A Society Without Paradox Dies

Humans are the most paradoxical species.

We love to stay still and we love to move. We love order and we love change. We love Self and we love the Other. We love the familiar and we love what’s foreign. We love unity and we love diversity.

It’s why we’re the most beautiful species.

When we’re balanced in the ever-generative golden mean between the two paradoxical extremes. As a species we need each, but there are then going to be particular individuals who prefer one over the other.

When one group or the other becomes dominant in a society, the society becomes unbalanced, unstable, and either falls apart or has to undergo a massive change, emerging into a new level of complexity, where new balances between new paradoxical pairs emerge. Insofar as imbalance can result in collapse, imbalance is bad. Rootedness is bad because it’s an extreme (like the extreme of cowardice in Aristotle’s identification of courage as being between cowardice and rashness). In an individual or in a family, it might be good, providing a stabilizing feature for a society, but it’s bad as a way of being for an entire people.

In order to have a healthy society, we need people who are creative and people who don’t seem to have a creative bone in their body. We need leaders and followers. Thinkers-outside-the-box and thinkers well within the box.  Each has his or her role (include masculine and feminine). And there are going to be people along each of these spectra, including neurodiversity. We need autistics and neurotypicals, bipolars and schizophrenics. We need conservatives and liberals, left and right versions of each, conservatives like (the grossly misnamed) progressives, socialists, and Religious Right, liberals like libertarians, left-liberals, and neoliberals. Yes, we need them all (even when they’re mostly wrong about human nature, science, society, economics, etc.).

The enemy of thought, the enemy of creativity, the enemy of freedom is the lack of enemies.

I’ve Got No Roots

Before Homo was sapiens, people have wandered.

We’re wandering apes–it’s why we’ve spread across the globe.

Rootedness is for plants. If you wish to live in a vegetative state, be rooted in the soil.

The most dynamic societies–those that encourage the feet, the mind, the soul to wander–are the wealthiest, healthiest ones (they are well-fed and -exercised).

If you want a society to rot–politically, philosophically, economically–root its people.

Believe in one way of thinking, of believing, of being is belief in rootedness. Blood and soil, political correctness, the totalitarian thinking of reducing everything to politics, to economics, to race, to sex, to gender, to aesthetics, to the natural sciences, to religion–each of these are forms of rootedness.

Heidegger, the Nazi philosopher, was the philosopher of rootedness. He said the Jews weren’t rooted. He said cosmopolitanism was the opposite of rootedness. He said cosmopolitanism and Jewishness were related.

America is the least rooted of all countries to have ever existed. That is its strength. The more people seek to root it, the weaker, poorer American becomes.

On the Usefulness of Poetry for Learning

There was a time when people realized
That poetry was easy to remember
And people wrote in verse — yes, essays too —
Because the rhythms and the lines which were
The same length as their short-term memory
Allowed them to remember what was written.
That’s also why so many plays were written
In verse, to help the actors memorize
The plays more easily. As we have moved
Away from rhythmic verse, we’ve also heard
Complaints about our students’ memories,
How they don’t seem to know a thing, it seems.
Perhaps if we were teaching everything
In blank verse lines so that our rhythmic brains
Could map the rhythmic lines more easily
Onto themselves, then we could memorize
Far more than we do now. The science is
Most certainly behind me on this thesis.

There was a kind of poetry intended
To teach the reader, which has fallen out
Of fashion. Once didactic poetry
Was well-respected. Alexander Pope
Wrote his Essay on Man not in dull prose
But rather in heroic couplets. Just
Consider these few lines of his knowledge:
“Say first, of God above or Man below
What can we reason but from what we know?”
Epistemology has never been
More clearly stated, or more beautifully.
We have as models of this kind of verse
The likes of Hesiod and Ovid, Virgil
And Shelley. Why have we rejected use
And information as an aim of verse?
It seems the very worst that Modernism
Contributed was the idea that
All art — and even the humanities —
Should be completely useless. Art for art’s
Sake, nothing more. Indeed, this freed
The arts, allowed proliferations of
Such forms as we had never seen in such
A short time period. And yet one has
To wonder why the usefulness of some
Art could not be retained. The structure of
Our brains allow the regularities
Of poetry to easily deliver
The information and ideas which
Bombard us in high qualities today,
So much of which we need to know to do
The complex jobs we have, to understand
The world in its complexity, which we
Did not evolve to really deal with. Yet
We have a tool — a tool which we discarded —
Which lets us learn so much so fast that we
Could even understand this world we live
In better and in much more depth than we
Do now. Can you imagine what we could
Learn more than we now think is possible?

Perhaps you don’t believe the things I say.
Well, let me ask you this: how many lines
Of prose can you recite? How many songs?
A song indeed is poetry, and you
No doubt can sing a couple dozen songs
Without a note to prompt you. Why is this?
Perhaps it is because all that I said
Is true. The rhythms and the rhymes of songs
And formal poetry get stuck and play
Themselves on your brain’s rhythmic circuitry.
When we get earworms, it is never prose,
But always songs which we hear in our heads.
Our memories are rhythmic and work best
With rhythms when we want to memorize
For quick recall. Imagine too the new
Ideas which our brains could formulate
If we in fact made use of what our brains
Could really do by taking full advantage
Of how it works. It is too bad that we
Don’t take advantage of the usefulness
Of poetry to learn about the world.
The sciences and the humanities
Could all be easily accessible,
Could easily be learned if we could just
Present it to our students in blank verse.

Alan Turing Chemistry

If you know the name Alan Turing, computers will immediately leap to mind. However, it turns out that Turing made some predictions about chemistry as well.

Many chemical reactions end up going to completion, with all the possible reactants doing their thing and producing a product that’s distributed uniformly within the reaction chamber. But under the right conditions, some chemical reactions don’t reach equilibrium. These reactions are what interested Turing, since they could generate complex patterns.

Turing’s paper on the topic focused on a reaction that could be controlled by the addition of two chemicals: an activator that promotes it and an inhibitor that slows it down. If you simply mix the two into a reaction, the outcome will simply depend on the balance between these two chemicals. But as Turing showed, interesting things can happen if you diffuse them into a reaction from different locations. And if the two chemicals diffuse at different rates, you can get complex patterns or reaction products like spots or tiger stripes.

Turing’s insight is that a combination of positive and negative feedback would result in complex patterns. This is basically an anticipation of Hector Sabelli’s bios theory.

The linked article is about the first practical application of Turing chemistry in the creation of a desalinization membrane. As simple physics is starting to reach the point of diminishing returns–resulting in a slowdown in technological innovations–we are needing to transition to complexity science and technology. This may be an important first step in that direction for the field of chemistry.

Theory of Mind and Expectations of Generosity

The theory of mind is essentially the belief that others have the same kind of mind as you have. While this can help us understand others’ motivations more often than not, it can also result in misunderstandings of others. It’s particularly pernicious with autism vs. neurotypical people, but it extends beyond that.

For example, consider the following scenarios:

I am a generous person
Therefore, other people are generous
Thus, I do not need to be forced to be generous
Thus, I oppose government programs that take money from me to give to other people

I am not a generous person
Therefore, other people are not generous
Thus, I need to be forced to be generous
Thus, I support government programs that take money from me to give to other people

I’m not saying this is how it necessarily always happens. But to what extent are each of these two scenarios true?

Of course, there’s a third option, which is that different people are generous to different degrees, and people should be free to do with their money as they wish, because it’s theirs. Which doesn’t prevent you from shaming others into being more generous. But then that would mean having to put effort into persuading others rather than forcing others.

What You Think, I Don’t Think

One of the benefits of learning I am on the autism spectrum has been the realization–the very deep realization–that practically nobody thinks like me. I don’t think most people really realize that others don’t think like them. At least, not in such a way that it affects their world view.

Most people think that other people are exactly like them. If someone acts in a way different from them, that difference is seen as a flaw or fault (the social justice warriors only invert this and declare that Western differences are flaws). Many men see women as flawed men; many women see men as flawed women. They’re both wrong.

The social sciences and the humanities are a complete mess because of this. Academics think everyone else thinks like them–like academics. Practically every stupid thing Marx thought can be traced to this fact. He looked upon the working masses with pity that they have to work at jobs they did not inherently enjoy, not realizing that only a few people thought that any work at all could or would be inherently enjoyable. The academic, the scientist, the artist, the inventor, the entrepreneur all find their work inherently pleasurable to do. Them, and nobody else. 20% of the population at best. The other 80% would rather be watching TV or browsing the internet. There is no work out there they would find inherently enjoyable. They work only because they must, and if they didn’t have to, they wouldn’t do a thing.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I recently had some middle school kids tell me they thought the reading and writing I love was boring. Well, of course they did. Almost everyone on earth agrees with them. Very few love to read, and fewer still love to write. I decided to tease them by telling them I didn’t like sports because I find sports to be boring. They couldn’t even begin to imagine such a thing. They couldn’t imagine me finding sports boring any more than they could imagine finding reading and writing interesting, let alone a great joy.

So long as social scientists think everyone is really just like them, they are going to get practically everything in the social sciences wrong. There are a few who manage to have a great enough connection with non-academics, with that other 80%, to have non-stupid ideas in the social sciences, but they are very few indeed. Even those who come from working class backgrounds seem utterly oblivious–they likely spent most of their own childhoods with their nose in a book, and didn’t realize nobody else around them did or thought the things they did. And when they got into college, let alone grad school, that was the last they set eyes on any non-academic outside their own parents, who they called less and less often as the years went on.

And think about this: the people who most love learning and academics are the ones who are trying to reform education for the 80% who don’t.

The Euphemism Treadmill

In The Stuff of Thought Steven Pinker talks about the use of metaphor in politics, leading him to discussing George Lakoff’s recommendations to the Left on how to come up with metaphors to support their ideology. For example, Lakoff recommends that “taxes” be reframed “as “membership fees” that are necessary to maintain the services and infrastructure of the society to which we belong” (246). Let me suggest why this won’t work by referring you to another of Pinker’s works, The Blank Slate. In it he talks about something he calls the “euphemism treadmill.” That is where “People invent new words for emotionally charged referents, but soon the euphemism becomes tainted by association, and a new word must be found, which soon acquires its own connotations, and so on” (212). He then points out that we went from “water closet” to “toilet” to bathroom” to “restroom” to “lavatory.” He then observes that “The euphemism treadmill shows that concepts, not words, are primary in people’s minds. Give a concept a new name, and the name becomes colored by the concept; the concept does not become freshened by the name, at least not for long” (213).

In other words, no matter what name we give taxes, it remains a fact that when you are taxed, that means that someone with more power than you is taking money that you earned and using it for projects that either directly or indirectly benefit them and which my or may not benefit you and which you may or may not agree with, and threatening to do you harm unless you hand over the money. When a private citizen does it, we call it being mugged. It is theft, plain and simple. Calling it a “membership fee” isn’t going to change that. It’s just putting lipstick on a pig.