining 1000 had to sit in two other halls and watch the prof on a giant TV screen. Pretty hard to get a feeling for 'how to be a citizen' when you're basically watching TV.)

    I know when I was studying Classics at an undergraduate level that there was a huge difference between the introductory courses and upper year courses in terms of the thinking required. A 100 or 200 course could be got through by memorization and regurgitation, while a 400 course required actually being able to evaluate information sources, identify (and hopefully resolve) discrepancies, and actually make an attempt at synthesizing something original-ish. (For the record, this was at Carleton University in the late 80s.)

    Much of our current cultural grasp of the 'point' of humanities education has been lost in the transition of education from 'learning how to be a citizen' into certification mills

    Yeah, the Minister of Education and Training has two almost contradictory mandates to fund out of the same pot. Rather like the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.

    If I was the dictator that the Convidiots think Trudeau is, I'd make university outreach a fully-funded mandate, with short non-credit courses offered in the community for free. Non-credit because I want prerequisites to be recommendations not requirements, free because I think education is a fundamental right. Let a thousand TED-talks bloom!!

    192:

    Unholyguy
    It may be that the reason STEM subjects are - usually correctly - regarded as "harder" is the level(s) of abstraction required to get a good grasp of the concepts & principles underlying the subject & its innate complexities?

    Moz
    We're getting well into telling stories about other people now, though - Pan narrans, remember? { Thank-you Pterry! }
    - whjich leads back to Unholyguy @ 183 - oops!

    193:

    I asked specifically for a primary source actually by Luther (because when I see a quote I tend to wonder if it's genuine; there's a reason why there are several books with titles like "Hemingway Didn't Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations"), and while none was strictly speaking provided (I note that no one gave the text by Luther that was being quoted from- however, Wikiquote.org does have a match on one of those quotes that gives that information...), and since I think they were kindly taking me up on my request, I'm not surprised they don't look modern...

    194:

    Footnote :) : yes, hackles will rise at my mention of a Wikimedia site, since they have a horrendous reputation- but in my experience, Wikiquote has been one of the very most reliable of the quote sites, because they have, as a general thing, required at least a certain level of evidence for each claim, where many-to-most of the other popular similar sites seem to have no such requirement at all.

    195:

    not sufficient to, or not necessary to? Former math/mathematical logic student wondering if you meant to write what you did write there, here.

    196:

    (edit: ok, it's probably overstating things to claim that I did more than read some good books about mathematical logic. The philosophy of logic and ditto of knowledge (or of course competing philosophical arguments...), likewise, but that's stayed with me a little better, I think.)

    197:

    Friends in humanities fields don't seem to weld up projects in their garage, or even collect stamps. At best they garden.

    Could that be a selection effect of your friendship circle?

    I mean, you're arguing with a humanities grad who's far more capable of welding up a project in his garage or repairing a broken machine than I am (and I'm an engineering grad). Who had (and lent me) the right tools to repair my drone after a crash. Who has numerous STEM-related certifications.

    198:

    I remember that (well, I read it maybe a couple of years ago...), enjoyed it and also was a little surprised to find that EM Forster wrote science fiction.

    199:

    Problems like this even happen in music. (Look up a favorite Classical or Baroque piece on opac.rism.org , the Electronic port (?) of Répertoire International des Sources Musicales, for example ...)

    200:

    It is surpassingly difficult to apply empirical methods to understanding human behaviour like politics or social dynamics. That difficulty does not make the effort a pointless waste of time, it makes it essential

    And yet economics doesn't meet your requirement, most emphatically. Instead it's science or engineering and is therefore bad. Is that because it's impossible or unethical to apply knowledge from humanities in any way, or just because you disapprove of the way it's applied?

    This ties back to the difference between studying jurisprudence "what is law and how does it work" vs studying to become a lawyer "how can I get money out of the legal system", and thus "the justice system: being paid to apply laws and calling that justice".

    201:

    "It may be that the reason STEM subjects are - usually correctly - regarded as "harder" is the level(s) of abstraction required to get a good grasp of the concepts & principles underlying the subject & its innate complexities?"

    Unlike the study of humans and human behaviour? Do you hear yourself?

    Robert: I agree that most STEM students interact on a trivial level, just as most humanities students end up taking some basic level science course as a requirement that barely covers the introduction to a field.

    Where I'd say the difference seems to lie is what people do with that brief exposure. My takeaway from the science courses I took was 'wow, fascinating, it would take years to even begin to come up with what questions to ask in an intelligent way'. Judging from the comments on this blog the takeaway by STEM people was 'humanities are dumb because there are no clear answers and besides, they aren't real'.

    Though I have yet to see an engineer provide a solution for how to avoid autocracy, or how to resolve a social question. I guess if it can't be expressed in an equation it is clearly of no value to anyone.

    I'll go back to my gardening and paste eating with all my fellow humanities simpletons.

    202:

    Torment Nexus -- new entries

    US government shutdown due to #BSGC Republicans eager to burn it all down; performative craziness getting ever more frequent;

    https://lite.cnn.com/2023/11/13/politics/government-shutdown-latest-johnson/index.html

    tuberculosis outbreak in children day care center; this is bleak, especially given ever increasing numbers of parents refusing to vax their kids; measles has regained a foothold in North America;

    https://lite.cnn.com/2023/11/13/us/nebraska-tuberculosis-daycare-testing/index.html

    major highway roasted and out of service for weeks; apparently nobody could be bothered to inspect what was amongst thousands of tons of various 'n sundry crud stored underneath highways and some of it caught fire; unlikely other governors in the other 49 states are bothering to learn lessons from this entry under 'worst practices';

    https://lite.cnn.com/2023/11/12/us/i-10-freeway-fire-closure/index.html

    The backlash against self-checkout -- try it and you'll loathe it -- has been growing to the point where CEOs cannot deny its lack of appeal; which only was possible because there was refusal to accept negative evaluations of prototypes in test markets

    https://lite.cnn.com/2023/11/13/business/self-checkout-stores-shopping/index.html

    UTC+2 will never be at peace. Already talk of the 'next war'. There are those who will never let the war end. And they are the ones who watch for any slight excuse to justify a new attack, another wave of hostage taking. With lots 'n lots of those who see ways to achieve their agendas by way of spilling more blood. Arab. Israeli. Westerner. Jew. Muslim. Hindu. Christian. The more spilled the better, from their perspective.

    { too many to post 'em all }

    =+=+=+=+=

    the only good news? recent gun-related mass shootings have been small scale (less than a dozen wounded and killed per incident) rather than dozens 'n dozens...

    ...which is the kind of 'good news' if it happened in any sane alternate timeline would be deemed 'bad news'

    203:

    I give up

    To be fair, I think there's a bit of "no true scotsman" in what Moz says... those of us who do make things can't possibly be considered Humanities folks or something.

    I don't like to claim my own experience of trying to study a broader range of different disciplines and the ways they look at the world is unusual, but I have done enough of it to form an opinion, which is that they are not different forms of knowledge at all and for the most part all participate in the same exercise: to discover more, create more and extend the circle of light. Where there is a problem, it is contempt for other forms of investigation that we've been talking about here. Mostly because it means the people who hold it become ineffective when faced with concepts outside their discipline, and don't know it.

    204:

    "And yet economics doesn't meet your requirement, most emphatically. Instead it's science or engineering and is therefore bad. Is that because it's impossible or unethical to apply knowledge from humanities in any way, or just because you disapprove of the way it's applied?"

    The study of economics is fascinating and interesting. The cherry picking of economic theories to then apply to actual humans in a way that always seems to support the interests of the oligarchs is what grinds my gears.

    I think economics have the misfortune of appearing to be fact when they are largely theory, and in practice tend to a lot of damage.

    More study is needed, to quote every published paper ever.

    205:

    Could that be a selection effect of your friendship circle?

    I'd be somewhat surprised, since my circles do contain quite a lot of engineering types as well as humanities types.

    But I wonder if it's definitional too, since RocketPjs seems to define humanities as excluding anyone who tries to apply their knowledge, thus making economists, lawyers, even politicians into engineers rather than people with knowledge of the humanities. So in that context no, I don't think I know anyone who knows anything about humanities.

    Just, you know, lawyers, midwives, teachers, economists, artists, bike mechanics, architects... even social workers and the odd psychiatrist (are there normal psychiatrists?)

    206:

    But then I have to ask: what's the point of humanities? If you're not trying to solve problems or improve things, why even bother? "I know why you suck" doesn't seem very motivating.

    To me the value of humanities is learning why and how people work (for loose definitions of "work") so we can come up with better ways of doing things. Then study what went wrong when we try, and then try again.

    It's not as if we have the option of just stepping back and saying "lets not organise society".

    207:

    Perhaps the real problem with modern university educations is various attempts to teach STEM subjects that require painstaking mastery of oodles of precise details, at the undergraduate level. Medicine and law are taught as graduate disciplines, after all. An undergraduate course that attempts to make one a functioning chemical engineer or full-stack programmer may be just too full of details to fit into an undergraduate major. It belongs either in graduate school or trade school.

    I'm not sure this has much to do with some humanities versus STEM divide, either. One can spend just as much time only learning about art, say, in college. And miss the rest.

    208:

    _ I wonder if it's definitional too_

    I think this is a blind alley. You seem to be trying to paint each other into different corners based on somewhat flippant hypotheses, while actually agreeing about most things, even if it's sort of inside out from the other side of the mirror. Maybe a sandwich would help?

    209:

    The cherry picking of economic theories to then apply to actual humans in a way that always seems to support the interests of the oligarchs is what grinds my gears.

    I dunno that "economics" is necessary in that sentence :)

    But also, surely politics is the field that deals with the interests of the oligarchs, split into "how best to..." and "how to prevent..." with one getting a lot mroe funding.

    210:
    • major highway roasted and out of service for weeks; apparently nobody could be bothered to inspect what was amongst thousands of tons of various 'n sundry crud stored underneath highways and some of it caught fire; unlikely other governors in the other 49 states are bothering to learn lessons from this entry under 'worst practices'*

    Can we just can the rending of garments and the doleful laments for a bit? At least get your kvetches straight.

    I’m in LA right now, taking care of an aged relative, and so I’ve gotten an earful of news on the I-10 fire. And yeah, it sucks. My current prediction is that it’ll be open again in two weeks if it’s a repair, by New Years if they have to rebuildit. LA doesn’t fuck around when repairing the freeways. Nor does the state. Nor do the feds. All of them are conspicuously involved. It’s already a state of emergency, and everybody has promised all available resources will be thrown at it, same as in an earthquake.

    Contrary to your kvetch, the local media is reporting that the site of the fire has been a known problem for years with multiple citations from the city. Apparently Gov. Newsom toured the area a few months ago during the “cleanup” of an adjacent homeless encampment, and he was there again this morning. The junk yard was there, leasing space from CalTrans, which is a state agency that runs the freeways. I’m guessing that the combo of a scofflaw business leasing space from a state agency is why the city was having so much trouble getting them to comply with safety regulations. Similar problems happen with local landfills.

    How do I know? The relative I’m caring for spent 28 years on the County solid waste task force, and kept all the documents. I’ve spent the last few months recycling decades of notice if non-compliance for one dump in particular. The problem with the dump is that there’s no other place to put the trash if they close it for not complying with the terms of their lease, so the problem just generates mountains of paperwork.

    So the fire is a different kind of problem, not lack of oversight. Now that the problem has literally gone up in smoke, I don’t think there will be a junkyard there again. Just a lot of construction workers pulling sweet double overtime for the holidays, lucky them.

    211:

    Compared to that beacon of cost effectiveness and schedule keeping that is the SLS project you mean?

    Of course.

    I'd be surprised if SLS flies more than a total of 2 or 3 times.

    It will be interesting to see if the R Congressional budget slicers go after it or not. Jobs jobs jobs jobs jobs jobs jobs jobs pork pork pork pork

    212:

    Heteromeles 210:

    it is an open-ended problem, what's been piled up under highways in urban centers but also along the land strips nearest to highways... not just lowest rent apartments and cheaply built housing and shoddy office parks (class 'D', ugh)... there's tons of crap and none of it has been inventoried nor inspected nor do the local fire departments have advance intel prior to being sent in during a massive fire...

    so yeah, you can label it a 'kvetch' -- here in NYC we prefer to spell it as 'kvvetchh' offering opportunity for really hammering on the growl vowels -- but it is a genuine problem worthy of reflection

    213:

    Heteromeles 210:

    it is an open-ended problem, what's been piled up under highways in urban centers but also along the land strips nearest to highways... not just lowest rent apartments and cheaply built housing and shoddy office parks (class 'D', ugh)... there's tons of crap and none of it has been inventoried nor inspected nor do the local fire departments have advance intel prior to being sent in during a massive fire...

    so yeah, you can label it a 'kvetch' -- here in NYC we prefer to spell it as 'kvvetchh' offering opportunity for really hammering on the growl vowels -- but it is a genuine problem worthy of reflection

    214:

    My takeaway from the science courses I took was 'wow, fascinating, it would take years to even begin to come up with what questions to ask in an intelligent way'. Judging from the comments on this blog the takeaway by STEM people was 'humanities are dumb because there are no clear answers and besides, they aren't real'.

    As a science teacher, a lot of the students I teach react to science courses with "there's too much to learn and it's too hard, and the teacher doesn't take my theory (that I saw on TikTok) seriously", often followed with "why work really hard to get an 80% in science when I can get a 95% in music or art?".

    A lot of engineers treat humanities as "playing tennis with the net down" (to quote one of my former colleagues).

    I wonder if part of the split (Snow's two cultures) is that the way they taught: (in my experience, anyway) STEM subjects are content-based while humanities subjects are process-based.

    STEM classes tend to grade students on how often they get 'the right answer' with less emphasis placed on how they got it, and at lower levels there is very little original work students can do — even their "experiments" are basically following recipes and being graded on how accurate they were. There's a lot to learn, and your chance of doing anything actually original is remote until at least grad school.

    By contrast, humanities classes tend to grade students on how well they follow a process, with less emphasis placed on the end result (and more leeway in accepting different results).

    Again, based on my experience so at the moment it's a speculation rather than a hypothesis.

    Though I have yet to see an engineer provide a solution for how to avoid autocracy, or how to resolve a social question.

    You should meet more engineers. They provide lots of solutions, most of which make the Muskrat look like a model of rational moderation. (And most have obviously never been involved in something like a standards body, or they wouldn't have a touching faith that simple rational discussion will always produce the best answer.)

    China's engineers seem to be as good at resolving social problems as America's lawyers or Britain's humanities grads (considering the backgrounds of their respective leaders). Which is to say, not very good.

    As one of my (engineering) managers remarked: parts are easy, people are hard.

    Or my favourite line from Star Cops: "People are part of the system. It's dangerous to forget that."

    215:

    Then study what went wrong when we try, and then try again.

    I think you're batting up against the descriptivism vs prescriptivism distinction, which plays out in different ways in different disciplines, some aligned to a general pattern and some not. Sometimes it's that the whole field is descriptive and not prescriptive (e.g. astro-physics, mathematics, sociology, history, anthropology, cognitive psychology) and research in the field is about learning new facts about the subject of study. Sometimes it's the other way around (e.g. engineering, medicine, social work, clinical psychology), research is about learning new ways to do things, and it can be a sideline to practice. Sometimes it's that different practitioners focus on one aspect or the other (e.g. the distinction between studies in public policy practice vs economic history). Then there's also implementation research, or research translation (doctors are very conservative and new knowledge often takes a long time to infiltrate medicine unless "helped").

    But anyway just as there's room for people who spend their entire careers identifying and classifying difference species of snail, so there are also equivalent forms of purely descriptive practice in humanities. Having someone focus on "is" rather than "ought" is actually important.

    216:

    Could that be a selection effect of your friendship circle?

    I'd be somewhat surprised, since my circles do contain quite a lot of engineering types as well as humanities types.

    OK. But according to you, your humanities friends "don't seem to weld up projects in their garage, or even collect stamps. At best they garden. They mostly socialise as a hobby instead."

    That is what I'm wondering about. Because I know humanities grads who do much more than garden, and who aren't really into socializing.

    It sounds rather like you have decided that people who don't do engineering things are humanities types, while people who do both are engineering types.

    Back in the 70s I knew an art prof at the University of Saskatchewan. PhD in Art. Definitely a humanities type? But he built himself a lithographic press, doing his own welding. Rebuilt an MgB sports car. Made his own paints. Made architectural models well enough to save millions of dollars when he found a 1-foot mistake in the technical drawings for a bridge.

    Was he and engineering type who happened to start (ad make a living) as an artist? Or was he a humanities type who learned technical skills?

    Come to that, is Sir Brian May an artist or a scientist?

    217:

    Good points- and let's not forgot many people predating these more specialized times :) (e.g. the Renaissance people of the, say, Renaissance era. ;) )

    218:

    "RocketPjs seems to define humanities as excluding anyone who tries to apply their knowledge,"

    I certainly do not. Not sure where you found the straw for that man.

    I'm going to bow out. I guess I qualify as a 'humanities type', though the workshop in my garage is substantial, as is my garden.

    We aren't going to agree on this, because we're using different terms for different meanings. On most topics I think we tend to agree (based on the past few years of commenting). I will go to my grave defending the value of a humanities education, but I am not going to bed angry tonight because someone is wrong on the internet.

    219:

    I am not going to bed angry tonight because someone is wrong on the internet.

    Getting upset at someone being wrong on the Internet is much more of a STEM thing, anyway… :-)

    220:

    On a different note, you still have time to get your name on the Europa Clipper. Deadline is the end of this year, EST, but might as well do it now before you forget.

    https://www.nasa.gov/missions/europa-clipper/time-is-running-out-to-add-your-name-to-nasas-europa-clipper/

    221:

    It sounds rather like you have decided that people who don't do engineering things are humanities types, while people who do both are engineering types.

    Initially it was just me thinking... yeah, most of the people I think of as humanities based are pretty dodgy on the bicycle maintenance. The people I know have tool collections are definitely STEM types.

    Damien's descriptivist/prescriptivist thing seems to me helpful, but not definitionally since he points out some descriptivist STEM subjects. Then I thought activist-passivist because that definitely has a selection effect in my life. Passivists generally frustrate me, and I annoy them by trying to get them to do things.

    Are activists more likely to be STEM background than humanities?

    That's where "economists aren't humanities" bites. To me someone like Nicholas Gruen epitomises the useful side of humanities, but since he's a practicing economist a whole lot of bathwater just vanished. So I'm kind of lost and back at the distinction being "can have bad real-world consequences" rather than "rocketpjs approves".

    222:

    Well it's true I put a lot of effort into converting my old 90s chromoly hybrid touring bike into an e-bike recently, and have dithered for just as long over printing a sticker claiming it complies with the EU standard for e-bikes, which is a requirement to make it street-legal in Queensland (as in, it's illegal to ride without such a sticker). I reckon that counts as being a bit dodgy with bike maintenance. OTGH I've been neglecting my garden for years... I recently had to dig my way out of the outcome of leaving a landscaping project unfinished 2 years ago. It's still unfinished, just slightly tidier. I'll get there one day.

    To me the distinction between science and humanities has always been a bit artificial (more commonalities than differences, and the differences are just in the relative balance between qualitative and quantitive methods, for the most part). Treating a portmanteau bundle like STEM as another category is going even further in the direction of confusing everyone, IMHO. TBH I'm skeptical about "promoting STEM", except perhaps to girls and minorities who are underrepresented, and more interested in taking away the barriers to TAFE-style technical education. Famously, the AVCC is behind whacking the technical sector into only-accessible-if-you-are-a-yoof-doing-an-apprenticeship territory, while for decades it was the engine for making backyard tinkering not shit.

    Most of the people I have worked with in IT over 25 years have had some sort of business studies background, especially a so-called "IT degree", rather than a computer science or engineering background as such. Law and economics often seem to be grouped with the business schools in a similar way.

    223:

    Tormenting
    { As per the headline }
    How long before the tory party really tears itself apart? - can't be too soon, in my book, before they poison the wells & the rivers even more ...
    Otherwise, it will carry on getting more horrible, all the way to whenever the next election comes.

    RocketJPS
    Yes, I did. Maybe because I STILL cannot understand how individuals & societies consistently "vote" against their own interests &/or swallow whole monstrous lies ( like religion or fascism or communism ) entirely whole, without the slightest self-examination.
    Remember that I was very nearly taken in by Brexit? And only realised at the last moment that I was being "had". Religion took longer, but, again, the original, just-big-enough break or crack was very close to the edge.
    Yet - I did, I was able to see & examine the inbuilt faults, even though I'm probably well into the "mild-autistic" spectrum ... so if someone like me, who is not conventionally "socially aware" can do it, why can't the "normals" manage?

    Howard NYC
    UTC+2 - well, would you believe Goscinny & Uderzo have words on that unending warfare - see: "Asterix & the Black Gold" ...
    Quote from the wiki article: In the Syrian desert, Asterix, Obelix, and Dogmatix find themselves caught up in ongoing wars between the Sumerians, Akkadians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Medes - and it hasn't got any better since then!

    Moz
    Not even wrong. SOME parts of the humanities make people feel a whole lot better - thus improving things, enormously.
    I remember going to a performance of "Figaro's Wedding" { La nozze del Figaro } in a foul mood, because of "things" going on at the time .. And yet, moments after the overture started, I also started to feel much better. By the time I left the "Coli" I was floating. Really great art ( as in painting ) does the same thing ... there are some paintings, which, if you stand in front of them, start doing odd things to one's vision: Vermeer's "View of Delft" is one such ... after about a minute, the water in the canal appears to start moving(!) I've seen that with a couple of JMW Turner's paintings, too.

    224:

    Considering that we are in fact living in the Torment Nexus I predict that Braverman will be PM before summer.

    225:

    =+=+=+=+=

    dpb 224:

    I predict that Braverman will be PM before summer.

    only if she isn't drafted as T(he)Rump's vice president on the Rotting Republican ticket...

    their motto ==> "Fast! Back To The Past!"

    (which barely beat out "Onward To Failure!" in focus groups consisting of ammosexuals, ages 50 and over, IQs 70 and under)

    =+=+=+=+=

    David L 211:

    your chant ought be set to the tune of Monty Python's "Spam! Spam! Spam!" diddly... "pork! pork! pork! glorious pork barrel for bribe-paying defense contractors! pork!"

    =+=+=+=+=

    AND IN OTHER NEWS... MY MOST PERSONAL KVVETCHH...

    "The rise in cognitive issues aligns with a common symptom that plagues many Covid long-haulers: “brain fog"."

    https://archive.li/tPaAw

    =+=+=+=+=

    226:

    dpb
    I do hope you are wrong ... because that really will mean mass rioting on the streets against a so-called "government" that has zero (negative?) legitimacy.

    Meanwhile ...
    What a surprise that wasn't! - as some of us were discussing, as long ago as 2009, that the "Met" might or might not have been "Institutionally Racist", but they were certainly Institutionally "Bent" - - otherwise known as "On the take" from known criminals.

    227:

    Arianespace is successfully innovating in one space, at least: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canopée

    228:

    Also 225 point 1 - According to this Wikipedia, Cruella Braverman is a UK citizen, so surely not eligible to be US VP?

    229:

    English and Welsh universities teach science, engineering and medicine at undergraduate level. To get into these universities you have to have A levels in suitable subjects. These are done in the last two years of school or in a sixth form college. A levels are approximately equivalent to the science courses taught in the first year of American universities. Students begin to specialise at the age of around 14. Medical and veterinary medicine degrees take longer. There is almost no humanities education for science students. My BSc in chemistry involved just organic inorganic and physical chemistry with support ing courses in physics, maths and German (then sought to be desirable for translating scientific papers). Scottish Universities are similar it teach to masters level.

    230:
    One of the things that struck her were that almost all of her classmates thought to become rich they'd have to move to the US.

    I wonder if they realized what the odds of becoming rich were, as compared to the struggle to hold on to what they had in Germany (health care, access to education for their children)?

    Given the world's (current) richest person is French...

    I wonder if this is partly the availability heuristic; there are louder billionaires in the USA* (Musk, Bezos, the Kardashian family) than in Europe (Arnault, Schwarz) and so people remember US rich people easier and think of the States as the land to get rich in?

    *Phrased that way because there are billionaires in the "keep quiet and accumulate mode" in the US too; the Waltons, the Mars family, etc.

    231:

    major highway roasted and out of service for weeks; apparently nobody could be bothered to inspect

    Piling on to what H said. The news stories I read (I'm on the other coast) talked about frequent inspections, citations, etc... But in many such situations, the penalties for the owner/lessee/whoever to do nothing are much less than the cost of actually doing something. So it just becomes the cost of business.

    20-30 years ago here in North Carolina some idiot with too much money imported something like 5 million tires from China to grind up into road making material. The tires got here into a huge mountain but the concept fell apart. I forget why. But now we have these monster black with white spots Asian mosquitos which make the native ones look quaint.

    What do you do, fine the guy for the cleanup? He was broke. There were no laws about importing tires at the time. Still may not be. I can't remember what happened to the tires. They may have burned in one of those big pile of tire fires we seem to have every 5 or so years.

    232:

    I'd be somewhat surprised, since my circles do contain quite a lot of engineering types as well as humanities types.

    Yep. With a side dose of avoiding those who put down the "others".

    233:

    your chant ought be set to the tune of Monty Python's "Spam! Spam! Spam!"

    In my head it was as I typed. :)

    234:

    Moz: "But then I have to ask: what's the point of humanities? If you're not trying to solve problems or improve things, why even bother? "I know why you suck" doesn't seem very motivating. To me the value of humanities is learning why and how people work (for loose definitions of "work") so we can come up with better ways of doing things. Then study what went wrong when we try, and then try again."

    I've always seen education from the perspective of "learning to think in different ways". A really good teacher in any subject will set your mind afire with excitement over the things that excite them too. Every field of study offers different insights into our world and how it and its inhabitants work. We're blessed in this day and age in having a cornucopia of fascinating knowledge we can browse, and this lets us form a more holistic and realistic view of the world. (Also a wasteland of misinformation and disinformation, but that's a whole other story.)

    235:

    I wonder if this is partly the availability heuristic; there are louder billionaires in the USA

    It was more of a general feeling than an analytical thing. Plus that in Germany (as I understand it and people there have told me) you are much more slotted into a life at an early age and expected to say in your slot. As a general comment on the German society.

    And in the US while that can and is true for most people, it is easier to break out of your slotting.

    236:

    My last year of schooling before college we had this new teacher (to our school) for upper math. I had him for trig. His tests were all open books and anything else you could bring to class. He graded your work. Not the answer.

    But he also had a small Christmas tree farm and sold used cars at the local Ford dealer. I was somewhat of a math wiz relative to the typical person and did well in all my math classes even into college. But I can't remember a single thing he said about math. I remember long conversations about tree farming, 700 foot deep wells, how to buy and/or sell a new or used car and other topics not related at all to trig or math. But nothing about trig. But I got A's and knew trig at the end of the class.

    I suspect he got fired from the next school system over for being such an odd duck. I'm glad I had him.

    237:

    the Waltons

    In my first reading of this my initial thought was "John boy was money rich?". (A reference to US TV from 40+ years ago.)

    238:

    And in the US while that can and is true for most people, it is easier to break out of your slotting.

    I remember reading a few years ago that American socio-economic mobility is a lot lower than people think, mostly because of the costs of health care. (Once you have a family to look after you don't dare quit a job with health insurance.) Apparently Sweden has a significantly higher rate of business startups than America.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/09/sweden-startups/541413/

    239:

    But then I have to ask: what's the point of humanities? If you're not trying to solve problems or improve things, why even bother?

    What's the point of collecting stamps? Of climbing mountains? Of archaeology or palaeontology? Of playing cards, or any game for that matter?

    What's the point of reading and commenting on this blog?

    240:

    Actually I believe "grok" first appeared in Heinlein's 1949 "juvenile" novel "Red Planet". The Martian "elder race" featured prominently in that novel and was used later, largely unchanged, for "Stranger in a Strange Land".

    It's been a long, long time since I first read "Red Planet" as a teenager, so I may be wrong about the use of "grok" in that book, but for sure "sharing water" was.

    241:

    Vulch @ 173:

    The Ariane 6 project has got to be on a few minds.

    Compared to that beacon of cost effectiveness and schedule keeping that is the SLS project you mean?

    OTOH, NASA has only one government to please (even if you never know who that's going to be 4 years from now), while the ESA has what ... "20 some cooks egging the pudding"? 😏

    242:

    Retiring @ 176:

    Here I thought the purpose of the European system was to stop the debilitating wars of conquest that swept across Europe continually. Seems to be working pretty well, so far.

    It does seem to be working reasonably well in the western parts; still a bit of a problem in eastern Europe ... and as I remember it, it's not been that long since the southern parts were roiled in discontent.

    I also wonder how they defined "rich". Was it how much stuff they had (or could have)?

    Indeed. This nonsense of comparing your accumulation of stuff to everybody else's seems to be a prime ingredient of discontent. WealthGrade, for instance, calls it your "social financial ranking". Ranking? I'm not entirely sure this isn't some kind of performance art. For instance,

    Tired of opening multiple apps a day to manually calculate your total worth across all your account balances? Wealthgrade is here to help!

    What kind of people are mired in that kind of insecurity trap?

    Just a SWAG, but young people who do everything in an app; young people who see the economy is NOT going so well for them as it did for their parents and grandparents ... and anyone the developers can convince they're only "temporarily embarrassed billionaires ..." rather than having been chewed up and spit out by the corporate economy.

    243:

    NASA has only one government to please

    One Federal government and 52 state governments, all who want their slice of the pork. Add the Orion to the mix and there's the 20-odd ESA member governments as well. :-)

    244:

    [in the US] it is easier to break out of your slotting

    (German here, no personal experience with living in the US)

    While it certainly feels that way and not a lot of success stories are circulated at least https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Social_Mobility_Index disagrees, when one trusts the methodology the social mobility in the US is not exceptionel.

    One big issue I see here is the early separation in education, after primary school (4 or 6 years, depending on the bundesland) the pupils are sorted into three different school types, and only the highest one (Gymnasium) allows to study at a university w/o hassles and hurdles. And typically kids from richer families have much higher chances to go the gymnasium way.

    Switching between school types is hard, so yes, the slotting takes place here. But this improved in the last decades, with much more offerings to "upgrade" the school graduation, where good grades in one of the lower school types allows to visit schools concentrating on only the final 2 to 3 years of courses needed to get the university entrance qualification. This way is hard, though, the few years have a large curriculum.

    Maybe, just maybe, the assumed higher upwards mobility in the US has something to do with the much louder presenting of success and the country's self-perception? (from rags to riches, American Dream, et al)

    245:

    I find the debate on humanities versus science interesting. I always felt that the degrees of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and maths (plus others unlisted) tended to be termed "hard" because they are. Hard, as in, you really have to put the hours in and some of the concepts really take time and effort to grasp.

    Yes, you have to do some rote learning, but thats so you are aware of all the things that can affect a system and may have an impact on the result of an experiment. I can remember analysing some data, not having a clue what it meant and then the penny dropped and a half forgotten lecture served up an idea that got me going. Google is great for working out who starred in a 1960s sitcom but rubbish at providing an analogy or suggesting a framework with which to explain a new experimental result.

    At uni I did 5 days a week, including one all day practical with half a day Wednesday and most other days 5 or so hours of lectures. I compared notes with someone I knew doing English Literature who had about 5 hours of lectures a week. God, was I envious.

    Given the choice between reading and commenting on a few books by Trollope and Proust and trying to get a grasp of whats gone down in the previous 300 years of physics research and then get my head round quantum mechanics, or the General Relativity, I can kind of guess what most people would choose.

    246:

    Grant noted "At uni I did 5 days a week, including one all day practical with half a day Wednesday and most other days 5 or so hours of lectures. I compared notes with someone I knew doing English Literature who had about 5 hours of lectures a week. God, was I envious."

    (Forest biology degree here, so six courses per term plus labs.) I also used to be envious about the seemingly low workload for arts and humanities students—until I saw the reading lists. I'm a reasonably fast reader, but no way in hell I would have ever gotten through all that reading. It would have been challenging for one course, let alone five.

    On the other hand, I remember asking a prof for a term paper extension because I had pneumonia; he happily agreed to a 1-day extension but at 50% off the mark, and 100% off if I was 2 days late. (He still encouraged me to hand in the paper because of the learning involved.) My brother-in-law, on the other hand, was studying for the Ministry, and at least once that I know of, handed in his paper 6 months late for full credit. Different conventions.

    247:

    Keithmasterson @ 186:

    No shortage of such astounding silliness, we even had a tv show called "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" in which otherwise competent, capable and upwardly mobile interviewees on the street couldn't find certain continents on a map. Youtube probably has it.

    It does. Episode with Ken Jennings (Jeopardy Champion of Champions)

    The questions mostly test whether you can remember the more obscure parts of elementary school classes in the U.S. that you haven't had to use since you WERE a 5th grader.

    Geography: EXCLUDING Antarctica, which continent is the farthest south
    ... can you visualize that old world map that hung in every school classroom.
    Math: Density is an item's MASS divided by what?
    English: "Won't" is a contraction of what two words?

    PS: The 5th Graders don't always get the right answer either ...

    248:

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest the only real difference between STEM & The Humanities is how quickly & obviously things crash & burn when you get a wrong answer.

    You know pretty much right away if the rocket is going to reach orbit or not.

    249:

    I'd made a note to come back to this comment with a perception-vs-reality thing, but I see others have already pointed out the Global Social Mobility Index (TL;DR: the top band that scores over 80% is the Scandies plus Austria, Switzerland and Belgium; The next band with 70-79% has Germany near the lead, Australia, Aoetearoa and the UK roughly in the middle and the USA at the bottom).

    Someone mentioned healthcare but I'll circle around education a bit. I think that in the German system it really depends on parents making a call whether their child is bound for a trade like their own vs university. If they pick university, and the child copes with the first year or so of that track, then they get all the support they need to make it all the way. No idea whether any of the other countries have "tracks" like Germany's so those ones get the "all the support" thing without the need to make an early choice. But there's more to social mobility than university education, and having technical and trade education available for free (or at least very affordably) to anyone who wants it is a big deal, maybe a bigger deal.

    250:

    ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE

    I'm only just home after a highly annoying airline delay (it was the fault of the weather, not the airline). And I was travelling without a laptop and this blog doesn't play terribly well with an iPad or phone and I am not coughing up $1000/year on an ongoing basis for the closed-source update to the software that'll fix that.

    So I am skipping all comments from 30 to 250 inclusive.

    If you want to ask me a question, ask it again in a comment below this one! Otherwise, don't expect an answer.

    251:

    I think Global Social Mobility Index and "getting rich" are not at all the same thing. GSMI has a bunch of stuff baked into it, many of which (like Fair Wage Distribution) the US does not do well on.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Social_Mobility_Index

    I am sure "getting rich" means different things to different people but i guess that for a middle class German it's more about becoming a multimillionaire then securing health care.

    A large preponderance of the worlds billionaires are American, the next biggest chunk at Chinese. Despite holding the top spot, overall Europe does not do well on those kinds of lists.

    252:

    The advantage of TESCREAL over TREACLES is that if you google for it you're likely to get what you want, whereas TREACLES will give you a ton of cooking and recipe websites first ...

    253:

    [in the US] it is easier to break out of your slotting

    If I wasn't clear before let me say it here. It was a perception / feeling expressed by her classmates. This was in the Harz mountains area.

    254:

    What's the point of collecting stamps? Of climbing mountains?

    As hobbies? They're interesting, fun, whatever, for the people who do them. But there's very rarely a set of university courses emphasising the importance of mountain climbing to students, let alone an organised campaign of people saying "if you don't do at least some stamp collecting you're a lesser person".

    Whereas with studying huimanities subject we have those things.

    255:

    You know pretty much right away if the rocket is going to reach orbit or not.

    Currently looking like the various permits for the second flight of the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy may come through for a Friday launch, NOTAMs and NOTMARs have been issued for a few hours each of Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting at 1300UTC although the provisional booking for the NASA Wb-57 will have run out.

    256:

    Perhaps the real problem with modern university educations is various attempts to teach STEM subjects that require painstaking mastery of oodles of precise details, at the undergraduate level. Medicine and law are taught as graduate disciplines,

    Medicine and law are not good to compare. At least not in North America. (Warning one leg of my extended family is littered with lawyers.

    Almost anyone with a pulse and a Bachelor's degree can get into a law school. Tests weed and schooling weed out those trying for the elites but there are plenty of lower level law schools. To be a decent lawyer you need several things to varying degrees.
    * Ability to schmooze
    * Ability to digest (or at least skim) vast amounts of information quickly
    * Ability to speak seemingly on almost any subject with little notice
    * Ability to write an essay on the spot with little correction needed
    * A strong desire to WIN

    For medical schools you almost assuredly need a STEM or near STEM undergrad degree. Or do very well on the entrance tests and be a very smart very quick study of biology and chemistry.

    You can be a lawyer and not have any idea of the difference between a mL and an oz.

    257:

    Currently looking like the various permits for the second flight of the SpaceX Starship

    Environmental permits were the last ones they were/are waiting for.

    Apparently throwing auto sized chunks of concrete into the local wetlands and coating everything within a few miles with concrete dust was a bit much even in Texas.

    258:

    paws4thot @ 228:

    Also 225 point 1 - According to this Wikipedia, Cruella Braverman is a UK citizen, so surely not eligible to be US VP?

    Her U.K. citizenship wouldn't be an impediment. NOT being "native born" in the U.S. would be.

    Note OTOH that Boris Johnson IS a "native born American", holding dual-citizenship and AFAIK could have grown up to be President/Vice President of the U.S. (at least before he gave up his U.S. citizenship to run for office in the U.K.) Apparently dual citizenship is an impediment to holding public office in the U.K.

    I don't know whether BoZo would be allowed to rescind his decision on that should he change his mind and decide to run ...

    259:

    Dumping large quantities of fresh water into a fairly small area of salt marsh when the new deluge system runs was part of the reason for the rather late involvement of FWS.

    260:

    Looping back to the CS talk, Elon is very big on "I'm saving humanity, so what if I break a few things on along the way?"

    261:

    Lawyerness varies a lot between countries, even those with "closely related" legal systems. The soft skills vary even more, Australia too has the "by arseholes, for arseholes" law schools that have the obvious problems with actually obeying the law, right through to "rural" law schools where there's less focus on antongonising peasants and more on finding least-bad outcomes. But in adversarial law countries it's still not a fun profession and is known for its drug and suicide problems in both Australia and Aotearoa.

    My impression from outside is that in medicine it's the learning that's hard, in law it's the other lawyers. Yes, surgeons especially are notorious for being arseholes, but they're more or less the exceptions. In law everyone is supposed to be an arsehole.

    Oz & NZ do law and medicine as undergrade degrees, but the medical process is far more drawn out. IIRC it's seven years minimum to become a doctor where you can graduate law in four and do bar exams after a year. Many do it in five with a BA or BSc as a second degree, my ex-sister-in-law did engineering+law but also in five years (both four year degrees where a BA/BSc is normally three). Even architecture is five plus a couple more for certification (many architecture grads never get certified, like engineers not becoming PEng/IPENZ certified)

    262:

    Robert Prior @ 238:

    And in the US while that can and is true for most people, it is easier to break out of your slotting.

    I remember reading a few years ago that American socio-economic mobility is a lot lower than people think, mostly because of the costs of health care. (Once you have a family to look after you don't dare quit a job with health insurance.) Apparently Sweden has a significantly higher rate of business startups than America.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/09/sweden-startups/541413/

    Social (economic) UPWARD mobility is a lot more restricted today than it was in the early post WW2 period when a lot of these tropes about America were established in popular culture. For some reason DOWNWARD mobility has become a lot more widespread since then.

    I don't think it's entirely accounted for by the burdensome cost of "health care" even if that is a significant contributor.

    263:

    Elon is very big on "I'm saving humanity, so what if I break a few things on along the way?"

    Similar to managing the climate catastrophe: he's emitting a lot of greenhouses gases now and promising to reduce them later. Killing a few people now but promising to save millions or billions of lives in the future is the same pattern.

    This is where World Vision or even the UN have really dropped the ball. Stop talking about "sponsor a child" or "peacekeeping", start selling death offsets. Russia could just buy up a million child futures from World Vision and everyone would STFU about Ukraine...

    264:

    renke_ @ 244:

    "[in the US] it is easier to break out of your slotting"

    (German here, no personal experience with living in the US)

    While it certainly feels that way and not a lot of success stories are circulated at least https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Social_Mobility_Index disagrees, when one trusts the methodology the social mobility in the US is not exceptionel.

    Again, I think these beliefs were established in the immediate post-WW2 period, when the U.S. had much more social (upward economic) mobility than it does today and Europe (not just Germany) were still cleaning up the rubble from the recent war. The "German Economic Miracle" hadn't really begun yet and even the U.K. was still under war-time rationing.

    The U.S. was STILL the land of opportunity ...

    Times (and economies) have changed since then ... what people "believe" about those economies maybe not so much.

    265:

    There was a trend away from undergraduate entry into medical school in Oz in the noughties and teens, and at this point about half the medical schools only accept graduate entry (via the GAMSAT process). Not sure whether it's changed and trending back the other way, this stuff happens. Oz medical schools issue the MBBS as per UK, the MD is higher research degree like a PhD.

    Law schools are mostly undergrad entry and issue the bog standard LLB. We generally reserve the JD (Juris Doctor) for post-grad qualifying degrees equivalent to undergrad with honours, and I guess that's what's most common in the USA, but only a subset of law schools offer that. There's also the LLD which is a higher research degree. One can also do a PhD in Law, and this is most likely what faculty in the law school have.

    266:

    Geography: EXCLUDING Antarctica, which continent is the farthest south

    True answer: it depends on what you mean by "furthest south"!

    267:

    "Oz & NZ do law and medicine as undergrade degrees," You can actually do Medicine as undergrad or postgrad. I once worked with a GP who started out as a meteorologist.

    268:

    I have just done it with DuckDuckGo, and your entry comes in at number 23, with a most heterogeneous selection of hits before it! I hate having to search for something that uses only commonly searched-for words, even if the combination is unambiguous.

    269:

    "better ways of doing things". STEM vs Humanities = As a kid I had the same experience of reading every SF book in the public library. A pilot? (nope; bad eyes). A rocket engineer? (9th Grade algebra teacher made everybody stand up, and sit down when you solved the problem. Couldn't do it. Humiliation; convinced me I couldn't do math even though I got A's through High School). OTOH my history teacher was absolutely inspiring.

    From him, I got onto "saving the world from the Commies". College: PoliSci (mid Vietnam) until an Intl Relations prof said we would have to stop some countries from developing so they didn't all have revolutions at the same time. (A CIA plant? Vietnam in a nutshell.)

    Could I change this policY? Interviewed NSA. Interview ended when I admitted ART was my hobby. "Go back to school, and get it out of your system". Conclusion: NSA-Art is "subversive" Me: Art is about the stories that define how we do things. Maybe US storiesneed adjusting.

    Ended (with my wife) as social workers. Didn't save the world from the Commies, saved a lot of kids from from the streets and dead-end foster care. Family therapy: Small changes in stories led to big changes in behavior. Both worked for/or ran social agencies that supported immigrant communities. Strivers - worked harder that "Real Aurcans", with a few supports. Queens and Brooklyn are source of "Aspiring Citizens", not "vermin." Very difficult to translate different stories from family to political level.

    Learned programming/data analysis. Helped develop computer systems that demonstrate (maybe) that services to kids, and seniors. actually make life better.

    Humanities has had much more impact on me, and real people, than if I'd become a rocket scientist. OTOH, maybe STEM and Humanities, properly applied, fit together.

    270:

    AFAIK there are specific graduate entry paths for a few degrees, but I'm used to any degree being an entry point to just about anything. At one stage I was almost conned into a chemistry postgrad based on having an electrical engineering degree, and any STEM-ish degree would get you into third year of a related engineering course when I was there. Not to mention "life experience" qualifications that were probably more commonly used when degrees were rare - you don't want to turn away the guy who designed the thing from a course in better designing the thing just because he doesn't have a bit of paper from a degree mill.

    I know someone who turned a nursing-nondegree into a pathway to professor of medicine, albeit via medical school and a PhD, it weas only the first 35-odd years of her life that was nontraditional for a professor :)

    271:

    maybe STEM and Humanities, properly applied, fit together.

    If nothing else this discussion has convinced me that the boundaries are poorly defined and may only exist from a great distance (cf "what is a tree" or the notorious "no such thing as a fish")

    If nothing else there seems to be a positive correllation between people being interesting to listen to and them violating the scared boundaries between arts and humanities or humanities and science, let alone the chasm between making art and making machines. It's hard to even write that without feeling sarcastic.

    272:

    Trying to catch up from being at Windycon this past weekend, so not here since last Tuesday.

    The whole STEM vs humanities... a lot of you seem to see segments of the issue. Let me start by offering something that was huge when I first got into fandom (when mammoths walked the earth): have any of you read, or even heard of CP Snow's famous speech-cum-essay from 1959, The Two Cultures? https://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/students/envs_5110/snow_1959.pdf I'll note that he mentions that he knew plenty of scientists who could quote Shakespeare chapter and verse, but not a single liberal arts major who even knew the simplified version of the Three Laws of Thermodynamics ("you can't win, you can't break even, you can't get out of the game").

    Then let's go on to "geeks" and "nerds", words I dislike... because they began as INSULTS. The "popular kids" looked down on us - let's add "grinds", never mind "four eyes" (kids with glasses). We always had our noses buried in a book, rather than out for sports, and mating/social games. And that was on top of the attitude that goes back to medieval nobility, who considered the only two things it was proper for a nobleman to know was how to hunt and how to fight ("read? Why? I have clerks for that"). And they were sure they'd be going into management (corporate or government), where you say what sounded good, and waved your hands, and your underlines did whatever.

    And if you think I'm exaggerating, only in the last few years did I hear about the test for a new military lieutenant, which is to set up a flagpole. You failed if you tried to do it. To succeed, you called over a sergeant, and ordered them to put up a flagpole.

    So, in college (for those who went), they did sports, and took the deliberately easy courses - is there anyone here who'll deny that there are such? And none of them, alonst with usually liberal arts majors, also, did tend not to take math or science.

    The result is that computers, like electricity, are magic. Sure, some liberal arts majors learned more (like my partner, who's an artist), but more did not.[1] The result is the crap we see in the news and TV and never-ending memes.

    I'll note in US colleges, whatever your major, you were required to take "distribution courses". They've dropped language as a required one, but... Let's see, I had two years of English (which included writing and poetry). I had an (optional) course on Urban Studies (history/development of cities). And, oh, yes, the course I took on World Religions. [2] My degree is a B.Sc in Computer and Information Science. And my distribution courses weren't "unusual".

    1 No "journalist" should ever be allowed to write the word "galaxy" or "galactic" or "intergalactic", and if they do, they should lose one finger until they stop.
    2 My late wife thought it was probably a Good Thing that I couldn't take off during the day - I went part time, working full time - to take the science fiction course....

    273:

    Claptrap? So you say that the Structural Differential is not a good representation of what we "know"? If so, please explain why.

    274:

    Are you trying to tell me fans are not slans?

    275:

    Whereas I read the story as "stupid kid who really didn't understand, and thought they could ignore the rules".

    Would it have had the same impact if it was a boy?

    276:

    Love it - the consistency and texture, with no nutritional value, as it were.

    277:

    I don't think I agree with your implied definition of psi powers. Let's take telepathy: can you read anyone's mind, or only another telepaths? If you can read anyone's, just how deep or clear is it? Can you only, say, read what they're thinking right now, and not what you want to know? Can you somehow get them to think what you want to know, or is it only reception?

    That's not going to do a lot for an ubermensch. Esp. if you only have limited control over reception. Otherwise... you're forever in a LOUD BAR WITH EVERYONE YELLING.

    278:

    The Golden Rule. As I understand it, the Jewish formulation is "do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you", which gives it a whole 'norther intent.

    And I have known not only libertarians but Libertarians (in fact, I know ESR). I stopped a co-worker in his tracks one day in the early nineties by asked, "So, how do we get to this wonderful world of yours - do we take everything from everyone, and divvy it up equally, or do we just start from where we are, with you and me with nothing, and Bill Gates as a billionaire?" His response was, "We're still talking about that down at the club." (This was before Libertarians started running for office.)

    279:

    Um, er, I have trouble with that interpretation, given that Asimov was born and raised Jewish, though he was very secular.

    280:

    No problem. Build them in a space station, all the solar power you want, for all practical purposes of forever.

    Of course, unless we threaten them, they'd have no reason to pay attention to us at all.

    281:

    But as we can see from news stories in the last several years, in most of the world, the birth rate's dropping, and in the wealthiest (that is, using most of the resources and power), it's below replacement rate. I've seen some speculation that by 2050, it will start dropping.

    282:

    whitroth
    he knew plenty of scientists who could quote Shakespeare chapter and verse, but not a single liberal arts major who even knew the simplified version of the Three Laws of Thermodynamics - STILL horribly true ...
    See also my comments on Opera & the visual arts, above?

    283:

    Except, of course, the editors, etc, are also readers. And the barber is a man who shaves himself.

    284:

    Yes. In the nineties, I thought about creating the ultimate American company: I'd get an artist to make up really pretty stock certificates, pay him, and my company would sell copies of the stock certificates with serial numbers. And if someone resold them, they'd have to pay ma a percentage. My printer's pre-amortized, I'd be president and CEO, with all employees downsized to zero.

    285:

    Yep. Look up "Amon Bundy", and you'll note that the still-more-or-less-a-democracy US is dealing with him.

    286:

    Cooling ponds? Y'know, Philly heated a number of downtown buildings with steam from the city incinerators. I think NYC and some other cities did the same.

    287:

    Yeah, "nanny state" and "self-reliance"... but they want the state to control what can be seen ("Think of the children!"), and what you can do with your own body....

    288:

    My biggest problem with economics as practised now is that laws and taxes are not included. For example, raise interest rates to control inflation... but not raise taxes on windfall profits.

    289:

    Figaro... unfortunately, as a boomer and an American, I instantly see Bugs Bunny as Figaro.

    290:

    The same is true in the US, for certain populations, such as blacks or hispanics.

    291:

    Well, no. LBJ partly got the Moon Race through by spending money in states whose votes he needed, and that's the technique used ever since. So, not only the federal government, but also all the states that NASA spends money in.

    292:

    I am sure "getting rich" means different things to different people but i guess that for a middle class German it's more about becoming a multimillionaire then securing health care.

    Could that be because 'securing health care' is something that the German takes for granted? I know I've talked to a number of Canadians who went south to get rich(er), then returned when they realized that their higher salary (and lower taxes) had to cover things that were funded by the government up here, and so they were actually a bit behind.

    293:

    My impression from outside is that in medicine it's the learning that's hard, in law it's the other lawyers.,/i>

    When I was at uni for engineering (80s Canada) we did a joint project with the law students (mock trial with expert witnesses). What really surprised them was that we studied and helped each other. Apparently they were well aware that they were graded on a curve (thus competing against each other rather than an absolute standard), and that those with the highest marks got the best internships and positions after graduation.

    I learned from one of my nieces (when she sat the exam for her accounting qualification) that apparently accountants are also graded on a curve. So if you are a decent accountant in a year when lots of brilliant people write the exam, you might fail, while the same answers next year when a bunch of dullards write might be the highest mark. Which did not make me feel confident that a CGA/CPA (or whatever the designation is) actually knows their stuff.

    294:

    Social (economic) UPWARD mobility is a lot more restricted today than it was in the early post WW2 period when a lot of these tropes about America were established in popular culture. For some reason DOWNWARD mobility has become a lot more widespread since then.

    So on average social mobility is the same, it's just people's assumption about the direction that's wrong? :-/

    295:

    Yeah, engineering definitely had that culture of sharing knowledge where I was too. We still had fights at the top of the class and people who cared a great deal about that. But the distinction there was that to get to the top you have to be brilliant and work your guts out. Just one wasn't going to get you anywhere.

    OTOH I took a small amount of pride in coming up with my own solutions where I could, and had a smarter friend who did the same, so we'd sometimes work together to come up with our two distinct, different solutions. He favoured "works perfectly", I favoured "works differently". Or usually, sort-of-works, differently.

    I suspect there was the usual exponential relationship between effort and approach to perfection too. The guy who came top of my class basically vanished during exams, and final year his girlfriend moved out during final exams and he didn't seem to notice. I suspect he knew but wasn't willing to stop and fuss about it because he had more important things to do. Then he did a quick masters thesis in the six month gap before going to Cambridge for his PhD (and eventual professorship... doxxing him is both unavoidable and meaningless, if anyone cares enough to look for him)

    296:

    I did an Open Source version of the Torment Nexus, using python, sqlite and lighttpd, and it runs on my Raspberry Pi, but it's really slow with only 8 gigs, so my neighbors are moaning and not shrieking, which is kind of a bummer 'cause I hate them. Does anyone think they could duplicate my code in a faster language?

    297:

    If nothing else there seems to be a positive correllation between people being interesting to listen to and them violating the scared boundaries between arts and humanities or humanities and science, let alone the chasm between making art and making machines.

    We live in an analogue world, not a digital one. Even digital signals are analogue when you look at them on a scope. Boundaries between subjects are always a bit arbitrary, and the interesting stuff usually happens in the interstices.

    Consider music. Surely an art? Yet musicians have always used technology to create new possibilities, inventing and modifying instruments, playing with the possibilities that new instruments open up. The harpsichord was once as new as the theremin or the synthesizer. If Sax hadn't invented the saxophone jazz would sound a lot different. The humble church organ was once new, and mightily resisted by traditionalists who preferred guitars and flutes (presumably as played in Jesus' time) — and I remember in the 70s when traditionalists resisted guitars in church services because we'd always listened to the organ… Almost all music (except pure vocals) is only possible because of machines!

    Or consider painting (also an art, yes?). What you can paint relies on the pigments you use, and artists used to mix their own pigments and experiment with them. Read Phillip Ball's book Bright Earth to get an idea of how applied chemistry affected the history of art.

    298:

    Link to the book:

    From Egyptian wall paintings to the Venetian Renaissance, impressionism to digital images, Philip Ball tells the fascinating story of how art, chemistry, and technology have interacted throughout the ages to render the gorgeous hues we admire on our walls and in our museums.

    Finalist for the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award.

    https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/B/bo3616821.html

    299:

    have any of you read, or even heard of CP Snow's famous speech-cum-essay from 1959

    I refer you to comment 214…

    300:

    Greg, You might like to run through the testing here: https://rdos.net/eng/Aspie-quiz.php

    It is about as rigorous as the written testing done to diagnose autism, and is free (unlike the testing and interview with a psychiatrist for actual diagnosis, which cost me close to £900).

    And yes, I am classed as a high-functioning autistic.

    The main differences are a lack of sensitivity to body language cues and the fact that my mind runs close to top speed a lot of the time, but misses when asked to generalise. I either have amazing memory, or lousy memory and more than a touch of Attention Deficit disorder too; more "idiot servant" than "idiot savant", unfortunately.

    301:

    Re: 'And that's why I think you should always be wary of SF writers bearing ideas.'

    Welcome back!

    Is the negativism that you pointed out in your essay the reason fantasy fiction has been outselling science fiction the last few decades? The Laundryverse overlaps both (application of contemporary tech to an ancient 'Artsy-magic'* problem) so in theory should appeal to both audiences.

    *Lots of discussion re: STEM VS Arts going on. Personally I think it's fundamentally a difference of process: STEM has better (crisper) toolsets and methods. Despite this, hard science/engineering can also seriously screw up - as seen by the recent retraction of two major papers in Nature re: room temp semiconductors.

    What are commonly referred to as 'Arts' and 'Science' can work together!

    'New evidence for therapies in stroke rehabilitation'

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3679365/

    The below is just one part of a longish review article published back in 2013.

    'Melodic intonation and constraint-induced therapies

    A range of individual speech and language therapy techniques have been developed to address the wide variety of aphasic syndromes that occur after stroke [53]. Most patients need a multi-modal approach to build on their strengths and to limit frustration in word finding and fluency. Melodic intonation therapy was developed for patients who have poor expression but good comprehension. This technique uses simple melodies and rhythmic tapping to engage networks that subserve prosody of language [54]. In a nod to the massed-practice paradigm of CIMT, constraint-induced aphasia therapy was developed as a means to improve verbal output [55]. Where comprehension is poor and output is perseverative, therapies have little effect. Regardless of the treatment modality employed, regular home-based practice with family is imperative for the development of social communication.'

    Greg:

    You're probably familiar with this aria. It's a great piece of music for unwinding as evidenced by how often it's been used including in a British Airway commercial.

    Delibes: Lakmé - Duo des fleurs (Flower Duet), Sabine Devieilhe & Marianne Crebassa

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1ZL5AxmK_A&list=RDC1ZL5AxmK_A&start_radio=1

    For a less distracting yet uplifting background sound, there's also the Mozart piano concertos. Lili Kraus is my favorite and she's one of the few pianists who recorded all of the Mozart piano concertos. (The below is one of three compilations - it's 3 hours long.)

    Mozart - Piano Concertos No.11,12,13,14,17,18,19 + Presentation (Century's recording : Lili Kraus)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZntL9Y7vcDM

    302:

    For a less distracting yet uplifting background sound, there's also the Mozart piano concertos.

    Daniil Trifonov plays amazing Bach on the piano. I particular like BACH: The Art of Life when I need to relax (or when I need to concentrate).

    https://www.deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/bach-the-art-of-life-daniil-trifonov-12430

    I find when I want to relax I tend to agree with Emperor Joseph II — Mozart has too many notes! :-)

    303:

    whitroth 286:

    not so much efficiency as utilizing a waste product as basis for full employment wherein semi-skilled, poorly educated locals in places with cheap land, cheap water, cheap electricity and government subsidies and politicians anxious to boast about full employment during election cycle... if those greenhouses broke even on selling out-of-season veggies & fruit that would be 'good enough'...

    problem was the locals resented the 'eggheads' running data centers making 5X dollars per hour doing stuff that never required breaking a sweat, along with driving shiny new cars, being respected, et al...

    ...and they refused to perform [REDACTED-RACIST-INSULT] types of stoop labor... being unemployed was better and there was this wack-o mode of poor-but-proud that is stunning in its utter stupidity

    SMH, WTF they been smoking!?

    304:

    I'm not convinced that art and humanities are the same thing. Sure, you can study the philosophy of science or the ethics of medicine or whatever, and you can study art history or the physiology of dance or 200 other variations. But there's fuck all knowledge of humanity required to wrap the Reichstag in plastic or splatter paint on a canvas a la that elephant that paints. So I don't think there's a necessary connection.

    Art covers the gamut from "what can I get away with" to "I'm going to spend 30 years of my life perfecting this painting sp people spend the next few centuries arguing about whether she's smiling". But the general rules is that people react to things around them, claiming that anything they react to is necessarily art seems to devalue the idea of art quite a lot. If nothing else shouldn't there be some kind of equivalent to mens rea or wavefunction collapse? If a tree falls in the forst but no-one is around, is it still art?

    305:

    imho piano concertos 14 and 17 are only relaxing if you're -not- paying attention. Not because there are "too many notes" but because of what those notes are. Concerto no.14 in E-flat has some features in common with no.24 in C minor, for example - and even before the latter was written, its oddness, offbeat accents and eccentricity (noted by the composer in his own letters) would have struck the ears of more knowledgeable members of the audience. It's also, incidentally, the first work Mozart entered in his little notebook that he kept from then until his death in which he notated many of his works with their main themes, some comments, etc. after finishing them. Some of them now only exist as entries in that notebook (that is, they're otherwise totally lost) including an intriguing slow movement composed for someone else's violin concerto... To some extent this is true of nos.16 and 17 (and anyway, as several authors (e.g. Cuthbert Girdlestone, Alfred Einstein... ) writing about Mozart's concertos have noted, most - if not all -- of the piano concertos he wrote in that one remarkable year of 1784 - nos.14-19 - have at least something special and individual specific about just them.) Music dork out...

    306:

    274 - Are you basically saying "prove this assertion is not true?"

    293 - That also presumes that the difficulty of the questions is roughly constant year on year. One of the papers I did, the year I did it, had "easy questions". Cue much discussion in my class about how "I must have made a mistake in question N, because I finished the paper an hour early", and eventually receiving a top band, (not just grade, actual band) result for the paper.

    307:

    "That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor" is how Wikipedia has it translated, and so yes, that's the gist. The too-simplified/really inaccurate "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is as you imply open to the Twain (or is it the Shaw?) Objection ;) (to wit, but our tastes may differ :) )

    308:

    Note: yes, so is the modified form I quote, but I hope (maybe not expect) it might generally inspire more thought in its application. ...

    309:

    Maybe Sir William Turner Walton OM, composer of the Crown Imperial march (1937) (... also 2 symphonies, 2 string quartets, concertos for violin, viola, cello, sinfonia concertante for piano, fair amount of film music, and more...) and his relatives?... couldn't say!

    310:

    "Think of the children", actually taken seriously, might lead to something in the general direction of Gilman's "Herland" (in which that was the no.1 rule and was taken very seriously instead of being a slogan, iirc, though that is not what that novel is most remembered for)...

    311:

    Those treacles are mine, at any road!!

    312:

    I'm really trying not to get into this chest-thumping engineers versus the humanities thing, but seriously, it's ridiculous.

    All the major problems these days have to be solved by specialists in the humanities. Seriously.

    Climate change? That's a sociopolitical problem. There's a plethora of underutilized tech dying on the vine.

    Descent into fascism? Political problem.

    Climate migration? political problem.

    Extinction crisis? Biopolitical problem

    Addiction? Sociopolitical and psychological problem

    AI's role in society? Sociopolitical problem

    Et merde.

    Literally what do engineers have to contribute, beyond creating new problems and working on contracts that ultimately flow from politicians and business-critters who majored in the humanities? I mean, yeah, you're well informed citizens and all that, but until you go over to the dark side and learn politics or business, you're hired and fired by the acre, as my grandfather the electrical engineer used to put it. Your opinions go unheard, and mostly so does your expertise. Same goes for academia and most commercial scientists. If you don't do politics, you don't matter unless you've got a billion to sling towards politicians.

    And yes. I come from two generations of engineers. I rebelled.

    But do go on.

    313:

    Item the first: Heinlein had a bit of fun with the Technocrats (as he knew them then, they apparently have not changed much) in "The Roads Must Roll".

    Item the second: Should I save out a head of lettuce for Braverman? Just in case?

    Item the third: Just got through reading ORIGIN STORY by David Christian. Starting the Big Bang, finished right before covid. A nice, reasonably high literacy overview (I plan to recommend several books to him in my Amazon review, including HOT EARTH DREAMS. He likes the long view).

    Item the last: Thank you for having such high-level conversations, it's fun to have my brain get hurty the way really good SF like BLINDSIGHT can do. Also, doing my microlevel best to keep democracy going where I live.

    314:

    I've written a few comments in that subthread which I deleted before posting and have really just been trying to stay out of it, having said what I might say already. Dealing with obvious misconceptions is just whackamole and not worth anyone's time. And some of the more bizarre claims kinda didn't really warrant responses anyway.

    But I've also been waiting for the 300 comment mark to check in on whether this article in New Scientist about Cockatoos learning how to open council bins by copying each other wasn't in fact something you shared here back when it was more current. AnywayI saw it pop up in a social media feed elsewhere yesterday and it's fun.

    Not that I'm trying to distract from one strange attractor by talking about another one or anything. Even one that's been done to death recently.

    315:

    But the general rules is that people react to things around them, claiming that anything they react to is necessarily art seems to devalue the idea of art quite a lot

    Surprisingly, there's quite a bit of theory about this. Some works are generally agreed to have something that other works do not, and a lot of effort has been spent over centuries trying to work out what that is. Just as an example, Kant had quite a bit to say on the topic in 1790, but a summary of one of his positions is that the "sublime" is what happens when we "apprehend the infinite". It doesn't really work all that well for a lot of the material we have around us now, but I thought it might appeal because it aligns with an analogy you used.

    316:

    settle down class... for your term papers in Eco 101 (Naive Intro to Economics) as well as Pysch 203 (Abnormalities and Sociopaths) and Computer Science 319 (New Platforms and Old Greed)

    we're letting you write once for all three courses and that ought make it easier to ace it, eh?

    compare and contrast the following:

    "Modern Cosmic Horrors"

    vs

    "Torment Nexus"

    vs

    "Christian Nationalism with Nazi Characteristics"

    vs

    "Capitalism Off Leash and Hungry For Additional Monopolistic Oligarchies"

    extra points for embedding homemade videos of starving peasants

    317:

    To ruin the joke: the Waltons as in the descendants of the founders of Walmart, who until recently were still majority stakeholders.

    318:

    whitroth
    No problem with that ... I've been to a showing of "Bugs Bunny goes to Broadway" with a live orchestra - having a whale of a time.
    Or THIS - "Be vewy quiet - I'm hunting wabbits" - YouTube of Bugs + Wagner ... absolutely hysterical. Even more so if you've actually been in a production of "Rheingold" (!)

    Rbt Prior
    Another example ... Stratford Bill was only able to write-&-stage The Winter's Tale because ... the Globe had burnt down & he used a new theatre ( The Rose? ) with the latest new technical stage-prop - directed light beams from lanterns ... so that he could "convincingly" get the life-like statue of Hermione spot-lit & tell Leontes not to touch it, because the "paint is still wet" ... It is, of course, the real Hermione.

    SFR
    Yup - seen a production of that one.
    I think Mitsuko Ushida is the current, um "mistress" of the piano, certainly as a solo instrument.
    But, I was turned that way at a very young age, by hearing something amazing come out of our ancient valve radio, in ? 1951? 1952? ... And think, even then, but not as clearly as now, of course .. "The Human voice can do THAT? - yes, well. { Ignore the 15-second advert, please? }

    Eric
    VERY old joke ....
    Masochist: "Hit me!"
    Sadist: "Shan't"

    319:

    Climate change? That's a sociopolitical problem. There's a plethora of underutilized tech dying on the vine.

    So you're saying that the engineers have done their part, what's left is for the humanitarians to solve their part? How's that going?

    320:

    I'm vaguely aware of the idea of theory of art and so on, but it's something that doesn't really interest me. Hence my trying to draw a vague distinction and leave it at that.

    A lot of my experience is more along the lines of non-stem people complaining that something is incomprehensible and likely impossible, me saying 'can you describe what you want it to do' then making one for them.

    But I feel much the same bafflement when faced with getting three people who want to do something to actually do it, let alone persuading the disinterested. I leave that to people who say they're good at it. I may have mentioned before my habit of saying "if you're so fucking brilliant at understanding people maybe you should be the one who understands me instead of demanding I change".

    So it's not that I don't think understanding people is difficult, it's more that I struggle to understand how people who proclaim themselves experts in the field are so shit at it.

    321:

    so... here's a bit of sociopolitical WTF... Florida is viewed as being the part of the USA where old folk go to die ("Grim Reaper's waiting room") and where anyone under age of 70 has to have an IQ under 70...

    example:

    "Florida woman is charged with plotting her former son-in-law’s death a week after her son is convicted of murder... Donna Adelson’s arrest came a week after she and her husband, Harvey, booked flights to Vietnam departing from Miami airport on Monday, according to the probable cause affidavit... In the days leading up to her arrest, Donna Adelson discussed getting her affairs in order, fleeing to a non-extradition country, as well as plans for suicide in calls with her son Charles after his guilty verdict..."

    https://lite.cnn.com/2023/11/15/us/fsu-professor-donna-adelson-murder-charge-arrested/index.html

    322:

    Given that Asimov wrote the Foundation novellas by shamelessly cribbing from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire I think I can safely say that you're wrong.

    323:

    So you're saying that the engineers have done their part, what's left is for the humanitarians to solve their part? How's that going?

    I'd maybe say that scientists have done their part, now politicians should solve their part. Humanists could help with getting the politicians get off their arses, engineers can then help implementing necessary solutions, though I think the main part of any climate change fix is basically doing less and outputting less greenhouse gases, with a sprinkling of use less energy thrown in.

    Now that I think of it thinking of ways of people being happy without consuming so much resources is very much a sociopolitical problem and non-engineers could also help with that. I'm an engineer myself and even though I graduated a long time ago, I think that from my point of view engineering people could do with more humanities education. Too many 'tech solves everything or at least makes a good profit' types thereabouts.

    324:

    All the major problems these days have to be solved by specialists in the humanities. Seriously.

    Yes. No. Well ....

    To me it's both sides have to be involved. And neither (in broad terms) wants to admit the others might have some valid points. And both are in denial of major issues.

    In broad terms

    • People want simple answers to all problems, complicated or not. Both societal and technical issues.
    • People want technical and social issues to be resolved in ways that do NOT cross the technical / social boundaries.
    • People HATE to admit they might be wrong. Especially if they have been wrong for a long time. Say decades.
    • People get really upset if they feel the long term tribe they were raised in is posited to have some bad / wrong premises.
    • People like tribes. It allows them to get cozy in their beliefs and demonize those not in the tribe. This get really messy when the tribes hold beliefs that turn out to be some right and some wrong.
    • Most people HATE change. And are in total denial of it. They tend to frame the fight against change using the various points above.

    And I rarely see anyone from the STEM or humanities side of things really address the above in a coherent manner. Or in a way that all but a trivial number of people will accept.

    And a really big one:
    * Smart people (define as you wish) tend to feel over time their opinions need to be treated as facts by others.

    As long as the planet has empty places people can move to to avoid the results of the above, well things were not absolutely terrible. Most of the time. As China, India, Europe, and Africa filled up things got ugly. Then we found the Americas. But now we seem to have mostly run out of empty habitable places.

    325:

    "major problems these days have to be solved by specialists in the humanities."

    Sort of what I was talking about in describing family therapy. People frame problems as it's the other guy's fault, they started it, I had to respond.... When looked at from the outside there's highly patterned and repetitive loop that just keeps going, and maybe escalates. "Therapy" becomes validating everyone (the rabbi joke: "you're right, and YOU'RE right, etc) and either disrupting the pattern, changing the story, or its meaning enough so new behavior is possible. So it's STORY TELLING that accommodates everyone's view of reality. Nobody has to admit they are wrong. That's doable on a small scale, but really difficult to scale up.

    326:

    325: Scaling up. I think that's the job of ART, including science fiction. Creating memes.
    Charlie's cited a bunch of early SF memes we shouldn't keep repeating. Can we find more positive ones to replace them?

    Charlie often references Prisoner's Dilemma as leading to cooperation. Can it win out in the end? Merchant Princes and Halting State had characters muddling through. Early Laundry verse pieces were really funny. The state of the world IS depressing, but do ALL gods want to eat your soul? Can Bob and Mo muddle through as ordinary human beings?

    327:

    Bobh 326:

    since good help is hard to find, gods do something clever in convincing any so naive as believe their lies about what really happens in the afterlife...

    ...gods don't so much eat souls as exploit 'em for automation... how else do those thunder bolts get forged? their togas washed? grapes peeled?

    so we ought regard the afterlife much as we do Amazon or Tesla or Foxconn... just lacking any exit clause and the wraith of pissed off deities at attempt to unionize

    which might well have been Lucifer Morningstar's rebellion against God... he'd been attempting to organize those damned souls in the heavenly bureaucracy for collective bargaining

    328:

    I think that from my point of view engineering people could do with more humanities education. Too many 'tech solves everything or at least makes a good profit' types thereabouts.

    I would extend that to business/financial people. A lot of 'money solves everything' people out there…

    Eric mentioned the 'Renaissance man' upthread. Once upon a time people did both art and tech, moving back and forth. When did that change, and why? Was it a matter of different cultures coming into ascendency? Conscious aping of an imagined Classical past?

    I'm currently working my way through The West by Naose Mac Sweeney, which is eye-opening because so much of what I learned in history classes (including at university) turns out to be incredibly incomplete. One might almost say cherry-picked to provide a foundation for cultural myths (such as our civilization being built on the traditions of ancient Greece and Rome, which spurred her to write the book). I think I'll pick up David Christian's Origin Story when I'm done (thanks to Jean for the recommendation).

    Anyway, this is a rather long-winded way of working around to my hypothesis that the split between STEM and humanities is a cultural one rather than inherent in the disciplines themselves. I suspect it might well have its roots in Britain's social structure and class system.

    329:

    The state of the world IS depressing, but do ALL gods want to eat your soul?

    Ooh, that's got to go on my Laundry/New Management ideas list: what happens when the Laundry (or its successor, DEAT) run into an actual loving deity? Lulz, and the sort of cognitive dissonance that hit KGB agents sent to the USA in the 1940s-60s to find the secret organizing conspiracy controlling the capitalist world, and then the disastrous drawbacks and consequences of a no-shit God Who Loves You (unreservedly and forever) ...

    (Hint: try to wrap your head around the kind of loving god who loves serial killers and brain worms ...)

    330:

    A God Who Loves You? Warhammer 40K sort of did that with their plague god (Nurgle) who loves all living things. It's just that there are a lot more bacteria/fungi/parasites/etc. than humans.

    331:

    I think that from my point of view engineering people could do with more humanities education. Too many 'tech solves everything or at least makes a good profit' types thereabouts.

    Yes. I"m reminded of noted non-humanities humanitarian Bill Gates, who applies engineering approaches, to non-engineering problems, sometimes with disastrous results.

    For example, the huge amount of money he dumped into "testing number go up" in US education didn't help, because he didn't bother to ask any education experts to vet his program. They could, and did, explain pithily why it wouldn't work, but nothing makes an engineer deafer than billions of dollars to play with.

    Oh yeah, and remember that Ebola pandemic he nearly caused by flooding Africa with money to fight malaria, warping their public health structures to the point that they couldn't respond to a rapidly spreading virus? Malaria is a bigger problem than Ebola, except when it isn't. Someone who knew more about public health could have warned him what his money would do, but large doses of money tend to make people deaf.

    I will point out that engineers aren't alone in their arrogance. Doctors are just as bad. Pre-meds typically didn't (don't?) have to take ecology or evolution classes, although some few biomedical researchers are got the clue that these matter. That's one reason why there are so many synonyms for evolution, "mutated" and "became resistant" being two of them. As a result, they've tended to use antibiotics for bacterial infections the same way mosquito eradicators used DDT, and they're surprised (in both cases) when all they did is select for resistance.

    My suggested cure for engineers, physicists, computer scientists, and pre-meds isn't more electives, it's specially designed requirements that teach to their blind spots and force them to develop some rudimentary empathy for, and respect of, other modes of thought. Or they fail the course. And I'd make it a big course: three hours lecture, six hour lab/discussion/group work, and lots of homework, so that it really would fuck up their GPAs to not do well in it. Call it boot camp for brainiacs, and teach it in their junior year, when it's too late for them to change majors.

    BY the way, I give this no chance of coming to pass, because professors and wealthy alumni would howl at the idea of making the little darlings less competitive for jobs and grad programs by trying to make them more rounded human beings. And so it goes.

    332:

    Medical education in the UK without learning about ecology and evolution is not impossible but not very likely since it’s hard to get into a medical school without A level biology or the Scottish equivalent. That means they already have several years of both. But arrogance based medicine is still common in the UK. (Arrogance based medicine - the belief that the patient is lying because their symptoms do not for with your diagnosis.)

    333:

    Vulch @ 243:

    NASA has only one government to please

    One Federal government and 52 state governments, all who want their slice of the pork. Add the Orion to the mix and there's the 20-odd ESA member governments as well. :-)

    FWIW, there are only 50 state governments and they don't really have any say in how NASA operates.

    The state governments are all happy to take anything NASA wants to spend in their state, but Congress decides what that spending will be & how facilities will be distributed between the states.

    334:

    (Hint: try to wrap your head around the kind of loving god who loves serial killers and brain worms ...)

    Congratulations, you just reinvented Buddhism and Taoism.

    Seriously, from someone who does a bit more than play with this stuff. By my understanding, this is what complete enlightenment means: being perfectly comfortable with the universe as it is, and not acting to change it in any way. This is probably why so few people attain enlightenment. Not only is it hard to do, it’s, well, kind of repugnant. Accept reality, stop struggling, fade into the background and stop reincarnating. Or you can keep struggling and reincarnate into a future that’s that is the consequence of your actions, there to suffer, struggle, die again and be reborn ad infinitum.

    If you want to get your writer’s head around this, I’d suggest that Schepper’s The Taoist Body and Frantzis’ commentary on the Tao Te Ching are worth reading, although you may well hate them.

    I’d finally suggest that, rather than focus on an atheist’s horror-show version of the Christian God, you really look at the Taoist immortals, who are enlightened beings. They’re called “Masters of the Gods” for a reason. In both Buddhism and Taoism, gods are not immortal, nor can they become enlightened. They’re too busy remaking the reality to accept it as it is. The interaction between a Laundry worker and a genuine Taoist immortal could be at least as dramatic as one between the same Laundry worker and Laundryverse YHWH.

    335:

    Pre-meds typically didn't (don't?) have to take ecology or evolution classes

    WTF?!?

    Back in the early 1980s those were both core parts of the A-level Biology syllabus at schools in England. And you did not get to do medicine at University without a Grade-A pass at A-level Biology. Period.

    (A-levels -- now very blurred -- used to be what you studied at secondary school (aka High School, I think?) that took you through to the equivalent of finishing the first year of a graduate degree. A-level biology covered a lot, including introductory biochemistry, anatomy, zoology, ecology, genetics, evolution ...)

    336:

    I think the point being made is that NASA's funding is to a considerable extent dependent on how much they support each state, because a Congresscritter is much more likely to vote funding if their state gets some.

    How much this holds currently, when Republicans can claim credit for programs and spending they voted against while keeping straight faces and having their supporters believe them, I don't know.

    337:

    Robert Prior @ 294:

    "Social (economic) UPWARD mobility is a lot more restricted today than it was in the early post WW2 period when a lot of these tropes about America were established in popular culture. For some reason DOWNWARD mobility has become a lot more widespread since then."

    So on average social mobility is the same, it's just people's assumption about the direction that's wrong? :-/

    I don't know if the average is the same or not. And "people's assumption" depends a lot on who you ask.

    But I think a very small number of people with extreme upward (economic/social) mobility can affect those averages, offsetting the effects large masses of people with "slight" downward mobility ... even if the "average" remains about the same.

    Generally, I think today's young people have less opportunity - and that opportunity is less well distributed - than when I was young. And I've seen those opportunities being shut down within my lifetime.

    But I do think peoples' "assumptions" lag reality; not "wrong" so much as out of date?.

    Like how the "assumption" you NEED a college degree to get ahead (get a good job & higher income) doesn't take into account the reality of student debt ... an impediment to upward mobility which didn't even exist when I was college age.

    The requirement for a college degree just to get your foot in the door to even be considered for an entry level position on the track to the "good life" wasn't a fact when I dropped out of college ... but it IS today.

    ... and I won't even start on "self-made men".

    338:

    Agreed on the welcome back.

    And my take on fantasy - in the last millenium, publishers seemed to alternate - 10 years of more fantasy than sf, then 10 years of more sf than fantasy. That broke around the turn of the century/millenium. I think that the loss of the Columbia had a lot to do with it, along with 9/11... and people finding themselves in a cyberpunk dystopia.

    Hopepunk's sorta-kinda trying to turn it around. Certainly, my novels (Becoming Terran is dropping in Feb, and we - that being ordinary people, not Famous Rich/Military people - turn it around) is back to looking forward to a better future. (And I call it a literary movement, and have named it after my favorite tense (grammer: see the comic strip Pogo), the Future Perfectable.

    339:

    College level in the US, ecology classes were not on the pre-med curriculum where I studied, and I never saw a pre-med when I TAed those courses. That freed up space for more biochemistry, physiology, molecular biology, and anatomy classes.

    While I get why they designed the curriculum the way they did, when you couple that ignorance with medical arrogance, bad things happen.

    340:

    There are that kind of people, bite your nose to spite your face. I've known of women who were screwed because after divorce, they had the kid(s), and he would rather be unemployed, or paid under the table, than pay child support for his kid(s).

    341:

    I really was thinking more of the reference to the Catholic Church in the original post, rather than the fall of Rome.

    342:

    Howard NYC @ 321:

    so... here's a bit of sociopolitical WTF... Florida is viewed as being the part of the USA where old folk go to die ("Grim Reaper's waiting room") and where anyone under age of 70 has to have an IQ under 70...

    example:

    "Florida woman is charged with plotting her former son-in-law’s death a week after her son is convicted of murder...

    I'm still waiting for the grieving widow to be charged ... but I don't expect it any time soon.

    The murder was in 2014 and it took 9 years to bring the brother to trial. It will probably depend on whether the state can get a conviction in the Mother-in-law's case.

    PS: Mom, dad & the brother are all orthodontists (IIRC) with a big practice in cosmetic dentistry in Miami, FL. ... where does that fall on the STEM/Humanities divide?

    If you want to get the whole story (or as much of it as the interwebbies can bring you), Google: Dan Markel murder.

    343:

    Then there's the other side - to quote from the cover of an old underground comic: pic of (presumably) Jesus coming up, and the caption: "He's Back! Not even the grave could hold Him, and He WANTS YOUR SOUL."

    344:

    Re: 'Mozart has too many notes! :-)'

    Yes, a lot of notes - from soft to energetic and all of them clear! (Not just smooshed together.)

    Once read that when his father first saw one of Mozart's first concertos he said: this is too hard to play. Mozart's response was: pianists will need to practice more. Anyways, the lively ones get my blood pumping and put a smile on my face.

    Always end up smiling after this one too: Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu -- Chopin Concerto in E minor, Op. 11 - Rondo. Vivace (30:53). I watched/listened to all four finalists (three played this concerto) - not surprised the judges were unanimous in selecting Liu the winner.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcOjKXIR8Iw

    345:

    How's that going?

    How it's going is that I'm seeing a lot of category errors that are in themselves very boring. Moving on might be more interesting.

    346:

    Then you need to change the system. There’s no such thing as pre- med in the UK. Medicine is an undergraduate degree. The students probably studies ecology and evolution from the age of eleven. They specialised early in science and had already, as OGH and myself wrote passed exams in biology which included ecology and genetics. My daughter in law teaches A level biology and has extra responsibility for teaching about ecology and climate change to 16 to 18 year old students. There are some degrees that can be used as a springboard to enter medical school. I used to supervise the biochemistry projects of four students doing a Biomedical Sciences BSc. They all had to have A level biology to get on the course. All of them applied to Medical schools after graduating and were accepted. But they had all passed A level Biology

    347:

    Smart people (define as you wish) tend to feel over time their opinions need to be treated as facts by others.

    Motivated by compassion, no doubt. They hate to see others making such grave mistakes, and intervene to help. The Golden Rule in action!

    348:

    Let me explain further: ecology and evolution have sigmoid learning curves. In the beginning, at BBC TV level, it’s pretty trivial. Then it gets too brain-meltingly hard, mostly because there’s a whole language or three to master. Then it gets understandable, with the caveat that those of us who climbed that far generally realize how freaking clueless we are in the face of reality.

    Most class units on ecology and evolution stay on the easy side of the sigmoid curve, and the students don’t learn or retain much. So getting a unit in high school isn’t the same as learning the subject.

    If you want a concrete example, I’ll choose cladistics, which is fundamental to modern evolutionary biology. Learning it for most people is like learning algebra or calculus, in that it takes two or three exposures to really get it, then it makes sense. Kids nowadays first have a unit on cladistics in high school, but when I was a grad student, they normally hit it first in intro classes. I was a grad student for a long time, so I was lucky enough to teach cladistics in intro level and advanced classes, a few times to the same kids. What was interesting was that each time I taught the same material, but the students learned it differently in the advanced class. The professors noticed too. One intro class professor thought she was a failure, because she taught cladistics so much worse than an advanced teacher did. I overheard the conversation, and since I’d TAed for both of them, I was able to tell them that they were both teaching the same thing, but that the advanced students only got it when they’d seen it first in the intro class. It wasn’t the teacher or teaching, it was the repetition. I’d had the same experience learning it myself.

    349:

    But I do think peoples' "assumptions" lag reality; not "wrong" so much as out of date?.

    I would class "out of date" as a form of wrong.

    350:

    My daughter in law teaches A level biology and has extra responsibility for teaching about ecology and climate change to 16 to 18 year old students.

    In Ontario, ecology is covered in grade 9 and climate change in grade 10 (15 year olds) — if they are covered. Each is supposed to be 1/4 of the science course, but because those topics are touched again in upper years the teacher often skimps on time, or drops them entirely, so the children learn how to balance chemical equations which is clearly much more important to understanding the world. Even if they are taught the level is very basic.

    Yes, I'm a bit bitter. I spent years building up the climate change unit and getting my department to give it 1/4 of the course, and as soon as I retired that stopped.

    351:

    I’ll choose cladistics, which is fundamental to modern evolutionary biology. Learning it for most people is like learning algebra or calculus, in that it takes two or three exposures to really get it, then it makes sense.

    On that note, can you recommend a good resource for learning cladistics? Preferably free, because I've just got two more grandniblings and I want to spoil them not me, but if not free at least cheaper than a $300 textbook.

    352:

    This is the A-Level Biology syllabus for one of the UK examination boards, it's the international version but not that different to the home one. It's a two year course but would be building on a previous GCSE biology course. Examinees at A-Level would generally be 18 years old.

    353:

    whitroth @280:

    No problem. Build them in a space station, all the solar power you want, for all practical purposes of forever.

    Thanks, whitroth—I suspect you're right—or at any rate, close enough to right that your scenario could be an excellent basis for a story.

    Still, I doubt I'd be writing it. You'd be better at that sort of tale than I would, I think... Ain't sayin just sayin. ;-)

    The story I'm writing is about several diminished, impoverished, interesting adaptive tribes of humanity, and an AI that lives among them as they undertake a climate-driven migration poleward. If anybody's doing space launches anymore, it's a matter of far-off rumor.

    That said, I don't write misery porn. These people are likely to be the seed of a sustainable culture, if they make it.

    354:

    force them to develop some rudimentary empathy for, and respect of, other modes of thought.

    I have a vague impression from listening to people who present themselves as experts that doing that violates various human rights obligations. As noted pedagogical philosopher Mal Webb put it "respect can't be demanded, it has to be inspired, a stick won't make that donkey work, it's the carrot that's required".

    355:

    A levels don’t work like that. It’s not “getting a unit in high school. Any of the lessons or topics in the two year course can appear in the final exams which must be passed. So you don’t just take the course and then forget it. Anyone going on to study medicine or veterinary medicine at university has to get the highest marks at A level. A sixth form of sixth form college leads to qualifications roughly equivalent to the first year of a US degree. But without the breadth of subjects studied at a US university. However I agree with you about antibiotics use. However in the UK the problem is the opposite to the one you describe. Doctors are pressurised to limit the use of antibiotics and can be reluctant to prescribe second line antibiotics. My wife, who has asthma and suffers from chest infections has to work hard to convince GPs to prescribe the correct antibiotics when she has an infection. According to her cardiac surgeon this was a major contributor to her mitral stenosis which required a valve replacement. However the problem with antibiotics is a failure of microbiology education in medical schools not the failure to be taught genetics in the equivalent of pre med.

    356:
    • So you don’t just take the course and then forget it.*

    Sure you do. I kept a 4.0 average though grad school doing just that with the useless prerequisites, like organic chemistry. With many skills,i it’s use them or lose them, and many aren’t worth keeping. Heck, I’d need a major refresher on topics I’ve taught, because some f them I haven’t used in a decade or more.

    This is why my wife the clinical pharmacist spends so much time doing continuing education units in her spare time. So she’ll stay up too date on her field.

    I’ll also say that many students are only in it for the grade. They’ll do whatever they think will get them an A. Remember the material? Don’t be silly, they’d say. Who has time for that? Memory is what the internet is for, they and some of their teachers will say. They’re confused about the difference between being able to use knowledge (as in speaking a foreign language) and being able to look stuff up, but there you have it.

    Breaking a lifelong habit of short term memorizing is hard.

    357:

    Yes, I have a nursing non-degree myself, and a couple of the people I trained with ended up as lawyers. I actually had a potential employer tell me I wasn't a real nurse as I didn't have a degree, and I stopped teaching at uni when the academics decided that not having a piece of paper meant I wasn't worth paying much. HR and I disagreed with them, so I left. I did end up getting a piece of paper just to placate employers, but it's in Health Informatics.

    358:

    I did end up getting a piece of paper just to placate employers, but it's in Health Informatics.

    My sister has some kind of nurse practitioner certificate that's not a medical degree, it's a degree in a medical field (???!!) and I can't help laughing when I read some of the media beatups about people like her. Apparently nurses should stay in their lane and not bother about what's actually wrong with patients or something. Insert right wing shock jock babble here...

    Some of the more valuable educational experiences I had at uni came from non-degree'd people. Not so much engineering because so much of that requires practicing certificates, but the social science stuff had guest lecturers from all walks.

    Also, if you're up for a public outing Nicholas Gruen is always looking for interesting people to talk to on his vodcast/podcast/newsletter things. He's happy to have "from a reader" contributions, but really gets excited when the bearer of an idea is willing to talk about it in public. Assuming you have an axe to grind :)

    359:

    you don't want to turn away the guy who designed the thing from a course in better designing the thing just because he doesn't have a bit of paper from a degree mill

    Back when I was getting my Honours Specialist AQ (needed for the promotion I'd already received) I ended up having to take two simultaneous HS AQs because, according to the Registrar a course in microprocessor design had nothing to do with computers because it was coded EE not CS on my transcript.

    Same woman refused to recognize a course I'd taught multiple times because I didn't have a credit in it. The fact that I was instructing the course, setting and grading the wrk and exams, made no difference to my lack of a credit. A letter from the head of the college recognizing my expertise also made no difference.

    Couldn't appeal, because by some bureaucratic snaffle having to do with acting positions, she was the person responsible for judging appeals of her own decisions.

    It was a very surreal summer (partly because of the sleep deprivation from taking two simultaneous full-time courses). I learned a bit about how minor functionaries can establish their own fiefdoms within a bureaucracy. Probably one of the reasons I enjoyed the early Laundry stories where Bob was as worried about the bureaucracy as he was about the undead horrors…

    360:

    There's a couple of lines in one of Pournelle's Falkenberg books (West of Honor, maybe) where a young officer is reflecting on his military training at West Point. Roughly paraphrasing: "calculation of mortar firing patterns, presentation of calling cards to senior officers when arriving at a new post, field maintenance of hovercraft, ceremonial marching… it's all stuff you need to learn to pass exams, and jumbled up with no idea what's really important and isn't".

    Which is the problem with courses and exams: they provide knowledge and skills, but often without the context you need to judge what's importance when, and how it all fits together.

    361:

    Robert Prior 328:

    FYI: author listed under various spellings...

    Naoíse Mac Sweeney

    Naose Sweeney

    Naose Mac Sweeney

    Naose Macsweeney

    362:

    The story I'm writing is about several diminished, impoverished, interesting adaptive tribes of humanity, and an AI that lives among them as they undertake a climate-driven migration poleward. If anybody's doing space launches anymore, it's a matter of far-off rumor.

    Oh goody. You're the kind of person I wrote Hot Earth Dreams for. Although I went a bit deeper into the future than that. Hope it helps.

    363:

    Christianity was rising while Rome was falling, Gibbon covered that quite a lot. It’s pretty much impossible to talk about that period of history without talking about Christianity and The Church

    I don’t think that the Second Foundation was a direct copy:paste of Catholicism just that those historical elements were smeared across the First and Second Foundation.

    364:

    I've seen a cartoon where a person laments that while they have no skills or abilities to operate as an adult, they did learn quite thoroughly that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.

    I've recently been taking nautical certification courses, and the contrast between 'you need to know this or you will get people killed' and 'study this to pass and get the paper that will open doors' is quite stark. The marine instructor was quite clear that the courses are only a part of the requirement, hands on experience is essential.

    On the flip side my graduate degree opened quite a few doors for me back when I did office work, despite nobody once even looking at it, or even asking what field it was in. Ditto many of the grants and RFP processes I endured, where my certification was all that I needed, actual ability to do the work was a bonus.

    365:

    Charlie Stross 329:

    what happens when the Laundry (or its successor, DEAT) run into an actual loving deity?

    dare I suggest?

    horror #1: please consider "With Folded Hands" as something that still gives a shiver, just about the SECOND WORST possibility for how AI/ASI blossoms...

    since there are many who have never had the pleasure/pain of reading this slow paced story, no spoilers, so they too brought to a roiling boil of creeping dread

    horror #2: a now-ancient teevee show, "Angel" had a 'big bad' of a supposed love god, Jasmine (actor: Gina Torres), who offered humanity peace 'n plenty in exchange for a daily handful of willing sacrifices of people... sort of UberEats scaled for a god's appetites... when she's in the mood for Chinese take out or a more formal meal of Italian dishes... she gets 'em delivered...

    sick thing of the premise, with Jasmine as planetary overlord, deaths due to war-famine-abusive-spouses plummet to near-zero so the daily handful of people turned into 'god chow' seems like a really good deal (from perspective of thousands who otherwise would die each day in pain 'n misery)

    horror #3 thru N: yup... others are available just call our toll free phone number... 1-800-HELLO-HELL

    366:

    "Yes. I"m reminded of noted non-humanities humanitarian Bill Gates, who applies engineering approaches, to non-engineering problems, sometimes with disastrous results.

    I will point out that engineers aren't alone in their arrogance.

    My suggested cure for engineers, physicists, computer scientists, and pre-meds isn't more electives, it's specially designed requirements that teach to their blind spots and force them to develop some rudimentary empathy for, and respect of, other modes of thought. Or they fail the course. And I'd make it a big course: three hours lecture, six hour lab/discussion/group work, and lots of homework."

    Laughing hysterically as the teacher suggests that the cure for one of the primary root causes of humans being dumbasses is making them take 'a big course'.

    QED. You have made the point beyond any shadow of a doubt that engineers are not alone in their arrogance (-:

    367:

    Half-synthetic yeast created Biologists have produced a strain of yeast whose genome is more than 50% synthetic DNA. The feat is the latest milestone for a group of labs called the Sc2.0 consortium, which has been trying to create a strain of yeast with a fully synthetic genome for 15 years. One of Sc2.0’s main goals is to eliminate potential sources of instability in the yeast genome. The team hopes to manipulate its synthetic brewer’s yeast so that it can one day produce drugs and fuels, rather than beer. Nature | 4 min read References: Cell paper 1, Cell paper 2 & Cell Genomics paper

    From my NATURE newsletter. Relevant because of the lovely 'bread recipes' in RULE 34.

    368:

    There's lots of twists you can do on a "loving god" who has other motives, or whose followers do. Funny how self-sacrificing hippie rebel Jesus became Pantocrator, killing heretics and Jews (Christ killers) once he was absorbed by the Roman Empire. Self sacrificing into sacrificing unbelievers.

    I really bought into the idea of Jesus as the god (or son of) who would sacrifice himself for the sake of humanity. Non-violence! Liberation Theology! Gandhi made it work on a mass scale, but the Jesuit priests and Maryknoll nuns who tried it in Central America just got killed by American supported death squads, all in the name of God, of course. My wife and I worked with street kids. Didn't work with them either. Learned tit for tat the hard way. Don't be a push-over. Respect is what matters.

    Charlie: A god who loves serial killers - of all people, Pournelle and Niven wrote a believable piece (Inferno and Escape from Hell) on exactly that. Suffering -> empathy. The killers made it to heaven IIRC.

    369:

    "Bill Gates, who applies engineering approaches, to non-engineering problems, sometimes with disastrous results" .

    Not so sure Gates was totally off. Worked for an international children's rights group. Consensus of development experts was what improved the lives of "third-world" children and their families was clean water, sewage disposal, oral re-hydration for diarrhea, education of women, birth control, disease control like malaria and guinea worm. Off the top of my head, but I think he put a lot of money most of those. Methods may not have been right, but policy was.

    370:

    When I was taking science in grade ten a bunch of us were doing the usual student whine "do we have to know this? will it be on the test?" In response our teacher told us of when we was being trained as a navigator in England in WWII. Many of his classmates had exactly the same question and the instructor's response was "gentlemen, next month you will fly over Germany at night and return; those of you who find your way back to England and don't drown in the North Sea will have passed the test. Are there any more questions?"

    And there weren't. Even our obnoxious 15-year-old selves understood that what counts is what you do with what you've learned.

    The marine instructor was quite clear that the courses are only a part of the requirement, hands on experience is essential.

    On reason I think Ontario raising the requirements for teacher training to two years (on top of a four-year degree) was wrong. An extra year of supervised classroom experience under the tutelage of a master teacher would have been an improvement; an extra year of sitting in classrooms listening to lecturers who haven't taught children in decades, not so much.

    371:

    358 - A nurse who did bother about "what's wrong with her patient?", and indeed then argued with a doctor and won is one of the reasons why I'm able to write this post. The answer to WWWHP was "sepsis" and I spent 2 weeks in hospital receiving IV antibiotics 3 times daily. The doctor (who thought they could diagnose and prescribe by telephone) said a 1 week course of antibiotic tablets would do it.
    Thank you again Cathy Webster.

    359 - Likewise about the bureaucracy.

    372:

    Yes, “will it be on the test?” was a question I got a lot. For basic diversity classes (plant taxonomy, mycology, etc.), it was pretty simple.

    Such classes are mostly about learning to identify structures and organisms, so it’s a few hundred terms to learn, the equivalent of a foreign language class, sometimes with a couple of weeks on cladistics.

    I basically tested what I taught. Weekly low stakes quizzes for everyone to gauge their progress and to encourage them to not cram, and a few thorough exams. No tricks, no shortcuts. The answer to “will this be on the test.” was almost always “yes,” with stuff not on the test clearly identified.

    Some students hated this. They wanted miracles, so they could pull off a last second A after not studying all semester. No surprise there, either. Thing is, the classes on average did better without trickery.

    373:

    a piece of paper just to placate employers, but it's in Health Informatics

    Was that the CHIA? The content for that is actually really impressive, and I have hypothesised that it's aimed squarely at killing Dunning-Kruger among practitioners in the domain. I did it a few years back, but had no reasonable excuse to be active enough in AIDH to keep up the CPD so I've let it lapse.

    I ended up going and doing a masters in "law for non-lawyers", specialising in healthcare law, to serve more or less the same function you describe (I even got to include a health informatics unit in my masters program).

    374:

    Damian @ 357
    "Piece of Paper" - yes, well, about 20 years ago - looking for work that wasn't "minimum wage" I tried "Electrician" ( I do have an engineering MSc, after all ) ...
    No-one was the slightest bit interested - I had to have a formal electrician's qualification, with over a year of study .. paid for .. how ????
    Total bollocks & really annoying, never mind grinding the faces of the poor.

    375:

    so they could pull off a last second A after not studying all semester

    I feel seen!

    376:

    Studying the bottom of beer glasses is still studying...

    377:

    Huh: they've watered the biology A-level down since the early 1980s -- looking at that syllabus my 1982 A-level included about 90-100% of the AS-level topics as well.

    378:

    "Piece of Paper" - yes, well, about 20 years ago - looking for work that wasn't "minimum wage" I tried "Electrician" ( I do have an engineering MSc, after all ) ... No-one was the slightest bit interested - I had to have a formal electrician's qualification, with over a year of study .. paid for .. how ???? Total bollocks & really annoying, never mind grinding the faces of the poor.

    How weird. It's as if they wanted people wiring houses to be qualified to do that. Next you know they'll want the gas people to qualified too!

    379:

    How weird. It's as if they wanted people wiring houses to be qualified to do that. Next you know they'll want the gas people to qualified too!

    I have an EE MSc (an engineering degree really), and while my major was space tech, I learned enough of electricity that while I probably could work as an electrician, I know not to and pay for professionals to do that stuff.

    (Fiddling with electronics at low-ish voltages, yes, that's fine.)

    380:

    No-one was the slightest bit interested - I had to have a formal electrician's qualification, with over a year of study .. paid for .. how ????

    In the US (and similar in Canada) to become a licensed electrician you have to pass a comprehensive test (or few?) and put in 2000 or 4000 hours as an apprentice under a licensed eletrician.

    And there is nothing or damned close to nothing about how electrons flow from atom to atom and similar. What is is about is health and safty and doing things in a way that will last when the weather ranges from below freezing for months at a time to what feels like Death Valley in the summer. And so idiot end users will not break things and kill people without trying really hard.

    Your degrees don't matter to them. It is all about hands on learning to do it right.

    381:

    Sure you do. I kept a 4.0 average though grad school

    What's a "4.0 average" when it's at home?

    We're talking about a completely different education that teaches and tests differently from the US system you're familiar with. You can't just take part of an A-level syllabus in isolation then forget it: all of the syllabus is required and you may fail to gain an adequate pass in the exams if you forget any of it.

    382:

    From page 12, "Candidates for Cambridge International AS Level should study topics 1–11. Candidates for Cambridge International A Level should study all topics." so the A-Level includes all of the AS by my reading.

    383:

    What's a "4.0 average" when it's at home?

    Grade ointment average, using the system A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0. Straight A average, in other words. I’m also talking about getting masters and PhD, not high school. In US grad schools, the general rule is that if your GPA goes below 3.0, you’re on probation, to get your grades up or get expelled. It’s 2.0 for undergrads.

    384:

    Nick K
    Learn to fucking READ?
    Domestic wiring, is, - effectively "DC", after all:
    THREE wires, of sufficent diameter for the expected current { Hint: The leads to the Immersion Heater spur need to be thicker than a normal ring main & a purely lighting circuit CAN be "thinner", though not necessarily recommended!}
    Wire ONE: - "Live" - the power feed from the nearest sub-station, through your main fuse & switch box - coloured BROWN ( Used to be red )
    Wire TWO: - "Return" - back to the sub-station - coloured BLUE ( Used to be black ) Wire THREE: - "Earth" { Or "Ground" } - self-explanatory - coloured Green-&-Yeller ( Used to be plain green )
    Oh - and - make really sure all sockets, terminals & appliances are properly grounded - & also the house itself. { Mine wasn't - so I bonded a new one to the the incoming water pipe. }

    A formal electrician's training would also include dealing with elementary aspects of Three-Phase wiring, also.
    - But I did that a couple of times, when I worked in research!

    My 1893-built house was originally wired up in 1907-9.
    I was compelled to do a complete re-wiring, myself, in the mid 1980's, since when I have successfully "inserted" an extra multi-socket bank under the floorboards ( accessed by a flap ) together with a phone socket & filter. so that the computer I'm typing this on ( & it's predecessors ) could be fitted in fairly neatly, without "too many" wires everywhere.
    THAT was when I found out that the whole house was wired up "Backwards" - "Live" & Return" were reversed, the lines were live, all the way back to the switches. Reversing it to be correct was "fun" - don't want to have to do that again, thank-you! HINT: If really necessary, I'll do my own plumbing as well .... I think I draw the line at gas piping, however.

    385:

    In the spirit of Charlie's reply: "whats a grad school"? - again different education systems - our undergraduate degrees are much much more specialised and in depth.

    and our grading system for them is completely different (pass, third, lower second, upper second, first)

    386:

    Yes the AS used to be a lower 6th (1st year of A levels) qualification so about 1/2 the A level syllabus used to be compulsory up to 2019/18? but now dropped.

    AS still exist but no longer taken by so many people.

    387:

    OK Greg, enlighten us (pun intended). How does one phase, say yellow (or red or blue, your choice) of a 3 phase supply become DC without being fed through a rectifier?

    388:

    REMINDER: always cut the red wire before the green wire and never (never! ever!) mess with the green one

    this safety tip courtesy of every overwrought mis-written Hollywood movie with a ticking bomb in it

    ====

    in answer to "whats a grad school?"...

    it is where you sink in two (or three or four) years of your life, USD$ 30K (or 40K or 50K or 90K) per year in hopes of becoming rich thanks to an MBA (or DDS or MD or DVM or JD) after your name

    as to whether you are indeed wiser than all other mortals, well that's a good question...

    ...the answer will cost you USD $200/H with a three hour minimum

    389:

    about 20 years ago - looking for work that wasn't "minimum wage" I tried "Electrician" ( I do have an engineering MSc, after all ) ... No-one was the slightest bit interested -

    Back when I was in upper year uni a bunch of us students prevailed upon the department's technician to teach us some basic skills like soldering, wire-wrapping, and so on that weren't part of our course (but very useful). We were apparently the first class to do that rather than asking various profs who were more 'hands-on', and who's equipment always took extra time to repair because they'd had a go at it themselves first.

    And, of course, almost none of the profs were worried about meeting code. (A couple of the heavy current chaps who'd worked in industry cared, but the majority who were pure academics didn't.)

    390:

    To crosswalk between UK and US, roughly, using Wikipedia. Sixth form, age-wise, is about the same as American high school. In the American system of Kindergarten through 12th grade, from ages 5-18, one grade per year, high school is grades 9-12, roughly 15-18.

    A-levels seem to be analogous to our Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and you only get AP credit if you take a national AP test at the end of the school year. These tests are on a five point scale, 5 being high, and many schools treat AP scores as grade oinks for calculating high school GPA. In addition, to get into a four year college or university, in the US you need to do well on the SAT or ACT tests, although this is becoming less important. Since it’s the US, I should note that the AP, SAT, and ACT tests are all administered by companies, not governments, so you pay for all these tests.

    After high school, there are trade schools that give certification, two year junior or community colleges that do continuing education, or programs leading to associate’s degrees, four year colleges that bestow bachelor’s degrees, and universities where you can earn a bachelors, masters, and/or doctorate. So you’d go to a trade school for an electrician’s certificate, a community college for an associate degree in computer science, or a university for a bachelors in electrical engineering.

    391:

    I loved The World of Null-A, and surprisingly so did my wife. You don't have to believe it's possible to enjoy it. I just call it Fantasy. I'm not much of a fan of Jerry Pournelle as a person (quite enjoyed many of his books), but I find it hard to believe he was a believer.

    392:

    So true. My introduction to SF was Heinlein. I stopped reading Heinlein for many years after I Will Fear No Evil, but when I reread The Door Into Summer it reminded me of everything that was wonderful about his stories.

    393:

    Well, I worked that out eventually, but I still like the other two answers and the idea they could all be related, including the fictional one.

    394:

    "The Murder of My Aunt" comes to mind... (modulo a few changes.)

    395:

    "There's a wide anti-authoritarian streak (probably not quite what you mean by socialist) in classic sf, and I wonder how it got lost."

    Come now! One of the most popular series of recent years, The Expanse is full-on anti-authoritarian, and some guy named Stross has been subversive for decades.

    396:

    "Economics is not difficult to understand, It's just been obfuscated by academics and hijacked by political hacks"

    I'd add to the first phrase "except by economists". I had to take an introduction to Macroeconomics in first year university, and it was pretty straightforward. Economists, however, seem to keep ignoring that stuff and making things up.

    397:

    Pointing to one of Charlie's frequent comments on life...

    People are not collections of identical spheroid blobs who all act alike. Economics for a very long time and to some degree still assumes people will act in rational logical similar manners.

    But...

    398:

    Oh, learning biology and biochemistry is definitely a lot like learning another language. So is medicine and related professions, for that matter. (It's no accident that Nuance make (or made) a bundle by selling expensive add-on dictionaries for Dragon Dictate that cover medical English.)

    399:

    Greg, "electrician" vs "engineer" is a lot like "nurse" vs "doctor". They sound to an outside like they ought to be interchangeable but in practice they diverged a century or more ago and today they're radically different jobs.

    Doctors are in the diagnosis and triage business, working out what's wrong with a patient and -- when they've got sufficient specialist knowledge -- suggesting how to treat it. Nurses are in the treatment delivery business -- the doc told them what's wrong with the patient and what therapy they need, the nurses deliver the treatment. And what most people think of as "nursing" (colloquial sense) is these days classes as personal care and handled by care assistants who don't need to know stuff like how to install an i/v line or intubate or catheterise a patient or spot when they're in immediate danger and stabilize them.

    Similarly, electricians? Run wiring, connect up distribution boards, don't get themselves electrocuted. Whereas EEs design distribution boards, which is not the same at all.

    400:

    David L @ 380:

    No-one was the slightest bit interested - I had to have a formal electrician's qualification, with over a year of study .. paid for .. how ????

    In the US (and similar in Canada) to become a licensed electrician you have to pass a comprehensive test (or few?) and put in 2000 or 4000 hours as an apprentice under a licensed eletrician.

    And there is nothing or damned close to nothing about how electrons flow from atom to atom and similar. What is is about is health and safty and doing things in a way that will last when the weather ranges from below freezing for months at a time to what feels like Death Valley in the summer. And so idiot end users will not break things and kill people without trying really hard.

    Your degrees don't matter to them. It is all about hands on learning to do it right.

    You have to have an Electrical Contractors License to undertake work for hire as an electrician. You don't have to have a license to work FOR an Electrical Contractor (but you get paid more IF you do ... and you will have to have it before you can go out on your own and have your own contracting business).

    You have to have those hours of work experience before you're allowed to take the test for an Electrical Contractors License. The test is about the NEC - National Electrical Code.

    Do you know the code requirements for the work you're doing?

    Four thousand hours is two years full time "supervised" work experience. There are some formal apprenticeship programs, but mostly it's just getting hired on as an "electrician's helper" and holding on to the job long enough to accumulate the required hours work experience (at least that's how it worked here in North Carolina back in the 80s).

    There are different levels of Electrical Licenses. The level of license determines the kind and value ($$$) of the jobs your company is allowed to undertake.

    The alarm company I worked for was required to have someone with a "Low Voltage" electrical license (along with someone holding a NC Private Protective Services license) and since I was their only reliable employee here in NC when that law was passed, I had to go take the tests.

    Plus there's a requirement for a minimum of "6 hours" of continuing education annually if you want to renew your license. Community Colleges usually host those classes through a continuing education department.

    Community Colleges offer certificate training that can substitute for up to half of those required work experience hours.

    I'm a big fan of Community Colleges. Community Colleges generally have affordable tuition. It's possible to get those certificates (or an "Associate" degree - 2 year post high school) as a working adult WITHOUT having to mortgage your soul.1
    --

    1
    "Low cost student loans" ARE available, but it's possible to get an Associates Degree without them. It's sometimes even possible to get an Associates Degree attending part time at night.

    401:

    Paws
    It's done at a local, very small, sub-station - I can see my nearest one, in the grounds of the school across the road.
    I know that's where it happens, because, about 15 years back there was a power-cut ... then two phases came back on, but ours didn't ...
    so adjacent houses were on different phases, which means an (approx) 450V differentail, oops. DO NOT connect up the adjacent houses!

    These days, they are all solid-state devices, with no moving parts ...
    Simple tutorial here - though there is an emphasis on full rectification, rather than selecting out a single phase, whilst leaving that phase as AC.
    Here is more on that, but mostly in a US/Canada milieu

    402:

    Huh, I guess I'm getting AS levels mixed up with a extra-advanced A-level-plus-bells-and-whistles qualification of my own time (I'm not sure what it would have been called?).

    403:

    Heteromeles @ 390:

    After high school, there are trade schools that give certification, two year junior or community colleges that do continuing education, or programs leading to associate’s degrees, four year colleges that bestow bachelor’s degrees, and universities where you can earn a bachelors, masters, and/or doctorate. So you’d go to a trade school for an electrician’s certificate, a community college for an associate degree in computer science, or a university for a bachelors in electrical engineering.

    FWIW, you can get an Associates Degree in Electrical Contracting from Community Colleges that combines the technical/trade (certificate) aspects with basic liberal arts education.

    You still need at least a year's work experience as an electrician's helper before you're allowed to take the Electrical Contractor's license exam.

    404:

    I think they were S-Levels, S for Special or Scholarship. Friend of mine at school was a year younger than the rest of us, she'd been allowed to start secondary school age 10, and hung around the school for an extra year when the rest of us went off to university as a part time teaching assistant and took the Maths S-Level.

    405:

    Yeah, I was definitely thinking of S levels!

    Not sure what the US equivalent would be but something more substantial than an AP course -- more like second year of grad school. S levels were hardcore.

    406:

    None of which means anything more than every 3rd house was on the same one of blue phase, red phase or yellow phase. It still doesn't rectify the 3 phase input to direct current, which is what you keep implying.

    407:

    Oh I quite agree!

    American academia and education is substantially more complex than I made it appear. For a blog post aimed mostly at UK people, I was just trying to lay out some basics.

    I'm also keeping mum about US healthcare personnel and their roles, which are also quite a bit more complex than Charlie laid out. If people are interested I can go a bit into the segmentation, but so far I see no reason to do so.

    One example: locally, hospitals tend to be run, not by MDs, but by people with doctorates in nursing who also often have MBAs. If you pair this with what Charlie wrote about the modern difference between doctors and nurses, this makes some sense, but it's not something you'd deduce otherwise.

    408:

    I know it's a rarity coming from me, but this might actually be on topic:

    Silicon Valley’s worldview is not just an ideology; it’s a personality disorder.

    409:

    Heteromeles @ 407:

    Oh I quite agree!

    American academia and education is substantially more complex than I made it appear. For a blog post aimed mostly at UK people, I was just trying to lay out some basics.

    I'm also keeping mum about US healthcare personnel and their roles, which are also quite a bit more complex than Charlie laid out. If people are interested I can go a bit into the segmentation, but so far I see no reason to do so.

    One example: locally, hospitals tend to be run, not by MDs, but by people with doctorates in nursing who also often have MBAs. If you pair this with what Charlie wrote about the modern difference between doctors and nurses, this makes some sense, but it's not something you'd deduce otherwise.

    I beg to differ.

    One of the reasons "health care" in the U.S. is so fucked up is that hospitals (and medical practice in general) are NOT run by medical professionals - they're run by CORPORATE financial specialists. Patient care is NOT the reason hospitals exist.

    Patient care is a COST CENTER to be minimized as a drain on corporate resources.

    I have great respect for the profession of nursing (my Mom was an RN), but they're NOT running things in the medical profession.

    410:

    paws
    You misunderstand me completely, I'm afraid - possibly because of sloppy wording.
    You get a group of houses on one phase of a basic three-phase supply, then a second group on phase two & a third on phase 3 - all are then on a single phase, internally. F'rinstance on our road, I think nos 1 & 2-8 are on one phase & nos 10+ are on another ...
    Each house is, of course on single-phase AC, but for wiring connectivity, you "pretend" it's DC - Live / Return / Neutral for the purposes o wiring it up. Does that make sense?

    411:

    I'm pretty sure that the DOD pork barrel predate LBJ administration by two decades or so. I ran into it in the seventies, but it was very highly refined by then. And important projects, such as a next generation aircraft or tank would employ folks from nearly all congressional districts.

    The thought just occurred to me that this dispersal of design and production is like the reason why it takes so long to bring new systems on line.

    413:

    We need so many more Nurse Practitioners! When I was working in Emergency at RPA we had a consultant who used to tell the new doctors: "Listen to the nurses! They spend much more time with the patients than you do and many of them have been doing this much longer than you will." I don't understand the angst about NPs -- there's a shortage of GPs so having NPs in a general practice means people not waiting weeks for simple things like repeat prescriptions.

    414:

    Oh and axe grinding is really hard work, not maintaining the rage...

    415:

    No, I did the only remote HI course available at the time and got a Grad.Dip.eHealth(HI) before CHIA was a thing. I've looked at the CHIA but as I'm hoping to retire soon I figure what I have is enough.

    416:

    Greg, once again I am not Damian. I would appreciate it if you could get my name right when replying to my posts.

    417:

    That makes "more sense", at least enough that I can see that it's "how you remember the wiring convention".

    418:

    That's not at all what I thought you meant! I thought you were talking about 50Hz being a low enough frequency that you can ignore reactive effects, capacitance, induction and the like. (Which is true most of the time on the scale of house wiring stuff, but not always [eg. flashing CFLs], and not on larger, ie. distribution, scales.) Then your next comment confused me entirely :)

    It's pretty much standard for each house to be on the next phase to next door, so when you get a power cut on one phase every third house goes dark. (Whereupon sometimes people try and run an extension lead from their neighbours and mayhem ensues.) In this street the streetlights are done like that as well. Blocks of houses all on the same phase is something they tend to avoid.

    In the house-converted-to-flats I used to be in, the supply coming into the house was all three phases, and then every flat was on the next phase from the last one - in sequence of flat numbers, not by floor the flats were on. So each floor would have sockets on all three phases, which is very naughty; 415V between adjacent lives, and nothing to even indicate that this was the case unless you traced the wiring all the way back in the (huge, spaghetti-filled) meter cupboard. For instance my flat was on red and the cleaner's socket outside my door was on yellow, and I was probably the only one out of all the residents and all the landlords who knew this.

    DON'T get into what they do in the US. It will make your hair stand on end, much like their signalling does.

    419:

    You'll still need to explain wtf "grade ointment" (#383) means, also "grade oinks" (#390). They look like chubified typos from this side of the water.

    420:

    And we can't have unmaintained rage in the community, when it breaks down bad things happen :)

    The anti-NP stuff makes my head hurt. The best I can make out it comes from people who live where there are lots of doctors so think everyone else does, and since doctors are better than nurses (ahem) people should be allowed to see a doctor when they want to, not forced to see a nurse instead. Even if the nurse has extra training, she's still not a doctor (ahem on the "she" too). Which is bullshit but that's my attempt to be charitable to the argument.

    I'm amused that my sister has gone from not liking studying to be a nurse to voluntarily going back to become a NP and claiming to enjoy it. She's doing stuff with neonatals so she's always busy at weird hours and is studiously trying not to get sucked into the politics around paying midwives and arguments about what midwives are allowed to do (WRT risky pregnancies especially). I also love the idea of a "geratric pregnancy" label being slapped on anyone over 35 or whatever the age is. I know why, I just think it's a funny term.

    421:

    What scares me is that some actal electricians are not much better. although it can be hard to tell whether they're genuine morons or just faking it because the company they work for is sales-oriented (in the "upsell every customer or get fired" sense).

    I worked as an electrical labourer during my degree and that was informative. As mentioned above, it's not understanding theory that electricians spend time on, it's memorising the thousands of regulations that end with "because someone died when it was done the old way".

    422:

    On topic comment: one thing that has always struck me about nearly all the putative future societies I've encountered in SF is, when you consider them as a possibility on their own apart from the context of the book they're part of, how very shit they are. Even the ones that are supposed to be "good", and even for the people who are at or near the top of whatever pyramid they have and get all the perks. With very few exceptions (the Culture probably scores highest), if I had the choice of living in one at an equivalent position to where I am now, or simply staying where I am now, I'd emphatically choose to stay put. Which makes me think that people who actually want to make them happen must have something unpleasantly wrong with them, on the lines of a worldview that never looks beyond the paint, on anything.

    423:

    "putative future societies..."

    The Culture, of course, shouldn't be listed, as it isn't a future of Earth at all, but rather something alien (not to say, I think, the author was suggesting it was impossible as something like our future, but didn't want to be bound by the continuity issues of our being in the past?). Earth ca.1970 even appears as a potential Culture candidate in a short story.

    424:

    Scalzi's "Redshirts" springs to mind... but the critique applies to a lot of fantasy as well. Bad enough being a peon in general, being a peon who's also part of the food supply for their lord seems like a step down.

    425:

    I am surprised. I would definitely prefer to live in most of Alastair Reynolds' or Peter Hamilton's futures than in 2023 -- even as an average nobody, let alone an aristocrat. I would not want to live as a Belter in "The Expanse" but as an Earthman, sure.

    426:

    You'll still need to explain wtf "grade ointment" (#383) means, also "grade oinks" (#390). They look like chubified typos from this side of the water.

    Yeah, they're the result of the hand tremor of PD combined with typing on an IPad screen, combined with Apple's quadruply-damned autocorrect, combined with a small screen that makes it hard to see typos, interfacing with the software running this blog.

    This comment was typed on a laptop, where I can at least see my mistakes and move the mouse to fix them.

    It's a useful example of how computer engineers solve biological problems caused by modern society, IMHO.

    Anyway, grade point average (GPA) and grade points.

    Thanks for bringing that up.

    427:

    I'm pretty sure that the DOD pork barrel predate LBJ administration by two decades or so.

    Butler mentions military contractors in "War is a Racket".

    "In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows."

    https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html

    428:

    We need so many more Nurse Practitioners!

    Totally agreed! I have to admit having been in healthcare IT for such a long time and having studied health economics a bit I might tend to filter out people in the media saying obviously stupid things about them, but I wasn't aware there's such a level of "concern" out there.

    There's the whole cost/capacity growth thing that affects all healthcare systems, not just the bloated monsters like the USA's. But the obvious thing about timeliness of interventions ... well I guess it can only be the same people who object to VAD and feel that severe pain is morally instructive or something.

    We also need more Health Informaticians and HIMs, and too many people think it's just IT.

    429:

    Apple's quadruply-damned autocorrect

    I have come to rely on the hold-down-the-on-screen-spacebar-to-manipulate-a-cursor trick for that sort of thing, but generally avoid trying to comment here from an iDevice too.

    Was going to jump in with how GPAs in Aus are different again (7 point scale), but there's not much point ;)

    430:

    I wasn't aware there's such a level of "concern" out there.

    I think it's mostly turf defence by the doctor's union and that's the one the media are inclined to cover without analysis. But there's also genuine concern that NPs aren't as good as doctors for some things, and my sister has collected that because she kind of lives in the gap between "the midwife can't cope, but we don't need an ambulance" and that's a small, fuzzy gap. Not to mention that the media response when something bad happens is not suited to the nuance around small fuzzy gaps.

    There's a bunch of routine stuff I do that seems to be: visit doctor, get sent for test, visit doctor to get results. 90% of the time I know what test is needed before I do the first visit, so it seems that having a nurse, or a nurse++, just schedule the test and report normal results would avoid wasting time (and annoying the p... patient)

    431:

    I’m pretty sure that grade ointment is what you rub on a bad grade to quieten the grade oinks.

    And it’s the Culture for me. Back to my vROU “May Contain Nuts”.

    432:

    I had a late reaction to the headline "you only think you're sorry now. Just you wait, soon you will look back at this time as the good old days".

    Somehow my mind went into a weird tangent about the air market being privatised and a scandal about bad air being supplied to schools. So people's kids are coming home brain damaged from the canned air their school uses ... and now you're sorry. Remember the good old days when it was just AI taking over the world that scared you? Ha. You know nothing. Scary is your air supplier going bust and you lose air in the middle of the night. So you wake up breathing exhaust fumes and and whatever other air is being dumped into the public network because it's not safe for human consumption so can't be sold.

    Meanwhile Paris is spending billions trying to make the river safe to swim in...

    433:

    =+=+=+=+=

    Tim McDermott 411:

    actually the dispersal of sourcing for components was a major motivator for: (a) EDI (which later gave rise to XML) as well as (b) CAD/CAM standards and (c) dire need for effective project management in the form of a formalized PMO (project management office) for sake of coordinating zillions of fiddly bits in frenetic motion...

    political support for gigabuck weapons systems (Pentagon) and moonshots (NASA) arising from 'job creation' led to whole new professions... and supporting technologies...

    =+=+=+=+=

    Derek 396:

    every purist amongst economists is insistent upon modeling national economies ("macroeconomics") as endless flows of cash whilst ignoring outputs subtracted (leaving/extracted/consumed) and inputs added (injected/purified/smelted)... which has the effect of treating all foodstuffs as durable goods rather than one-time use (admittedly valid in the unique case of Hostess Twinkies™) as well as ignoring fossil fuels are non-renewable since each liter (or ton or gram or whatever) can only be extracted once... what's really funny is how economists regard toiletpaper as being neither consumed nor produced, as well ignoring that it is sourced renewably... and then there's the lingering sullenness over splinters by closeted marxists back in the 1970s... East German toiletpaper should have outsold decedent Western companies since Communistic-administered toiletpaper factories were worker paradises... so what there were splinters in every roll?

    =+=+=+=+=

    https://lite.cnn.com/2023/11/16/economy/oil-tumbles-four-month-lows/index.html

    happy(ish) news: oil prices are declining... which from perspective of Hamas is very bad news since their efforts to be a "significant player on the world stage" have been shrugged off by the capital markets...

    yeah they raped-looted-burned-howled-killed and got themselves lots 'n lots of likes on social media but instead of scaring everyone there'd be widening chaos as more 'n more special interests in various nations got dragged into the shitstorm it looks about the same political boundaries are defining the war...

    no comfort to the victims caught in the meat grinder... the killing will go on... the suffering will not end for months...

    but this means less backroom pressure towards ending the war due to 'market forces'... also, announcements about funding the rebuilding has been formally suspended (or rather the chatter about funding of planning for scheduling of rebuilding, which is a precursor to the precursor to the precursor to the precursor to the precursor to the precursor to the ...) until there's someone worthy of trust with billions of dollar-eqv of donations... and once again that's bad news for Hamas since they will never be allowed to participate which means one of their sweetest grifts of siphoning off cash 'n concrete from infrastructure projects might well be cut off...

    =+=+=+=+=

    no amount of tinsel can disguise how utterly oversold the Yuletide Season has become; already shelves are filling up with crud nobody wants to receive as a gift... there's advertising too...

    and as a bleak reminder of what’s gonna hurt us for the next six weeks, music in stores has switched over to playing Christmas Carols at wickedly cruel volumes...

    =+=+=+=+=

    https://lite.cnn.com/2023/11/15/weather/microplastic-pollution-weather-study-climate/index.html

    microplastics could be affecting cloud formation process... microplastics lead to more clouds? more rain? sustained rain? lowered temperatures? ...or the inverse of those outcomes?

    an entire novel could be based on each of these possibilities... helps save the world from climate change or alternatively worsens the problems or when in combination with other trends has contrasting effects upon differing zones such drought in North American south-west at the same time drowning North American east sea coast ...hmmm

    =+=+=+=+=

    Jean Lamb 367:

    heh...

    the likelihood of Big Pharma allowing for syn-yeast-bio-reactors (SYBR) to mass produce pharmaceuticals is near-zero... not because of any proclaimed fears of yeast-running-riot-blobbing-city-streets or drug-labs-in-a-beer-keg (those will be the public facing reasons) but for the fear with absolute certainty someone will steal the SYBR lifeforms and any key precursors in order to set up a black market... not just happy-happy-joy-joy recreationally exploited euphoric drugs, there'd be interest in reduced cost for drugs critical in cancer treatment as well as ADD/ADHD/anti-depression med's

    after years 'n years of watching Napster and bittorrent and hand-swapped terabyte drives all loot 'n pillage digital-based IP (music, movies, teevee, books, etc)... for sure Big Pharma has learned many, many lessons... none of which are in the best interests of 8,000,000,000 humans in need of affordable medical treatment

    =+=+=+=+=

    434:

    I once worked with a GP who started out as a meteorologist

    One of my wife's cousin's kids finished undergrad Law, decided he'd made the wrong choice and went back to do Medicine. He's some sort of rare specialist trauma surgeon now (well his older brother and father are both specialist doctors too, so it's a reversion to norm rather than an outlier).

    435:

    About Nurse Practitioners and others...

    Yes, we need more! We need more of everyone in the nursing vocation from NPs and RNs down to LVNs and nurses aides. A lot of them burned out or invalided out of the profession during the Pandemic, and it shows, with everything from short staffs in hospitals to missed treatments by visiting nurses.

    In the US, part of the problem is billable hours, because MD per hour billing is on par with lawyer rates. One way they get around the legal requirement that only doctors can diagnose and prescribe is for NPs, PAs, and PharmDs to be allowed to prescribe well-defined medicines or treatments for well-defined conditions, under the supervision of a managing doctor. They're all cheaper per hour, so giving the routine, repetitive treatments to them saves time and costs.

    So a visiting NP can assess a housebound patient's condition and work with the MD to prescribe meds, my dermatologist PA (Physicians Assistant) can biopsy suspicious moles and freeze off annoying ones, and my clinical pharmacist wife can prescribe a certain range of painkillers to patients in her part of the hospital, and she can also inject vaccines. All under MD supervision. They can't do anything that's outside their remit without getting approval from the MD in charge of the case.

    That's the way it works around here, at least.

    436:

    Somehow my mind went into a weird tangent about the air market being privatised

    When I was a child I read an anthology that included some early science fiction stories. Like Kipling and Wells early.

    One had people needing to pay for air. Someone had worked out how to monitor breathing, and so everyone had to wear badges that metered their usage and they got billed by an Air Board…

    437:

    I had a friend who left his MA program in theology to enter medical school. Last I saw him he was an Emergency Doctor in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

    Last night I shared a pint with two friends. One was a recovering civil engineer, the other two of us are recovering Political Science graduates who work in or near the building trades. All of us have had at least 4 careers.

    438:

    Dramlin
    Oops!
    I will excuse, by saying that at normal screen-resolution, it's very difficult to tell, though.
    { Tiny font in red on a white background }

    Pigeon
    It's pretty much standard for each house to be on the next phase to next door - well, no - or not here, { London } anyway, see me @ # 410?
    Here, every third "block" goes down.
    That description of a block-of-flats sounds like a recipe for disaster, waiting to happen.

    Howard NYC
    Re: "Big Pharma" - the US of Arseholes IS NOT THE PLANET ... WHAT "exorbitant prices for drugs"? - ONLY in the US of Arseholes - again.

    H @ 435
    A BETTER way to get around that insane "billing" requirement is to institute actual HEALTH CARE in the USA, rather than sytematised ruthless gouging.
    It's called a "Unviversal Health-Care system."

    Rocketjps
    Ah, someone who rejected death & Blackmail, for life, eh? Good for him.

    439:

    I may even have read that. I remember "A Bucket of Air" but that's a different story.

    440:

    Seems similar for state-funded medicine in the UK, based on my recent consultations.

    Also, IIUC, most preventative measures are handled by NP, while reactive and corrective medicine is still managed by GPs. 5-year health check and lifestyle advice: NP. Referral for chest X-ray: needs a GP to sign off.

    441:

    Does that make sense?

    Yes. But.....

    In most of the US a single street of a few blocks or so will all be on the same phase. Even in mid urban areas. You only get the kind of phasing you're describing in larger apartment buildings or businesses. Even in non high rise apartments or offices (2 or 3 story) you tend to have the entire building on the same phase.

    Now here the distribution is around 15KV 3 phase with streets and buildings tapped off one of the legs/phase. If things start to get out of balance they change a building/street "sub feed" to a different leg.

    442:

    So each floor would have sockets on all three phases, which is very naughty; 415V between adjacent lives, and nothing to even indicate that this was the case unless you traced the wiring all the way back in the (huge, spaghetti-filled) meter cupboard.

    DON'T get into what they do in the US. It will make your hair stand on end

    Such wiring in the US would get a no entry tag on the doors in the US.

    We each have a history which led us to where we are. Most of the comments I see here about how bad things are across the pond (both ways) are more about that history and what people are used to instead of an objective analysis of the safety of one way or the other. Both sides of the pond have warts in this beauty contest.

    443:

    There's a bunch of routine stuff I do that seems to be: visit doctor, get sent for test, visit doctor to get results. 90% of the time I know what test is needed before I do the first visit, so it seems that having a nurse, or a nurse++, just schedule the test and report normal results would avoid wasting time (and annoying the p... patient)

    Actually my health plan in the US sort of works the way you want it to. I can send the office where I normally visit a message saying what is going on. 99% of the time a nurse will get back to me, via a message, and deal with it and I never see or communicate with my actual "doc". Even if I got in for a test. And if the results are not crazy I get contacted via another message from the nurse.

    Of course this implies a level of income and tech that not all have.

    444:

    PA (Physicians Assistant)

    For those not in the US, this is a doctor lite. They skipped a year of medical school and didn't get the PhD. But they and NPs have roughly the same authority but different roles in the process.

    445:

    They skipped a year of medical school and didn't get the PhD

    An MD is not a PhD. It's an honorary title for someone who passed the correct taught courses and completed 2-3 years as a house officer (essentially a trades apprenticeship). A PhD in contrast implies the ability to Do Original Research and almost invariably is a follow-up from one or more taught degrees.

    (I think the equivalent of a PhD among the medical fraternity would be qualifying as a consultant -- several years' post-graduate practice and expertise in a specialty.

    446:

    My bad. The docs I know personally have a PhD.

    But PAs are still docs lite in the US. It is a choice that some schools offer to get you through will less time and money. But your options for things like becoming a surgeon are limited.

    447:

    What a delightful notion! Thanks for the heads-up: that'll provide some good pedagogical hooks for my kids over the next 7-12 years.

    448:

    Remember that I was very nearly taken in by Brexit? And only realised at the last moment that I was being "had".

    As it happens, yes. I remember that years back you were pretty skeptical of the EU, for various reasons; as I recall, you thought the EU could do the union of Europe thing better than it was actually doing. Fair enough.

    I also remember that you noticed that Brexit was being advocated by fucking idiots, and lying idiots at that.

    As I see it from over here in North America, it was the difference between "This flat is a bit shit" and "Burn down the building!"

    449:

    You may be interested to know that the latest iOS and iPadOS update now shows the autocomplete suggestion in the document itself in grey. It’s helped with my typing. You see what you typed normally but with their suggested completion in light grey.

    450:

    You may be interested to know that the latest iOS and iPadOS update now shows the autocomplete suggestion in the document itself in grey. It’s helped with my typing. You see what you typed normally but with their suggested completion in light grey.

    Thanks, I'll look into it.

    451:

    I had totally forgotten S Levels.

    During the 70's a friend wanted to do biochemistry at Cambridge. They interviewed him - with his parents - and obviously didn't like the fact his Dad worked in a factory and his Mum was a school cleaner. He was asked to get 4 A Levels at A grade and an S level too.

    For context UCL asked me to get 3 Bs at A Level in chem, physics, maths to do physics.

    They must have been really cheesed off when he got the grades for all 5 exams.

    And, for further context and everything you need to know about Oxbridge, Prince Charles - as he then was - had to get 2 A Levels at C grade. Which is odd as his Dad was unemployed for 40 years.

    452:

    "Such wiring in the US would get a no entry tag on the doors in the US."

    It should do here as well. But the people who own these places are very often some variety or other of dodgy git.

    453:

    (I think the equivalent of a PhD among the medical fraternity would be qualifying as a consultant -- several years' post-graduate practice and expertise in a specialty.

    Speaking again from experience, there are both MD/PhD and PharmD/PhD programs. They take a year or two longer, and are taken by people who both want to treat and do research. Cutting-edge investigative types and similar weirdos take them. (weirdo, for example, was a pathologist I met who specialized in tissue-typing organs for transplant compatibility, and ran his lab out of a medical school. So he's both a doctor and a professor, albeit not a terribly social one).

    454:

    I've read at least two on the same theme. One basically the same but with a different charging method, and one where they deliberately depleted the atmosphere of oxygen so they could sell it in tanks and nobody could get out of needing it. Not sure I haven't read another one as well. It seems to be quite a popular theme.

    455:

    Extrapolations TV series got there.

    It was a series that spanned 50 years. At the end people were wearing tanks on their backs to leave their homes.

    I suspect most people here didn't see it as it was/is only on AppleTV.

    456:

    Info from this side of the Pond: starting in the 70's, there was a hug push to force nurses to get B.Sc. Now, they do run things on the floor (not the hospital, certainly - as someone said, it's a profit center.)

    The registered, etc, do most of the care, like the ones who give me my injection every two weeks forever. (None of your business why).

    457:

    Fiefdoms. Back in the late eighties, I applied for a job with Travis Co, TX (Austin). Had a good interview with the hiring manager. The ad said "4 yr degree, or 2 years experience for each year you don't have. I wound up calling HR, and a woman who told me her name was "Jeanie" had decided, on her own, that the experience didn't count, regardless of the ad, so no.

    It was with the county DA, and I really should have filed a complaint....

    458:

    Agreed. I have a very high opinion of community colleges (started in the sixties, two-year degrees (Associate degrees).

    ESP if you're working full time, and taking evening courses. People that take them aren't teenagers who don't know what to do, these are working people, and need the credits for their jobs, and will not put up with teacher bs.

    As opposed to the one term I wasted at UT at Austin ("we don't do anything special for people like you - that is, working full time and going undergrad part time"). I was forced to take a class in formal logic, and had two TAs and the full professor tell me "don't worry about understanding it, just figure out how to crank out the right answers". I was this close to accusing him of fraud, and suing the University, because I was paying for an education.

    459:

    Whenever I get a new doctor, I give my medical history, properly pronounced, along with the indication that I can actually read medican Greek/Latin.

    460:

    Ok, it's been since the mid-80s, so I have no trouble relating this. At the time, I worked for the National Board of Medical Examiners (when you head of doctors taking "the Boards", and by law, any graduate of a foreign medical school has to take a test they give). I was on the team - more or less team lead, on the first computerization of the Boards. I was on the really interesting part, not the multiple choice, but what you could think of as a text adventure game, "Doctor", A patient comes in, or is brought in, and you order test, get results, and order therapies. (Yes, there were scenarios where the patient dies.)

    So, one was where this young woman brings in her kid (5 yr old? Younger) who "fell against the radiator and is unresponsive. They gave the test to doctors, all of whom resolved it correctly.

    Yeah, well, and they gave it to nurses... 60% of whom LOOKED UP THE RECORDS, dound the woman had brought the kid in before about six months ago for osmething similar, and contacted Child and Family Services. Not one doctor did that.

    You wonder why i trust nurses?

    461:

    I had a roommate a loong time ago who'd started in Corporate Law, and after one year, switched to Union Law (or whatever it's called) - she'd been so horrified.

    462:

    Actually, no. The fundamental requirement is chemistry, though many places also require biology, and I am sure that they would look askance at someone who didn't even have GCSE biology.

    https://www.medschools.ac.uk/media/2877/entry-requirements-document-2022-digital.pdf

    I really don't see learning cladistics as an advantage to medicine, or even many areas of biology. FAR too many important cases of evolution (including in the medical area) do not create a tree - and some don't even create a DAG!

    463:

    Sounds good. We're on Kaiser-Permanente, which is an actual HMO, the way they were before the bean counters came in by the eighties and turned them to "how to refuse service".

    Yeah. We were at Windycon this past weekend. We're not at Philcon this weekend. At Windy, hardly anyone was masked, so we didn't. Tested yesterday morning, called the on-call nurse line for KP, she contacted my doc. The test result "self-reported" showed up (log on to see your test results), and my doc sent the scrip downstairs to the pharmacy, and Ellen picked in up later in the afternoon.

    sigh I had a lot going on at Philcon....

    464:

    The main push to get nurses to have a BSc got started later in the UK, probably in the late 1990s. It's pretty much complete nowadays, though.

    Other formerly high school/diploma occupations getting the "a degree is mandatory" treatment include the Police (there's an option to do a two year supervised trainee program and get the degree later on a part-time basis, but Theresa May tried to turn being a cop into a graduate-entry profession and I seem to recall she made it stick, despite some push-back).

    465:

    there are both MD/PhD and PharmD/PhD programs.

    There are also in the US programs that let a PhD get an MD on a fast-ish track. For reasons I don't understand, extra-US universities are frequently involved.

    From the bio of someone I worked with who did this,

    His Ph.D. is from the University of Colorado Medical School in neurophysiology, and his M.D. is from the Autonomous City University in El Paso, Texas/Monterey, Mexico, with honors.

    JohnS