Freedom, Truth, Intelligence & Information

In this wide ranging post Richard Fernandez one of the deeper thinking Bloggers out there looks at the relationship between freedom, truth intelligence and information.   He posits that absent freedom, there can be no discovery, and hence no intelligence.

But to really learn you have to be prepared to listen to what you don’t want to hear. The future only contains new information if it tells you something you don’t know. But bureaucracies want to make all new knowledge predictable, consistent with the existing narrative. And homogenization destroys information.

There is also a discussion of AI.  Read the whole thing.

Rules, Principles & Virtue

Consider that whenever we have a massive failure in a business industry like the .com era, real estate or banking we usually wind up with more regulation and more rules.  Rules are expensive to comply with.  Most compliance efforts are “letter of the law” not the spirit.  Before, during and after the rule process there is careful lobbying to insure there is minimum impact on various constituencies.  Power, influence, wealth all impact this.    The pharmaceutical industry supported the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) early to avoid being forced to sell prescription drugs at anything less than full price; many groups that supported it also received exemptions from the law and most recently Senate Democrats sought to exempt Congress.   It has ever been thus that competitive groups pushing and pulling shape the rules in their final forms.  Once a rule is in place clever individuals begin to find loopholes, whether placed there intentionally or accidentally matters little, they are found so people can say I complied without complying with the spirit.  It is in this way that the fundamental nature of rules is fragile.  They break quickly under pressure, they become irrelevant from societal change, and when there are too many laws it leads to cynicism within the populace who give up trying to obey.  When the rules are few and understood, the people will obey willingly from a sense of duty, a sense of right and wrong.  When rules become overwhelming, complex and dense, the people will turn cynical and that attitude is corrosive to the stability of society.  Double standards grow as some are exempted from  prosecution based on their intent where others will receive no such latitude and face jail time.  This will increase the cynicism of the people even more.  Over time there is a temptation of the ruling class to flaunt the double standard as a way of reminding the people who rules and who is ruled.

Unlike rules there exist principles, whose very nature is robust.  They are laws that have stood the test of time, for example, the general prohibition against murder, stealing, lying to obtain financial advantage etc.  If the government and the police were to disappear, theses laws would still be enforced.  If you went to Somalia at the peak of the anarchy and murdered someone’s child, you can be sure there would be a price to be paid if you were caught.  Whereas rules are easily broken, principles are not.  They can be broken under extreme duress but never eliminated.  The economist Arnold Kling has argued that regulations (rules) should be based on principles.  In an essay He makes the case that principles based regulation are superior to what he calls “bright line regulation” and that these hard and fast rules are easy for interested parties to outmaneuver.  This is a very strong argument.  It would still take impartial regulators to enforce, that is, regulators who are not selected from the industry itself and placed into the all to common position today of watching over their fellow wolves.  It’s this weakness that leads us to the final area, virtue.

Virtue has an interesting fundamental nature, what the moral philosopher and trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb has called “antifragile.”  This is means under pressure, in chaotic environments — up to a point, it will actually get stronger.  We intrinsically understand this from challenges in our own lives.  Of the three, rules, principles and virtue the last one is absolutely required to be widespread among the people and especially the leadership.  If you look at any kleptocracy whether in Africa, South America or increasingly the United States, the lack of virtue within the leadership is an acid on society.  It’s corrosive effects drip into every corner, every life whether non-profit, charities, the education system, the city government or even the Boy Scouts.  Virtue has always been in short supply owing to our fundamental nature so the incentives should be in place to encourage it, celebrate it and support it.  Unfortunately “don’t judge me” is a ubiquitous phrase for people seeking to avoid criticism for their immoral actions, for offensive private actions that become public.  Politicians like Anthony Wiener, Elliot Spitzer or Barney Frank if they possessed any virtue at all would have disappeared from public life.  Unfortunately, they are most likely psychopaths whose regret extends to “I’m sorry I was caught.”  Liberty depends on virtue and without it, a culture will drift inexorably into tyranny.  Let us all examine our lives, and give up petty corruptions, instruct our children in the virtues that have spanned all cultures on the planet and demand it of our leaders.

US Government + Big Corporation = ?

No privacy apparently.   No worries though, it’s for your own safety.   I wonder how long it will take for people to realize that improved security argument has been stripping people of their God given freedom for more than a thousand years.

Ben Franklin called it in 1775, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Art as Challenge to Orthodoxy

Over the years artistic expression has been celebrated for its challenge of various orthodoxies whether those were, religious, gender based, sexual or long standing cultural norms.  Who can forget the artist Andre Serarano’s photograph Piss Christ where the artist submerged a crucifix in a jar of his own urine all with US taxpayer money.  It offended a lot of people, especially Christians but many defended his artistic expression right up to the present day.  It was provocative, challenging etc.  Several examples can be found here and here.  Serrano himself considered it an attack on the commercialization of Christ supposedly.  Some of his other works contradict this and I am thinking of the beaten nun photograph .  But attacks on Catholicism and Christianity are really not attacking a dominant order anymore.  The major media, art circles, most academics and many politicians are anti-catholic, anti-christian and anti-western civilization.  They have become their own petty, smug orthodoxy.  Where is the art that challenges them?  I wonder when will some half mad artist produce a work of racism based on his understanding of human sub-species and anchored in neo-darwinian evolution.  Or an anti-feminist work that portrays women as inferior to men based on studies showing their lower ability to handle stress and their lesser physical strength.  Perhaps a play portraying gays as deeply disturbed individuals, with serious gender identity problems whose very homosexuality is an offshoot of a psychological pathology.

As the theologian Martin Luther said, “It all depends on whose ox is being gored.”  I don’t imagine for a minute that those who defended artists that agreed with their world view would defend those who don’t.  And neither do I believe artists should care what anyone thinks but should express themselves as they see the world.  They should also be ready to not make a living, be ostracized, vilified, despised and hated.

I am raging inside
Like the mad man at sea
Cursing the storm
Beyond all reason
I cannot hide my madness for you
I will pull you into the sea of my desire
I will drown you there in my passion
I will dominate you
And your weakness will become strength
And my strength weakness
For in that moment
That brief moment
You will own me

The Joys of Extrapolation

At technology review they have an article discussing the work of two scientists:

These guys argue that it’s possible to measure the complexity of life and the rate at which it has increased from prokaryotes to eukaryotes to more complex creatures such as worms, fish and finally mammals. That produces a clear exponential increase identical to that behind Moore’s Law although in this case the doubling time is 376 million years rather than two years.

Interesting, so what happens to punctuated equilibrium or does that still fit into this idea?  It’s not clear from the article.  The Cambrian explosion appears to fit in nicely.  The article states that if you extrapolate back to single base pair, life is older than the earth.  Then they write:

For example, is it reasonable to think that the complexity of life has increased at the same rate throughout Earth’s history? Perhaps the early steps in the origin of life created complexity much more quickly than evolution does now, which will allow the timescale to be squeezed into the lifespan of the Earth.

Sharov and Gorden reject this argument saying that it is suspiciously similar to arguments that squeeze the origin of life into the timespan (sic) outlined in the biblical Book of Genesis.

So Sharov and Gorden reject the argument because it sounds like arguments used by creationists.  So rather than take the criticism head on they attempt to paint their critics as creationists.  In case you are not in the know, calling a critic a creationist or borrowing from the creationist line of reasoning is heresy punishable by ostracism from the cool scientists club which is dominated by the Westboro branch of evolutionists.  This line of reasoning completely ignores the risks of extrapolation which are well known.  I commented about that a bit here.

One of the implications of their work they claim is that intelligent life may just now be forming in the universe.  Mankind may be the first and be alone.  A little fact and lot of conjecture but it makes for interesting party talk (well maybe only for geeks like me).