Worst computer analogy ever?

Because basically, every single thing said on the computer side of the analogy is false:

"These concepts have been previously primed for influence. By analogy, think of almost any computer program you use. It is likely to contain transfer links [Transfer links? WTH?] that you need to click twice: once to ready the link and once to launch it. [Double-clicking is a single mouse gesture: from the program's point of view: the program just receives notice that the user double-clicked. There are not two phases, one during which the "transfer link" could be "readied," whatever the hell that would mean.] But the program also likely contains links that launch with just one click [that's because the programmer triggered the event associated with the link on a single-click mouse event, and not a double-click], because they have already been readied -- that is, hyperlinked ['hyperlink' just means links within hypertext: nothing to do with 'prefetching'] to the desired information. The effect of hyperlinking to a location has been labeled by web browser engineers as 'prefetching it.'" -- Pre-suasion, Robert Cialdini, p. 140.

It looks to me as though Cialdini simply wrote down how he imagined computers work, without bothering to check a single thing in the entire passage above.

Pizza, pizza, get your piping hot pizza!

I had paid little attention to the "Pizzagate scandal" until a few days ago, when certain people forced it onto my radar.

As a trained researcher, I know not to pay too much attention either to the people who accept such stories uncritically, or to the people who reject them uncritically. A trained researcher does not "believe" or "disbelieve" his sources: he interrogates those sources and treats them as evidence of events that have occurred have occurred, and not as descriptions of events that have occurred.

So, for instance, no one should take the wild conspiracy theories emerging from the darker corners of the Internet at face value. Nor should anyone take an uncritical piece of garbage like this at face value. Amy Davidson basically declares there is not even any point in trying to figure out why the conspiracy theorists believe what they do: the conspiracy theory arose from nothing at all, and focuses on the things it does for no reason whatsoever.

But even completely false accusations are formed the way they are for some reason, and someone actually doing anything that could be called "journalism," rather than "smug dismissalism," would try to see if she can understand why.

Well, I took a few minutes off from my other work to see what I could turn up. One element of the conspiracy theory is that a band that has played at the pizza place, Heavy Breathing, is somehow involved with the scandal. Members of the band have received death threats, something that should not be happening even if they are the leading sex traffickers in the world.

But Comet Ping Pong, if they have music at all, probably have various bands in. Why would the conspiracy theorists focus on this one?

So, off to the band's web site. There I was met by an anus staring me in the face, and was immediately given the finger. I found a number of recordings of their songs, which seemed to be focused on sexual hedonism, dark magic rituals, sadomasochism, and other unsavory topics.

And then I found this. (I am going to describe what I am seeing in case the band yanks the image down.) The first thing that struck me was that anyone over eight or nine years old would look at the image of the young boy holding an extremely phallic object up to his open mouth as a little bit... suggestive? If I were the band, and an artist brought me this drawing for my website, I would immediately say, "What the hell is that? It looks like a young boy practicing fellatio!"

"But... I didn't mean anything by it!"

"Whether you did or not, get it the hell out of the drawing that is going to go on my band's website!"

The song's title is "All the children," and the image posted to go with this song also depicts a couple of children... crawling around. "That's all they are doing," I told myself, "just crawling. Don't jump to conclusions."

So next I played the song. Some of the lyrics I just can't decipher, but the ones I can are: "I want to take it up their way, push it," which are repeated many times.

OK, now I definitely don't see those kids just crawling anymore. When you name your song "All the children," sing over and over that you want to "take it up their way" with all these children, and show children down and their hands and knees... no, they no longer look like they are just crawling.

This most certainly does not "prove" that there is a pedophile ring associated with this pizza place. Since fortunately there are very few pedophile rings, I think it still leaves it very unlikely that there is a pedophile ring associated with Comet Ping Pong.

Here is what I find more likely: what we have are some garden-variety degenerates, who thought it would be very amusing to "Épater la bourgeoisie" with a song expressing a longing for anal sex with children. Unfortunately for them, some people did not "get the joke."

The death threats are awful, and should stop. But treating evil as an amusing joke with which sophisticates can snicker at rubes with traditional morals is also a terrible idea, and it can come back to haunt you.


Voice recognition oddities

Two words I can't get Apple's voice recognition software to recognize when I say them:

  1. Than: I always get "then," unless I really consciously stress the difference, in which case I get "van."
  2. Will: This comes out as "we'll." This one is especially puzzling to me: if I listen to myself say the word "will," my pronunciation of the vowel doesn't sound very much like a long-e to me.

Ethno-nonsense

I got some pushback on my piece on ethno-nationalism from people who said, "No, an ethnicity must be characterized by a common bloodline!" Oddly, this pushback came both from racists who wanted to exclude non-whites from being "true Americans" and from their critics.

First of all, racists define ethnicity as being identical (almost identical?) to bloodline. So what? We now have to turn to racists for our word definitions?

But more importantly, if we define things that way, there pretty much are no nations for the racial-nationalists to "preserve." Consider England: Far from all being descended from a common bloodline, the English people are descended from Picts, Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Norman French and more. Two of the most prominent Englishmen of the 19th century, Ricardo and Disraeli, were the descendants of Portuguese and Italian Jews, respectively, and yet both were clearly English. James Callaghan was of Irish and Jewish descent and like Disraeli became Prime Minister.
Idris Elba is pretty obviously English, in a way I never could be, despite my being genetically closer to the average resident of England than he is.

Similarly, the Spanish are Iberians, Lusitanians, Celts, Romans, Germans, Moors and more. The Italian people are made up of "bloodlines" of Celts, Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, Lombards, Moors, and so on. The idea that to be ethnically Italian means to be descended from some common ancestor along with all other Italians is stupid, unless we want to run that bloodline back to Adam and Eve.

If racial-nationalists are looking for some "pure bloodline" around which to found a nation, they are in for a long search.


Philosophy of Nature

I am currently reviewing Paul Feyerabend's Philosophy of Nature for The British Journal for the History of Philosophy. Feyerabend worked on this book in the 1970s, but it was only released this year.

This promises to be a wonderful review experience, since Feyerabend was a brilliant man, and in this work he reviews the "philosophy of nature" from the Stone Age to Bohm.

And here is my first quote of note from the work:

"The assumption that humans of the Stone or Bronze Age would have had only the most primitive knowledge of nature may be flattering to our progressivist self-image. But it has little plausibility since Stone Age humans were already fully developed members of the species Homo sapiens, and it is incompatible with recent research. The environmental and societal problems that the early Homo sapiens had to face were incomparably greater than the challenges facing our contemporary scientists. These problems has to be solved with the most primitive means, often without any division of labor or specialized skills, and the solutions arrived at indicate a level of intelligence and sensitivity that is clearly not inferior to ours." -- pp. 5-6

My book reviews

I've assembled a partial list.

Trump's Tremendous Trolling

Trump just riled up a bunch of his opponents with his tweet about "taking away the citizenship" of anyone who burned the flag.

Of course this is absurd: he's not going to do anything like that: he's trolling.

A friend recognized this, and said Trump's trolling is "Not nice."

This is an understanding of politics as a big kindergarten classroom: If you're just nice to Johnny and let him play with your truck, he will let you play with his.

Unfortunately, real politics is nothing like kindergarten: the new prince, as Machiavelli taught us, must consolidate his rule. If he is overly "nice," his foes will see it as a sign of weakness and oppose him all the more fiercely. And as Machiavelli noted, to be "nice" and fail to establish one's rule is really not nice at all, since civil unrest and ultimately civil war result, and they are very not nice.

So Trump trolled those claiming "Trump is not my president," and got just the reaction he wanted: televised shots of Trump's opponents burning the American flag. Across the nation, the image that will stick with people is: those opposed to Trump hate America. (I'm not saying this makes sense, I'm saying that's the emotional impact of the images.)

Machiavelli would have recommended rounding up the protesters and having them executed. By contrast, Trump's technique of tweet-trolling them into political oblivion is nice indeed.


Wisdom from Scott Adams

As anyone reading this blog consistently knows, I do not "worship" Scott Adams, or anything of the sort. As soon as he starts to talk philosophy, he talks nonsense. But in understanding persuasion, he is a true pro. And in discussing the "pizza-gate" "scandal", he notes:

"Here’s what I know that most of you do not: Confirmation bias looks EXACTLY LIKE a mountain of real evidence. And let me be super-clear here. When I say it looks exactly the same, I am not exaggerating. I mean there is no way to tell the difference."

And of great importance here: Adams is de-bunking an anti-Clinton instance of confirmation bias. He doesn't just see confirmation bias when he wants to see it, and deny its possibility when he likes its implications.

This is what is so hard to accept about what the "Godzilla" of influence, Robert Cialdini, describes in his book Pre-suasion. We are all susceptible to being primed, by pre-adopting a certain framework, to read "evidence" in a certain way. If people are shown an identical video of someone describing their behavior in some situation of violent conflict, but one group has previously read a biography of the narrator as a decorated war hero, and another group has read a biography of the narrator as a violent sociopath, the two groups will judge what is described in the exact same video radically differently. Furthermore, members of each group will mostly be certain that they reached their conclusions entirely based on the actual evidence of the video. If asked if the biography had any influence on them, most of them will answer, "Of course not: that person is clearly [a brave soldier / a sociopath] based only on what they said in the video."

That is what confirmation bias is like.

Let me offer you an example of how important "pre-suasion" can be, with a story I have related on this blog previously.

My last month at the London School of Economics, I was staying at the flat of a friend. He told me that when I arrived in London, I should call him, and we would meet, and he would bring me to my new residence. When I landed and called him, he told me he was at the laundromat. Without explicitly stating this to myself, I subconsciously concluded, "Oh well, there are no laundry facilities at the flat."

After I had been there a couple of weeks, my friend asked me why I kept doing my laundry in the bathtub. (I am not addicted to modern conveniences, and I'm perfectly willing to wash my dishes or my laundry by hand.)

I responded, "because there is no washing machine in the apartment."

My friend walked me to the kitchen, and asked, "Well, what is that?"

Clearly visible in the kitchen, which I had been in by that point dozens of times, was a washing machine. But my friend's statement that he was at the laundromat had "pre-suaded" me that there was no washing machine at our flat. (It just happened that he had been at the laundromat to wash some duvets, which would not fit in the flat's small washing machine.) Thus pre-suaded, I was literally unable to see a completely unhidden and undisguised washing machine.

In this case, no one had been intentionally trying to convince me that there was no washing machine in the flat. There was no team of master persuaders at work trying to hide the presence of the washing machine from me. And yet still I was unable to see it.

Now imagine that a team of master persuaders has been trying to convince you that something that is there, is not, or something that is not there, is. How much more likely are you to believe that there is a "mountain of evidence" that what they want you to believe really is (or isn't) there, and that you have reached your conclusion entirely on your own?

Algorithms and the concrete universal

(A follow-up to this post.)

Hegel's notion of the "concrete universal," later adopted by British idealists (like Bosanquet, Collingwood and Oakeshott) and Italian idealists (like Croce), and important to a modern philosopher such as Claes Ryn, is difficult to grasp. We are used to thinking of the concrete and the universal as opposites of some sort. So what on earth is a "concrete universal"?

This passage from R. G. Collingwood expresses the idea philosophically about as well as I have seen:

"The concept is not something outside the world of sensuous experience: it is the very structure in order of that world itself... This is the point of view of concrete thought... Too abstract is to consider separately things that are inseparable: to think of the universal, for instance, without reflecting that it is merely the universal of its particulars, and to assume that one can isolate it in thought and to study it in this isolation. This assumption is an error." -- Speculum Mentis (1924)

In shorter form, Bernard Bosanquet wrote: "the fullest universal of character and consciousness will embody itself in the finest and most specialized and unrepeatable responses to environment." -- The Principle of Individuality and Value: The Gifford Lectures for 1911 (1927)

Rather than a philosophical definition, what I would like to offer here is a concrete example of the concrete universal, that of algorithms. At first glance, nothing could be more abstract than an algorithm. But let us try to state what that "abstract" algorithm is: let us take, for instance, the algorithm for the Towers of Hanoi. We can describe the algorithm in words; but these will be particular, concrete words. We can picture the actual puzzle game, and even actually play it:


But this represents the algorithm with particular, concrete pieces of wood and particular instructions on how to play.

We can offer an implementation of the algorithm, in, for instance, Python:

def hanoi(n, source, helper, target):
    if n > 0:
        # move tower of size n - 1 to helper:
        hanoi(n - 1, source, target, helper)
        # move disk from source peg to target peg
        if source:
            target.append(source.pop())
        # move tower of size n-1 from helper to target
        hanoi(n - 1, helper, source, target)
        
source = [4,3,2,1]
target = []
helper = []
hanoi(len(source), source, helper, target)

But this is a particular set of instructions in a particular programming language.

We might even provide some pseudo-code, but the pseudo-code will still consist of particular symbols written according to a particular pseudo-convention.

In short, the abstract algorithm is an airy nothing, a "we know not what" (as Berkeley described the abstract matter of Descartes and Locke), unless embodied in some concrete form. Or, as Collingwood said, "it is merely the universal of its particulars." We cannot "isolate it in thought and to study it in this isolation." We can only reach the universal through the concrete, which is its only reality.