Archive for the ‘Behaviour’ Category

The chains of freedom

November 8, 2017

We speak glibly about free will, about the four human freedoms of speech, of religion, from want and from fear. For any entity, living or otherwise, we can define “freedom” as being the “unconstrained power to do”. With that definition, there are no freedoms anywhere because nothing is unconstrained. Nothing, in this universe, has freedom. An electron is not free to be wherever it wishes to be. Even a “free” electron,  untethered to any atom, can only move in compliance with the gravitational and magnetic fields it is subject to, and never faster than the speed of light. The universe itself is inextricably chained to the arrow of time.

At the most fundamental level, the chains of the “natural laws” thus imprison all matter and energy. All living things are then held by the further chains of their genes. Their physical form and attributes and behaviour must lie within the envelopes of possibility fixed by their genes. These chains ensure that a birch tree can never be an oak or a zebra a lion. From the time a seed is planted, it merely reacts to its environment and the changes to that environment. It chooses nothing. In fact, there are no choices to be made.

But humans have free will, it is said. Humans have choices available, it is said. They can choose how they will behave. But I am no longer sure if this is true. Certainly each one of the seven+ billion humans can imagine violating what we understand to be the “natural laws” but not a single one can actually do so. I can imagine myself running faster than Usain Bolt, but it never does, and never will, come to pass. All the chains connecting me to my past are unbreakable. All my possible future states of being are anchored to my current state by another unbreakable chain. All human actions are constrained by

  1. the starting conditions,
  2. what a mind can envisage,
  3. what is physically possible, and
  4. the forces driving the action

Free will, if it exists, is involved in imagining the action and in providing the driving forces for action. Causal Determinism of course allows of no free will. All future events are determined by past events and so on ad infinitum. Some forms of philosophical determinism allow some freedom of choice within a narrow envelope of possible behaviours, though others suggest that the choice of actual behaviour made is, in fact, also predetermined.

I think we need to distinguish between thought and action even if thinking itself is an action. The exercise of free will requires an action. But thinking itself is constrained. Thinking about violating the laws of nature is clearly an act which does not, itself, violate the laws of nature. Thinking about travelling backwards in time itself moves forward in time. Moreover, thinking has its own unbreakable chains. I cannot think, for example, in a language I do not know. What I cannot imagine I cannot even think about. What I cannot imagine is what, to my mind, is unknowable. What is knowable for any mind is a consequence of its capacity, its speed of learning and its knowledge base (experience). Even our possible thoughts then are limited and thus a constraint on our subsequent actions (if any).

image STAR

Every single human is in fact condemned to a life sentence on a prison planet called Earth from which there is no escape. We are in fact prisoners of

  1. what we understand to be the natural laws,
  2. our genes,
  3. the surrounding environment,
  4. our experience, and
  5. our current state

These chains are not susceptible to being broken. Each one of us is so enmeshed in constraining chains that we have few, if any, real freedoms of action.

I am about to make myself a cup of coffee. That was probably determined long before I was born. But I have the illusion that it is a choice I am making freely.




The one or the many

October 31, 2017

It is the classic dilemma of our age which shows up everywhere.

I nearly always tend towards prioritising the one primarily because without the one there cannot be the many, without the local you cannot get to global, without the national there is no international and without the excellence of the few you cannot get the good of the herd. I prefer the highest multiple possible to the lowest common factor. It colours my politics. I prefer the search for excellence rather than the common mediocrity of socialism. I prefer the the internationalism which comes as a consequence of strong nationalism to the bullying of the UN or the EU.

I side with “to each as he deserves” rather than to “each as he desires”. Freedoms flow bottom up from the individual to the group rather than privileges and sanctions flowing from the group down to the oppressed individual.


Eugenics is already being practiced

October 31, 2017

In a survey published in 2008 of the 18 (now 20) countries in EUROCAT, 88% of neural tube defects were detected prenatally and 88% of these were aborted. Of  Downs Syndrome cases, 68% were detected prenatally and 88% of these too were aborted.

Iceland (population of 330,000) has virtually eliminated Downs Syndrome births though in such a small population there are only one or two cases every year. However in Denmark around 98% of Downs Syndrome fetuses are aborted , in France around 77% and even in the US around 67% are aborted.

In Sweden

The mother chose to terminate the pregnancy in 88 percent of cases when the child had anencaphaly, when part of the child’s brain is missing. They also chose abortion in 75 percent of cases where doctors detected bilateral renal agenesis – when the child is missing both kidneys.

Artificial selection

As technology develops, and more fetal abnormalities can be detected, and as abortion becomes less stigmatised, it is not only serious abnormalities which lead to abortion. With abortion on demand, even conditions which are eminently treatable (cleft palate for example) are leading to the choice to abort. The availability and practice of abortion is itself becoming the main vehicle of artificial selection. Correction of fetal defects is usually not possible. Even if genetic “tailoring” for designer babies is not quite there yet, the incidence of fetuses being born with even minor defects is inevitably declining.

Selective abortion is artificial selection, and that is, after all, just eugenics.


On birth rates, abortions and “eugenics by default”



October 8, 2017

A little irritated today by some stupid behaviour.


UN and EU have forgotten that nationalism is the basis for internationalism

September 20, 2017

The part comes before the whole.

Without a definition of the number “one” there is no Number theory. Without the establishment of a single cell there is no life. No bricks no house. When an atom overwhelms an electron, it leaves and the atom is no more. Without weather there is no climate.

Multinational institutions are particularly prone to forgetting what their fundamental building blocks are. To be global one must first be local. To apply universally means first applying to each of the 7.5 billion on earth. Without a strong and healthy nationalism there is no internationalism.

The EU and the UN are excellent examples of how the “large” loses track of its roots. The EU much more than the UN tries to bully its smaller member countries and that cannot be sustained.


Excellence is about improving the best – not of mitigating the worst

September 14, 2017

” Excellence” is always about performance. It also always implies a measurement – not necessarily quantitative – of performance against a “mean” or a “standard” value for such performance. It is not merely about “doing your best” without also surpassing existing standards.   I hesitate to call this a definition of excellence but it is a view of excellence. Continuous improvement is inbuilt in this view of “excellence”, since every time an “average” performance is exceeded, the “average” must shift. Searching for excellence thus requires continuously improving performance whether for an individual or a company or for a society. “Quality” means having some attribute to a higher (improved) level than some standard. “Excellence” is thus closely linked to “quality”. A search for excellence often implies – but not always – a search for improving quality. A value judgement of what is a “better” performance or a “higher” quality is inherent when considering excellence.

image Aberdeen Performing Arts

What is often forgotten is that searching for excellence is all about improving the best, not of eliminating or mitigating the worst. This often becomes a political or ideological matter where resources are spent at the bottom end of the performance scale. That actually becomes a search for the lowest common level and not a search for excellence. It is not possible to search for excellence and simultaneously denounce the elite. Excellence requires an elite.

Evolution by natural selection is not primarily about excellence. The only “performance” factor involved is that of maximising the survivability of an individual’s gene-set. Excellence achieved of any other performance parameter or attribute is accidental. Natural selection, then, is effectively silent about excellence but is not necessarily a bar to excellence. Artificial selection – on the other hand – is all about excellence of some particular attribute or performance parameter (breeding for strength or speed or intelligence or some other genetic factor in dogs for example).

To search for excellence, whether as an individual or as an organisation requires all three of motivation, opportunity and capability. The search fails if any one is missing. It starts with motivation – the desire to act. It can be entirely an internal thing to an individual or it can be due to external events or forces. Without motivation, opportunities are invariably missed and capabilities wastefully unused. Opportunities however are not just random events. They may occur by accident but they can – sometimes – be created and then they can even be designed. Ultimately performance improves and attributes are enhanced by actions. And actions are always constrained by capabilities. The best possible performance is always constrained to be the best performance possible.

The most common, universal barrier is that motivation is lacking. Some performance parameter or attribute is not given sufficient value. Value may be given by peers or generated internally by the performer. Without value being accorded, any motivation to search for excellence of that attribute or performance then withers. By corollary, if poor performance is not a disadvantage, then deterioration is not discouraged either (unless perhaps some minimum threshold value is reached).

Schools must consider both the excellence of individual performance and that of all students as  a group and that of learning as a concept. There can be perceived conflicts of interest here. In most schools more resources are often spent on the weakest group to bring their performance up towards the average. Being close to the average then becomes good enough. The weak students are dragged up towards the average and the strong students – if not self-motivated – drift down towards the average. They often miss the simple arithmetical fact that improving the performance of the best students provides a far greater improvement both for all the individuals and for the group and for learning in general. Often they are hampered by ideological constraints.

In large groups of individuals, whether in commercial enterprises or bureaucracies or health care or sports clubs, excellence still depends upon motivation, opportunity and capability. Clearly, if the target for which excellence is sought is not clear then there is no excellence achieved. It is much easier for a commercial enterprise to define performance parameters or attributes in which excellence is to be sought. They have also the greatest freedom of action in providing motivation, creating opportunities or acquiring capabilities. Bureaucracies are often process keepers. Excellence becomes a very diffuse concept to define. It is difficult to even conceive of excellence when the only parameters which count are minimum level of service at lowest cost.

Excellence is about improving the best – not of mitigating the worst.


Big Brother was an amateur compared to Google

August 24, 2017

George Orwell’s 1984 was published in 1949.

In his fictional world every citizen is under constant surveillance by the authorities, where everybody knows that  “Big Brother is watching you”.  And Big Brother is not worried. He says “The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.”

In many ways, Big Brother was an amateur compared to Google.

But, not to worry.

Google’s heart is pure.



Safest drivers are aged 75 and the young are much riskier than even the 90-year-olds

August 20, 2017

Age discrimination against the elderly is widespread and institutionalised in Europe.

There are calls in some countries (including Sweden) for elderly drivers to be retested. Sweden does suffer from a youth fetish and the experience of the elderly is often wasted and replaced by younger incompetence. Yet, the statistics do not support these bigoted calls.


Above 80, the risk of causing a traffic accident increases. But those who call for testing of the  driving ability of the elderly have not studied the statistics. The risk of a traffic accident is least at 75, according to insurance claims statistics. ………. 
By a long way the really young have the highest risk of causing a traffic accident with their own car.  The risk that an 18-19 year old will cause a car accident is 3.5 times higher than the average. The risk then falls sharply down to around twice the average at the age of 30 according to the claims statistics of the insurance companies. These are statistically sound figures, largely confirmed by Folksam, taking into account, for example, that older people drive less. From around 40 to 80 years, the risk is close to the average. The lowest risk behavior is reached at 75 years, when the risk of having a car accident …. is about 20 percent lower than the average before it rises again and increases with age. …… 
But even though the risk increases at the end of the age curve, a 90-year-old is no more dangerous in traffic than a 35-year-old.  Last year, the Transport Agency initiated an investigation to see whether the regulations should change. One way to go is mandatory health checks at a certain age, another is an extension of the doctors’ reporting obligation. According to the Transport Agency, the investigation is expected to be completed sometime in spring 2018. But Tania Dukic Willstrand, who is studying the elderly in traffic at the State Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI), is doubtful. Other countries have introduced mandatory tests by elderly drivers. “And it has not shown increased road safety,” she says. 
Those over 80, just as younger drivers, pay a higher premium for insurance as a reflection of the risk. Even 40-50-year-olds have slightly higher insurance rate. “It’s the age when the youngsters begin to borrow mothers and dads cars,” said Dan Falconer.

Data from the US also shows much the same thing. The safest drivers are around 75 years old. But even at 90 years old they are much safer than the 18-19 year old drivers. (AAA study).


Manliness has more than halved in western men since 1973

July 26, 2017

There is a new paper, a meta-review, receiving much attention.

The manliness of western men has more than halved between 1973 and 2011. It reports a significant ongoing decline in sperm concentration and sperm counts of Western men. It seems that “between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in perm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand ….  In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa.”

Being a meta-review this study does not shed light on the causes of this drastic decline in the manliness of western men. It speculates that this may be due to chemicals or lifestyle or smoking or obesity or pesticides or some other factor. This speculation is just speculation and smoking or pesticide use would have caused stronger effects in Asia. They are quite right, however, in not following the sheep and including global warming as a possible cause. However they seem to be ignoring some other relevant factors.

I am inclined to think that the decrease of manliness among western men sounds more like a psychological reaction to political trends. Western society just values “manliness” much less than it used to. So other factors which probably need to be considered include:

  1. the increase of gender ambiguity
  2. the decrease in men’s social status
  3. the decline of political leadership in the west,
  4. the spread of political indecisiveness,
  5. the decline of corporal punishment in schools,
  6. the decline of femininity

It stands to reason that if gender difference is eliminated then sperm count and concentration will also decline. It follows that eliminating gender difference will result in the elimination of reproduction and species extinction.

Hagai Levine et al. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update. DOI: 10.1093/humupd/dmx022

MedicalXpress writes:  ….. between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in perm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand ….  In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa. ….. The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011. ….. 

While declines in sperm count have been reported since 1992, the question has remained controversial because of limitations in past studies. However, the current study uses a broader scope and rigorous meta-regression methods, conservatively addresses the reliability of study estimates, and controls for factors that might help explain the decline such as age, abstinence time, and selection of the study population.

“Given the importance of sperm counts for male fertility and human health, this study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count, with the goal of prevention,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, the lead author and Head of the Environmental Health Track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine.

The findings have important public health implications. First, these data demonstrate that the proportion of men with sperm counts below the threshold for subfertility or infertility is increasing. Moreover, given the findings from recent studies that reduced sperm count is related to increased morbidity and mortality, the ongoing decline points to serious risks to male fertility and health.

“Decreasing sperm count has been of great concern since it was first reported twenty-five years ago. This definitive study shows, for the first time, that this decline is strong and continuing. The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend,” Dr. Shanna H Swan, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

While the current study did not examine causes of the observed declines, sperm count has previously been plausibly associated with environmental and lifestyle influences, including prenatal chemical exposure, adult pesticide exposure, smoking, stress and obesity. Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impact of the modern environment on male health across the lifespan and serve as a “canary in the coal mine” signaling broader risks to male health.

It also follows that western men pose less of a risk to women looking for promiscuity, but that western women who wish to have children have a better chance with men having a higher level of manliness.


Nuclear weapons are necessary to avoid another Hitler

July 8, 2017

Yesterday the UN again demonstrated its uselessness. More, it demonstrated, again that majorities are very often wrong and can be just plain stupid.

Countries without nuclear weapons voted among themselves that countries with nuclear weapons should not have them. The stupid voting among themselves that the more intelligent should not be so intelligent.

The UN adopted a global treaty banning nuclear weapons. Only 124 nations of 193 participated. The treaty was adopted by a vote of 122 countries in favor with one NATO member, the Netherlands, voting against and with Singapore abstaining.

The stupidity of the resolution and the vote lies in that neither those who have nuclear weapons, nor those who have experienced a nuclear strike, even participated.


  1. None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, UK, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — took part in the negotiations or the vote.
  2.  Even Japan — the only country to have suffered atomic attacks, in 1945 — boycotted the talks and the vote.
  3. The only NATO country to participate, the Netherlands, voted against.
  4. The other NATO countries not participating were Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.

The UN is good at sanctimonious, feel-good resolutions which are “full of sound and fury” but “signifying nothing”. It is, in fact, the presence of nuclear weapons which has put a cap on the number of deaths by war.


During the 31 years leading up to the first atomic bomb, the world without nuclear weapons engaged in two global wars resulting in the deaths of an estimated 78 million to 95 million people, uniformed and civilian. The world wars were the hideous expression of what happens when the human tendency toward conflict hooks up with the violent possibilities of the industrial age. The version of this story we are most familiar with is the Nazi death machinery, and we are often tempted to think that if Hitler had not happened, we would never have encountered assembly-line murder.

…… As bad as they are, nukes have been instrumental in reversing the long, seemingly inexorable trend in modernity toward deadlier and deadlier conflicts. If the Nobel Committee ever wants to honor the force that has done the most over the past 60 years to end industrial-scale war, its members will award a Peace Prize to the bomb.

Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented.

The simple fact is that it is the existence of nuclear weapons which has prevented the blood-letting of WW1 and WW2 from happening again.

And which prevents another Hitler from appearing. And which will prevent Kim Jong-un from ever becoming another Hitler.


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