My morning coffee, free will and the mind-body problem

October 10, 2021

All the unknown laws of nature

It is early in the morning, and I am having my first mug of coffee today. I wonder how it arrived on the desk in front of me. Perhaps this mug of coffee today resulted unavoidably, inevitably, from the causal chain of events following a collision between two atoms 13.7 billion years ago. In a hard, deterministic world, it could not have arrived consequent to any purpose, for in such a world there can be no purpose. So, it could not possibly be that it was a conscious, abstract thought in my mind which initiated a variety of otherwise unrelated actions which led to this mug of coffee before me now. In such a world, it could not be that it was my abstract purpose alone that initiated the otherwise unrelated actions necessary to that purpose. My thoughts and perceived purpose could, in a material world, only be illusions. Perhaps if Genghis Khan had been born a day earlier, I would be having a masala chai with yak’s milk instead.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, it was in fact my free will, expressed as an abstract purpose, which, somehow, initiated and directed diverse interactions in the material world which resulted in my mug of coffee.

The “laws of nature” we acknowledge are restricted to the material world. They govern the behaviour of everything material (matter, energy, fields, waves, “dark” things, “strings” and even space). Interactions between the immaterial and the material are denied and therefore not subject to the laws of nature. This is a trifle self-contradictory since the laws themselves are abstract and immaterial. To claim that the laws emerge from the material world itself is somewhat specious since it requires the material world to be causeless and omniscient. It invokes simultaneously the God of Existence, his father the God of Random Events, and his uncle the God of Causality. Moreover it does not make the laws any less abstract. What then could be the unknown, causal, laws – also presumably laws of nature – which enable abstractions to cause actions in the material world and deliver my morning mug of coffee?

Wider than the mind-body problem

The mind-body problem has been a matter for philosophers for at least 2,500 years from pre-Aristotelian times.  It’s modern formulation can be traced to the writings of René Descartes, and especially the letters written to him by Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia between 1643 and 1650. She was a remarkable woman from a remarkable family, and it is her formulation which so clearly describes the issue recognised as the mind-body problem today.

She wrote, 370 years ago:

….. how the human soul can determine the movement of the animal spirits in the body so as to perform voluntary acts—being as it is merely a conscious substance. For the determination of movement seems always to come about from the moving body’s being propelled—to depend on the kind of impulse it gets from what sets it in motion, or again, on the nature and shape of this latter thing’s surface. Now the first two conditions involve contact, and the third involves that the impelling thing has extension; but you utterly exclude extension from your notion of soul, and contact seems to me incompatible with a thing’s being immaterial…

Nowadays the mind-body problem is seen as the unknown relationship between physical properties and mental properties. It is often broken down further into component parts: Read the rest of this entry »

The Maharajah – genie or phoenix?

October 9, 2021

Nationalised in 1953 with a compensation of Rs 28 million, the Maharajah has been bought free from its socialist prison for Rs 180 billion. After serving 68 years the risk is that inefficiency, incompetence and sycophancy have become habitualised and the Air India Maharajah will not be able to regain the heights.

Genie and new wonders or Phoenix destined to go down in flames and fury remains to be seen.

Passwords and passports are becoming obsolete

September 16, 2021


I have, along with citizens of over 150 countries, a biometric passport. A special camera is used to capture the biometric information at the time of passport application. Each such passport contains a chip storing standardised biometrics for facial recognition, fingerprint recognition, and iris recognition. That data is contained on the passport I carry around and show to various authorities from time to time. But all that data is also stored on the computers of the issuing authority. 

What then is the need for the passport itself?

Passing through a passport control involves some device which checks some part, or all, of my biometric information which is then matched against the information contained on the chip in the passport I am carrying. It is not checked against the original data stored when the passport was issued. Faking a passport involves matching the data on the chip to the person carrying the passport. In fact, this check only shows that the person carrying the passport matches the data on the passport. As long as the passport is genuine such a check is an identity control. But it is an indirect control. Such a check says nothing, directly, about the identity of the person carrying a passport. 

The passport itself is just a carrier of data which exists somewhere else. It’s function is only to provide a controlling authority with access to the data of the passport bearer. It will not be long before the biometrics stored by passport issuing authorities are accessible directly in the cloud for checking against the actual biometrics of a physical person. The passport itself then has no function. Technologically it is already possible to do this today. But it will need more security to prevent unauthorised access to this data and some more time before the political will to allow this exists. The real technological challenge will be to prevent the accidental or intentional corruption of the master data. Already standard, on-the-street, cameras in some Chinese cities are connected to master data bases such that the camera image (facial + motion recognition) is sufficient to match the person against the master data. 

I am who I am. I do not need a passport to tell me who I am. The personal integrity issues that are sometimes quoted against such expansion of the use of technology are spurious and misguided. 

It may not be quite in my lifetime but passports are becoming obsolete.


Passwords are already on the way out. 


Microsoft has announced users can now delete all passwords from their accounts and instead login using an authenticator app or other solution. The technology giant made passwordless accounts available for business users of its products in March. And that system is now being made available to all Microsoft or Windows users. It said “nearly 100% of our employees” were already using the new, more secure system for their corporate accounts.

If passwordless login is enabled, users re-logging in to a Microsoft account will be asked to give their fingerprint, or other secure unlock, on their mobile phone. “Only you can provide fingerprint authentication or provide the right response on your mobile at the right time,” it said.

Windows users will still be able to use quick-login features such as a Pin code, though. Some rare exceptions will still need passwords, such as Office 2010, Xbox 360 consoles, and Windows 8.1 or earlier machines. 

……….  Security vice-president Vasu Jakkal wrote: “Passwords are incredibly inconvenient to create, remember, and manage across all the accounts in our lives. “We are expected to create complex and unique passwords, remember them, and change them frequently – but nobody likes doing that.”

One third of the world was born after 9/11

September 8, 2021

Demographic trivia

Tomorrow Not tomorrow, but in 3 days it will be twenty years since 9/11/2001 (11th of September 2001).

  • 33% of the global population (2.6 billion) is under 20 years old.
  • Only 8% (0.65 billion) of the global population was alive during the Second World War.
  • 35% of the world lived in a time without mobile phones.
  • The median age of the global population is 31 years.
  • 150 million (1.9%) are over the age of 80 and of these 600,000 people are over 100 years old.
  • Aging populations are strongly corelated with declining crime rates.
  • Since 1920, average global height has increased by about 9 cm.
  • Most people born today will see a global population decline in their lifetimes.
image: visualcapitalist

Where and when we are – a dimensional conundrum

September 7, 2021

“In physics and mathematics, the dimension of a mathematical space (or object) is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it”. – Wikipedia

In the concept of spacetime one might think that (x,y,z,t) are the four dimensional coordinates which are necessary and sufficient to specify the location of any object at any time within our universe. But that would be an oversimplification. It is true only for a relative location and not for any absolute location.

In reality we have no idea – in absolute terms – of where we are or when we are.

The place where I was born on the surface of the Earth has – during my lifetime – drifted along with the continents some 2.3 m North-East across the earth’s surface. The Sun (along with the Earth) has moved 6.9 billion km around the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy. Using referents outside the Milky Way Galaxy, it has, during the same time, moved some 55 billion km in space. So, I was born some 60 billion km away from wherever in space we actually are now. In the context of the Universe this is still local space, and I do not need to account for the very expansion of space. The looming collision of the Andromeda Galaxy speeding towards us is still 4.5 billion years away and irrelevant in the scale of my lifetime. Taking my present location as (0,0,0,0) and the X-axis as the straight line from where we were then to now, the coordinates of my birth location become (-60, 0, 0, -73 years) where x, y and z are measured in billions of km.

Everything is relative to here and now.

It is not even certain that time is actually a dimension of the same kind as the 3 physical dimensions we perceive. Some think it emerges together with the Universe and everything. Others think it is just a facet of existence. In any event, we only experience it as a backdrop for, but separate to, our own individual existences. On the stage of our existences, we strut and fret our hours away, but we cannot interact with or impact the relentlessly moving backdrop. Just as with nonsense rhymes using language, nonsense equations by learned physicists about the theoretical access to past times is just nonsense. As with any language, mathematics can also describe the unreal and the nonsensical. Speculative cosmologists have more in common with Edward Lear than they would like to think.

Considering time to be a dimension is no more than a convention or, at best, an analogy. It does not help either, that

  1. we have no clear definition (or understanding) of what a dimension is, and
  2. we can take a dimension to be anything that can be counted.

We can measure the oscillation of apparent motions and assume that such motion is regular and then infer the passage of time. But what time is other than a magical, necessary backdrop for everything is beyond our comprehension. We cannot be certain that a second now is the same, or longer, or shorter, than a second at some other time. (A second now must be longer than a second was then).

The world is what our perception tells us it is. But our perception is limited, and it limits the boundaries of our reality. We perceive space and everything around us as having 3 dimensions, yet we cannot truly conceive of any real thing having other than three spatial dimensions. In our 3-dimensional world we can define one- and two-dimensional things only as concepts (lines and surfaces) but we cannot identify any real-world objects which have only one or two dimensions. Moreover, real things having more than 3 dimensions are beyond our comprehension. How a fourth spatial dimension could be manifested lies outside of human reason. We have the language to describe – but only conceptually – any number of dimensions. Scientists and mathematicians speculate about 3 or 7 or 9 or infinite dimensions and claim either that 3 is the most probable or theorise that the others are hidden in the strings that make up the world, but the human brain can only perceive 3. (I note in passing that invoking the infinite is itself an admission of incomprehensibility). It is a fruitless and inevitably circular discussion to question whether it is our perception which is limited to 3 dimensions or whether the universe has only three to be perceived. Our universe is enabled, and strictly constrained, by what our cognition allows us to perceive. Every real thing in our universe has three spatial dimensions; no less, no more. Our universe has 3 spatial dimensions because that is all, and only what, we can perceive.

I probably read “Flatland” as a teenager where a sphere in Flatland can only be perceived as a circle.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is a satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott, first published in 1884 by Seeley & Co. of London. Written pseudonymously by “A Square”, the book used the fictional two-dimensional world of Flatland to comment on the hierarchy of Victorian culture, but the novella’s more enduring contribution is its examination of dimensions. – Wikipedia

No matter how many dimensions the universe may have, three dimensions is all human cognition can ever perceive. It is that reality which constrains all our thought. It becomes a fundamental assumption for science which the scientific method cannot penetrate. If other dimensions exist, then what we perceive in three are projections. As a shadow is perceived to be two-dimensional. But to have a projection or a shadow in our 3-dimensional world we would need some kind of cognitive light from the other, higher dimensions to create what we perceive.

But human cognition is limited. We cannot perceive what we cannot perceive. And we have no clue – earthly or divine – as to where and when we are.

Ethics and mandatory vaccinations

August 30, 2021

Yesterday a woman died in New Zealand due to the Pfizer vaccination. So far New Zealand has reported 26 deaths due to Covid and one death due to the vaccination. It is already mandatory in New Zealand for workers in health care, at quarantine facilities, and at ports and airports to be vaccinated. It is not universally mandatory but the peer pressure to get vaccinated around the world is enormous. Probably between 100 and 200 have died globally directly from the side-effects of vaccines. It may even be more, but globally, statistics for deaths due to vaccination are very difficult to come by. The number of deaths is, no doubt, very small but it has become politically incorrect to report the deaths due to vaccination. More and more workplaces and services are now demanding vaccination certificates. Vaccination passports have been suggested as a qualification to travel, enter workplaces and restaurants and shopping areas. 

The woman who died in New Zealand of the vaccine, would not have died if she had not received it. She may have died later of Covid or other causes, or she may not have. She had a known pre-condition which led to the vaccine causing her death, though it was not known in advance that she would die. Her risk was not 1 in several million. Her risk of dying – in hindsight – was 100%. Taking the vaccine, for her, was a death sentence. If her vaccination had been mandatory, it would have been an execution of an innocent person by the majority due to ignorance. The issue is not whether the risk of death by vaccination is 1 in 10 million or 1 in 100,000. The issue is that for the unknown few who are susceptible, the chance of death is certain. It is one thing to voluntarily take a a 1 in 100,000 risk. It is something else I think, to be coerced to pull the trigger yourself in a game of Russian Roulette where the gun has 1 bullet in a chamber of 100,000. Mandatory vaccination would sacrifice those few who would be killed by the vaccine for the greater good.

If mandatory vaccination of the many, causes the death of a few, the greater good has no doubt been been served. But a few innocent people are effectively executed. Which means that the majority are justified in killing – by ignorance rather than intention –  a few for the greater good

My wife and I have had both shots of the AstraZeneca vaccination. Fortunately, we suffered no serious side-effects. We still try to avoid crowds and intentionally meeting the unvaccinated, even though, if we have developed protection, our risk would be low. Of course, we don’t really know how much protection we have actually developed.

In perceived emergencies, individuals are coercively subordinated to the greater good. Excesses by a majority against individuals are increasingly allowed.

But I could not support vaccinations becoming coerced by being made mandatory. 


God or no-God? That is the wrong question

August 24, 2021

I find debates where one unprovable belief battles against other unprovable beliefs to be tiresome. Human cognition does not allow an absence of belief. A claimed non-belief is, of course, just another belief. I find statements of the kind “I do not know, but I know it isn’t that” to be self-contradictory and shallow. I find invocation of the scientific method, or of Divine Beings, without reference to boundary conditions and the limits of knowability, to be incomplete and invalid as arguments. This essay is just my attempt to marshal my own thoughts as to why I find it so.

(revised 26th August 2021)

The primal need to know

Human cognition demands that the world around us is ordered and rational and that it is capable of being understood. This is the fundamental and overriding assumption that pervades all thought and human endeavour. Science begins with this assumption of order in all parts of the universe and throughout all time. In addition, science assumes that causality, and the arrow of time, apply. The human brain is finite, and its attendant senses are limited. We do extend our sensory range with instruments but even these must convert their detected signals to be what humans can perceive directly by their senses and interpret with their brains. Even when looking at the same thing, what the eyes of a dog see as interpreted by a canine brain, is different to what a human eye sees as interpreted by a human brain. Whatever, and all, that humans observe are just their perceptions and are always subjective.

Human comprehension is “cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in” by the capabilities of the brain/sense combination. That some things are unknowable to the finite human mind is inevitable. Reason tells us that knowledge is whatever a brain can comprehend to be knowledge. Epistemology is a whole branch of philosophy dedicated to understanding the nature of knowledge. And yet we can do little better than concluding from all our analyses that knowledge is what knowledge is. Whatever lies beyond human comprehension is the realm of the unknowable. Observation is limited to what exists and is observable by the human brain/sense combination. Human reason and comprehension, though finite, can contemplate the unknowable, but without any hope of comprehension. Human language (including mathematics) can encompass both the real and the unreal. Language can describe things that do not exist. But when language addresses the unknowable it only deals in labels. The brain using that language cannot wrap itself around the unknowable which it labels. What we do not know, we seek and sometimes find. What we cannot know we can never find, and yet we seek. I cannot help but conclude that it is the seeking, not the acquisition, of knowledge, which is a primal characteristic (perhaps a purpose) of the human species.

But the ego of human cognition is such that it does not allow the inexplicable to remain dangling and unaddressed. That all mysteries must have, and require, explanation is a distinguishing characteristic of the human species. Human cognition abhors a mystery without an explanation. Anything mysterious or incomprehensible is always, eventually, explained away by an appropriate invocation of unknown, unknowable, imagined states or powers. It applies as much to science (metaphysics) as to philosophy or to theology. The explanations are often just labels for speculations which harness the unknown and the supernatural. Reason tells us that everything has a cause, but the First Cause problem defeats us. Our language allows us to formulate self-contradictory impossibilities. Before the beginning, we say and after the end. When our reason and our logic make recourse to infinite regress, it is often dismissed because it is incomprehensible. When we reach the unknowable, we invent new labels for abstract concepts such as divine or supernatural or infinity or forever. Never mind that they are unknowable. An infinite space or a forever existence are inherently incomprehensible and magical. We pretend that inventing a label brings us closer to understanding.

God Theories and the invention of Gods

In human discourse, the invention of God Theories and of Gods came about as we sought answers and explanations for inexplicable relationships observed in the surrounding physical world. The invocation of Sun-gods and wind-gods and weather-gods seems both obvious and inevitable in the early history of man. The invented explanations – again inevitably – required the existence of supernatural states and the exercise of powers beyond human capability. It was entirely logical and reasonable, then, that postulating the existence of supernatural or superhuman powers or states was entirely justified by the greater need to bring a perceived order to the observed world. To have a perceived order in the physical world was primal. The emotional human need for spirituality was also partly satisfied by the inclusion of the supernatural. With this world view, which allowed incomprehensible states and supernatural powers, these Great Explanations invoking the unknowable were quite reasonable, even if they were all merely labels for what could not be comprehended. Mysteries were replaced by labels which implied, but never actually bestowed, understanding. As human knowledge and sophistication increased, the need for the supernatural also adjusted to the new mysteries uncovered. It was not necessary for these supernatural states or powers to be invested in imaginary Beings, but some mediator was necessary for the exercise of supernatural powers. What the human mind considers reasonable is dynamic and shifts as learning occurs and knowledge increases. Given the existence of unknown, extra-natural forces, it was entirely reasonable, then, to imagine a living entity, a Being, as the mediator. Doing so certainly did improve the narrative. The first Sun God had the power to make the Sun rise every day. This explanation did not necessarily have to be invested in a Being, but it was convenient. It was merely for the ease of the narrative that these Beings took on forms and shapes and behaviours that were close enough to human forms and behaviours to be recognised and identified with. And so were born the Theories of Gods, the Gods, and the various pantheons of gods.

It is my contention that

  1. Human comprehension is finite and limited, and
  2. demands that order be perceived in the world.
  3. Incomprehensibilities and mysteries need to be explained to maintain the perceived order of the world, and
  4. invoking supernatural states and powers allows unanswerable questions and infinite regressions to be closed.
  5. Supernatural states and powers need a mediator, and therefore
  6. Beings invested with such states and powers have been invented as the mediators.

Inexplicabilities and mysterious events were most conveniently explained as the work of unknowable, supernatural or superhuman things. That these imagined things, labelled gods, were then imbued with the quality of being and of having forms and shapes and behaviour and families was, and is, mere embellishment. The fundamental reason for inventing any god was to be able to answer or explain the inexplicable. Every God ever invented was, at its core, a Theory of Explanation.

Religion, of course, is something else (see Notes).

The Great Mysteries

Where once we resorted to supernatural Beings, cosmology and metaphysics now resort to equally fanciful Theories. We have not had a new God invented for over a thousand years. We have had many Theories propounded though. The theories of today are consistent with the knowledge of today. They are as astute (or as ridiculous) as the God Theories of old.  The number of theories in cosmology about the origins of the universe are as numerous today as the multitude of ancient creator gods. The common feature is that these Theories, then as now, speculate about the incomprehensible and the unknowable. I observe that atheism today is very often all about debunking these God Beings, these deities in the image of man. They often focus on the attributes of the invented Beings. But this is superficial, and atheism rarely addresses the great mysteries which led to the invention of the God Theories in the first place.

What is considered inexplicable has changed over the years though many of the inexplicabilities have only changed cosmetically and in formulation. None of the great, deep mysteries about life the universe and everything have changed much or been resolved. The ultimate questions about the physical world regarding matter and energy and motion have not vanished either; they have just become much more sophisticated. We now say we know why the earth rotates around the Sun though we still have no clue as to how gravity is mediated. We know exactly how the effects of gravity can be calculated and we can traverse the distant reaches of space. But we have no clue as to why the perceived force follows an inverse square law and not the inverse cube law or something else. We can calculate the effect of electro-magnetic fields and can generate light and electricity and heat and motion almost at will. But we still have no clue as to how the earth communicates to a raindrop that it must move towards the surface of the earth. When we throw a ball in the air, we still have no idea of how the earth tells the ball it is time to change direction and fall. Einstein’s spacetime would say that the earth’s gravity distorts the fabric of the spacetime in which the ball exists such that it has no choice but to move down the spacetime slope towards the earth. But “down” is defined by gravity. To “move down” merely invokes another form of some kind of super-gravity, for there is no reason for any motion up or down a slope unless there is an overriding force. (When in doubt we can always just invent a new fundamental particle imbued with supernatural powers as the mediator. Let us call it a graviton). Nevertheless, we believe we now know why the earth orbits the Sun and have consigned the Sun-gods to the realm of the redundant. But the stark reality is that we still do not know how gravity is mediated.  It is noteworthy that the word gravitation could be replaced by the words magical attraction in any scientific text without any loss of meaning. (See notes). Admitting to magic, however, is not politically correct or acceptable. Instead, we now invoke the Theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics with spooky actions shrouded in mystery, except that we no longer label these metaphysical Theories as Gods.

Quantum mechanics dreams of a single all-encompassing quantum wave function, as just one particular instance of an incomprehensible infinity of possible wave functions. This Ultimate Wave Function which happens, by chance, to collapse to give all the other wave functions which in turn give us and the universe which we inhabit. One Ultimate Wave Function to rule them all. The quantum vacuum is not quite completely empty since it has the laws of quantum mechanics embedded within it. It is another Theory of Explanation which might as well be called the God of Quantum Mechanics. Though I am not clear if the God of Random Interaction is the Son or the Father. With the God of Gravity they make up a Trinity.

All the Great Mysteries – Existence, Causality, Time, the arrow of time, Life, Identity, Consciousness, Spirituality, Ethics, and Morality – have been great mysteries for at least 10,000 years and are still great mysteries. I do not include Mathematics in my list of Great Mysteries. I take the view that Mathematics is an invented language describing relationships in our observed world. Like all languages, it can also describe things that do not exist or are ridiculous. The beauty of relationships observed in the real world are not due to Mathematics, but due to the mystery of Existence and as described by Mathematics. Beauty lies in the thing not in the language describing the thing.

Mathematics started in prehistory with counting and the study of shapes

The metaphysics of existence remain mystical and mysterious and beyond human cognition, as much today as in prehistoric times. Nevertheless, it is the cognitive capability of having the concept of a unique identity which enables the concept of one……. Numbers are not physically observable. The concept of one does not, by itself, lead automatically to a number system. That needs in addition a logic system and invention (a creation of something new which presupposes a certain cognitive capacity). It is by definition, and not by logic or reason or inevitability, that two is defined as one more than the identity represented by one, and three is defined as one more than two, and so on. Note that without the concept of identity and the uniqueness of things setting a constraint, a three does not have to be separated from a two by the same separation as from two to one. The inherent logic is not itself invented but emerges from the concept of identity and uniqueness. That 1 + 1 = 2 is a definition not a discovery. It assumes that addition is possible. It is also significant that nothingness is a much wider (and more mysterious and mystical) concept than the number zero. Zero derives, not from nothingness, but from the assumption of subtraction and then of being defined as one less than one. That in turn generalises to zero being any thing less than itself. Negative numbers emerge by extending that definition. The properties of zero are conferred by convention and by definition. Numbers and number systems are thus a matter of “invention by definition”, but constrained by the inherent logic which emerges from the concept of identity.

We have discovered and can enumerate more Laws of Nature now than we ever could. But why these particular laws exist and none other, remains a Great Mystery. The existence of the natural laws, of matter, of energy and even of space itself remain as answers to unknown questions. We do not know what compels them to be what they are. The spark of life remains elusive. If nothing else the apparent purpose of all living things to survive, grow and replicate has appeared from Chance knows where. A purposeful chance is to delve into the unknowable. 

They all boil down, in my view, to two fundamental Great Mysteries. I find that they can be grouped either under Existence or under Life. Causality, Time, and Identity all emerge from the Great Mystery of Existence. It seems logical to me that Consciousness, Spirituality, Ethics, and Morality are mysteries which follow from the Great Mystery of Life. I used to subordinate the Life Mystery to the Mystery of Existence, but I think the injection of an apparent purpose elevates Life to be as great a mystery as Existence.

The fundamental questions

What leads to life the universe and everything?

God or no-God? is, in my view, a rather shallow question. There is no great mystery in the invention of gods. Every God ever invented was, at its core, a Theory of Explanation. And even if we get to find the God of the Theory of Everything, we would still have to reach for the unknowable to comprehend Existence and make sense of Life.

The fundamental Great Mysteries have always been, and still are:

  1. Why existence? and
  2. Why life?

Note 1.

Gods need to be distinguished from religions.

My take on religions is that they came later, after beliefs in gods had caught the human fancy. They came together with, or because of, an increasing need for human societies to organise themselves. They provided a way for the exercising of political power by utilising the human need for spirituality and exploiting the established beliefs in gods. All organised religions, whether they admit to it or not, are attempts to influence the behaviour of others and are all, unavoidably, cases of exploiting belief for the exercise of political power. I find the lip-service paid to the separation of state and religion rather meaningless since all organised religions – as all states and political parties – are involved in the business of influencing the behaviour of others.

Note 2.

Take, for example, this text from the Wikipedia article on Gravity where I have replaced the words “gravity” and “gravitation” with “magical attraction”.

Gravitation Magical Attraction, is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass or energy—including planets, stars, galaxies, and even light —are attracted to (or gravitate toward) one another. On Earth, gravity magical attraction gives weight to physical objects, and the Moon’s gravity magical attraction causes the tides of the oceans. The gravitational magical attraction of the original gaseous matter present in the Universe caused it to begin coalescing and forming stars and caused the stars to group together into galaxies, so gravity magical attraction is responsible for many of the large-scale structures in the Universe. Gravity Magical Attraction has an infinite range, although its effects become weaker as objects get further away.

Gravity Magical Attraction is most accurately described by the general theory of relativity (proposed by Albert Einstein in 1915), which describes Gravity Magical Attraction not as a force, but as a consequence of masses moving along geodesic lines in a curved spacetime caused by the uneven distribution of mass. The most extreme example of this curvature of spacetime is a black hole, from which nothing—not even light—can escape once past the black hole’s event horizon. However, for most applications, Gravity Magical Attraction is well approximated by Newton’s law of universal gravitation Magical Attraction, which describes Gravity Magical Attraction as a force causing any two bodies to be attracted toward each other, with magnitude proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them

2nd Test India vs England: The delayed declaration was a masterstroke in the psych-war

August 18, 2021

At the start of the 5th day England were in a winning, if not commanding, position. At best India should get a lead of perhaps 180, but certainly under 200, runs and England would have a comfortable 75 – 80 overs to get those. In any event, even if India managed to hold out for a full hour, there were just not enough overs left for England to be bowled out again to lose the match.

Or so it was thought.

There have been many good articles written about the India win (for example in The Guardian end even in Forbes) but what has escaped much attention is the psychological impact of Kohli’s delayed declaration. In my view, a master-stroke. After the ineptness of the England fielding tactics by a petulant Joe Root & Co had enabled the unexpected batting heroics by Shami and Bumrah, England were already in the sulking doldrums of a bullied bully. At lunch, India were leading by an astonishing 260 runs and a lunch time declaration would have given England about 66 overs to face. The odds for an England win had already plummeted. The asking rate of 3.9 runs/over was difficult but far from impossible from a team used to scoring 200 runs in the 20 overs of white-ball cricket. Losing the match by being bowled out in 66 overs was a very remote possibility.

But lunch was a time to shake-off the morning’s blues, for Sibley and Burns to gird their loins and for Root and Bairstow and Buttler to muster their resolve. So off they went, fully expecting to hear around 10 minutes before the lunch interval was over that Kohli had declared. The openers ate quickly and were getting ready to pad-up. The bowlers were licking their mental wounds and winding down physically. Their part was over. The others were just lounging around, trying to relax and secure in the knowledge that they didn’t have to field again. But the bombshell was the dawning realisation that no declaration was coming. That bloody Kohli was going to keep batting. That perverse Kohli was not even trying to win the match! He was just rubbing their noses in it. They whinged and whined. They were indignant. They felt hard done-by. This was just not cricket. The openers put away their pads and thigh-pads and boxes again. The bowlers rushed to finish their lunch. High dudgeon reigned.

And so the England team came out to field again after lunch. Those tail-end, master-batsmen, Shami and Bumrah came out smiling, anticipating more verbal scrimmages as they chased their maiden centuries. They were in no hurry – it seemed. Their opponents were now resentful at being there at all. Shami took down his trousers and waited for a new thigh pad. He wasted another 6 minutes. And then, just as England were getting resigned to another long session in the field, Kohli declared. He declared mid-over. Another 11 runs had been added. Shami was only 44 runs away from his maiden century and still Kohli declared!

Now they really had to rush. Burns and Sibley had only 10 minutes to pad-up and get their focus back. 

And, of course, they didn’t. They were both out for ducks. 1 for 2 it was.

And the rest is history.

But the non-declaration during the lunch break was a psychological masterstroke.

Not just coincidence: As ISIS flourished on Obama’s watch so will the Taliban on Biden’s

August 14, 2021

Correlation is not necessarily causation — but is a very strong indicator of a causal connection. What is not in doubt is that the obsession with trying to depose Assad in Syria led to some very strange terrorist bedfellows for the US, France, the UK and Turkey. Of course, the Russian insight that Assad was the least of many evils led to their support of equally vicious groups opposed to the barbarian allies that the West supported.

Barack Obama was President from 2009 till 2017. The timeline of the ISIS virulence is entirely contemporary. Allowing ISIS to grow was certainly not intentional but it was a foreseeable consequence which unfolded due to indecision and default. The ISIS threat was not recognised very well during Obama’s first term. Since they were opposed to Assad, they were considered good guys. Their growth was encouraged and fuelled by the funnelling of funds and weapons, not only from the the US and the West but also from fundamentalist sources in Saudi Arabia. The tacit Russian support for Assad developed into major air strikes against ISIS in Syria in late 2015.  That crucially turned the tide, both for Assad and against ISIS. Now the US followed the Russian lead. By the end of 2019, ISIS no longer controlled any geographical territory and was no longer a significant threat as a geopolitical force. Of course, it still remains, even today, as a fundamentalist group capable of sporadic terrorist actions.

Wilson Center: ISIS Timeline

The Islamic State – also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh – emerged from the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a local offshoot of al Qaeda founded by Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2004. It faded into obscurity for several years after the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq in 2007. But it began to reemerge in 2011. Over the next few years, it took advantage of growing instability in Iraq and Syria to carry out attacks and bolster its ranks.

The group changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013. ISIS launched an offensive on Mosul and Tikrit in June 2014. On June 29, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi announced the formation of a caliphate stretching from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Iraq, and renamed the group the Islamic State. ….. The Baghdadi era of ISIS ended on October 26, 2019, when the leader was killed in a U.S. raid in northern Syria. 

The rise and spread of ISIS was to a large extent due to the West’s obsession with effecting regime change in Syria by any means and whatever cost. Even when the time came to deal with the ISIS monster that had been allowed to grow (around 2015-16), the Obama risk-aversion and indecisiveness continued until the US began to follow the lead of the Russian intervention.

Not just coincidence I think.

And now Biden, it would seem, is by cowardice and by default, allowing the space for a new monster Taliban to take over Afghanistan and then spread its tentacles. Kabul is surrounded. The evacuations from Kabul bring images of the evacuation of Saigon to mind. And Biden is washing his hands off the whole thing. “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation”. And a new debacle beckons.

Not just coincidence. 

It is not a coincidence either that the Taliban, like ISIS, are based on a hard-line, Sunni, ideological strain of virulence emanating from Saudi Arabia.

Selective memories: Both Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson were doped to their eyeballs but only Johnson is demonised

August 9, 2021

So another Olympic Games is over. A year late and with no spectators but pretty well organised (with a few minor hiccups). It confirmed my experience of superb Japanese planning and meticulous implementation as long as the plan is in force. It is when circumstances (accidents, weather) disturb the plan that the Japanese are not at their best. But the disturbances were relatively minor.

I suppose I am getting blase and cynical. The opening and closing ceremonies did not move me as they used to do in my youth. In fact I fell asleep watching the closing ceremony. (In my defense, it was after Sunday lunch).

Most of what I watched had Swedish commentary on the Swedish TV channels or English commentary on a well-known sports channel. The commentators did not distinguish themselves. The proportion of inane comments was very high and the proportion of ignorant comments was unfortunately even higher. Clearly they were sticking to their pre-prepared notes and had not the wherewithal to think on the fly and describe real events which deviated from their scripts.

The sight of men pretending to be women and competing against women in a few instances was not pretty.

I was particularly irritated by some of the hushed and reverent comments about Carl Lewis. Maybe they should have done their homework a little better. Like all history, Olympic history is just a story. What is generally forgotten by the predominant narrative today is that during the 1970s and 1980s the US cheated just as much as the Russians or East Germans did. Or as the Chinese did in the 1990s and later.

Carl Lewis was not quite the hero he was, and still is, made out to be. He was just as much a cheater as Ben Johnson ever was. 

Whether then, or even now where healthy athletes are provided exemptions from their home sports bodies and are allowed to take asthma medicines, cheating is always acceptable as long as it is not discovered.

This is an article from 2003.


Lewis joins Hall of Shame

ATHLETICS/US drugs scandal: The shocking revelation that Carl Lewis won two Olympic gold medals in 1988 when he should have been serving a drugs ban means the first three men who crossed the line in that 100 metres race in Seoul have now been implicated in major doping scandals.

The world knows Canada’s Ben Johnson, the first to break the tape, failed a drugs test. What has only now emerged is that, when the gold medal went to the second-place finisher Lewis, the American should not have been there because he had tested positive for banned stimulants at the US Olympic trials two months earlier. It means that the rightful winner should have been Britain’s Linford Christie, a man who himself had a narrow escape in Seoul and has a colourful doping history.

They were not the only runners in that race with drug-tainted histories. Dennis Mitchell, who would also have benefited if Lewis had not been there, by finishing third instead of fourth, had problems with the dope-busters.

But I like sports and watching sports. And I remain in my delusional narrative that Olympic victors are largely clean.

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