Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

All objectivity is subjective

April 20, 2017

From a recent talk I gave:

When a tree falls in the forest, a pressure wave is borne by the air, but there is no sound if there is no ear to detect the vibration and no brain to perceive that vibration as sound. On the airless moon there is no medium to convey a pressure wave. “The Sound of Silence”. Silence is what you hear when a tree falls on the moon.

Our eyes do not see any object directly except by reflection. In a mirror, the eye sees a reflection of a reflection of light from an object where the light comes from someplace else. When you discover a car hurtling towards you, your eye only sees a reflection of light from the car approaching, but the light comes from elsewhere. It is fortunate that the light happens to travel faster than the car coming to mow you down. (I note, in passing, that it would have been a far more intelligent design if our eyes had their own inbuilt light sources – laser beams perhaps – but what we would see would still be reflections.)

Our reality is limited by our senses. We are blind to what our senses cannot detect. We cannot see the ultraviolet light all around and we can not detect infra-sounds surrounding us. There is infinitely more that we can not perceive or even detect. Even my thoughts are limited by my imagination. What I cannot imagine, I cannot think of. Without experience, I cannot understand what hunger means to a starving person. Information from the outside world is first filtered by what our senses can detect. Then, it is interpreted and perceived within the limits of our brains. I cannot convey the pressure wave my ears detect, but I can try to describe the sound I hear. But all that I can communicate is limited by my language. The structure and vocabulary of the languages I know cannot cope with all the nuances of emotion and sounds and sights and smells and tastes of what I perceive I experience. 

Where I hear cacophony my son hears music. What I perceive as the worst stench in the world can be perceived as the delicate fragrance of surstromming by a Norrlänning

There are no facts that are not perceptions and there are no truths that are not interpretations in a brain. To make a judgement is to be biased. Being unbiased is not always right. To discriminate is a consequence of thought. Discrimination is not always wrong. To be different is to be unequal. Inequality is not always undesirable. To reward is a consequence of deserving. Equality is not always wise. The question is whether one is just in ones actions. But what is just depends on where the observer is positioned.

My objectivity is not necessarily yours. I have no objection if others have different opinions to mine, even if theirs are invariably wrong. My point is that objectivity is inevitably, and always, subjective.


Globalisation has to shift from centralised control to smart, distributed control

January 23, 2017

I am expanding on an earlier post since I find that there is much loose thinking when it comes to what people perceive as the sins or benefits of globalisation. The globalisation pundits forget that without local there can be no global

Where “globalisation” should have been “think global, act local”, it has instead degenerated to become “decide globally, impose locally”.  It is part of the classic balance between centralised and distributed, between society and the individual. What should have been an increase in local decision-making in the light of being better informed about global consequences, has instead become decision-making at the global level with consequences being imposed on or coerced from the much smaller local entities. The “anti-globalisation wave” currently ongoing is the reaction from the “local” entities which feel imposed upon. It applies as much to individuals in America’s rust belts to the Indian engineers being laid off in a multi-national corporate because avoided costs (not actual costs) are lower in Europe. It applies to the UK view of the EU which fuelled Brexit as much as to the protests in the state of Tamil Nadu against the banning of Jallikattu. This degeneration applies to the UN, it applies to the EU or the WHO or the IMF or the WB. It applies to “global” or “multi-national” corporations, to central governments, to multi-lateral trade agreements and even to scientific endeavour.

There are many analogies and examples available for the balance to be struck in the centralised control of distributed intelligences. Central power generation has given way – somewhat – to smarter, more distributed power generation. Main frame computing has given way to distributed smart devices as the intelligence and capability of each device has increased. Central telephone exchanges have given way to mobile telephony also as the mobile devices have become smarter. In health care, central hospitals will give way to distributed clinics as the capability and intelligence (by automation and AI) of smaller clinics increases. In Sweden for example, health care is still being centralised to the detriment of the local and lags in this evolution towards smarter, more distributed systems. But the move – globally – towards smarter local clinics is inevitable.

In modern power generation systems, which is what I am most familiar with, we used to have centralised controls ruling over individual, “idiot” pieces of equipment. But nowadays we have intelligence at the point of each piece of equipment and a centralised control which only determines policy at the highest level. It is distributed control which has revolutionised not only the efficiency of generation but also the health and life of each piece of equipment, and above all, the performance of individual plants in an inter-connected grid.

From central to distributed

From central to distributed

“Centralised” – as in the diagram above, is imposition of central power on local entities(UN, EU, Central government …), “decentralised” gives groupings of multi-lateral arrangements (NAFTA, NATO, ASEAN …). “Distributed” is the obvious choice when having a multitude of smart entities and consists of developing and emphasising the natural (adjacent) bilaterals. Swarms of birds or shoals of fish are good examples of  decentralised swarms or shoals, where within each shoal a distributed but highly effective network applies, where each individual is only connected to, and responds to, its immediate (bilateral) neighbours.

The key for decentralisation is, of course, that sufficient intelligence resides at the local entities. Then the network becomes “smart”. This shift back towards smarter, more local decision-making is now overdue in international relations, in politics and in the corporate world. This is perhaps the main hope I have for the new Trump administration. With all his faults and all his bombast, if Trump helps reverse the current unsustainable trend and gets it to move towards smarter, distributed local entities, then he will have exceeded my expectations. In all international organisations (UN, EU etc), agreements and trade deals there is far too much decision-making at the global level. The local entities (say in African countries or Indian States or insular communities in Europe) are not necessarily smart enough yet, but that is no excuse to continue with the imposition of “global” decisions made very far away.

A smart world is not one with a global government as many Marxists and socialists dream of, imposing the lowest common standards on everyone and every thing. It is one where the individuals, the local factory or the local government, is smart enough and intelligent enough to make its own decisions for its own position within the global world it exists in. That would give the freedom and flexibility – which I judge absolutely necessary for the future of humans – for the local entity to fit into the global society it lives in as it thinks fit and is capable of.

Globalisation has to shift from centralised control to smart, distributed control. That will give “smart” globalisation.


Primordial belief

January 13, 2017

Take all our conscious thoughts about ourselves and the world around us to be either in the realm of knowledge or of ignorance. Take also that what lies in the space of knowledge is true. Then what lies in the space of ignorance may be true or false or both or neither. It is only within the space of ignorance that a “belief” can exist where that “belief” is then a possible truth. Take also that “science” is the process by which some of the “beliefs” within the space of ignorance are shown to be truths and thereby come into the space of knowledge. Knowledge is transferable between humans only if the recipient “believes” that the person transmitting the knowledge is transmitting the truth.

Much of what I take to be “knowledge” is not actually known to me but which I take to be known to others and part of the body of “human knowledge”.  I take the earth to be an oblate spheroid, not because I have personally observed that, but because I “believe” the many humans who have made the observation and brought that “true” statement into the body of human knowledge.

Most of what we therefore consider to be “our” knowledge is actually somebody else’s knowledge and not “known” to ourselves. However our belief in these persons leads to us claiming that knowledge as our own as being part of the body of knowledge available to humanity. The longer some statement has been within the body of knowledge, the stronger is our belief in that statement. Most of our actions are based then, not on our own personal knowledge, but on the belief that whatever lies within the body of knowledge of humanity is true.

But it strikes me that there is an assumption, a belief, which underlies every thought, every perception. This “primordial belief” is in fact implicit in every living thing. In fact it is so intrinsically intertwined with life that it may well be a part of the definition of what life is. This “primordial belief” is that the flow of time is unhindered and that a future exists. I breathe because there is future to breathe for. I cannot know when I take a breath that there will not be another one. Every living thing – a cell, a microbe, a virus, a tree or a human –  does what it does because there is a future (explicitly or implicitly) it believes it can live in. Even the very last breath I take will be taken in the belief that there will be another one to come. A belief in my future is existential.

A belief in a future is inherent in life. There can be a future without life (and there probably will be), but there is no form of life which does not have an implicit belief in its own future.

So every conscious mind (and that includes atheists, agnostics, religious fanatics, scientists and even economists) has this primordial, fundamental belief that a future exists. That, that future exists, can not be within the space of knowledge. All religions exist in the space of ignorance. But long before any of the “beliefs” they adopt comes the primordial belief that every living thing has  – that it has a future.


Paradoxes for our times / 6

November 18, 2016



The sum of all wisdom by the mathematics of philosophy

November 4, 2016

The sum of all wisdom is the summation across the population, of the integrals over time of the second values derivative of knowledge.


Not the philosophy of mathematics but the mathematics of philosophy!


Paradoxes for our times / 4

October 22, 2016



Paradoxes for our times/ 3

October 18, 2016



Paradoxes for our times / 2

October 15, 2016



Paradoxes for our times / 1

October 15, 2016



Equality: Myths and mirages

August 13, 2016

I got into a discussion/argument a few days ago about how the health services available were dependent upon wealth and about the need for “equality”. The motion was that “everybody should be equally entitled to the best care available”. But I couldn’t quite get my point across that the search for “equality of treatment” was itself based on a fundamental inequality. The fact that some people were sick and some were not, irrespective of wealth, was the underlying inequality. Provision of health services was, inherently, the unequal provision of resources to some (the sick) and therefore, the denial of those resources to others (the healthy). An unequal allocation of resources (more to the sick, less to the healthy) was being used to correct for the underlying inequality. It was “affirmative action” to help the sick. Admirable no doubt, but not an exercise of “equality”. In fact it was a manifestation of “unequal treatment” in the name of correcting a perceived “inequality”. All forms of “reservations” and “affirmative action” use discrimination against some to try and correct for some other perceived disadvantage of others. Campaigns for “equality” are nearly always about meting out unequal treatment to some to compensate for a perceived disadvantage in others.

They are all exercises in inequality rather than a pursuit of equality.

Concepts of equality are not real. They are merely “feel-good” excuses, a panacea for perceived injustices and a stick to beat political opponents with. All the various “forms” of equality are mirages. Absolute equality – of any kind – is a convenient myth. You cannot have both diversity and equality. “Different but equal” is a fine catch phrase but is a contradiction in terms. Difference IS unequal.

Justice and equality are quite different things. Justice demands inequality.

(I note in passing that “freedoms”, like equalities, are also convenient myths. The so called four fundamental freedoms (of speech, of worship, from want and from fear) are political nonsense. In virtually every human society “freedom of speech” is actually nothing more than “freedom of allowed speech”.  “Freedom of my worship” has become the “freedom to impose my worship” and is the cause of more atrocities and barbarism than any other. Freedom from want denies the fundamental driver of human development – to want. Freedom from fear is an empty platitude. Humans are capable of feeling fear because it, like pain, is a necessary requirement for survival. Elimination of fear or pain would require genetic manipulation and that would also eliminate happiness and pleasure.)

  1. “We are all born equal” – No we are not (and thank goodness for that). We each have our unique genetic make-ups (our natures). That, in turn constrains what any one of us is capable of physically or cognitively. Our environment (nurture) then determines how we behave. The very concept of being unique individuals precludes equality.
  2. “Equality of Opportunity” – This makes for fine political theatre but is meaningless. “Opportunity” is not a scalar quantity. It is vector which needs direction. Opportunity,  for what? I would have liked to run faster than Usain Bolt but I just wasn’t given the “equal opportunity”! Of course for the purposes of “equality” I would be entitled to an 85 m head-start (90 m might be better). Watching the Olympics it occurs to me that for true equality a handicap system is needed to ensure that everybody wins. It would be totally unjust, but it would be equal.
  3. “Gender equality” – This is politically very correct but has two parts. There are those fighting to ensure just treatment for women and that is wholly admirable. But there are also other idiots who believe the realities of gender difference can be denied. Femininity is denied in the name of feminism.
  4. “Equality before the law” is another nonsense phrase. The point of law and courts is to make a judgement based on actual behaviour against some “standard” (the law). What is meant, of course, is that different people not be treated differently for the same behaviour. That the rich man with a good lawyer not be treated preferentially. Yet, we also ask our judges to do exactly that. Juveniles or the mentally ill are treated differently. Past behaviour influences the penalty (or reward) for present behaviour.
  5. “Racial equality” – This phrase is also fatally tainted by the politically correct view that “races” don’t exit. Racial difference exists and is real. The “long distance running gene” is real and is more prevalent among East Africans. The “high altitude gene” is real and and is more prevalent among Tibetans. Skin colour genes are real, as are those for the shape of our eyes. Again, “just treatment” is wrongly presented as “equal treatment”.

Yesterday the women’s 10,000 m world record was broken by Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia (a fantastic run). The runners all started at the same time (equality). The finish was completely unequal with almost two laps between the winner and the last to finish. Ayana’s unequal advantages (nature and nurture) took her to the finish almost half a lap ahead of her nearest rival. For true “equality”, she should have had a handicap. With proper “affirmative action” maybe all the runners could have finished at the same time. But that would have been unjust. (Why is there no campaign for “gender equality” in the Olympics 10,000 m? I suppose for the same reason that flyweight boxers are not required to fight against the heavyweights.) The Olympics is a celebration of inequality.

The fundamental truth is that what is just is all about being unequal. Justness consists of “getting what is deserved”. The loose use of “equality” actually moves us away from what is just. We need to dump the deification of equality and focus on what is just.

Justice equality


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