Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

PARTICLE THEORISTS POISON COSMOLOGY

November 4, 2021

Despite three decades of effort and tens of millions of dollars spent on accelerators and their like, it looks as if Particle Physics is coming to a sad end. No new particles beyond those such as the Higgs Boson proposed 50 years ago, and in particular none of those Supersymmetric particles which theorists had hoped would explain that greatest of all scientific mysteries — Dark Matter. Of course there will now be cries for more money and even larger machines, after all the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva is a mere 27 kilometres in circumference. But wait! Perhaps there is something far more interesting and fundamental at work: Perhaps Particle theorists have misled themselves, and everybody else , through neglecting a philosophical principle at least a thousand years old called ‘Ockham’s Razor’ (OR), named after a mediaeval monk called Friar Ockham.

At the heart of the Scientific Method is the business of Hypothesis Testing, which is where OR comes in. It states “Always prefer the simplest hypothesis first” and that, I suggest, is where Particle Theorists went so horribly wrong. Their “Standard Model” — as they call it, is fiendishly complex — what with its Quarks, Gluons, ‘Asymptotic Freedom’ and so on and so on. How do we measure complexity in Science? By the number of ‘Free Parameters’ (FPs) needed to describe a theory. One way you can think of them is to say they are arbitrary numbers brought into a theory to force it to fit the experimental data. A ‘good theory’ doesn’t need many FPs because it fits the experimental world naturally(for instance Newton’s very successful Theory of Gravitation has only 2 FP s) The so called Standard Model of Particle Physics needs no less than 18 FP s which has always suggested that it is an ugly and unnatural construct. It should be no surprise then to find now that it actually looks to be wrong.

So why did theorists construct such an ugly model in the first place, mostly back in the 1960’s and 70’s? Probably because they didn’t understand just how fundamental OR is. And there’s some excuse for them — because the Philosophers of Science, the self-appointed arbiters of the Scientific Method, didn’t understand OR themselves. Even Einstein, who relied on it extensively, waffled about some plastic ‘God’.

As I see it Hypothesis Testing works like this. You have some data-points, with error bars of course, and you have your hypothesis which generates a smooth curve which you must try to fit through those points. If there are lot of points the Odds on your hypothetical curve fitting them all by chance must be small. So if it does so fit then the Odds are that the hypothesis is probably right. If it doesn’t fit then you can always complexify your hypothesis ,so twisting your hypothetical curve until it does fit. But you can see that’s not a very convincing way to proceed, because eventually you are always going to force a fit. In that case the Odds in favour of it being actually right vanish. And that, I would suggest is what happened to Particle Theory, starting half a century a century ago.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with modifying a theory to fit the facts, after all that’s how science progresses. But you have to be very frugal in doing so. Only introduce a new concept (FP) into your theory if it fits at the very least two more data points than its simpler predecessor. And that’s hard to do, but it won’t degrade the Odds on it being right. But if it only fits one more data point the Odds will generally degrade dramatically. And that’s what Particle Physicists were tempted to do; making names for themselves at the expense of undermining the Odds on their so called ‘Standard Model’ theory. And that’s why almost nobody believes in their theory anymore. It’s as if they’d undermined their currency by printing too many notes. It works for a while — then collapses!

I am not a Particle Physicist, thank God, I am an Astrophysicist. And what worries me is that those same Particle theorists have dragged their own dodgy practices into our subject, with predictably unhealthy consequences. Take “Dark Energy”, an entirely artificial concept dragged into Cosmology by a particle theorist called Ed Turner from the Fermi Lab (and the University of Chicago). Now astronomers are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to chase this fantasy around the cosmos when there’s no justification for doing so, none at all. It was a thoughtless quick-fix extra Free Parameter to fit the apparent acceleration of Cosmic Expansion inferred from Supernova measurements in 1998. Had its introduction explained TWO or more discrepancies between theory and observation we might have welcomed it in. But it didn’t. So it should never have been introduced in the first place. Never!

PS Actually the situation is far worse than I am implying because the bloody particle theorists who have undermined their own subject actually introduced two more unnecessary FPs into Cosmology before Dark Energy: ‘Inflation’ to cure Isotropy and nothing else, and ‘Dark Matter’ to fix the Cosmic chemical abundances. We need to throw them out too.

So where do we go from here? Cosmology should chuck out Dark Energy, Inflation and Dark Matter and start again without them. As for Particle Physics I suspect that they may have to go back 50 years and try to reconstruct a more parsimonious theory of particle interactions than the ‘Standard Model based on quarks and gluons. In his wonderful book ‘Constructing Quarks’ Andrew Pickering (Univ. Chicago Press 1981) suggested that that theory was a social construct anyway, the product of trendy acclamation, rather than sober assessment.

More generally all of us need to understand the process of Hypothesis Testing on which the modern world of ideas is entirely built. Because if that isn’t sound ,God help us all.

For much more on Ockham’s Razor see our post “Fuzzy Thinking and Ockham’s Razor’ under the ‘Thinking’ category here on our blog. For a detailed explanation of Ockham’s Razor and why it works go to the url:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/AMSCI4-copy-1.pdf

But if you want to go into the whole business of Common Sense Thinking (CST) , of which Hypothesis Testing is only a part, try my book “Thinking for Ourselves” publ Amazon (2020) which is described in the ‘My Books ‘ Category on this site.

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WHAT IS TIME?

August 23, 2021

Human Time and Clock Time are far from the same.

CLOCK TIME AND HUMAN TIME Mike Disney (originally 2001)

Old people know that each year slips by faster than the last. What may seem an age to a young boy, to his grandfather may feel no more than a month. Human time and Calendrical time not only seem different, they are different. Only an accident of history has given them both the same label, the same name. An extra year of life at age 80 is by no means as precious as a year lost when you are 20. Old age prolonged by medical science is no great gift; young life cut off in its prime is a tragedy. Why then do we count time only by the ticks of a mechanical clock, or the artificial marks on a calendar? Let us compute time as it really seems to be to us as sentient beings, not as it is to some blind watch that will go on ticking on our wrist even after we are dead.

Human time is surely logarithmic, that is to say that a year when you are twenty seems like a twentieth of a lifetime but only a sixtieth when you are sixty. That being so it is possible to compute one’s human age, as it feels, as against Calendrical or Clock time as follows:

Clock4510152030405060708090
[Human}[4][9][25][37][43][52][58][63][67][70][73][76]
Clock age above in years versus [Human age ] in years below.

Table A

On the upper row is somebody’s age in Calendrical, i.e. Clock Time, on the bottom, in square brackets, their Human Age as they really feel it. Look at the dramatic differences, particularly in childhood and old age. A boy who really feels like a young adult [25] is still a young child of only 10 by the Clock. A maturing woman of [37] is still counted by the clock as an immature teenager of only 15, although by then in the natural age before ‘civilization’ she would have been rearing children of her own. Then look at old age. In living Calendrically from 70 to 90 the old person has gained only [6] years of real life. It can be very comforting to a family who have just lost a beloved member at the all too young age of calendrical 40 say to realise that in human terms they were [58] years old and thus had enjoyed most of their real life.

And we can invert the Table:

Table B

Human[4][5][10][15][20][30][40][50][60][70][80][90]
Clock44.25681219294570107166
Human Age (above) versus Clock age below

which shows only too vividly how childhood crawls in Calendrical Time but accelerates out of control in Human Old age.

The use of the word “Time” to describe two entirely different concepts is purely a convention with all sorts of unintended consequences, many of them very unfortunate in my opinion. In the modern world childhood is grossly undervalued; children are rushed off into care so that their parents can go out to work all hours to earn pensions for their comparatively worthless old age. That’s pretty obvious when you think about it. Our whole values system is being twisted. Likewise humans are nowadays expected to spend their first 24 years or so at ‘schools’ of various kinds which means that by the time they get out into the real world they are almost [50] years of age. What a waste, what a tragedy!

The invention of tic-toc time was a very useful modern development [largely driven by the railway system in the Victorian age] which enabled us to organize all manner of great things from assignations to concerts to airline tables. What would we do without it? But who said it ever should have had anything to do with Human Time? That simply happened by accident. I believe we should all ponder very deeply about this. Very deeply indeed. A new word to describe tic-toc time is needed to distinguish it from the real thing. Time is a profoundly mysterious concept, as scientists recognize. Assumed to be Absolute in Newton’s physics, we now know it is nothing of the kind.

If you want to follow the simple calculation which enables one to convert between the two types of age and time go to the url:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/TIMEmaths.pdf

COMMON SENSE & GOD

June 25, 2021

Common Sense Thinking needs some tool to discriminate between Truth and Falsehood, or more generally between sound hypotheses and unsound ones. ‘Hypothesis Testing’ ,as it is called, lives at the very heart of Science, Philosophy and Common Sense. As we now know it works by examining the various consequences C1 ,C2, …generated by that hypothesis to see whether they can be observed in practice. If they can be observed that improves our Odds O(H) on the hypothesis being true, if they cannot that reduces our Odds on it. But if the hypothesis generates no consequences we cannot test it , and so can say nothing about it one way or the other. That’s “Bayes’ Rule” which goes back at least as far as 1763 and probably much much further.

Take the hypothesis “God exists”. What consequences does it have? Once upon a time it was argued that the design of the natural world was so miraculous, perfect and improbable that it could only have been conceived by an Intelligent Creator. For instance how else to explain the spectacular plumage of the Rainbow Lorikeet ? [Click on the urls below to see their magnificence]

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/349487411/embed/800

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/199098091/embed/640

This was the very convincing “Argument by Design”, almost impossible to counter at the time. But in 1858 along came Darwin and Wallace who independently came up with the alternative hypothesis of “Evolution by Natural Selection”. As the Bishop of Worcester’s wife said of it: ” Dear me; let us hope it is not true. But if it is true , we must hope it doesn’t become widely known.”

The general point is that Inconsequential Hypotheses are hardly worth considering because there is no way of assessing their veracity, whereas Consequential Hypotheses are open to verification, at least in terms of their probability(Odds). Thus Evolution has subsequently been detected in, for instance, bacteria under stress , while I am not aware of any consequence for the existence of God which could be tested .

That’s not to say one can’t go on believing in a god — it’s just that the most consequential evidence on his/her hypothetical existence has an alternative, and partially verified explanation, even if it cannot be absolutely categorical.

Then there’s another important philosophical principle that can be brought to bear:Ockham’s Razor — “Always prefer the simpler hypothesis, because its more likely to be right’ [see my Post ‘Fuzzy Thinking & Common Sense’] .The problem with the God hypothesis is that there are so many inconsistent versions of it (4,000 known religions including 20 with a world-wide spread, according to Wikipedia).

Clever people have wasted a lot of their lives worrying about Inconsequential hypotheses — for instance the existence of Free Will [see Post. ‘Free Will and Common Sense] , or in the case of Mathematicians whether their subject was invented of discovered. It doesn’t matter. It’s Inconsequential.

FREE WILL & COMMON SENSE

May 21, 2021

The hoary old hypothesis that ‘There is no such thing as Free Will’ has fired up public debate yet again thanks to a recent article by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. And once again, to judge from the many letters and comments it has aroused, the result is inconclusion, if not total confusion.

But there’s no necessity for that if you appeal to The Scientific Method. At its very heart lies a technique for Hypothesis Testing called ‘Bayes’ Rule’. What it offers to do is alter one’s Odds on any hypothesis H by appealing to any evidence E consequent on that hypothesis. But if there is no such consequent evidence, as there appears not to be in the Free Will case, Bayes’ Rule is helpless, and any debate about the matter is therefore fruitless. The mediaeval scholars who didn’t understand that wasted their lives discussing such arcane matters as ‘How many angels could dance on a pinhead.’ Why don’t so many modern scholars realise that Inconsequential Hypotheses are undecidable and so a waste of their time, and everybody else’s?

I would suggest it is because Western Philosophy is rooted in a quest for Certainty. On the one hand the Ancient Greeks thought that Certain truths could be arrived at solely by Deductive, even mathematical, Logic. On the other hand, Abrahamic religions held that Man, who sat on the right hand of the only true God, could find Certainty in Holy Scripture. The idea that Certainty was unavailable, except in trivial circumstances, as we recognise now, and that gambling Odds would have to do instead, was anathema to both schools.

The sad result is that the Education Establishment, even today, largely ignores Bayes’ Rule, and thus Common Sense Thinking in general, because of its abhorrent roots in gambling. It’s not so surprising though when you recall that Oxford and Cambridge for instance were set up by papal bulls in the thirteenth century to train priests. Gambling was certainly not on their curricula. Nor did they even teach Science until forced to do so by the Government late in the 19th century.

Thus the Free Will debate brings to light an extraordinary situation. The academic world largely ignores Common Sense Thinking because it lies outside a 2,500 year old tradition rooted in unsound philosophy and Abrahamic theology. Science has only progressed by ignoring both.

Equally though it highlights a quite extraordinary opportunity. We could now teach Common Sense Thinking , with its key principles: Bayes’ Rule, The Detective’s Equation, Ockham’s Razor, the Principle of Animal Wisdom and Provisionality to everyone over the age of 13. It will probably lead to advances far greater than did either Industrialisation or Electricity. And importantly, it would teach us Tolerance, because provisional (i.e measured) thinking and Tolerance for alternative ideas, are opposite sides of the very same coin.

Anyone interested in these matters might like to read Thinking For Ourselves, a 20 year study of The Scientific Method and Common Sense Thinking, discussed here under the My Books Category. And look under the Thinking Category for many other allied Posts.

MAXWELL’S EQUATIONS

April 29, 2021

HOW THE MODERN WORLD

WORKS

The invention of the phonetic script about three and a half thousand years ago enabled humans to suddenly think about a million times better, and they took off. Likewise the invention of a script for thinking quantitatively, that is to say Mathematics , could lead to thinking of a different kind that is just as powerful. In fact it has already: Maxwell’s Equations (ME).

Some arguments are of a purely quantitative nature. For instance in our post “Civilization and Moonpower” we demonstrated that large cities not dependent on slavery only became feasible once tidal energy was harnessed, as was possible in North Western Europe, where it is far more abundant than elsewhere. Here I talk about the most momentous piece of Mathematics ever done, Maxwell’s Equations.

Maxwell’s Equations describe the interaction between Electricity, Magnetism, Space and Time. They were an attempt to write down the experimental findings of the ‘electricians’ Hans-Christian Oersted (1820) and Michael Faraday (1831) but they led to a totally unexpected insight, and thus to the modern world: “Electromagnetic waves can propagate across empty space at the speed of light”.

Out of that insight (1864) there was to come Radio (1887), Transatlantic wireless (1901), Relativity (1904), Electronics (1912), Broadcasting (1920), Television (1930), Code-breaking (1930’s onward), Radar (1935), Microwaves (1940), The Electronic Computer (1943), Communication Satellites (1960), Space Travel (1969), The Internet (1980), Mobile Phones (2000). … while the Second World War could as aptly be called ‘The Radio War’ because it was started by Radio ( broadcast hate propaganda), controlled by radio (e.g. Churchill and Roosevelt talking to their peoples), won by radar in its many guises both in defence and attack, and lost by code-breaking ( e.g. : the battles of Midway and Kursk). A huge operation like the D-Day landing would have been unthinkable without the command and control made possible by radio.

Einstein is rightly famous for his E=mc2 equation (1905) but in a sense he and others (for he was only one of several) were only adding footnotes to Maxwel’s Equations which in themselves prove that Space and TIme cannot be at all as we had thought them to be.

So what are Maxwell’s Equations? There are 4 of them actually and you can write them out in different ways using rather different vocabularies. Textbooks on Electromagnetism can make them look both galumphing and arbitrary, when, as I believe, they are inevitable; the world couldn’t have been constructed in any other way. I find that both beautiful and totally unexpected. They, and the many stories behind them, are certainly worth having a look at even if you have no ambitions to use them yourself. You can regard them like The Rosetta Stone, as a wonder to behold, though they are far far more remarkable and momentous than that iconic stone. If you don’t believe me look at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/MAXWELLSEQUATIONS.pdf

Yes they do look unfamiliar, even frightening, but that’s probably because you’ve been put off Mathematics by bad teaching.The world is full of Baducation and bad ideas . And one of the most debilitating , which goes back to the Ancient Greeks, is the notion that “Mathematics is Deductive in Nature”, and therefore quite different from our normal everyday Common Sense Thinking , which is Inductive. But that is a complete misconception. It’s as if the Maths teaching profession have mistaken the grocery- bill for the groceries. Don’t take my word for it: Morris Kline, that most eminent Historian of Mathematics wrote: ” “Mathematics is a human activity and is subject to all the foibles and frailties of humans. Any formal, logical account is pseudo-mathematics, a fiction, even a legend, despite the element of reason.” [‘Mathematics, The Loss of Certainty, ‘ OUP, 1986]

So many of us have been put off maths because we’ve been taught it back to front by the maths- teaching profession: deduction first, intuition afterwards. No wonder so many of us rebel. If you look at the following url you can see the Theorem that “The angles in any triangle add up to two right angles‘ being taught in the two alternative ways so that you can judge which is best for yourself:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/dedvindmaths.docx

The consequence of all this innumeracy are fairly tragic. Most of us are innumerate and, in my opinion, innumerate people can never become wise, not any more, not in the modern world( see all the current confusion over Covid vaccination statistics). The great news is that innumeracy is by no means irreversible. Maths is a subject peculiarly suited to self-instruction over the Internet. I suggest that everyone who earns a certificate of numeracy receives an immediate grant of £15,000 while many prestige professions and jobs be reserved entirely for the numerate. Thus a large fraction of a population could become numerate at a trivial cost by comparison with many infrastructure projects. And surely widespread wisdom is more desirable than say more runways. It’s probably no accident that the most numerate people on Earth (the Japanese) are also the wealthiest (UN figures).

The consequences of all this innumeracy are fairly tragic. Most of us are innumerate, and in my opinion innumerate people can never become wise, not any more, not in the modern world ( see all the current confusion over Covid. vaccination Statistics). The good news is that innumeracy is by no means irreversible. Maths is a subject especially suited to self instruction over the internet. I suggest that everyone who can earn a certificate of numeracy receive an immediate cash award of £15,000, while many prestige jobs and professions should be reserved for the numerate. Thus much of a population could become numerate at a trivial cost: Widespread wisdom is surely more desirable than say more runways. It is probably no accident that the most numerate people on Earth (the Japanese) are also the wealthiest (UN figures).http://Baducation

If you would like to see a wide-ranging discussion of numeracy and innumeracy in the British context, taken from my book ‘History of the Brits’ (Amazon 2020) you might like to click on:

If you want to see a wide-ranging discussion of Numeracy in the British context you might like to click on:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HISTORY15numeracy.pdf

Anyway , for those who can appreciate them, Maxwell’s Equations are every bit as beautiful as great music, prose or poetry . They enable us to hear , in Tennyson’s words “…the horns of elfland faintly blowing….”

ANIMAL WISDOM & US

February 20, 2021

Every organism evolves to survive, but Evolution is an extremely slow process. That means that if we can think before we act (a distinct survival advantage) then so could our animal forbears. And modern studies of animal behaviour confirm that their mental sophistication is far higher than zoologists of any earlier generation could suppose1.

Life out in the wild can be extremely dangerous, so survivors (especially if they come from a potentially long-lived species, as we do) cannot afford to make unwise decisions. Caution must be their watchword.

We have elsewhere argued2 that decisions are reached using the Detective’s Equation (DE):

Revised Odds on H = Old Odds on H × (Weight of Clue 1)

× (Weight of Clue 2) ×………… and so on, for as many clues as you have.

in which the Weights are just numbers we attach to each clue as it bears on the particular Hypothesis H (e.g. ‘It is safe to try and catch that snake’) that we are trying to evaluate.

The great value of the DE is that it is multiplicative, so high Odds can be reached from only a few clues. But what if one of those clues, or our evaluation of it, is wrong? For instance that the tasty looking snake is not harmless but venomous. Such misapprehensions occur all the time, so we must have some mechanism for discounting them. An obvious possibility is insisting on the equivalent of at least three heavily weighted clues in favour before deciding. Why 3? Because one rotten plus one good could lead to fatal consequences, whereas with 3 strong clues one could hope that at least two would generally be sound.

But at what Odds would one feel it safe to decide? I would suggest at combined Odds of something better than 50 to 1 (for or against). Now the smallest whole number, which multiplied together 3 times, comes to more than 50 is 4 because 4 × 4 × 4 = 64 . That suggests (no more) that the highest Weight we should put upon any single clue is 4. And if two weak clues are equivalent to one strong that suggests weak clues should be given a Weight of 2 because 2 × 2 =4.

To the sophisticated statistician all this may seem very crude, but the truth is, in the real world we cannot put precise Weights on many vital clues, for instance on our assessments of say honesty or guilt or venomousness.

So we have a very crude suggestive scheme for making judgements using the DE, in which the ONLY permitted Weights are:

Weight

‘Strongly in favour’ = 4

‘Weakly in favour’ = 2

‘Neutral’ = 1

‘Weakly Against’ = ½

‘Strongly Against’ = ¼

which is, so far, only suggestive. The only real justification for this scheme , (which I call the ‘Principle of Animal Wisdom’ or PAW) will be its performance in practice.

At this point we need to step back and recall that, so far as we know, animals don’t count. So isn’t all this numerising pointless when we are looking back to animal decision-making as our exemplar? Not really, because 4’s and 2’s only stand in for Categories of Clue, “Strongly for”, “Weakly For”, “Weakly against”(1/2) and so on. Nor do we need that ‘50- to-1’, because all we were demanding was ‘At least the equivalent of 3 strong clues (net) before deciding, one way or the other. In other words, to reach wise decisions, we don’t need , nor do animals, to use any numbers at all, we can simply use CATEGORICAL INFERENCE instead (which is described in another Post3). But as we humans are familiar with simple numbers and simple Odds we might as well stick to 4’s, 2’s, ½’ s and so on.

It’s very difficult (as it was originally for me) for modern Scientists and Statisticians to imagine that anything as crude as PAW could play any useful role in modern thinking. However the more one uses it in practice, and thinks about its implications, the more convincing, and indeed profound, the PAW comes to seem.

History shows that progress in Science has often been completely halted by unsound conceptions, or ‘Systematic Errors’ as we label them. For instance:

The Earth is Flat

The heavens revolve around the Earth

The body is controlled by 4 Humours

The world is far too young for Evolution

Continents can’t move.

Child-bed fever is a natural part of birth.

Radio waves cannot possible girdle the globe.

Nothing can live in the Deep

Atoms are immutable

…..and so on.

Had we, instead of ceding them prime authority, given them low (i.e. PAW) Weights we might have progressed much faster.

Then again, carefully consider the definition of a Weight in Probability terms, which we have elsewhere4:

Weight of Clue = (Probability of Clue IF H is true) divided by ( Probability of Clue if some hypothesis other than H is responsible for it).

In an OPEN world, as opposed to a card game [CLOSED], this last Probability can never be zero because there are so many ‘other thans, indeed an infinite number. It follows that no Weight should ever be set very high; i.e. the PAW

We can see that very high, or very low Weights can almost never be justified because they require an assumption about “ all those hypotheses, apart from H, which could give rise to E”. But in an OPEN world, as opposed to a card game, those other hypotheses could be virtually infinite in number. Thus the profession of Statistics , with its 4-figure precise tables, has fooled itself into the belief that it is dealing with a real open world, when all it is doing is playing card-games (which are CLOSED).

But it’s only when one employs the PAW to deal with complex issues like Big Bang Cosmology that its true value shines out. Some of our conceptions about the Universe are probably wrong – but we don’t know which ones (Expansion?). But if we combine enough clues together, the unsound ones, because of PAW, won’t be able to twist the whole picture and obscure the truth. For instance I used to believe that the Big Bang picture, although it looked implausible, couldn’t be ruled out. But after I stumbled upon the PAW (2015) and applied it to the Big Bang, the Odds came out very firmly (128 to 1 ) against. That illustrates, somewhat surprisingly, that the PAW, even with its weak Weights, can actually be more decisive than the alternatives.(See our Post ‘BIG BANG COSMOLOGY IS WRONG’ under the ‘Astronomy’ Category, or click on the url below)

Science is of course only one application of a survival mechanism which is tens, probably hundreds of millions of years old. But humans, who are so easily persuaded by Culture, that is to say by ideas planted in their heads by others, need to understand and employ PAW even more assiduously today to preserve themselves from monsters employing modern media. Here is a short list of such CULTURAL MYTHS:

  1. You shouldn’t mind sacrificing your life because you will be rewarded in paradise.
  2. God is naturally on our side.
  3. There is a Hell awaiting, but if you pay us we will see you are spared the tortures of…..
  4. We ………s have a Divine Right to rule.
  5. The (other side) are evil and must be crushed.
  6. They’re savages; they don’t feel pain like we do.
  7. Education is good for you and for everyone.
  8. Our little father the Czar/ Stalin/ Mao….. will look after us.
  9. Newspaper proprietors have the best interests of their readers at heart.
  10. If you work hard you’ll get more stuff and that will make you happier.
  11. Our religion is the right one. Those others are blasphemers and heretics.
  12. All things bright and beautiful,….the Good God made them all.
  13. They’re only aborigines /gypsies ….If you gave them land they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
  14. Doctors/Lawyers/Professors/Managers …. can’t do their jobs properly unless they have much bigger houses and cars than you and I.
  15. Women are too emotional to drive vehicles.
  16. You can rely on the Government news channels.
  17. Anyone who criticises our Great Leader is a traitor.
  18. It’s our land; God gave it to us.
  19. Education is good for you.
  20. They’ve got Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  21. Education is good for you.

Oppressive regimes, knowing our susceptibility to propaganda, employ myth-makers to exploit us, impoverish us, and even kill us fighting their wars. That’s what priests, newspapers, propaganda ministries and PR firms are for. Thus the Pharaohs had priests who spread the lie that they were Gods who controlled the Sun and The Moon. Thus the Romans authorised the Christian Church to control Europe for over a thousand years. Thus Hitler whipped up the Germans into a thirst for revenge. Thus Big Business funds Think-tanks, News channels, and lobbying groups. And so on.

There is another way of looking at the matter. If one can set an arbitrarily high Weight on some particular Clue you can use it to ‘Win’ any argument. Thus it is ideal for Priests and Tyrants. But the PAW democratises Thinking. It makes all the different Clues and arguments which go towards reaching a Conclusion, almost, but not quite equal.

There is no such thing as Certainty in the real (OPEN) world. We all of us, whether we are seagulls or Professors of Computer Science, must navigate our way through life as best we can using the Balance of Probabilities. And to do so successfully the PAW is absolutely fundamental. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a Priest. And I cannot think of a worse charge.

If you really want to see how all this Animal Wisdom works out in practice click on;

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/scamsmv5.pdf

References.

1“Are we smart enough to realise how smart animals are”? Frans de Waal, 2016; Granta Books.

2 See Post here ‘HOW COMMON SENSE WORKS’ under ‘Thinking’ category or ref. 4 below, Chapter 5.

3 See my post ‘CATEGORICAL INFERENCE’ under Thinking Category

4 See Chapter 4 in my book Thinking for Ourselves (Amazon 2020) .It’s described elsewhere on this site under the My books Category

CATEGORICAL INFERENCE

November 26, 2020

OTHERWISE KNOWN AS “COMMON SENSE THINKING

THE VERY VERY SIMPLE VERSION

As far as I can see Common Sense Thinking (CST henceforth) works like this: we all get ideas, they constantly bubble unasked to the surface of the mind; the real challenge is to decide which ones are sound [‘Hypothesis Testing’ it is called]. To determine that we look for evidence (clues) bearing on our idea or hypothesis H and place each clue in one of only 5 categories (This is the ‘Principle of Animal Wisdom’, or PAW for short):

TABLE (5:1) The Weights of Clues bearing on Idea H

Clue

Weight

Symbol

 

Strongly in favour of H

s

 

Weakly in favour of H

w

 

Neutral towards H

n

 

Weakly against H (underlined)

w 

 

Strongly against H (underlined)

s

 

We then combine (symbol ★ ) the Weights in obvious ways thus:

w★w = s

w★w = n

s★s = ss

s★w = w and so on.

And we finally decide to act on H only when the combined evidence reaches either sss [decide for H] or sss [decide against H]. This is a precautionary measure which saves us from making premature, possibly fatal decisions based on only two strong clues, one of which might be unsound.

SIMPLE EXAMPLE

A detective is having to decide whether to charge X with a crime [her hypothesis is ‘X is guilty’. Her thinking, based on the available evidence, might look like this:

TABLE (5:2) DETECTIVE’S THINKING

Clue

Her Weight

Accumulated Weight

Outcome

Motive

s

s

 

Opportunity

w

ws

 

Alibi

 w

s

 

Witness A

w

ws

 

Witness B

s

w

 

Witness C

w

s

 

Witness D

s

ss

 

Forensics

s

sss

Charges X

    

My scheme is nothing more than the systematic Association of an Idea H with different clues, combined with a simple precautionary mechanism for avoiding overhasty decisions. I suspect such CATEGORICAL INFERENCE (CI for short) is our main survival mechanism with roots that go back a billion years. You won’t find it in text-books on Inference or Logic; they appeal instead to notions such as Probability Theory, Bayes’ Theorem and Parsimony. The problem is that their authors disagree violently among themselves – so something must be seriously wrong. That’s why scientists ignore them and go on using Common Sense CI to progress.

Notice three important features of this scheme:

1) The more evidence the better. With a sufficiently long string of clues, even when they conflict, we can eventually reach a decision [sss or sss ] about H, one way or the other, provided (a major proviso) a record has been kept of the incoming clues, together with their Weights. For instance I was eventually able to bring my own tangled research project to a triumphant conclusion but only after using writing to compound 25 separate clues, some in stark conflict with the rest. This means the scheme can be used, but only by the literate, to handle highly complex tasks such as voyaging to the Moon.

2) The process is open-ended; there is always room to add new evidence to the tally whenever it is found. Thus it is Provisional in nature, and even after a decision to act has been taken there must be room for a change of mind – in other words to Adapt.

3) Rather than remember these unfamiliar symbols it turns out to be much easier to use betting Odds and replace “combine” (★) by the multiplication sign ×, ‘n’ by the number 1, s by 4, w by 2, underlined-w by ½, and underlined-s by ¼ . Then a decision in favour takes place when the Odds are 64 to 1 on or better, and against at Odds of 64 to 1 against or worse. In future that is what we do. But remember it is still Categorical Inference, no more and no less, a process innumerate animals could have used to survive in the wild. We have just changed the symbols

NB. This extract was taken from Chapter 5 of my book “History of the Brits” where it is later used to tackle some very thorny issues such as ‘Is America Britain’s friend or enemy?’, or ‘Would the Scots have been better off Independent’ and ‘Is mass immigration good or bad for Britain?’.

FUZZY THINKING AND OCKHAM’S RAZOR

November 24, 2020

Fuzzy thinking is far worse than fallacious thinking for whereas the latter may be spotted, or overturned by new evidence, the fuzzy variety may linger for millenia, causing endless harm, as we shall see.

There is a remedy against fuzzy thinking called “Ockham’s Razor (OR)” named after a mediaeval monk, though its roots stretch back into the classical world where it was labelled ‘lex parsimoniae‘ or ‘The Law of Parsimony’.

Ockham’s Razor states: “ALWAYS PREFER SIMPLE HYPOTHESES OVER COMPLEX ONES” which is easy enough to write down but damnably hard to justify. For instance both Newton and Einstein utterly relied upon it but both gave unsound reasons for doing so. Newton averred: “….for Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.” while Einstein waffled about God. He said, with regard to his Law of Gravitation “God would not have passed up the opportunity to make nature this simple.” [As it happens she had.]

SOME TRIUMPHS OF OCKHAM’S RAZOR:

1) Heliocentrism (A Sun-centred planetary system) was first advocated in modern times by Copernicus(1543) in De Revolutionibus. He didn’t have any new observations to justify his claim (the telescope wasn’t invented for another 30 years) but it was evidently much simpler than the traditional Earth -centred scheme, which needed twice as many arbitrary parameters to square it with the facts. [Confirmation only came in 1609 when Galileo with his spyglass spotted that Venus exhibited changing crescent- phases as it orbited the Sun.]

2) Newton recognised that the theory of Gravitation he proposed to explain the dynamics of the Solar System was ridiculous. He wrote: “That Gravity should be innate, inherent and essential to Matter so that one body should act upon another at a distance through a Vacuum, without the Mediation of anything else, by and which through their Action and Force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an Absurdity that I believe that no Man who in philosophical matters has a competent Faculty of thinking can ever fall into it.” Nevertheless that one simple law explained so many things about the heavens and about he Earth that it was quickly and universally accepted…. because it was so parsimonious.

3) In his Origin of Species (1859) Darwin acknowledged that there were so many difficulties with his hypothesis of Evolution that he wrote in his conclusions: “That many and grave objections may be raised against the theory of descent with modification through natural selection, I do not deny. And I endeavour to give them full force.” And he did. Nevertheless many readers came to accept it rather than ascribing every peculiarity of Nature as due to a special intercession by God. Again because it was so much more parsimonious. And in the fullness of time ( a century) the various objections to Natural Selection melted away as Radioactivity and Continental Drift came to light.

4) It was Henri Poincare’ (1904) who first realised that the grave difficulties which then faced Physics could be resolved by accepting the Lorenz Transformations and modifying Newton’s Laws of Motion to agree with them. This is called ‘The Theory of Special Relativity’. However Einstein got the credit for it a year later by making a single outrageous assumption: “The speed of light is constant for all observers”, which was much less satisfactory from a philosophical point of view– but oh so much simpler algebraically. As in Newton’s case one outrageous assumption explained and predicted a thousand surprising observations: parsimony again.

5) And Parsimony isn’t just about science. Not at all. Take for example Military Intelligence. R.V.Jones who was head of Air Ministry Intelligence during the SWW, and who was responsible for the threats to the UK of Nazi bombing, radar, the V1 and the V2 missiles , later wrote a very fascinating book about his experiences ‘Most Secret War‘. In his summary at the end he calls Ockham’s Razor : “The Cardinal Principle of Military Intelligence.”

SOME FUZZY TRAGEDIES

1) The Four Elements was an idea promulgated by Aristotle around 300 BC in which all substances were supposed to be composed of a mixture of Earth, Water, Air and Fire. By adjusting this hypothetical mixture, and a deal of plausible sophistry, the old thinkers could explain everything – and therefore nothing. So long as it was widely believed, serious chemistry was unnecessary and therefore unpursued. This monster was a many headed gorgon bristling with free parameters. Whenever something didn’t fit you ascribed further properties (parameters) to your 4 imaginary elements and lo everything could be made to fit once again. Thus it couldn’t be overturned; because it was too fuzzy.

What we  would call Chemistry was ruled for over 2000 years by Aristotle’s hypothesis. Almost no material evidence supported his scheme but it appealed to religions such as Christianity and Islam looking for a comforting order to life. It wasn’t overturned so much as left behind by crisis, the firewood crisis which struck Britain in the 18th century after it had cut down most of its forests to build houses and ships. A new source of power had to be found and the mining of coal led to a desperate search for new materials and new contrivances such as pumps to stop the mines flooding. Experiments were necessary, and from experiments came evidence that made no sense within Aristotle’s fuzzy scheme. For instance burned in air some substances became heavier not lighter. And careful balance measurements initiated by Joseph Black in Glasgow University (1750, the English universities didn’t teach science then!) showed that substances combined in precise ratios to form compounds. Out of such observations the notions of atoms and molecules grew. These in turn gave rise to materials of great strength like steel, and to new compounds of great value such as artificial dyes. Crisis, experiment, discovery, understanding, wealth: The infinitely flexible, therefore unprogressive chemistry of Aristotle was simply left behind as unprofitable.

(B) The Four Humours was another fuzzy Greek hypothesis which held up progress for 2 millenia. Modelled on the Four Elements it imagined that health was determined by a balance of four liquids: choler, melancholer, phlegm and blood. Physicians who were learned in such jiggery-pokery dosed us, leeched us and charged us, shortening our lives as they impoverished our purses. Again the hypothesis was immune to criticism because it was infinitely adaptable. In place of bones it had an infinitude of free paramaters –  and what was more could earn good money. Again it couldn’t be displaced by evidence, being infinitely flexible. It was gradually superseded by more useful notions about physiology such as the germ theory of disease, a direct result of the invention of the microscope. But Greek Medicine held up real medicine for twenty centuries

(C) The ‘Argument by Design’ opined that all things wise and wonderful, all creatures great and small, were instances of The Creator’s wonderful powers of invention. After all no other cause could be imagined for the intricacies of Nature’s architecture, from the perfect spiral of a sea shell to the extravagance of a Rainbow Lorikeet’s plumage. Science at the ancient universities, even to the end of the nineteenth century, was solely aimed at uncovering such wonderful manifestations of the Almighty. Since nothing was outside His powers everything could be explained. There was no possibility of bringing Him down, since nothing was beyond Him, even burying fossils of inexplicable design merely to challenge our faith in Him. This ‘Argument by Design’ could have been rejected by nothing else but Parsimony, by the discovery of an alternative theory which was simpler, far simpler than a Great Designer in the Sky. And so it eventually was (see Darwin above) The trouble with Him was that he had an infinite number of free parameters (fudge factors).

RELIGION AND FUZZY THINKING

To my mind the greatest obstacle to progress in Western Society was Christianity. Forced upon the Roman Empire by Constantine on his deathbed (337 AD) in return for ‘absolution’ for his sins (he’d murdered his wife and son) it brought Thinking to an abrupt end for over a thousand years for, as Saint Augustine its early theologian wrote (~400 AD) : “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity ……It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.” Shortly afterwards Christians burned down the Great Library in Alexandria and executed its head by torture.

With no good evidence for its core belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God Christianity (and other Abrahamic religions) at least offered a very desirable and necessary explanation for “the wonders of Nature” [see ‘The Argument by Design’ above]. But when Darwin and Parsimony had punctured that, thoughtful Christians, like the Bishop of Worcester’s wife, knew that Christianity’s days were numbered. As she put it : “Dear me, let us hope it is not true. But if it is true, let us hope it does not become widely known.”

BUT WHY WAS OCKHAM RIGHT?

Why should anyone accept Ockham’s Razor? That’s the central point. All the explanations I have examined are either unconvincing, or go off into stratospheric mathematics — which is the same thing. The problem is that anything as fundamental as Ockham’s Razor has to be grounded on a clear understanding of Common Sense — which was lacking. Put it another way: any claim to understand Common Sense Thinking must lead to a crystal clear explanation for OR. But don’t expect it to be simple or obvious — otherwise it would have popped out of the woodwork long since.

The secret, as always, turned out to be The Detective’s Equation (DE). Whenever you are trying to understand Hypothesis Testing, which is surely the aim, the DE can be used to calculate the Odds for or against the hypothesis under test, whenever the evidence and the assumptions are changed. So you can play around and find out what adds to one’s certainties and what subtracts, and out of such calculations Ockham’s Razor gradually emerged from the shadows. The best reason to believe any hypothesis is that it fits the existing evidence better than it has any right to do by chance. A simple hypothesis has little chance of fitting more complex data unless it is actually right, whereas a complex hypothesis deliberately contrived to fit it is hardly convincing. Much the best way to understand how things work is to look at a specific example, and we shall go through one in detail below while there is a whole chapter in my book Thinking for Ourselves about OR and its multifarious implications.

Because most scientists still don’t understand CST they don’t realize just how counterproductive it is to complexify their pet theories to fit new but inconvenient facts. Thus Big Bang Cosmology has been so seriously challenged by modern observations that cosmologists have been forced to fuzzify it with strange new parameters like Dark Energy, without realising that in doing so they’ve entirely undermined its credibility.

CONCLUSIONS

Once a hypothesis conflicts with the facts it cannot be left unmodified. But fixing it by introducing arbitrary modifications one by one to remove the separate discrepancies won’t work either because each such mod. will weaken the odds on the hypothesis overall. Only if one can find a mod. which offers to clear up several discrepancies at once should it be seriously considered. Of course that will be much harder — but nevertheless that is the challenge.

Applied to Big Bang Cosmology (BBC), Inflation (to fix isotropy), Cold Dark Matter (to fix galaxy-formation) and Dark Energy (to fix acceleration) shouldn’t be considered seriously because none was ambitious enough to fix more than one serious discrepancy. It was, and is, much healthier to admit that as it stands BBC is seriously at variance with the facts (observations). Some of it might be right ( e.g. expansion) and it is certainly hard to think of a plausible alternative. But it is much healthier for now to admit that BBC has failed. Trying to keep it alive, (Like Ancient Greek medicine) is the kind of fuzzy thinking which can hold up progress for generations, millennia perhaps. BBC has failed — we’ve got to start again.

Looking at the wider picture beyond Cosmology, we can see just how fundamental Ockham’s Razor must be to clear thinking of all kinds, from Astronomy to Military Intelligence. What was lacking was a transparent explanation of just how and why it works, but now the Detective’s Equation (i.e. Common Sense) has supplied that.

Ockham’s Razor must surely be one of the cornerstones of all serious systems of thought, including Common Sense .

My detailed explanation of why Ockham’s Razor works is given at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/scamsmv5.pdf

The best reference on the history and influence of Ockham’s Razor that I know of is Chapter 8 of Hugh Gauch Jr.’s volume “Scientific Method in Practice” CUP 2003. He goes so far as to say. “…. the scientific enterprise has never produced and never will produce a single conclusion without invoking parsimony. It is absolutely essential and pervasive.”

A readable but sceptical account of Big Bang Cosmology is In Search of the True Universe, by Martin Harwit, CUP 2013

P.S. Is there a quick way to check whether some hypothesis is unhealthily fuzzy? I believe there is: find out how many Free Parameters it has. BBC has 18. But so does The Standard Model of Particle Physics. That makes one wonder. That seems to be stuck in a cul-de-sac too: no exciting developments since the 1970’s . Umm. Do Quarks really exist? No one has actually captured one.[Constructing Quarks, by Andrew Pickering, Univ. Chicago Pr. 1984, makes for provocative reading].

THE METEORIC ASCENT OF HUMANKIND

November 18, 2020

Evolution is a painfully slow process. Modifications from generation to generation are generally imperceptible. How come then that humankind can launch telescopes into Space while our cousin the Chimpanzee, with whom we share 98% of our genes, is still struggling to crack nuts in the jungle? No wonder thoughtful people have invoked Divine Intervention, or the arrival of wisdom from elsewhere by interstellar spacecraft (Arthur C Clarke in the story/film “2001”) . If we are not to believe in miracles then we are faced with a fearsome puzzle: ‘How have we become so clever so quickly?

Had aliens come to the Earth a mere 10,000 years ago they would have had no good grounds for believing that humans would soon erect Santa Sofia, build Venice on piles in the Lagoon, devise the Hay-on-Wye Festival, organise the D-day landings, get to the Moon or launch the Hubble Space Telescope. In a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, a marginal species has so come to dominate the Earth that we now worry that we will damage it irreparably. The zoologist Peter Medawar wrote: “For all their intelligence and dexterity. — qualities we have always attached great importance to — the higher primates (monkeys, apes and men ) have not been very successful. Human beings have a history of more than 500,000 years. Only during the last 5000 years or thereabouts have they begun to be, in a biological sense, a success.”

Then again the more we learn about other animals the harder it is to believe that we are much smarter than some of them. Jane Goodall found that we are by no means the only tool users; Cetaceans hunt collectively; birds navigate the globe precisely in ways we do not understand while crows can solve puzzles that defeat many humans. So it doesn’t look as if we are that much smarter than some other creatures….. and yet. Then again our advance has happened so recently, and spread so quickly. That sounds more like something cultural to me than organic Evolution. What trick have we learned in the last few thousand years or so that could boost our thinking capacity by a factor of something like a million? Finding it is not merely a colossal challenge, it may be the very clue we need to establish how we actually think. Explaining that factor of a million will be the acid test for any proposal which claims to understand Common Sense Thinking (CST).

After studying how scientists appear to think I found that we almost certainly use a method based on The Detective’s Equation. Now look hard at that Equation. Doesn’t it give you an idea?

The DETECTIVE’S EQUATION and its potential implications for the Miraculous Ascent of mankind, Can you work out the secret? It’s staring us in the face. Mind you it took me months to see it. But you have got an extra clue in the format of this script.

Yes it was WRITING! With it we were suddenly able to handle 10 or more clues instead of the 2 or 3 we could when we were illiterate. And in an EXPONENTIAL process like the Detective’s Equation that can make a difference of order millions. If you don’t believe me study the following Table of Odds derived from that Equation:

THINKERNAverage Weight (Av.)(Av.)NDECISIVENESS ODDS
Our Cat346464:1 Decisive in favour
Me 3464Decisive
Me & pen104MillionsVery Decisive
Me & pen101.560Decisive with confused Evidence
Team & pens15230,000Very Decisive with confusing evidence
Team & pens 151.525,000Ditto but more confusing
Research Community251.2100Decisive even with Very confused evidence
THE DECISIVENESS TABLE
Decisiveness values for different numbers of clues with different average Weights per clue. If the Av’s were less than 1 the Odds would be equally decisive but against; for instance if N were 10 but the average weight were 1/4, the Odds would be millions to one against the hypothesis H.

Recall that [‘Principle of Animal Wisdom’ or PAW] individual Weights can only take the values 4, 2, I, 1/2 or 1/4 so their averages in a particular investigation could take any value between 4.0 and 0.25. Where the evidence is confused or conflicting that average will tend towards zero as the various clues cancel one another out. Even so, with enough clues (N), we could still come to a decisive view regarding H, whatever H might be.

So I am suggesting that the Miraculous Ascent of Humankind can be ascribed entirely to our development of writing.

To back up that suggestion note:

(a) It fits almost perfectly into the chronology. The earliest phonetic script appears on the sarcophagus of the King of Biblos, a port in Phoenicia just North of present day Beirut and dated about 1200 BC. According to Herodotus, about 800 BC Cadmus took this script to the Greeks who modified it considerably, to include vowels (previously ‘understood’) and reversed it to write left to right. About 600 AD, via Etruria, it reached the Latinas, fore-runners of the Romans; and so we were off. Previous non-phonetic scripts were probably not flexible enough for sophisticated thinking, as well as being confined to a tiny priestly cast because so many glyphs were needed, thousands instead of tens.

Phonetic scripts, Phoenician in the centre, Greek first Left, Latin second; Persian first Right, Arabic second. The great similarities suggest that phonetic script was invented only once, probably around 1500 BC somewhere near Biblos in what is now the Lebanon. Courtesy Wikpedia, in which there are many fine articles on the history of scripts and languages,

(b) To demonstrate to yourself just how vital writing is to thinking, try to do a puzzle such as a Sudoku, a Crossword or a Codeword, without writing anything down. It can’t be done. As Einstein put it: “My pen and I are smarter than I am.”

(c) Daniel Boorstin the American scholar wrote: “I write to discover what I think.” Me too.

(d) Large or complex projects are absolutely dependant on documentation. It may be a pain in the arse but it is indispensable. For instance I was a member of the Hubble Space Telescope project for 35 years. So many teams were involved, so many individuals passed in and out of each team, so many subsystems relied upon one another, so many modifications were and had to be made that, without precise and regularly updated records, the whole thing would have been impossible. For instance Wide Field Camera One was vital, and depended on its CCD detectors. But when the first batch got ruined they couldn’t be replaced because the highly skilled technician at Texas Instruments who had ‘thinned’ them had gone off to have a baby and no one could either repeat her feat or find her. Had there been relevant documentation……. Likewise the effectiveness of your treatment by the NHS will be entirely dependent on the medical records that are meant to follow you around. It’s not bureaucracy, it is the indispensable accumulation of relevant information.

(e) If writing is all that makes us so smart we can no longer suppose that we are smarter than many other illiterate animals, be they chimpanzees or pelicans [see below]. Perhaps we should leave more room for them on this planet?

(f) There are so many fascinating and sometimes profound connections between Writing and Thinking, that one could write a whole book about them: in fact I have [see Thinking for Ourselves under Category My Books]. But let me mention just one last one here. The human need for Certainty gave rise to both Deduction (Logic ) on the one hand and Dogma (religion) on the other. But with Common Sense Thinking, allied with Writing, we no longer need either because, at least in principle we could reach sufficiently high Odds for or against any hypothesis to act on it with safety.

Being short this has to be a fairly superficial post. But you can follow up the rationality for the Detective’s Equation and Weights at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/scamsmv5.pdf

or in my aforementioned book Thinking for Ourselves (see ‘my books’ Category here). I also have a couple of essays about really smart animals who have taught me much including ‘Our Jack‘ about the young Jackdaw who shared my life for a short while at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/OUR-JACK-1.pdf

and ‘Browning and the Cockatoos‘ about a troop of Cockatoos which outsmarted the smartest guy in Canberra, which is at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Browningcocks-copy-2.pdf

ARGUING DISPASSIONATELY

October 29, 2020

The world is full of bad arguments, the resentments they cause, and the messes they leave behind. I have recently discovered a far better way to argue, which I want to share.

Serious Thinking amounts to having an argument with oneself — looking at the evidence, weighting the various clues, then coming to a measured conclusion — if the combined Odds look good enough. There’s no need to become angry with oneself in the process. So why do we sometimes get angry with someone else who disagrees with us about Brexit say or Immigration?

I am a scientist who has spent the past 20 years trying to find out exactly how successful scientists think. And now I know. It turns out that they use “Categorical Inference (CI)” which I will describe shortly. The point is that if Categorical Inference is the way to think successfully it should also be the way to argue successfully , where ‘successful’ doesn’t mean ‘winning’ but arriving at the correct conclusion.

I suspect that we sometimes get angry with our opponents in a conventional argument because we imagine that they are trying to cheat us by using illegitimate tactics. That may sometimes be the the case but most often it is because we cannot see how they have arrived at their conclusions, just as they cannot see how we could possibly have arrived at ours. In other words the conventional process of argumentation is insufficiently transparent.

But that is only part of the problem. A second bone of contention is the Weighting of the different pieces of evidence (Clues). At present one side can pick a certain clue and then weight it so heavily as to claim victory, whatever the other side might have to say. That cannot be either productive, or right. Finally there has to be a sensible way of putting all the clues, with their chosen Weights, together so as to arrive at their Combined Odds one way or the other. All these things Categorical Inference does, and has been doing for millions of years, for CI is nothing more or less than Common Sense (CS) — the main survival mechanism of all us creatures on Earth. It is just that we humans have latterly allowed Culture, Religion and Baducation to overwhelm it.

Let me give one dramatic, and ultimately tragic example: ‘Ludendorff’s Lie’. General von Ludendorff was the brilliant but unstable commander of the Kaiser’s armies in the First World War. In August 1918 those armies were comprehensively defeated in front of Amiens by the combined French and British Commonwealth forces, and recoiled in irreversible retreat towards Berlin. Ludendorff panicked , rang up his prime minister and demanded that the government conclude an armistice at once, before Germany was occupied. But after the Armistice he claimed that his brave armies hadn’t been defeated at all, but had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the civil government. A lot of angry Germans, including Corporal Hitler, believed him, and so the war had to be fought all over again in 1939, with tragic consequences for everyone, including Germany.

Now the point here is that a single clue — which happened to be false — carried enough Weight to plunge an entire continent into war. But there is a lot of misleading evidence out there in the world, not all of it deliberately false. In any productive argument there has to be a mechanism for curbing its influence, and in Categorical Inference there is; I call it ‘The Principle of Animal Wisdom‘ (PAW for short). Without PAW our species would never have survived.

If I am right in suggesting that Categorical Inference is an extremely ancient mechanism which evolved many millions of years ago among our animal forbears, then it must be pretty straightforward and indeed it is. In fact it was so bloody simple that I missed it altogether until I’d finished my Thinking book and had to go back and add it in retrospectively (Appendix 9). So let us look at a short outline of CI which can be found at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/catinfvshort.pdf

If we don’t know how to argue dispassionately, either we will hold a passionate argument — seldom fruitful — or we will avoid the argument altogether, which could be even worse. Thus finding out how to argue dispassionately was an intensely liberating experience for me. Now I am prepared to discuss tendentious matters which I would have shied away from before. Let’s look at an example.

One of my family, who was being taught history at his school in Hackney, passionately claimed that “The Brits should be utterly ashamed of their empire”. I wasn’t so sure so I decided to put the evidence together using Categorical Inference and here is what turned out: an Inference Table which you can examine here:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/empshame.pdf

In this context it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the conclusion. But you can see there is at least a transparent procedure for carrying out an argument about such a tendentious matter. You can examine all my chosen clues, the Weights I have attached to them, and the Odds for or against, building up in the final column. The vital PAW enters in preventing me from attaching a Weight of more than 4 in favour any clue , or of less than 1/4 against.

These rules for dispassionate arguing are no more and no less than the rules for wise thinking (Common Sense) laid out in black and white. Subconsciously perhaps, great scientists have followed them because they know that in the natural world evidence frequently conflicts, whilst even the strongest appearing clues may later prove to be unsound. For instance the evidence used to dismiss Evolution, namely that the Earth was far too young, turned out, once radioactivity was discovered, to be spectacularly wrong.

If we can’t all learn to argue dispassionately, then when is mankind ever going to move on?

There is a more detailed discussion of CI at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/scamsmv5.pdf

but if you really want to delve into thinking and arguing, along with their entangled history, then you might like to look at my book Thinking For Ourselves which is intended to be accessible to everyone . It is described elsewhere on this site under the ‘My Books’ Category,.