Why The Precautionary Principle is Misguided…

It was some two-thousand years ago Gaius Plinius Cecilius Secundus, also known as Pliny the Elder, in book 35 of his 37-volume encyclopedia, Earth, told of an aspiring young goldsmith who presented a shiny new metal to the Roman emperor Tiberius. The metal? Aluminum. The emperor, an extremely wealthy man with vast holdings of precious metals such as gold and silver, inquired if he had shared this discovery with anyone. The Goldsmith’s answer was no. Tiberius had him instantly killed.

The Emperor’s reasoning went something like this: If a rarer—therefore more valuable—metal than gold and silver had been allowed to spread, the Emperor’s holdings would depreciate. (Why he did not just force the potter to work solely for him befuddles me, but emperoral thought is an enigma unto itself—and I may just have made up a word.) The Emperor’s use of the Precautionary Principle (PP) successfully delayed the re-discovery of aluminium by almost 1700 years, where again it became the most valuable metal on Earth. (That is, until 1886 when the method of electrolysis was adapted for aluminium.) Now it is so cheap that we wrap it around our food only to throw it away when we’re done.

This post concerns itself with similar use-cases of the PP in the modern world to nefarious ends. However, before continuing with my extrapolation of the PP in the present day, some definitions are in order. The Precautionary Principle, at least defined by modern standards, was formulated in the early 1990s by the UN as below:

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Continue reading “Why The Precautionary Principle is Misguided…”

Fixing Politics

fixing politics

This is sub-chapter #12, of Chapter #3, Politics, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World. Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


FIXING POLITICS

Since we are stuck with the obsolescence of politics for the foreseeable future, here are some solutions, though I’m sure they are many more, that aim to make gaming the system more difficult if implemented, and allow a freer society for a longer period of time.

Granted, this will not stop the political subterfuge that seemingly always, undermines the democratic system. (Politicians are a creative bunch.) It merely serves to make the process much more difficult, and thereby allow a greater functioning of democracy on a longer time-scale, which will allow the making and creation of the science and technology that will eventually rid us of this insidious process that is retarding our progress (I’ll elaborate more in the last chapter). Please forgive me any generalizations in this chapter, though it is hard to find an honest politician these days, I’m sure a few exist somewhere.

“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” ~ Winston Churchill (Former Prime Minister of GB)

Career Politicians

The career politician (CP) is a virus in the democratic system, and his or her major concern is re-election. Thus, their every decision, policy, and recommendation is acted upon in context to their re-election chances and not necessarily to the people’s or nation’s benefit. They may have started out with the best of intentions, and with a big heart, but people are mortal, and the leviathan (the government as named by Thomas Hobbes) is all-powerful in the bewildering eyes of a mere mortal.

The CP rarely, if ever, leaves his or her bubble distorting their view of reality, much as a goldfish living in a curved fishbowl believes that everything travels in an arc instead of a straight line. Politicians are human goldfish, observing things that seem real and committing words to paper that rarely fix them, when often times, the best solution is to let the super-organism that is society self-correct. (This is usually the best course of action for recessions.)

As a result of being in the game for the long term, they are beholden to the people (and to the political game itself), for the choices they make. But the people, like most people everywhere whom are not well versed in all matters of running a society—hence the need for democracy in the first place—end up looking to their own short-term interests. (An evolutionary mechanism where for 99.9% of our hominid history, our only concerns were food, water, shelter, and sex. If only modern society were so simple.) Likewise, since a politician cannot develop, write, read, or legislate on their own, they are dependent on their fellow politician and staff, in a system that favors ideology, and breeds resentment, distrust, subterfuge: which are ideal conditions for short-term decisions that generate political capitol, even, if not especially, to the detriment of long-term planning. All this does is handicap the CP’s toolkit.

As with most things, we earthly beings have a tough time of grasping the bigger picture, and the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are usually personal in nature. Politics, politicians, and elections generally get thrown into this mix, when they eventually roll around, inconveniencing our day-to-day lives.

Since idle brainpower is usually spent entertaining one’s self outside of work, we often make the quick, easy, and emotional decision when it comes to electing a person for office. Politicians are elected based on how likable they are, how catchy their sound bites are, or how opposed to their opponent’s policies they are and various other trivial, non-important factors that excite us and make us like that person. Politicking is an emotional event, not the logical and rational event the Athenians intended it to be.

This personal decision to elect a politician is usually based on how the politician personally benefits the voter, or how emotionally pleasing they are, instead of to the nation, for it is easy to forget there are others who are also in trouble. How quickly do you forget about starving children in Africa after you watch one of those commercials? How much easier do you think it is when you live in a relatively advanced democratic nation where you don’t see those people starving and entertainment only shows you the high life? It’s so very easy to lose focus today.

It’s hard to blame any one person, as we spend most of our adult lives providing for ourselves. It’s second nature and a paradigm in itself. But therein lays the major problem with politics: we should not look for the person who excites our emotional self, but to someone who strains the limit of our rational self, and who requires us to think and come to a logical rational conclusion of his or her own abilities, as their ability to govern will affect our future wellbeing. The media doesn’t help but they just give us what we want; negative, short-term, often irrelevant, and anecdotal news.

Due to this self-serving, short-sighted nature, CPs, even when genuine, end up having a tough time doing their jobs because they do not have the leeway to make the tough decisions that need to be made to move society forward, neither to say the things that need be said, as an ignorant populace can and will remove them from office if the ramifications of their decision affects them negatively; even if it might be beneficial to the nation in the long-term. The majority of voters rarely take the latter into account. Again, it’s emotional instead of rational. It’s always, me and mine, instead of ours and yours, or here and now, instead of there and then. In most nations, most people are for universal healthcare and looking out for each other, but in order to do that, a government and nation must be fiscally responsible and prudent in order to provide that economic foundation which allows them to spend the money to look after everyone. To not allow politicians to fix broken entitlement systems, or raise or lower taxes (whichever is necessary), then they cannot provide proper services and benefits for those few issues where everyone does agree. It’s akin to driving to another city…without gas. Your car will run on fumes for a while, but it will conk out far too short of your destination. Or Wile Coyote running out over a cliff, unawares he’s running on air, looking down, giving us the viewer, a sad face, and falling to his temporary doom. Wile Coyote is the government hoodwinked by the public, and the Road Runner is where society wants him, but won’t allow him to be. This is the story of todays economic; a debt , governance, and austerity cacophony.

This often has the consequence of politicians catering to the lowest common denominator of the varying social groups, doing the minimum necessary, staying away from controversial issues even if they need to be overhauled or addressed, and rarely, if ever, straying outside of this niche for fear of the ramifications. (Farm subsidies, War on Drugs, the Military Budget and so forth. Though occasionally, ideology or flat-out bribery, I.e., lobbying, will inculcate the public-fearing goldfish against any protests such as the bailouts, the republican war on women, and batting on behalf of the rich and un-needy, though notice none of them ever benefit society at large. How rather pathetic.)

But here’s what people seem to forget. Politicians are there to manage the big picture and they are supposed to be smarter than us, and routinely, when they have to make those hard decisions that require short-term pain but will result in long-term gains, we punish them. Effectively saying we demand the best of now and the best of then—which in all but theory, and probably even in theory, is impossible. So the politicians give you exactly what you want, except by giving you the now that you want, they ignore your future, and you still have to live it.

With this conundrum gaining strength as time progresses in every democracy since the Athenians invented it to the present day, the caliber of politician, in time, is reduced as people who talk a lofty game and who pander to the now crowd are voted in, and the future slips ever further away.

Life isn’t that simple. Politicians are but an extension of society, and they reflect the society from which they came—the needs, wants, and the aspirations of that society. It’s a very sobering thought when put into perspective. We are responsible for our politicians, as thieving, conniving, lying, ignorant, and arrogant as a lot of them may be; they are there because we created the right conditions for their prospering.

“That which starts sweet, ends bitter; and that which starts bitter, ends sweet.” ~ Unknown

The Fix:

Politicians should be limited to one term of five years. (Differing term limits may be justifiable based on continuity purposes and requirements, but I’m an idiot and prefer simple answers like five.) This is enough time to settle into a very difficult job; access, analyze, and study the socio-economic picture; implement programs that benefit the nation or eliminate programs that are a detriment; and then get the hell out of office without need of pandering, lobbyists’ money, or playing Mr. Nice Guy with the media and populace. An individual can only run for office once in his or her life, and upon running, their immediate family is precluded from running. Politics should not be about pandering, but doing what needs to be done, they should absolutely have their feet to the fire, but in overdoing such reactiveness as it is done today, they will merely shy away from fixing issues that do need fixing.

Much like jury duty is a requirement of a just republic, so power cannot be consolidated into too few hands; the political process should almost be mandatory, and taught in schools as our children grow up so they can understand its significance and importance, much as we teach them now of jury duty. and if not mandatory, which would be a tough sell, limited as I have just outlined.

A one-term politician can lend itself to abuse and this will be addressed soon with ‘Social Science.

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” ~ Plato (Philosopher)

Revolving Door

The revolving door between big business, or businesses of any kind to be fair, and government has to be stopped, as it creates biases and prejudices that influence the equal rule of law that should be, though often isn’t, the law of the land.

When I worked in Saudi Arabia, my contract had a government-mandated stipulation, a clause that stated that should the company and I part ways, I could not work for any other company inside Saudi Arabia for a minimum of two years. While in the private sector this is a silly rule and should be left individually between each company and employee (and even then it’s harmful, but hey, free-market), in the revolving door between public and private sector, this is extremely necessary and long overdue.

All too often, you see officials from big companies with huge influence in the halls of power, moving into regulatory positions overseeing the industry, which the corporation they just came from resides in. This puts them in a position of power to provide favorable circumstances for their recently departed company. Oftentimes, they will re-join that company after their stint in the government, provided their time in office proved fruitful for said company. Examples here are too numerous to list, though it is especially prevalent in the biotech and military industrial sectors.

This is unacceptable and creates a clear conflict of interest. Another strategy that lobbying firms apply is to offer government employees high-paying jobs once they finish their time in the government. This effectively puts the government employee in the pocket of the firm, as they will rarely do anything to risk a multi-million-dollar job that is waiting for them on the outside.

This practice simply must stop. A two-year gap between any private sector switches to a government position that oversees regulations of the recently departed corporation will help reduce such circumstances. Obviously, there would need to be qualifying conditions for this, and not an outright ban, and it should be handled by the Justice branch, not by another government office.

The Fix:

Both of the following conditions must be met for a two-year gap to be enforced:

From Private Sector to Government

i) The corporation lobbies the government, or has spent money doing so in the past two years
ii) The government position in question will have some part in regulating or overseeing the industry from the corporation the individual recently departed from

It should still be illegal to provide the government official any type of gift to sway him or her, in any capacity, present or future, and the loopholes that allow some gifts should be removed.

Social Science

Politicians by their very nature are disconnected and cut off from the rest of us. They get free travel, free healthcare and many other perks, and invariably, they are lawyers and business majors instead of scientists and technologists. As a result, they never really feel the effects of recessions and other pains that we normally feel, some of those pains because of their policies. This develops in them, a certain laissez-faire attitude to introducing new regulations and laws to fix perceived ills in an economy, the national budget, or the business world instead of just letting the economic dislocation play out and reset. As they say; to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail, even apparently, people.

They always have a need to fix things, even though it may have resulted from their policies to begin with, and by doing more, may only exacerbate the situation further. But they do it anyway for fear of being labeled ‘idle,’ or maybe because they do not understand the notion of ‘cause and effect,’ but I put my money on the former, and that’s usually the fault of the public.

Counter to this, the people they are exposed to tend to be the rich, politically connected folks who lobby for their time. This means that they are really only exposed to new and different ideas by the folks with the means, money, and power to get audiences with them, and who, like us, are self-serving in nature, caring or thinking little of others.

So it is no wonder that most regulations and laws are created at the behest of this politically connected class of people. We tend to act like and become like those who we surround ourselves with, a basic human function that evolved because of social interaction.

A nasty byproduct of this human condition is that a lot of the laws and regulations that are passed are influenced by those who stand to gain from them and who don’t have the greater good at heart. Whether or not they are intended to be destructive to the rest of us, most of the time, is unknown, but a majority of regulations end up doing just that, especially when an industry or country is overloaded with regulations. Eventually, it stifles and suffocates that which it touches. For example, it costs twice as much to install solar power in the US than in Germany, and this price differential is solely government red-tape. Think about how much more solar power would be prevalent if that red tape was reduced, and how much more competitive solar would be against other forms of energy by now?

Politicians have carte blanche to introduce any kind of bill they want, and with political maneuvering it’s possible to get many kinds of bills passed in the ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine next time’ manner that seems to work so well in politics, and coincidentally, in groups of chimpanzees.

This is arcane, scarcely different from kings and queens of old enacting anything that they wanted. It is only more difficult to do so now, but all too possible and getting increasingly easier as more and more funding comes from big business, and politicians become ever more isolated from us, and the people clamor for more government intervention.

The Fix:

In almost all countries, there are dozens of universities that do hundreds of studies each year on all matter of subjects far and wide to educate their students and make the world a better place, not mentioning the scientific institutions that could use more funding and science at the same time, but I’ll continue using only universities to make my point.

For each program that a politician wants to implement, three randomly assigned universities must carry out the relevant social, economical, engineering, and statistical studies on the impact of the program/s in question to the general population, national budget, and attempt to assign a statistical risk to eventual outcomes so that contingency plans can be drawn up.

At least two of the three conclusions should be in agreement for the bill to be presented to Parliament or Congress, and perhaps even a follow-up study to find out why the outlier did not conform. The universities’ bills should be paid with tax money, and this would have the added bonus of creating a sense of accomplishment and achievement in aspiring young adults to learn more about the functions of their countries in an unbiased way, protecting them for decades to come from unsubstantiated political propaganda (as well as perhaps going some way to reduce tuition costs, though this may be wishful thinking).

For example: if a politician wants to implement a program that at face value wants to impose a tariff on a foreign product to support a local industry that creates a similar product and save jobs in that industry, then three different economic teams from three different universities selected at random will study the proposed plan and all possible outcomes. None of these three teams will be aware of the other two teams, so collusion cannot be possible and will be illegal, much as it is for a jury to discuss a trial outside of the courtroom.

The teams, in this case from what little I know of economics, would more than likely come to the conclusion that the imposition of such a tariff would simply drain consumers’ wallets as a cheaper, equally well-made product is taken off the market and an uncompetitive industry is propped up at the expense of people’s savings, essentially taxing some consumers, and keeping the employees of said industry from being let go and put to greater use in a competitive industry that would need their labor to compete for those extra savings that the consumers would have, without the tariff. Death begets life, in nature and in the free market.

“Death is very likely to be the single best invention of life because death is life’s change agent.” ~ Steve Jobs (Businessman)

Yet bills like these pass all the time, as the members of the senate/parliament/house are economically illiterate (well, at least at this late-stage cycle of democracy, the founding fathers knew all too well the dangers of government involvement in an economy, which is why they went to so much trouble to limit the powers of the federal government in such matters—not that it worked; politicians are a crafty bunch).

We don’t all have the time to study economics in university, but we can easily have universities help us, which they would be happy to do (because they’d get more funding: it’s in their best interest too). This applies to all cross-sections of a nation. No one person is an expert on everything, but everyone is an expert on at least one thing. We can recruit the smartest people from the best colleges to give us the best, most relevant, most up-to-date and need-to-know information so that the nation can move forward.

The names of the universities, and the research teams would be kept secret from all until the conclusion of the study, and the outcomes of all three studies should be published to the public domain, warts and all, to remove doubts of bias and allow rational discourse and further peer-review from others.

Lobbying

With the inclusion of the social sciences into politics, lobbying has no place and would probably disappear all by itself. If a donor was to donate millions to a politician in exchange for, let’s say, deregulation in a certain industry, the politician would not be allowed to simply push it onto the floor for voting; a study would have to be done that actually verifies the potential outcome and whether that outcome is positive or negative. All of a sudden, you would find that nefarious bills pushed by the corporate world would all but disappear. Donations should stay legal, capped to a certain number per individual, and since corporations are ‘people,’ they shouldn’t be able to exceed that limit, though of course they do, because some ‘people’ are more equal than other people.
Artificial Intelligence

We are entering the boom-time of artificial technology (AI). Before I begin to discuss the role that AI may take, let us see in reality just how difficult it is to know everything at one time, especially with the gargantuan set of laws that the US government has implemented. The current code-of-laws of the United States of America, clocks in at two-hundred-thousand pages. The US tax code alone clocks in at 3.8 million words (four-times the length of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and sonnets). How could any one politician, or even 435 representatives, or one-hundred senators with all their support staff ever manage to unwind, let alone understand, such complexity?

So while I routinely disparage politicians in this book, by way of their corruption, shortsightedness, and idiocy. It’s really a byproduct of the real cause; an unyielding and unending complexity of words and actions that no human being could ever fully know. It is all but impossible to not take shortcuts through the endless complexity and nuance of language, and in relation to events. This doesn’t forgive politicians, due to the reason for their existence being to overcome as best as possible this shortcoming, but they, like us, are creatures of habit, and being such creatures, always look for the most bang for their buck (shortcuts) on how to do more with less, and this is what sets them astray. Considering we cannot change human nature, we should do what we’ve always done when faced with a human limitation. That is inventing technology that alters the environment in the process alleviating said limitation. A cavemen once co-opted a stick to reach an unreachable branch. Early civilizations invented the wheel to take heavier or more numerous objects further in less time and effort. We invented agriculture which used less energy than hunting and gathering food every day—which led to the creation of cities and civil society. Today, we are creating AI’s that can remember everything and understand the meaning and nuance of language at the speed of light, but most importantly, objectively.

In 1978, CBS, embroiled in a case with the Justice Department, had to examine six-million documents at a cost of $2.2 million (almost all for the cost for lawyers and paralegals). In January of 2011, Blackstone Discovery, helped analyze 1.5 million documents for $100,000 in a fraction of the time. The latter was done with software parsing through the documents and extracting relevant keywords inserted by a much smaller team of lawyers, perhaps only a handful, in a process known as E-discovery. In 2011, an AI, Watson, beat the best two human players in the world on the game-show Jeopardy, a game based on the nuance of human language, using as his brain, wikipedia and a few encyclopedias. He wasn’t taught what any of the information meant and had to figure it out on his own, which he did by assigning probabilities to outcomes based on his inputs—which is what we do by the way though we are not aware of it. The AI techniques are capable of both linguistic (keyword and phrase analysis) and sociological (deductive) reasoning. Another company, Clearwell, has developed software to search for concepts rather than keywords, so searching for ‘dog’ will also yield results such as ‘man’s best friend’ and ‘walk’. It’s estimated that one lawyer with these powerful softwares can do the work of five-hundred lawyers from decades prior. (Not to mention that the work of hundreds of lawyers barely result in an above-average accuracy of just sixty-percent. All that money for slightly better than a coin toss in the words of Mike Lynch, founder of Autonomy.) Together, with these powers combined, Captain Planet is born! Actually, the field is called ‘legal informatics.

Clearly, the same problems that impacts the world of law, impacts even more so the world of government, where even more considerations have to be taken into account: foreign policy, citizen responses and other nations (what actions they took as a result of this and that), and so forth. I imagine E-discovery, coupled with general AI, like that of Watson, will be used in the political sphere in the coming years (perhaps decade or two). This is not too say that an AI will make decisions, but will provide objective analysis and statistical possibilities infinitely better than even an army of experts could do. And the politician, who, now able to see the myriad possibilities a law, regulation, or action may take, or how similar laws effected change in the past, will be better informed to make the right choice.

Think of the significance of this. All too often, our economic forecasts take into account only first and second order events, which are highly visible and which favor shortsighted policies so that politicians can point to it as proof of their success. But third, fourth, and fifth order effects such as reduced quality-of-living, rising prices, under or unemployment, and dozens of other factors wallow in the background along with all the noise of society, and which usually outweigh the first and second orders, are ignored, though work tirelessly to demoralize and upend society on longer timescales. Let’s use an economic example, namely, the deterioration of per-capita wealth: In 1791 (using the price of gold as a barometer as it’s less susceptible to inflation), per-capita GDP was 2.6 oz. per person per year (PPPY). It doubled by 1811, reached 12 oz. by 1892, climbing to 23.6 in 1916, sailed past 41.1 in 1929, and hit a peak of 139.5 oz. in 1970. Then a disastrous economy policy of fantasy started with Nixon who uncoupled the dollar from gold, then hitting its doltish stride with Reagonomics, culminating in the simple-minded policies of Dubya (George W. Bush), America is now at 28.4 oz. PPPY.

Watson trained as an economist, having total recall, with the deductive powers of a Milton Friedman on steroids (and since it is an Information Technology, doubling in capability every year), and trillions upon trillions of bytes of data points could immediately inform the politician of all the destructive benefits of any such law (or in this case, economic fantasy dressed up as nonsense), perhaps offering up alternatives backed up by empirical research, instead of wishful thinking.

We already use AI’s in airports, planes, finance, fraud detection, security, warfare, and many other areas in which a human being could not adequately manage the multitudes of information and these areas have boomed as a result. I see the same happening for politics, though just as in warfare, the trigger man will always be human. But unlike in warfare, everything a politician does is a matter of record. As more and more of the world is going digital—a trend otherwise known as Big Data—we will gain unprecedented insight into the human condition, and gain the ability to track causes and their effects, backwards with ever-increasing accuracy, and forwards with statistical probabilities. Think of a politician who is warned by their Watson that passing a certain legislation will increase the likelihood of a recession, that will put millions out of work, but ignores his artificial assistants warning and proceeds with his gut instinct. Then the forecasted outcome does indeed happen, and now Mr. Goldfish is on the record for the world to see, and for his citizens to demand his resignation off (or to turn the election to his opponents favor). What will happen on that day? That will be an interesting day…
In conclusion, I’m sure that even if all these were adopted, there would still be some way to game the system. There always is. That’s why after two-thousand years of democracy, it always ends in failure and dictatorship. However, the above conditions are intended to make it more difficult to engage in the necessary connections, power plays, and the scheming that negatively affects a country over all.

Democracy is still the best governmental model we’ve come up with so far, but that is much like saying that riding a three-legged horse is preferable to riding a two-legged horse. Either way, you’re falling over. If we were falling forward, that would be fine, but we’re not, and a recently released study by Cornell University psychologist David Dunning in 2012 has shown just that, that we are too dumb for democracy; namely, because we are inherently inept at assessing other people’s competence and expertise. This results in most political leaders, in terms of competence and intelligence, registering barely above-average from a cross-section of the public. The one redeeming factor of democracy is that it usually limits less-than-average candidates from being elected, though occasionally they slip through the cracks.

In the internet and information age, the role of politics in a society must evolve, there is no way around that. With our global problems today being unmet by our politicians: climate-change, pollution of the air, water, and land, and resource management, the political system has to evolve, and Big Data in an increasingly digital world is making all the difference, illuminating once dark corners of the governmental (though it may be more prudent to label it the human) sphere. We do not live in a static society, but a dynamic knowledge-building society, and our government must reflect this.

Are We Responsible?

are we responsible?

This is sub-chapter #9, of Chapter #3, Politics, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


ARE WE RESPONSIBLE?

Now that the ‘facts nonsense’ is over with, I can start with the rhetoric, where any opinion can be made to sound right. But before we begin, I’d like to apologize in advance for the overabundance of negativity in the next 8 sub-chapters. I am only calling it as I see it, but it might be difficult to slog through. If you can make it through the seven hells, plus the free bonus hell, then you will be rewarded with an overabundance of positivity in the last 4 sub-chapters, as I’m saving the best for last. With that out-of-the-way, let’s talk about responsibility, personal as well as social responsibility in the context of the question, are we responsible enough to govern ourselves?

Let’s begin with social responsibility. The majority of us are part of the collective called society. We enter into a social contract with our fellow citizens and our government to give up some of our liberties in exchange for certain conveniences—usually by accident of birth.

For example, we allow the government to tax us in exchange for them to build infrastructure. We expect them to pass laws, regulations and statutes that protect us from those who would do us harm, to enforce the rule of law, and to look out for our best interests on the international stage. So while we lose some freedoms, we gain greater freedoms in the form of convenience; that’s the theory anyway, and generally how governments function at a democracies inception, when everybody is an idealist.

Onto responsibility: there was a study some time ago titled, The Bystander Effect. It aimed to clarify what, if any, difference occurred in the response time of normal people giving aid to complete strangers who were in the process of getting, or were hurt, depending on how many other bystanders were present. The final result was quite interesting: the more people watching, and as long as they could see each other watching, the less likely help would be rendered in any form.

What? Common sense should dictate that help be rendered faster, but as usual, the truth flies in the face of common sense. The theory was that because everybody could see everyone else also watching, subsequently assumed that somebody else would dial the police, ambulance, or render aid. Another study take a different approach to the same problem. They put a lone person in a room, and started pumping smoke into the room. Seventy-percent percent of people reported the smoke within seconds. When other subjects  (actors told to ignore the smoke) were present, the number of people reporting the smoke declined significantly, to ten-percent in one scenario.

So what does this have to do with society?

Think, by and large, of Western governments that a lot of us are in this contract with. By now, most of us know that something is wrong. Spending is too high, government meddling in the economy is distorting the marketplace causing the misallocation of capital, we are being endlessly manipulated, and corporations employ armies of lobbyists so democracy is swayed their way, at times, regardless of the social cost.

At times, greater liberties than are required to be removed are being removed, seemingly with no immediate benefit to us, along with an anthology of other seemingly small inconveniences that, when added up, paint a confusing, perhaps disturbing picture.

No one, however, does much of anything to protest it, if they even know at all. We all assume that someone else will do it, and yes, there are those who stick it to the man, but they are few and far between.

The world sits atop a precipice, most importantly, a financial one. (I will goto in more in the chapter Debt Crisis 101.) The Western world is in so much debt that any day now we could plunge into another depression. And if that was our only problem we might be so lucky:

  • Online privacy is a thing of the past. Governments and corporations are increasingly intruding into our private lives, both offline and online.
  • Inflation is accelerating around the world. That is, your purchasing power is being slowly eroded, and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which tracks inflation often tracks novel and unimportant price increases to underestimate inflation
  • Too Big To Fail’ banks are getting trillions—not a typo, trillions—of free dollars because, apparently, socialism is now ‘in’ for friends of the government
  • The mainstream media seems to be getting more biased by the day, sometimes outright trying to misinform us. Accidentally or not, who knows. (Cough fox news cough.)
  • US politicians are domestically passing draconian laws that other countries might, and usually do, emulate such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

The Bystander Effect is also known by another phrase, the diffusion of responsibility. So it’s quite obvious that when it comes to social responsibility, we’ve dropped the ball there, and in most cases, we demand that governments continue on the path to fiscal disaster, which I’ll explore soon.

Onwards and forwards to personal responsibility. We like to think of ourselves as responsible, more so as we age, yet are we really? Using the populations of Greece, Italy and Spain as examples, are they really acting responsibly by protesting the governments’ austerity measures in 2012 that are removing unsustainable programs that can’t be paid for?

‎”It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; It is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.” ~ Robert H. Jackson (US Supreme Court Justice)

These programs will only make their own eventual situation worse by accelerating their countries’ economic downfall. Sounds silly protesting to keep entitlements that are damaging to your economy, and by extension, your future personal well-being, does it not? We are predisposed to future short-term thinking, and it seems our educational systems are not preparing us to see past this default mode.

Of course, those protesting don’t know this, but it is part of their responsibility, their social contract, to be informed on what does and does not work economically. It’s not good enough to demand something just because it benefits you. Ignorance will eventually hurt you, your fellow citizens, and in a globalized world, the entire region or planet.

It is often said, “Ignorance is bliss,” though it should be said, “Ignorance is temporary bliss.” Those who live this way are leaving their future well-being to chance, or to other less-than-savory characters—in many cases, the politician.

All three of the just-mentioned countries are in so much debt, they run the risk of outright default. In the case of Greece, they can’t even sell debt on the private bond market, relying solely on bailouts from the IMF and ECB. So why are they, and many others, drowning in debt?

One of the reasons is that the majority vote for politicians who bring the most benefits to them, without asking simple questions such as, “Where is the money going to come from to pay for this program?” Or anything remotely resembling a sensible question. And the recently elected politician can’t just raise taxes as soon as they’re elected to pay for their promises, so what is a politically expedient way of getting the necessary money to keep these promises without attracting the ire of voters? Thanks to Keynesianism, the answer is simple: borrow it. Problem solved! Of course, it’s only solved on a short-term basis, and we will be finding out just how shortsighted it really was in the coming years globally, though locally it is being felt in certain areas, as it is in Spain, where the youth have fifty-three percent unemployment, regardless of educational attainment.

There’s yet another reason government debts have spiraled upwards around the world. It’s not just limited to those three countries mentioned above, they are merely the top 3 examples! It is because previous government programs rarely, if ever, get cut as there are people who rely on those programs who won’t or can’t, give them up, and this affects a politician’s chance of re-election, no matter how small a minority it benefits. Just look at corn subsidies in the USA, corn farmers make up less than two-percent of the voting block, yet they receive billions in subsidies that simply isn’t economically necessary (and actually is economically destructive), while also contributing destructively to the entire planet, essentially raising the cost of corn, tying it to the price of fuel (converting it into biofuels with only a trivial 50% energy gain, compared to oil at 500%, i.e., one barrel of oil gets us 1.5 barrels of corn bio-fuel, while one barrel of oil gets us five barrels of oil out of the ground). This negatively affects food prices around the world, thereby increasing world hunger. But they still get their billions of dollars of subsidies without a care in the world, and no politician can touch that subsidy. Democracy was at first, the tyranny of the majority, though it has seemingly evolved into the tyranny of the minority, thanks to the art of lobbying. I need not even discuss the stranglehold of Wall St. Human intuition and shortsighted thinking is becoming so overwhelmed, that in a data-abundant world, it should no longer be used as the basis for democratic decision-making, an important part of it yes, but not the basis or foundation, as we are inherently bias and shortsighted (more on this in Fixing Politics and Chapter 5: Technology).

Thus, the upward thrust of government programs and the bureaucracies that goes with them, which history has shown happens time and time again, happens yet again in the modern-day where apparently we know better. This leads to ineffectual decision-making and government. Politicians are so concerned with keeping their jobs that they don’t do their jobs to the full potential and benefit of the nation. And people are so concerned with their own benefits or entitlements, or self-absorbed ideas that their socioeconomic system is the right one that they won’t allow politicians to do their jobs to their full potential either, even when a change of direction is required, or demanded to avert disaster! Responsibility? More like populist ignorance, with a serving of political cowardice, and a sprinkling of stupidity on both sides. (By stupidity, I mean the inability to recognize the long-term effects of actions.)

“How fortunate that men do not think.” ~Adolf Hitler (Sociopath)

This lack of personal responsibility lies solely at the feet of the populace. Yes, politicians have run up the debt making things unsustainable. They have spent and spend too much, borrow and borrowed too much, and printed and print too much new money—and we are right to blame them for their part in these problems.

But we blame them for the whole problem when we are part of the problem; we, or at least the majority, voted them in based on what they would provide to us. We are to blame for not asking basic questions on how they will fund these generous entitlement programs, and are at fault for not understanding basic economics. We are to blame for leaving to others the responsibility of keeping their actions in check because we were too busy watching American, British, or French Idol. Being social mammals evidently has its drawbacks. Consider the Asch Conformity experiments conducted in the 1950s, and repeated many times since. Seven-to-nine participants (all but one being actors designed to fool the one real participant), when accessing two pictures on a card; the picture on the left is of a straight line, compared to the picture on the right with three straight lines, one of which matches the length of the left line. Cycling through variations of the cards, the actors were on some occasions told to purposefully give the incorrect answer as to which line from the right-side matches the line on the left. The lonely real participants answer, who was made to judge last, was recorded. In one-third of cases, the real participant overrode his gut intuition (the answer was exceedingly simple) and conformed to the crowd. This experiment was repeated over many years, many universities, and hundreds of people. It also found that the more ambiguous a situation, that is, the more uncertain (as we find in public knowledge of politics, economics etc), the greater the conformity effect. Now all those political pundit TV shows begin to make sense on Fox News and others.

We are the instigating factor in the crux of this huge worldwide issue that will come to bear down on us in the ensuing years. There is currently fifty-trillion dollars in debt worldwide, with a global economy of seventy-trillion dollars. (By the way, this is just government debt, and doesn’t include institutional or household debt.) When you take account just the ten largest mature economies, debt-to-GDP is 350%. I’m not playing tricks on you…cumulatively speaking, for the ten most mature economies (Australia, US, UK, Japan, Germany et al), their debt burden is over three  and a half times larger than the size of their economies, and this spread is growing. (This figures does not take into account the derivatives and Wall St investments which notionally total $668 trillion, though they only carry a market value of $15 trillion.) Think about that for a heartbeat, for every dollar in a Westerner’s hand, there is three-dollars-fifty of debt. In a near future coming to you, many won’t get paid their $2. Will it be you? (The specifics of how there is more debt than money will be explained in the chapter, Infinite Growth.)

The USA, the cornerstone of the world economy, now has, at the time of writing, $16.5 trillion in debt compared to a GDP of $15.81 trillion, and that’s just government debt; it doesn’t include household debt, which raises that ratio many times higher. This doesn’t even begin to even image the entire problem. The unfunded liabilities of the US government: Social Security, Medicare, and federal employees future retirement benefits are on the order of $86.8 trillion, as calculated by Chris Cox and Bill Archer, who both served on President Clinton’s Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform (drawn up in 1994), which of course was never acted on. (An unfunded liability is the amount by which the liabilities of the plan, in this case benefits, exceeds the plans assets at a given date. The reason why it has grown into such a huge problem, is the federal government does not do the same accounting as is legally required of public and non-profit firms.)

“If the economy isn’t growing, it’s not because the government isn’t spending enough to “stimulate” it. Government spending comes from: taxation, which is a burden on the economy; borrowing, which is a future burden on the economy; or printing money – inflation – which is an especially dishonest, hidden form of taxation makes people think they’re richer while they’re being impoverished. No. If the economy isn’t growing, it’s because the government has burdened it with heavy taxation, smothered it with excessive regulation, distorted it with false information (the Fed’s manipulation of interest rates), and replaced real money—gold—with paper.” ~ Doug Casey (Investor)

So, what is the solution to this debt problem? There are no solutions, that I know of, except for a reset, which will happen all on its own as it stands, and anyone saying bailout knows not of what they speak. Creating more monetary debt to solve a debt problem is akin to giving heroin to a heroin addict and expecting it to solve his addiction problem; despite what politicians (pushers) will tell you. It’s only meant to buy them more time, not you. To show to you that is indeed the case: consider the fiscal cliff fiasco, where in 2011, the US budget passed by congress, factored in automatic budget cuts and tax increases (or expiration of tax decreases rather) to take effect by the end of 2012. This was done to ensure they had time to work out which cuts really to be made, with across the board cuts taking effect if no political compromise was forthcoming. At the time of writing this paragraph (Jan 2, 2013), they’d just passed an extension again for two more months while compromising on the tax increases. By the way, that compromise is projected to increase the national debt by four-trillion dollars over the next decade. (Doing nothing would have kept—theoretically at least—the debt-to-GDP ratio constant, but they managed to screw that up too! As journalist John Cassidy on the New Yorker, in an article concluding the deal wrote, “Congress is only buying time—and precious little of it.

So what are some solutions for these political problems that are so endemic? I will get to them in a later chapter, after asking a simple yet elusive question in the next chapter.

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.” ~ Unknown (Unknown unknown)


Note: the book is fully sourced, but because of the writing program I use, the links don’t transfer over to WordPress. At the conclusion of the twenty chapters, I may throw up a post with all hundred-fifty+ sources, but the final book will have all the relevant sources in the proper locations.

Free Will’s Freedom

Do we have free will?

This is sub-chapter #4, of Chapter 1, Science, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World. Sub-chapters #1, #2, and #3 can be found here, here, and here.

Brief Synopsis:

The book takes twenty seemingly random subjects, attempting however poorly, to thread them together. In the process, attempting to make sense of the world we live in today. It is a very macroscopic worldview as the whole book fits into two-hundred pages, but it aims to tickle the intellects of people just enough so they may go on to study more in-depth any of the subjects of their liking. The narrative really tries to abolish isolatory thinking, i.e., we so often talk, discuss, and debate topics in isolation and assume that the same points prevail in the real world where nothing exists in isolation: such as the relationship between science and religion/society, fission with politics and economics, technology against government, and how they subtly, sometimes drastically, affect each other.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


FREE WILL’S FREEDOM

Free will is a hard topic to approach, as it feels so real to us all. But like all things that do, you must approach it from an objective point of view—not an easy task, in this case.

The concept of free will is that you are the conscious driver of your actions—something that neuroscience is putting serious doubt on.

Elephant…

Now you’re thinking about an elephant. Surprise! Now think about that for one moment. An external stimulus, my singular word, has invoked a chain reaction of synaptic firings and re-wirings in your mind, that then created, or re-conjured from memory, the thought of an elephant, which magically appeared in your brain and without any effort of your conscious mind.

But the underlying mechanisms that created this orchestrated symphony are not, never have been, nor ever will be in your conscious control. They are determined automatically in the background by the mixing of your genes, external environmental stimuli, and the processing capability of your brain (brought into being by genes), which 24/7/365 invoke chemical reactions, electrical currents, and synaptic change in your subconscious and deliver to your conscious brain fully formed thoughts.

No man is an island 

Entire of itself

~ John Donne (Poet)

We are all born essentially tabula rasa, with—seemingly—only four things hardwired into each and every human being: drinking, eating, sex, and being social. Everything else is optional. We have to drink and eat to survive. We feel the urge to have sex, to procreate, as we lack the ability to turn our sex-crazed genes off—as I’m sure most men would agree. And we have the need to keep the company of other people. These are the basic necessities shared by all humans.

Moving into the subconscious: our subconscious minds are essentially tape recorders—does anybody remember these?—recording our every action, inputs, and outputs with the intention of spitting out a desired action absent slow conscious thought when required. This is why practice makes perfect. The consistent act of practicing a skill, be it physical or mental, serves to hardwire the synapses involved in your subconscious so that it can be called on command free of slow, deliberating thoughts.

It’s not like we ever have to think about walking or running, which are actually incredibly complex tasks. We simply think of the destination and our legs take us there. Just going through the motions while we daydream, converse, or take in our surroundings.

Freedom of will is the ability to do gladly that which I must do.” ~Carl Jung (Psychologist)

This is an evolutionary mechanism going back far before our lineage. Conscious thought requires energy, and our brains account for twenty-percent of our total energy usage despite only taking up two-percent of our body volume. On the African Serengeti where we evolved, energy was scarce. If we had to consciously think of every action we ever took, we’d have never made it off the African plains all those hundreds of thousands of years ago, and would’ve simply faded into the ether due to this paralysis of thought. Not to mention that something like consciousness does not simply appear overnight, but rolls in gradually over thousands or millions of years, accumulating the genetic baggage of millions of ancestors.

Your conscious mind is merely the tip of an iceberg, blissfully unaware of the multitudes of processes that take place in its subterranean abyss, creating an illusion of free will for you that gives you the perception of control you need to survive, nothing more.

You don’t need to think to beat your heart, nor to force your liver to function, or to tell that same liver to use the donut you just ate as muscle glycogen instead of storing it as fat. Nor do you control your white or red cell count, nor the pleasure center of your brain that addicts you to carbs, coffee, alcohol, and drugs. We don’t control when we get angry, nor at who, whom we fall in love with, or our irrational like or dislike of newly met—or not-yet met—people. We do none of these things, yet presume freedom?

Is a suffering addict exercising his free will of trying to quit when he relapses due to the overpowering impulse every cell in his body is sending him? He is merely the recipient of pain and overwhelming sensory information that is weakening the finite amount of will he has left—and will (i.e. the will to do things), believe it or not, is a finite resource. When he broke down, it’s not that he wanted to break down; he couldn’t help but break down. This happens to everyone at one point or another. In point-of-fact, salesman and supermarkets use similar tactics explicitly to exhaust your will so that you break down and buy more stuff, higher priced stuff, or higher-margin stuff in the supermarket. Ever wonder why milk, the most popular food-staple, is always in the back corner of every supermarket? Hint: so you have to walk past aisles of sensory-assaulting, not too mention, higher-margin goods.

Think about your current thoughts, whatever they may be. How did they get there? Did you think them up, carefully constructing them neuron by neuron so that you can make a decision or compare it to another thought that you constructed, or did they merely pop into existence? Because if it were the former, then you would have thought of them before you thought of them, as Sam Harris, author of Free Will, writes. They just popped into your conscious mind and you suddenly became aware of it. And it happens so regularly that we never think about it. A paradigm, by any definition of the word, and we all live in our own little paradigmatic universes.

From the day you were born to today, the thought processes in your head and subconscious were and are merely acting in response to external (environmental) and internal (genetic) causes, themselves recipients of bygone causes in minutes/days/weeks/years past. These provoke sets of electrical-chemical reactions that trigger dormant thought/s that interact with other thoughts in line with your bio-chemical makeup, which then coalesce into a grand mosaic of whatever it is you were thinking about at any given moment. We have no control over any of this.

In a 2008 experiment at Stanford University, a group of students had to decide whether to push a button with either their left or right hand upon seeing random letters popping up on a screen.

With complete certainty, scientists could say when the final decision toward action with which hand had been made and it was always before the student was consciously aware of the choice being made, in some cases by seconds. In seventy-percent of the cases, they knew which hand the student would use to push the button before the student was even aware they’d made a choice. That’s seven out of ten times that the scientists could say which hand a particular student would use before the student made the choice, or rather, before the students realized they made the choice, as it was already made and given to them—wrapped and presented in the illusion they consciously made it themselves.

It remains to be seen if this experiment can be replicated in everyday life as opposed to a binary simulation, but those results are so very convincing. The characters hadn’t even appeared on the screen when the subconscious decision for which hand to use was made. So when it appeared on the screen, the student felt like he or she was exercising free will to choose, but alas.

It’s a remarkable aspect of our brains that the multitudes of information, both external and internal, constantly bombarding our senses every second of every minute of every day can make us feel as if we are the conscious driver, and that we have some semblance of control. A beautiful illusion, and fortunately so, for we would all be literally insane were it not the case.

There is the defense that even though we do not control the full thought process of our brains that we can still deliberate, make choices, and determine actions from the thoughts that are presented to us. And that is true. Is this a small slice of free will? Perhaps. But then, considering that this is a tiny sliver of the cognitive processes that continuously occur in our minds, we’d need to redefine the definition of free will. Then again, locking someone in a distraction-free room to make a decision free of external influence does not negate the lifetime of causes that created the internal processes that shaped that person’s brain and behavior with which they will use to decide. So can it still be considered free? I say it doesn’t…but what do I know?

It’s remarkable that it escapes us all on an everyday basis. I am sure that when I have finished writing this chapter, I will go back to my delusion of being totally free, as I have so often in the writing and editing of this chapter. This is the power of, well, my brain at least.

Why did I write this book? I think I have some idea, but I’m pretty sure that idea is oversimplified and not indicative of the real reasons, but this is what I think it is. One day, my brother wrote a book; I felt strangely jealous and seeing how easy it was to self-publish. I had a thought to base a book on some of my blog posts, modified into book form, with additional content to turn it into a real book instead of a collection of boring posts.

That’s the extent of the causes that I am aware of, yet I can say with near certainty that it is much deeper than that. Why was I jealous of my brother’s brilliant book The Favor Men? Biased though I may be on the subject, I can’t say why; I just was. I was proud of him, I was happy for him, but I felt incomplete in a way, under-accomplished and outdone. Call it what you will. Without his book, I probably would not have written this book. That a-ha moment was planted in my brain by my brother, not by me; it interacted with a mosaic of other causes that produced effects that became causes in my brain, and this effect (book) was born.

I am the conscious driver in writing the book, influenced as my agency may be, but the inception of the idea was external to my brain. Had that external cause not happened, I may not have written this book, and you may not have bought it. Are you free to choose that which does not occur to you?

Why did I write this chapter? Well, in the process of writing this book, I read Sam Harris’s excellent book on the subject, Free Will, and while I was already of the persuasion that either we had no free will or it is extremely limited. I had blissfully forgotten that for many years until I stumbled upon Sam’s book. Imagine that! My brain did not remember that I knew that I didn’t have free will—awfully convenient.

We all know on some deep level that the Universe is run and ever affected by cause and effect. Every person knows that a door handle must be turned to open, a button pushed for it to function, and putting one foot in front of the other carries you forward. Yet we presume our physical brains, which function according to known physical processes (namely, electromagnetic and chemical), rises above this four-dimensional space-time, and are therefore not governed by it, rendering us essentially as gods.

Even if consciousness is more than the sum-of-its-parts, as I believe it is, does not necessarily make it free. For it is always at the mercy of the individual parts, as then seven-year old—now eight—Enna Stephens found out, when after having a tumor removed from her brain, could not stop giggling at everything, whether or not it was funny—everything became automatically funny and she could not help but to laugh. The manner in which the separate parts of the brain interact, both internally, and externally, from which the phenomenon of consciousness arises, does not allow causal escape.

Such examples of this causation—and/or correlation—include the presence of blue light decreasing suicides to zero at Japanese train stations. Does a blue light consciously make that Japanese citizen think that today is not the day to jump in front of a train? No…well, I hope not.

In some depressing statistics: some seventy percent of juveniles in reform institutions, seventy-two percent of adolescent murderers, sixty percent of rapists grew up fatherless, and teenagers from single-parent homes are 1.7 times more likely to drop out of high school.

Does a child abandoned by his father decide to consciously become a murderer or a rapist out of spite six to seven times out of ten? Hardly, it seems more likely that he or she loses the influence and guidance needed to make different choices that might have kept them in school and out of crime, of which they would have been simply been riding a different wave of causation.

In any case, it is not a one-to-one correlation of any of the above statistics that makes it seem so cut and dry, and there are always exceptions to the rule. They are merely examples and correlations. The variables, be they mental, physical, or external, number in the trillions, if not trillions of trillions, and there are any number of combinations that they could take. On this subject, so my intent is not taken out of context, children who grow up in gay households end up no statistically different from children who grew up in heterosexual households. It seems to be the absence of a father figure.

The fact of the matter is our brains lie to us. A simple fact of life if you are a human being (and I’m sure for any other creature with a brain). Here are but a handful of ways your brain tricks you:

  • Cryptomnesia

The inability of the brain to remember where an idea came from, so it pretends it’s your idea; quite possibly done several times in the making of this book.

  • Blind Spot

Everyone has a blind spot in each eye that the brain fills in, either with information from the other eye, micro-saccades, or with a best guess from the blind spot’s surroundings. Micro-saccades are the back and forth darting of your eyes accessing your surroundings (it does this several times a second, yet you never realize that either)

  • Social Conformity

Your brain reprocesses your memories to match present social pressures. In other words, it changes your memories to better fit in with your peers today, and neglects to let you know it has done so.

  • Confirmation Bias

A tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses:

“Confirmation bias is often described as a result of automatic processing. Individuals do not use deceptive strategies to fake data, but forms of information processing that take place more or less unintentionally.” ~ Robert MacCoun (Psychologist)

  • Motor Sensory Recalibration

Artificial delays were injected into a cause-and-effect study where a person had to push a button and observe a flash on a screen. The brain adjusted for the slight delay between the actions, making them appear simultaneous. Once the delay was removed, the subjects believed that the flash came before the button push. They’d time-travelled inside their own heads. The external event was perceived to have occurred before the physical action!

  • Memory Reconsolidation

The act of calling up, or re-accessing a memory changes it. Of course, your brain doesn’t tell you this. This is because your brain doesn’t record all the details of an event, merely a loose collection of thoughts and images that are re-stitched together when needed, thereby altering its loose initial configuration in light of present information—similar to social conformity.

  • Event Erasing

The act of walking through an open door can, in some cases, erase the cause of why you walked through that door, i.e., you want a glass of milk from the kitchen, and as soon as you walk through the kitchen door, you forget why you’re there. Your brain has decided for you that the separation of the two rooms nullifies any connection between them.

“I have by every thought and act of mine, demonstrated, and does so daily, to my absolute satisfaction that I am an automaton endowed with power of movement, which merely responds to external stimuli.” ~ Nikola Tesla (Inventor)

Our brains lie to us every moment of every day, and the world we see is pre-filtered, censored, watered down—and for good reason. If it didn’t do these things, we’d be crazy.

As Sam Harris writes in his own book on the subject, a book I highly recommend since he’s not an idiot like me (and he’s actually a neuroscientist), is that the first response to the above, at least at the dinner table, is that if I don’t have free will, why don’t I just lay down all day and do nothing? Well, go ahead and try, and see how long you last—keep in mind, all you’re doing is reacting (effect) to the person, or this book, telling you that you have no free will (cause)…

On the subject of crime, as it is often the second thing brought up at the dinner table, neuroscientists from Harris to David Eagleman, make the rather obvious point that it would not be something that would be tolerated if we all became aware of this illusion, and I am, for what little it matters, in agreement here.

Prisons would still exist, and criminals would be put there who pose a harm to others, but instead of using jail as a one-size-fits all approach for crime, rehabilitation would play a far more prominent role than the small role it plays today. Half of the US prison population are mentally ill (1.25 million people), compared to only forty-thousand patients in mental hospitals.

If we took account of this, our prisons might begin to look more like those of Norway, where they actually attempt rehabilitation of their prisoners instead of punishing them. Prisoners sent there have among the lowest re-offending rates (known as recidivism) in the world, at just twenty percent, as opposed to the rest of Europe at seventy percent, Australia at sixty-four percent, and sixty-seven percent in the USA. You can choose to punish people for their crimes or rehabilitate them, but to do both, seems to be asking too much of human nature. The former results in more crime…the latter in less.

“We still have to take people who break the law off the streets to have a good society, so this doesn’t forgive anybody. But what it means is we have a forward-looking legal system that just worries about the probability of recidivism, or in other words, what is the probability that this person’s behavior will transfer to other future situations? That makes a forward-looking legal system instead of a backward-looking one like we have now, which is just a matter of blame and saying, “How blameworthy are you and we’re going to punish you for that.” ~ David Eagleman (Neuroscientist)

It would seem that free will is illusory and for us mere mortals, it always was and is a cascading waterfall of causes and effects stretching back to conception that changes our mental and bio-chemical make-up, in turn affecting our physical and mental actions. And from all this, our brains simulate order out of chaos, giving us biological machines, a sanity that seems devoid in most other creatures that roam this little blue planet, providing us with the incredible gift of clarity. Look at that, the illusion of free will is a gift, and one that allows us to think and reason; well, that last part is my opinion, so you probably shouldn’t take it to heart.

This is not to say that we don’t experience and feel joy and anger, because we do all these things and more. We do have that sliver of choice, heavily influenced as it may be; it’s just not free. A choice, if already chosen by our subconscious (as shown in the Stanford experiment), is automatically accepted by us as if we did choose it! So saying that you have no free will, does not make you a robot, though on paper it seems too. These influences of ours are unique to each and every person, and give us the individuality that is inherent in all humans. I believe this is what makes us human and separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

“Men are deceived if they think themselves free.” ~ Benedict Spinoza (Philosopher)


Note: the book is fully sourced, but because of the writing program I use, the links don’t transfer over to WordPress. At the conclusion of the twenty chapters, I may throw up a post with all hundred-fifty+ sources, but the final book will have all the relevant sources in the proper locations.

The Link Between Cultural Maturity and Religious Blasphemy

In light of the recently proposed anti-blasphemy laws in the UN (which I think is bullshit), and the (misrepresented) furor of the Middle East in regards to that stupid film, Innocence of Muslims,  I recently watched a debate on Freedoms of Speech with the late Christopher Hitchens and Shashi Tharoor. Their respective points summarized go something like this:

Shashi Tharoor – Against an anti-blasphemy law, thinks that statements should be said in retrospect to the opposing party, being unable to effectively envision their reaction, not that that condones the sporadic violent outbursts. As such, a censor of public opinion is unavoidable.

Christopher Hitchens – Speak your mind, first and foremost, always. Censorship is all or nothing. Exceptions here or there only serve to convolute and are divisive in nature, nor could any person, one or many, objectively do such a job of fair censorship even if it was to be required. Censorship of public opinion should always be ignored

Continue reading “The Link Between Cultural Maturity and Religious Blasphemy”

You Know What, Shut the F#$K Up & Keep Your Opinion to Yourself

Shut Up

I have watched a disturbing trend unfold in the west. I’m sure most of you have noticed too, it is the shouting from the rooftops of opinions that have no goddamn place anywhere except for in your own stupid head, mine included.

Few things deserve to be talked about, but instead of talking about those issues, we end up talking about homosexuals, gay rights, religious tolerance, freedom, so on and so forth and etc etc etc. Why are these things a national issue? Why do people care what other people do with their own lives?

I know the irony in me stating my opinion on it, but the purpose of this blog is to talk about issues in a rational and logical way. I do this for a very simple reason; others take it upon themselves to tell others how to live by intruding into the public sphere and dissecting it ad infinitum, actually distracting from real matters of importance that result in a degradation of the society’s health, and I, as well as many others, dissect these issues, so there is a logical, rational, REAL rebuttal that people can have access too. Our opinionating, and factoid making are only necessary when dumb, ignorant people try to force their wrong opinions on everyone.

This blog, though this post in particular, are concerned with providing the right answer, a rebuttal, and be the voice of reason to a lot of the stupid things we bicker over, and while some are worthy of bickering, most aren’t. So here is a simple and obvious thought, if what is about to come out of your mouth to either, another person or a group of people, and targets something they do, or don’t do, but doesn’t affect your life, or other innocent people, aside from the bruising of your ego, then shut the f#$k up and keep it to yourself.

People that do that, are hurting people, both mentally and physically. Instead of talking about child poverty, we talk about contraception. Instead of talking about the military industrial complex, we talk about patriotism and other examples to many to list. So do yourself a favour, and shut the f#$k up.

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan