Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’


November 1, 2022

Boris Johnson has just been defenestrated by his own MPs, and Liz Truss has rapidly followed him out of the window because she couldn’t command Parliament. Rishi Sunak has been elected more or less unopposed to form a new cabinet. What does that tell us about the British Constitution – in so far as there is one?

During the Civil War of the 1640s Parliament roundly defeated the Royalists and executed the king Charles the First. Oliver Cromwell, head of the Parliamentary forces, ruled the country through Parliament but died unexpectedly of malaria in 1658 leaving no arrangements for his succession. In the chaos which followed the monarchy was restored in 1660 in the person of Charles the Second basically because no one could agree on anything better. It was generally understood that the new king’s powers would be vastly curtailed compared to his father’s, and certainly that no more papists would rule the land.

Charles II was a dissolute creature raised in France in the Court of Louis the 14th in whose pay he probably remained throughout his life. He had no discernible morals and very few interests beyond seducing other mens’ wives for whose favours he gave away the titles and lands of his father’s most faithful supporters. Fortunately he left no legal heirs and the succession(1685) passed to his younger brother James II who was openly Catholic and therefore unacceptable to the majority of Brits. In 1688 we had the so-called “Glorious Revolution” in which the Dutchman William of Orange ruled jointly with his wife Mary, protestant daughter of James’ first wife, who had died young. That in future all successions would be settled by Parliament was enshrined in The Bill of Rights (1689), the founding document of our ‘Constitutional Monarchy’. William, a belligerent Protestant was more interested in liberating Holland from the talons of the Pope than governing England, leaving Parliament to do that job, which it has done ever since. It was a messy start for a form of government which was to make up its own rules as it went along. It was empirical , full of compromises, adaptable to the times, but in the long run remarkably successful. It saw off four Continental tyrants : Louis XIV (1715), Napoleon (1815), the Kaiser (1918) and Hitler(1945). It built up a huge trading empire; fostered The Industrial Revolution; abolished transatlantic slave trading (1809); greatly extended suffrage at home; brought enlightenment to most of its colonies and invented most of the modern word in which we all live now. Of course it made many serious mistakes the worst of which were: the invention of Economics, snobbery, Free Trade, snobbery; tolerance of parasites, snobbery, Baducation, snobbery, over-centralised government, inequality, snobbery, mass immigration and failure to recognise the United States as its principal treacherous adversary.

It’s not easy to compare governmental systems if only because different nations have very different natural advantages and disadvantages. With its island status just off the coast of Europe, it’s geology, its tides, its seismic stability; its climate and its fertility this is undoubtedly the best location on Earth for humans to thrive, and that has to be taken into account when making comparisons. For instance escaping the poisonous talons of the Roman Church so early wouldn’t have been possible without them.

But to really compare governmental systems one first has to be define PROGRESS on the basis of truly fundamental principles. Starting from “Fitness to survive” on the one hand, and. “Common-sense thinking” on the other I have devised six independent but indispensable measures of Progress, which are:








Sustainability. [ CHANTLiDS for short]-

Judging by those measures one can then compare nation-states, both yesterday and today, and assign them to different classes. Table 1 shows a small selection as judged by their progress over the past century. There is a mark of 1 to 5 for each measure, the marks are all multiplied together and divided into 6 classes with each class a factor 5 lower in total mark. Britain certainly gets into the first-class whereas the so-called ‘Superpowers appear much lower down[US near bottom of 2nd. class, Russia in the 4th. and China in the 5th.] If you don’t like my list, you can devise another – but first define and defend the philosophical principles on which it is based

































































































































Smoothly changing a nation’s government to better reflect the desires of its people appears to be a challenge quite beyond most states: look at much of the FSU, at Asia and, above all at Africa. Only a few Western European nations can do something which appears to be beyond the United States even when it is lumbered with the rogues like Nixon or fools like Trump. So we should congratulate ourselves on our recent defenestrations as a sign of progress, not decadence. `By defintion any progressive government must stir up a lot of opposition.

The other parties are naturally calling for a general election in the name of’ “Democracy” hoping to sneak in when the elected party is in some disarray. But it is not the composition of Parliament which is in question just now, but the leadership of the existing majority, a much lesser matter which can be quickly fixed. In 1827 we changed it 4 times, not 3, to no ill effect. And who is to say that the Opposition would be any more unified than the existing majority of MPs?

There is much more on these matters in my book HISTORY OF THE BRITS: see under “My Books” Category


August 19, 2022

Having just read two cracking books ‘Moneyland – why thieves and crooks now rule the world and how to take it back’ by Oliver Bullough, and ‘ The Establishment – and how they get away with it’ by Owen Jones , my blood was up and I was all ready to go out on the barricades and if necessary fight to the death. Alas there are no barricades and both books end rather limply. Why? Partly because matters are complicated in this globalised world, but mainly because we no longer have a shared moral compass to lead us to the battleground. Once we had religions – which held sway over at least limited portions of the world. Now we need a moral compass which holds good for the entire globe. Religion is no good now, if it ever was, because it isn’t shared. A shared moral compass will have to have a rational basis. The ambition of this essay is to show that such a rational moral compass exists, and always has but that 2,500 years ago it was mistakenly hidden away by scholars when they were searching for Certainty. It has only come to light again by accident in a search for something quite else – Common Sense (CS).

Progress in Science depends above all else on asking the right questions; thus in 1820 Hans Christiaan Oersted first asked himself why, during electrical storms at sea, ships compasses went berserk. He bought a battery – they’d just come on the market – and found to his, and to everyone else’s astonishment, that electricity and magnetism are related. Though he couldn’t know it he’d stumbled into the modern world of electric-power, broadcasting, computers, Relativity and mobile phones.

But progress isn’t always welcome, far from it. Too often societies are controlled by powerful parasites bent on gobbling up a grotesque share of the common wealth. To them progress is a threat because it might overturn their privileged status. So, to hold onto their status, they employ priests to tell stories to the public about why they deserve their exorbitant wealth. Thus, for 2000 years, ordinary Egyptians slaved in the desert to build tombs and pyramids for the royal family because they’d been led by priests to believe that the pharaohs actually controlled the Sun, the Moon and the seasons. Later (350 A.D.) after Emperor Constantine had appointed Christians to be the official Roman priesthood, their chief theologian St. Augustin preached : “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.” The Christians then burned down the great library at Alexandria which brought a halt to progress, indeed to Thinking altogether, for over 1000 years.

History appears to have been largely a struggle between progress parasites and priests , with brief but spectacular fits of progress interspersed between long periods of stasis when the parasites and their attendant priests were in control.

Where are we today? I suggest that after two centuries of unprecedented progress we’re slipping back into the grip of uber- rich parasites whose virtues are celebrated by a modern priesthood of Economists just as half-baked as their Pharaonic and Christian predecessors.

How are we going to escape from their powerful clutches? By taking thought. Partly by undermining their half-baked economic manifesto, but mostly by offering a far more robust, attractive and progressive alternative.

In so far as any individuals, or indeed societies have a moral compass it can only derive from the need of us all to survive, and indeed to thrive in a highly competitive natural world. That is Darwin’s law of Natural Selection – Survival of the Fittest and all that. And the mere fact that some successful modern societies – Protestant Europeans for instance, have had a strong moral compass , is good evidence of its survival value. The question is “Can we find a a rational basis for such a moral compass without having to rely on the haphazard vicissitudes of religion? I believe we can. By taking thought we can actually demonstrate that any society based on Curiosity, Honesty, Adaptability, Numeracy, Tolerance, Literacy , Democracy and Sustainability’. ( Acronym CHANTLiDS ) will eventually outdistance and outcompete its rivals.

However if you imagine that taking thought will be a simple matter

then I’m sorry to say you are quite wrong. Were you taught to think at school or University? I wasn’t. And do you know why not? Because scholars don’t know how! It’s an unlikely but fascinating story which we will touch upon in due course. But briefly speaking scholars were lured by the Ancient Greeks and the Abrahamic religions into a futile wild-goose-chase after Certainty when no such Certainty is to be found in the real world. And in being lured away they lost sight of Common-Sense Thinking (CST) which is altogether more powerful and productive.

So before we take on the parasites and their priests we’re going to have to pin down CST. We mentioned earlier that progress in science depends above all on asking the right questions . The Question we are going to tackle here is: “How do animals think, and why do we humans, who share 98% of our genes with chimps, think a million times better than chimps do?”

Just as Oersted stumbled into his puzzle over Electromagnetism so I stumbled into my quest to understand CST. As an astronomer and Space scientist obsessed with Hidden Galaxies (HGs) , I was looking to pin down The Scientific Method which I imagined, quite wrongly as it turned out, was already well understood. It turned out to be largely based on CST, but that too had evaded scholars, chiefly because they weren’t interested. So I finished up asking my question, our question above about animal-thinking, and slowly, out of confusion, enlightenment emerged.

This is not the place to go into the painful unearthing of CST ( See the Notes ) but we can show it in action in a historical context, noting both its strengths and its weaknesses. As our example we examine the controversial proposition “Scotland would have fared better outside the United Kingdom”. What CST does is gather clues bearing on the proposition, both for and against, give each clue a Weight– which can only have the values:

4 if strongly for the proposition

2 if weakly for the proposition

1 if neutral towards the proposition

½. if weakly against the proposition

¼ if strongly against the proposition

put them in an Inference Table ( see below) and multiply those Weights together as one goes down the table to note, in the final column, the Accumulating Odds either for or against the proposition


HYPOTHESIS: “Scotland would have fared better outside the UK

1Been governed locally (mixed blessing) 2 2
2 Spoken Gaelic not English ¼ ½
3 Gone bankrupt in 1707 (Darien scheme) ½ ¼
4 Kept control of its fish 2 ½
5 Kept control of its Oil 4 2
6 Prob conquered in Counter Reformation ½ 1
7 Prob conquered by Napoleon ½ ½
8 Conquered by Hitler 1/4 1/8
9 Less opports for talented Scots abroad ½ 1/16
10 Less trade with Eng. (eg shipbuilding) ¼ 1/64
11 Been no part of Brit. Empire ½ 1/128
12 Gone bankrupt 2009 (BOS) ½ 1/256

Table (1) shows my own attempt to tackle the proposition, starting with no particular opinion either way. Like most British bastards I’m of mixed Welsh, English and Scots descent, probably with some Irish thrown in.

The main strengths of the CST procedure are:

(a) It is transparent. All my arguments, and the Weights I attach to them, are laid out for criticism and amendment.

(b) All the Weights are individually modest so that no one single clue or argument can carry the day [ I call this the ‘Principle of Animal Wisdom’ or PAW for short.] That in turn stimulates broader research because many different clues may be needed , as here, to reach conviction either way.

( c) It is Provisional, leaving room at the bottom for new

clues to be incorporated, if they should turn up.

Its main weaknesses are:

  1. I have had to select which clues to include and which to omit. I discarded several as too equivocal to Weight.
  2. There is no logical justification for the values of most weights. They mostly have to be a matter of intuitive judgement – which could of course be wrong.

Nevertheless, in this case at least, my Odds finish up so high that I feel confident of my final judgement – as it happens against the proposition.

Forget Scotland. I have tried out the above mechanism for CST on hundreds of examples – scientific, every-day and historical and it generally leads to very convincing results when tested out against fresh evidence. Sometimes it changes my own mind – which is good – and sometimes it changes others. And when the answer proves indecisive that is good too, it’s a call for further thought and research. Best of all the PAW disallows anyone from declaring victory on the basis of a single strong opinion – so often the cause of strife in the past, even outright war. Animals in the wild cannot afford to make fatal mistakes – and the PAW is presumably an adaptation which has evolved to prevent them doing so too often. Wise decisions must rely on the coherence of a number of independent but weaker clues. Even so CST can, given enough cohering clues , lead to very decisive Odds . That means there is no need for the Certainty which priests and scholars have struggled so long in vain to find. The olden-day rejection of CST came from priests who objected to the use of gambling odds, the modern-day comes from the mathematically trained who imagine, quite wrongly, that they can calculate the odds far more precisely. But they are relying on a false analogy between games of chance with all the rules and cards predefined, and real-life where such is definitely not the case.

Two further remarks are in order here. Post Darwin (1859) we have to recognise that CST must have been the main survival mechanism for a host of creatures going back a million generations. If so it was likely to be very sophisticated. And secondly CST is limited by the number of clues a creature can accurately compound together. Even for a human that’s probably no more than three or four. But for a creature who can write that number becomes unlimited. Literate homo sapiens could suddenly take on mental tasks wholly beyond our forebears. As Einstein put it succinctly ‘My pencil and I are much smarter than I am’ . We needed to compound 12 clues to come to an opinion about Scottish history (Table 1) , solving Hidden Galaxies eventually required 24 – wholly beyond illiterate thinkers.

We begin, just begin, to glimpse the ethical dimension of CST. We have just discovered the absolutely essential nature of literacy to progress – we cannot think properly without it. But what about Curiosity – the passion to gather all those necessary clues in the first place – or Honesty – the compulsion to record and Weight them faithfully? It turns out that there are seven secrets to Progress, that is to say the ability to outcompete one’s rivals – they are Curiosity, Honesty, Adaptability, Numeracy, Literacy, Democracy and Sustainability [CHANTLIDS for short]. In other words humankind can construct a sensitive and robust moral compass which has nothing to do with religion. It is the behavioural system which will beat any rival.

At first sight the idea that a scheme for CST could itself lead to a detailed moral compass does seem unlikely. Recall however that it does so only in combination with the Darwinian need to survive, and in that context rules for collaborating within a species may make a great deal of sense. To see that working out look at Table 3 which compares the capacity to reach complex decisions of individuals, of teams and of the whole communities working together. Think for instance of the complex planning required to launch a Space telescope like the James Webb, or the even greater to successfully land a great army on the defended beaches of Normandy on D-Day.



(1) (2) (3)a (4)b (5)
Thinker N <W> 2topower<W> Oddsc
Our Cat 3 4 26 64:1 on; Decisive w. strong clues only
Me 3 4 26 ditto
Me and Pen 10 4 220 Millions to 1 on; Very decisive
Me and Pen 10 1.5 60 Decisive with conflicting evidence.
Team and Pens 15 1.5 400 Decisive with conflicting evidence
Research Community 25 1.2 100 Decisive with very confused evidence

Notes: (a) is the geometric mean Weight of all the N clues used. With PAW its maximum value can be 4, but as conflicting clues are included so the mean value will fall, until it may barely exceed 1. Yet with enough clues N

a decision can still be reached. (b) The combined Weight of the N clues compounded together. (c) Odds of 64:1 correspond to 3 strong clues, which are generally regarded as decisive in CST. Dismissal of the hypothesis would come with Odds of 64 or more to 1 against; in that case Col. (3) would needs be less than 1. Einstein summed it up: “My pencil and I are much smarter than I am.”

The opposition to CST, even today, comes chiefly from those who imagine that logical certainty can do better. To see why they are wrong consider the burning of witches. When the children in your mediaeval village started mysteriously choking to death the habit was to send for an expert witch-finder who would interrogate the inhabitants and finger the witch responsible, who would then be burned alive to rid (usually her) of the Devil. The villagers weren’t evil they simply had no comprehension of the microscopic pathogens which could give rise to diphtheria. The hypothesis set they had to choose between excluded the true hypothesis. And so it could always be in the real world. Allowance must always be made for the currently unknown and that, of its very nature, precludes certainty. Scholars who don’t understand this, of which there are all too many in academia (yes it’s hard to believe) don’t see that CST is the very best we can hope for.

That is not to say that CST hasn’t got limitations. Consider the interpretation of dreams. There is quite literally an infinitude of alternative interpretations of any dream which means that the odds against any particular one of them being right must be infinitely high. Thus dream interpretation must ever lie beyond the capabilities of CST, and thus of Science. And for the very same reason so must Psychology and Economics. Of course you could regard this as a failure of CS – or you could regard it as a signal triumph for CST which labels Psychology and Economics for what they truly are – voodoo subjects without scientific foundation. Sensible people have given up on dream interpretation but economists are too well paid to concede that they are merely a modern priesthood salaried to defend the modern Pharaohs who live not on the Nile but on the perfumed shores of Moneyland. Nothing but the names have changed with over 4000 years: the humble masses toil, the gilded parasites consume, but now they’re called Oligarchs.

In our hearts we know it’s all wrong, but we’ll never put things right until we have a universal code of conduct, a moral compass to which all we rational humans can appeal – and now we have it – supplied by Common Sense. There are no Ten Commandments but there are Seven indispensable characteristics of any progressive state:









Personally I was very disappointed to find no mention of fairness in there. Does that mean that Parasitism is okay then? To try and answer that, and other awkward questions, I have compiled a list of a dozen or so nations by their ranking in the Progress scale, judged by their performance over the last century:


Now that we have our 6 criteria (Not including Sustainability) it is interesting to weigh some existing nations on the scales of Progress, judged by their relative performances over the past century. Table 3 shows my attempt to do so. Each society is awarded a mark between 1 and 5 for each of the 6 criteria, their marks are multiplied together (which helps to separate them into distinct classes) and the resulting totals are used to assign them to ranks. Since a perfect score amounts to 5×5×5×5×5×5 = 15,625 one way to do so would be place those nations within a factor 5 of the perfect score within the first rank, those within 5×5 of it in the second, and so on. Table 4 is the result It will be easy to mock this scheme but I don’t see how we can analyse history without some measure of progress and decline. Valueless people [you know who I mean] simply disqualify themselves from taking part − I don’t intend to even argue about that. Alternative value systems are certainly possible, but they clearly need to be stated – and justified on fundamental grounds. It is at least much better than the gross and ephemeral measures so regularly used based on the numbers of dollars or warheads or tanks.

The most arbitrary feature of my list is its century timescale. For instance Japan and Germany might have done much better if I had chosen 50 years instead. But both countries only became progressive as a result of resounding defeats.

Nation Curio. Lity. Demo. Tol Hon. Adapt Total Rank
China 1 3 1 2 1 1 6 5
Congo 1 2 1 1 1 2 4 6
Denmark 2 5 5 5 5 4 5000 1
France 4 5 3 3 2 3 1080 2
Germany 4 5 2 2 2 4 640 2
India 1 2 2 2 2 2 32 4
Italy 3 4 2 2 3 3 432 3
Japan 3 5 2 2 2 3 360 3
Russia 2 4 1 1 1 1 8 5
Spain 1 4 2 1 3 4 96 4
Switz. 3 3 5 3 3 3 1215 2
UK 5 5 4 5 4 5 10000 1
USA 3 5 2 3 2 4 720 2

Before compiling the list I had no idea how it would turn out but it does seem to make common sense . For instance states in the first and second rank seem fairer than states lower down – with regard to their distribution of income for instance. Perhaps because they are relatively honest and democratic their parasites don’t get away with the monstrous greed they exhibit lower down, as for instance they did in Mogul India or Tsarist Russia.

For me however the exciting point of this analysis is how positive it is, how optimistic we can all be, whatever our nationalities. A moral compass based on nothing more than common sense and competition appears to point straight towards Progress and Civilisation, whilst that awful American aphorism ‘Nice guys come in last ’ is clearly nonsense, and helps to explain why the US comes so low down in the Table of Progress.

The reason that the Establishment and the Moneylanders presently get away with their hideous behaviour, as they do, is because the legal and political systems of different states allow the parasites, aided by their smart-arse lawyers and accountants, to squeeze through the cracks between them. If such systems were aligned with the same moral compass that wouldn’t be possible any longer. But if we don’t align, and align soon, the parasites will eat us all alive.

I can’t resist finishing with an anecdote. In 1986 I went deep behind the Iron Curtain on a scientific mission. There I met a Jewish scientist who had been raised on the extremely remote Kamchatka Peninsula, where his mother still lived.

“Can’t you get her out?” I asked.

“She will never leave” he replied.

“Why not?”

“Because only good people live there.”

When I asked him what he meant he said that his people, the Moscow Jews, had been exiled to Kamchatka in the 1940s by Stalin in one of his paranoid rages. Intellectuals and bureaucrats, they’d been thrown out into the snow with an axe, a box of matches and a sack of potatoes each:

“According to my mother the bad people died during the first winter, the selfish people during the second and the dishonest during the third. Only the very best are left.”

PS The Establishment often claim to belong to The Neoliberal Cause which indeed has a philosophical basis chiefly laid down by its two main prophets Alexander von Hayek (1944, Old Testament) and Milton Friedman (1962, New) . Anyone eager to take these parasites on should be au fait with their Bible, their Koran. I review both Testaments elsewhere in this blog in a Post entitled THE BILLIONAIRES BIBLE.


This is a vast subject necessarily touched on here in a highly superficial way. Those who would like to know more can find it at:

  1. ‘THINKING FOR OURSELVES’ by M J Disney, Amazon Books, 2021, Paperback, 610 pp, £14.99
  2. ‘COMMON SENSE THINKING ;the secrets of Einstein’s success’, by Mike Disney, an abridgement of  TFO above. Amazon Books, Paperback,70pp, £5.99; Kindle e-book version £3.99
  3. ‘HISTORY OF THE BRITS – from a scientist’s point of view’, by Michael Disney, 2020, Amazon Books, 270 pp, paperback £10.00. e-book version Kindle, £4.99.


August 7, 2022

People are always urging us to “Talk or think more scientifically.” But what do the mean. Do they even know? I doubt if most of them have any idea. So here I have composed a little quiz. If you can answer most of the questions you must be a pretty knowledgeable scientist. But if you, or they, cannot ….


1 Einstein said: “Scientific thinking is a mere refinement of the everyday variety.” What is that main refinement?

2 Who among the following gave the first correct prescription for Hypothesis-testing: Bacon, Galileo, Huyghens, Newton, Pearson, Fisher, Neymann, Jeffreys, de Finetti, Popper, Jaynes ,or none of the above?

3 Evolution is notoriously slow, so how, a mere few thousand years ago, did humans suddenly become far smarter than their chimpanzee cousins with whom they share 98% of their genes?

4 Probability Theory was developed to deal with the games of chance which are CLOSED – i.e. have a finite number of configurations within them. But the real world is OPEN. How then can statisticians apply Probability Theory to open systems?

5 Why does the Normal Distribution turn up so often in Statistics?

6 Huge scientific controversies [E.g. Continental Drift] have hinged on conflicting evidence. How does the Scientific Method resolve such conflicts?

7 Science, indeed thinking in general, is bedevilled by Systematic Errors [e.g. the Earth is flat]. How can we ensure that they do not betray us into taking disastrous, indeed existential decisions?

8 How should one estimate Measurement errors?

9 Precisely why should we be influenced by Ockham’s Razor in choosing between hypotheses?

10 If we don’t know all the hypotheses alternative to H that could explain some evidence E, how could we ever calculate the Probability P(H|E)…. “The Probability of hypothesis H given E” ?

11 Why has Breadth so often proved vital to scientific success?

12 Why don’t we get lessons in Common-sense thinking at school or university? Surely they would be very valuable?

13 Since Induction is the basis of scientific thinking how do scientists overcome Hume’s ‘Classical Problem of Induction?’

15 In what circumstances do some thinkers find Bayes’ Theorem helpful, and why do others disagree?

16 How do thinkers arrive at their value for the Prior probability in Bayes’ theorem?

17 If a new observation is in serious conflict with a scientific theory, in what circumstances would it be sensible to modify that theory by adding a new Free Parameter to it [E.g. ‘Dark Energy’ to Big Bang Cosmology]?

18 Who has given a clear, uncontroversial and complete account of the Scientific Method, and where can one find it?


April 27, 2022

I love writing — spending several hours a day in solitude with pen and paper because it can be the most enchanting activity imaginable. But why is it so? Daniel Boorstin the historian admitted “I write in order to find out what I think.” Writing is a form of exploration which can take one on the most exciting journeys to meet unforgettable characters you never knew existed, until you encounter them emerging, like ink, from your pen. In some magic sense they must have been inside you all along, hiding just out of sight, waiting their chance to have their say and become part of your family. Many storytellers will attest to that. I will never forget finishing my first novel in rather dramatic circumstances. I was camping utterly alone on The Bay of Fires in remote Tasmania. I had taken my stool and writing table to the edge of the surf to commune with Griff, with Salome, with Elephant and Naomi — my main characters, and my only companions at the time, seeing that my flesh and blood family were still busy back in Britain. I uncapped my pen, looked out across the turquoise sea towards the rising sun and let my characters write the end of their story — which had very little to do with me. Three hours later they were done. They had finished with me, rising up into the sky and vanishing back from wherever they had come. I burst into tears, abandoned, desolate, like a tiny child dumped without warning at boarding school.

That was 20 years ago but I have been writing novels ever since as more and more characters come down to join me and my pen on any number of vivid adventures. To my regret I have never had a flesh and blood daughter : no problem; Petrel came down in “Crouching Giant” and she’s been with me ever since, while my fictional step-father Bob Salt badgered, inspired and entertained me every day throughout the 4-volume saga “Written in the Stars”, claiming to have written much of it himself.

But explorers, as I claim to be, ought to make discoveries. But how could one possibly make discoveries with just a pen? That turns out to be a very profound question linked to an even greater mystery — why can we humans think so much more successfully than our primate cousins in the wild who share 98 % of our genes? Natural Evolution is a painfully slow process whereas we have transformed from Cave Man to Space Man in a mere few thousand years. It cannot be biology — it has to be technology — which kicked in not much more than 3000 years ago. And I’m pretty sure of the answer now.

3800 years ago in the Sinai desert not far from Phoenicia , some turquoise -miners invented the ‘phonetic-alphabet’ which could translate language, any language, into written words. It was such a valuable trick that it spread from Asia Minor across the Mediterranean to Greece, Rome and far beyond, literally transforming everything — but why and how? Here comes another private adventure — even further afield than the Bay of Fires. For my living I was an astronomer obsessed with ‘Hidden Galaxies’. The figure below shows a montage of galaxies — colossal islands of stars in Space. They are the basic units of the Cosmos — and we live in in one such spinning island ourselves — The Milky way.

As you can see some are bright whilst others are so dim as to be virtually invisible. Back in 1975 I collected some pretty convincing evidence suggesting that the Cosmos was probably packed with with completely invisible, that is to say ‘Hidden Galaxies’ (‘HG’s). If that sounds implausible you must remember that, because we live right next to a bright star called the Sun, even the darkest sites on Earth are still 5,000 times brighter than they would be from a typical point of cosmic Space. My suggestion sparked off several large-scale campaigns to either find, or rule out this hypothetical “Hidden Universe”. Strong pieces of evidence both for and against the proposition turned up — but conflicted. That led to furious debates within the profession. To reconcile the two sides I decided to consult “The Scientific Method”, the underlying philosophy to which all of us scientists subscribe. Easier said than done. The harder I looked for the Scientific Method the faster it danced away. Almost none of the people who wrote about it endlessly were scientists themselves, but philosophers or statisticians, while we scientists were suspiciously mum about the whole topic. Einstein had said that: “Science is no more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” but admitted: “The physicist cannot proceed without considering critically a much more difficult problem (than physics), the problem of analysing the nature of everyday thinking.

It eventually dawned on me that no one on Earth qualified to know had any idea what the Scientific Method was or is, or whether it existed at all. So, when I retired I decided to track down dozens of historical scientific discoveries to find out how exactly they had been made. They clearly revealed that Common Sense Thinking (CST) was at its core, and that implied weighing different clues against one another and against the hypothesis under debate. Now here comes the point: to do that effectively and reliably ONE MUST BE ABLE TO WRITE. Neither animal nor human memory is large enough or reliable enough to do that job. So now we recognise the source of our sudden and spectacular ascendancy above our fellow creatures. Because we can write we can think millions of times more effectively than they can. And when I say ‘millions’ I am not exaggerating . You can actually calculate the height of our leap — far above the clouds — out among the tumbling stars. My favourite fairy story as a child was Jack and the Beanstalk. Now we don’t need his magic beans. We can vault far above the clouds with pen alone. At first I couldn’t believe these new found powers to explore and to think. It felt more like a fantasy dream than sober reality. I never expected it, but when you think of human-kind’s miraculous ascendancy there has to be a rational explanation. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo painted God reaching out to inspire Man with celestial fire. But notice , their fingers don’t quite touch — as if the artist wasn’t quite sure.

God, off screen right, is seen here powering up Adam in Michelangelo’s famous fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But as you can see their fingers didn’t quite touch, as if Michelangelo wasn’t quite convinced. I don’t blame him. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Now we know it wasn’t God but some ingenious turquoise miners in the Sinai desert trying to leave decipherable messages for their successors scratched on rock walls, 3,800 years ago. The history of Science turns up other stories of momentous but unintended developments like that — though none quite so dramatic: Johannes Kepler understanding that the darkness of the night sky implied the finiteness of the Universe; Darwin in the Galapagos Islands realising that the diversity of finches beaks from island to island implied the Evolution of species; Alfred Wegener recognising that identical fossil-beds on opposite sides of the Atlantic meant that continents must drift. The problem though with such serendipitous discoveries is that they are so improbable and therefore so hard to believe. .Who is going to believe that Common Sense Thinking (CST) is millions of times more effective than any other scheme simply because of writing — though Einstein did remark “My pencil and I are are smarter than I am”. But think of puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku — they would be impossible without writing. So it is with CST and the Scientific Method. Which brings me full circle to Hidden Galaxies. It took over 20 conflicting clues, 40 years and a great deal of writing to settle that issue. Hidden Galaxies certainly do exist and Fig 3 shows one of the first — pinned down using the Westerbork Radio telescope in Holland.

Fig 3.The first convincing Hidden Galaxy, Virgo HI21 . It was found by Dr. Jon Davies and his team from Cardiff University back in 2007. The banana shaped radio source in the Left hand image is a massive edge-on spinning disc of Hydrogen first found with the Jodrell Bank radio dish in Cheshire, and here seen projected upon a negative optical image of the famous Virgo Cluster of galaxies of which NGC 4254 is the brightest, most massive spiral. As you you can see, something has dragged out a bridge of Hydrogen gas from it towards the banana. To have done so VirgoHi21 must be very massive itself although it appears to be totally dark. The right hand image is a velocity-map of the Hydrogen observed with the Westerbork radio telescope in Holland. The twitch in the banana signifies that it is spinning rapidly like a plate seen edge on, and indeed must be very massive to prevent itself spinning to bits. All the evidence was published in the prestigious Astrophysical Journal in 2007, and although several sceptics have tried to undermine the arguments none has remotely succeeded. Hidden, even totally dark galaxies exist. And , thanks to writing, we know they do.

The more one thinks about Thinking the more fascinating puzzles the subject raises. If, as I am suggesting, Common Sense is the way even scientists like Einstein use, then why didn’t they teach us about the subject at school? I believe I know the answer — but I leave it as a fascinating puzzle for you. IF either of us can solve it we might, like those turquoise miners 3,800 years ago, take humankind on another journey far beyond the visible stars.

NOTES: 1 The Tasmanian novel is ‘Pterodactyl’s Blood‘ ,see ‘My Books’ Category. 2 For Hidden Galaxies see several Posts this Blog in ‘Astronomy ‘Category . 3 For Virgo HI21 see Minchin et al,2007, The Astrophysical Journal, 670, pp 1056-1064. 4 For CST see many Posts this blog under ‘Thinking’ Category. 5 For history of writing see “The Secret History of Writing‘ a series of 3 wonderful films made by Hugh Sington and shown on BBC ch. 4 in 2021.


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:

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.



August 21, 2021


This post is so titled because it stands for “THINKING FOR OURSELVES-ADDITIONS” where “Thinking for Ourselves” refers to my book with that title originally published in 2020 and updated in 2021 (For details see elsewhere under ‘My Books’ Category or under Tags on ‘Thinking’.) But from now on I want the book to become live, so that it can be continually updated here on line. Here you will find Exercises with Answers, corrections, images, calculations, supporting data, more detailed and improved arguments, readers comments with my responses to what is intended to become what I call ‘A LIVING BOOK’.See at the bottom of this Post how to make such Comments.

All the additions are shown below, mostly under a Chapter number and page number in the paperback book, version 2021.



at the following url:


         I finished the book 3 years ago with the surprising but triumphal discovery of Categorical Inference – which connects the whole scheme for Common Sense Thinking so naturally and necessarily with Animal Thinking and Evolution. And IF it’s right it could change the world.

         At that point I sometimes get struck with what  I believe they call ‘Imposter Syndrome’– how could little me have unearthed a powerful scheme entirely missed by giants such as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein? It doesn’t seem likely does it?

         But then I look at some of its manifest achievements such as:

  • Explaining Humankind’s dramatic leap in mental capability around 1000 BC.
  • Its unique mechanism for balancing conflicting evidence, as illustrated with its success with Hidden Galaxies.
  • A first transparent and convincing explanation for Ockham’s Razor.
  • Its powerful mechanism (PAW) for dealing with Systematic Errors, which have kept us back so many times  for so long.
  • It’s perfect dovetailing into Animal Thinking and Darwinian Evolution.
  • The multiple new insights which spring from it – see this blog and my other book “History of the Brits’ [HOB ch.5]. For instance  it comes up with the keys to human Progress, what I call ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ .

So then I am reassured. But, but……Why little me again? All I can say to myself, and to potential readers is :

 “It was bloody minded doggedness more than anything else. I started out with the modest ambition to find out what I believed was already known  –  the Scientific Method, only to find to my surprise that it was not, but that it probably had something to do with Common Sense, but that hadn’t been defined either. So I asked myself a different question: ‘How could animals think?’ and thereafter progress became relatively rapid  because now I could entirely  ignore Philosophy, Mathematics and Religion.

So I didn’t have to be a genius, which I definitely am not. And one doesn’t have to be a genius to make a great discovery. Look at Darwin – he spent the first  30 years  of his idle life slaughtering wild creatures for fun. Basically he was an illiterate lout – but he stumbled upon the greatest scientific discovery of all because he happened to be in the right place at the right time – the Galapagos Islands  in 1838. But he was only there because his exasperated father had sent him out there as a punishment, saying “You wouldn’t even make a decent rat-catcher.” Indeed there’s little evidence of ‘genius’ in science more generally [ See Chapter 3 of TFO to see how great discoveries have been made in history] – so even if I’m not a genius , TFO  could still be right.”


As of 21/8/21 there are only 2 because I have just made two dozen corrections to the original paperback edition.They are

P 302: replace ‘Sherman’ with ‘Pershing’.

P 456, line 7: replace 13 with 23.

But the most important of those for purchasers of the older editions are at:


CHAPTER 1 (‘Can we learn to think better?’) p 15

CHAPTER 2 (‘Different kinds of Thinking’) p25

CHAPTER 3 (‘How do Scientists Think?) p46

CHAPTER 4 (‘Natural Thinking and Bayes’ Rule’) p95

There are several Posts on the fascinating subject of ‘Galaxies’ , including ‘Hidden Galaxies’, in the ‘Astronomy’ Category here, with many images.

CHAPTER 5 (‘The Detective’s Equation’) p132

CHAPTER 6 (‘Numbers and Thinking’) p154

CHAPTER 7 (‘Woolly Thinking and Ockham’s Razor’) p170

There are several posts here on ‘Big Bang Cosmology’ — which I use as a case study in dodgy thinking, under the ‘Astronomy’ Category’.

CHAPTER 8 (‘Common Sense’) p198

CHAPTER 9 (‘Error Analysis’) p236

CHAPTER 10 (‘Systematic Errors, The Elephants in the Room’) p268

CHAPTER 11 (‘Statistics – or Terror Analysis’) p294

Statisticians turned themselves from humble clerks into a dogmatic priesthood based on several misunderstandings, on their part. They need to be put firmly back on their stools. Having spent 30 years trying to teach Statistics at university, I gradually came to realise that the profession has got itself hopelessly lost in the No-man’s land between Induction and Deduction. Look what confusing advice they have given to the government over the Covid pandemic, They’re not scientists, they’re mostly priests, who hide behind higher mathematics when they are challenged. See Post “Statistics: exposed at last” under ‘Thinking’ Category.

CHAPTER 12 (‘Persuasion’) p342 t

CHAPTER 13 (‘Poor Thinking’) p357

CHAPTER 14 (‘The Extraordinary History of Thinking’) p407

CHAPTER 15 (‘The Peculiarities of Science’) p451

In Sect (15:12) ‘What about Mathematics’ I only gave some modest examples because I didn’t want to frighten off non-mathematical readers but on this site its maybe worth drawing attention to some more spectacular examples. For instance on pp 471-472 I then failed to recognise the full and dramatic implications of mathematics when applied to immigration: basically because immigrants arrive every year, while children arrive only a couple of times or so in a female’s life, immigration is no less than 160 times more significant than natural birthrate when it comes to population increase! Thus immigration into the UK at present is equivalent to 3 British mothers out of 4 having an extra child! If you don’t believe me, and I found it very difficult to believe it myself, you should consult the url:

Then the modern world, including radio, broadcasting, television, Relativity, satellites, mobile phones, the internet…. were all implicit in a set of equations derived by two Brits in the 19th century, James Clerk Maxwell and Oliver Heaviside. You don’t have to understand the equations in detail but one can certainly admire a human artefact millions of times more momentous than either The Rosetta Stone or Tutenkamun’s Tomb. See:

CHAPTER 16 (‘Consequences and the Ascent of Mankind’) p476

On p486 there is a very brief discussion of Time. If you want to see a deeper discussion of a profound topic see the Post “WHAT IS TIME?” under the Category ‘Thinking’. Those who want to look deeper into TIME can look at the Post ‘MAXWELL’S EQUATIONS’ (under ‘Thinking’ Category )which explains why Relativity has changed our view that Time is absolute; it’s not, according to physicists. Even so Time is still a great mystery; there seem to be several different kinds of time. all mistakenly labelled with the same four lettered word.



APPENDICES pp 547 to 604

INDEX p612


June 26, 2021

In his famous essay on ‘The Two Cultures” CP Snow pointed to the yawning divide in British Culture between Science and the Humanities. It’s still there, just as crippling as it was 60 years ago.

I was reminded of this when I started reading “The Boundless Sea – a human history of the oceans” by David Abulafia a professor of history at Cambridge University (Penguin 2019), a book which has attracted extravagant praise as well as The Wolfson History Prize for 2020. It’s a subject that has fascinated me since, as a boy, I read Thor Heyerdahl’s account of the Kon Tiki expedition — his raft trip across the Pacific in 1947 to explore his hypothesis that Polynesia might have been settled from South America.

That hypothesis gradually sank into disrepute following accumulating anthropological and genetic evidence suggesting that Polynesia was in fact settled not from the East but from the North by navigators of Asian descent. But then in 2020 came better DNA evidence showing that at least some South Americans had arrived in the Marquesas with their plants around 1150 AD. What has Abulafia to say about this evidence? On p 29 he writes that it:”… indicates that Polynesians from the Marquesas interbred with people from Columbia around 1150, most plausibly suggesting that Polynesians reached and returned from South America bringing Columbians and their seeds and tubers along with them.”

Heyerdahl’s balsa raft Kon Tiki sailing West from South America to Polynesia down the West Wind Drift powered by the Coriolis Force . Notice she’s got the wind behind her, as well as a current of 50 miles a day driven by the wind. Courtesy the Heyerdahl Museum in Norway.

What? Doesn’t Abulafia understand the winds and currents which would make such a hypothetical voyage thousands of times more difficult than Heyerdahl’s journey? Surely he understands the Coriolis Force which drives the Great West Wind Drift and indeed nearly all the voyages of exploration and trade around the globe in the days of sail?

So I skip to the Index, all of 63 pages long containing no less than 9,500 entries . No mention of Coriolis Force, and only one brief one to Trade winds, but not in the Pacific Ocean. But what about the maps, of which there are dozens and dozens? The Oceanic waters are entirely blank, no sign of the all-important currents and winds which drove and circumscribed all navigators in the days of sail.

One can only conclude that Abulafia either doesn’t know, or doesn’t understand the bearing of Science on the Oceans, a bit steep when he is writing a “Human history of the Oceans”. It’s like a geography text-book which omits all mention of mountains and rivers. The result is a timid history without any sweep or penetration, just another record of ‘One damn thing after another’ like his earlier book on the Mediterranean “The Great Sea” which I did manage to finish — just.

One could be more forgiving if Abulafia hadn’t been so condescending towards Heyerdahl , referring to him as a “self publicist” unworthy of his fame in Norway. Thor Heyerdahl wasn’t a timid academic, he was brave man who risked his life to explore his own imaginative idea — which as it happens, — turns out to be substantially right.

Abulafia’s egregious failure illustrates the folly of attempting history without comprehending or even taking notice of Science. And the extravagant praise for his book from other historians, and the award of the Wolfson Prize, can only suggest that such incestuos myopia is widespread in British academe. How can we rely on them when they must be writing for each other, and not for us?

But there’s a more general point here. It’s much easier to spot what is wrong with an argument than to spot what is missing from it. For instance the Scottish National Party is aiming to take Scotland out of the UK, without recognising that Scotland, with its 6000 miles of remote coastline, is indefensible on its own, but secure as part of a united island. How foolish. We islanders all need to sit up and take notice of that!


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]

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.


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.


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:


‘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. God is naturally on our side.
  2. You shouldn’t mind sacrificing your life because you will be rewarded in paradise.
  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;


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