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Jon Lawhead

Jon Lawhead 

"I'm not an expert on anything, but I can improvise."

Occupation: "I'm not an expert on anything, but I can improvise." (University of Southern California)

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Followers: 8,915

Following: 950

Views: 2,449,756

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Jon Lawhead has been at 7 events

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Daniel Estrada30,624@103315650425474752023 and I will be debating the controversial FLI petition to ban autonomous weapons. I've signed and will be defending the ban; Jon is skeptical and will be defending the side of evil. We haven't talked about this yet and thought it would be fun to think it through together on the air. Everyone is welcome to hop on the stream and join in. More on the petition here:  http://futureoflife.org/AI/open_letter_autonomous_weapons#signatories http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/30/opposition-autonomous-warfare-artificial-intelliegence https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DanielEstrada/posts/92w6cf3TU6iAutonomous Weapons: The Debate2015-08-06 03:00:009  
Daniel Estrada30,624// Continuing a long conversation after a brief intermission! See more here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/cjhsk41gv6ggn3sbdubq2klmrc0 > This week an announcement rippled through the internet: a computer passed Turing's test. Soon after the backlash began: the test was rigged, the resulted were hyped, and Eugene, the machine in question, was lame.  Now the backlash is giving way to even stronger criticisms. +Massimo Pigliucci recently argued (http://goo.gl/VdilBI) that not only was this test illegitimate, but Turing's test itself should be abandoned. But Massimo's argument is deeply mistaken about the nature of Turing's test, what it seeks to prove, and why it matters for science.  I've been writing all week about this event: http://goo.gl/J26xbs, http://goo.gl/5RKIm7, http://goo.gl/c07lLG, http://goo.gl/T98ubJ, http://goo.gl/8cMKSI But now that the backlash against the event is directed at Turing's views themselves, I feel something more than an essay is required to address these concerns. To be convincing, this requires a human face and a human voice to speak out in defense of Turing's proposal. I'm fully aware of the irony of this situation.  So come hangout with me and +Jon Lawhead this Friday at 10pm EST while I defend Turing's proposal in light of the criticisms that have accrued over the last week. I'll be providing a defense of Turing's position informed by recent experimental work in psychology. I hope to convince even the skeptics like Massimo that Turing's test deserves a central place in our discussion of artificial intelligence in the modern world. Why the Turing Test Matters II2014-06-14 05:44:028  
Daniel Estrada30,624This week an announcement rippled through the internet: a computer passed Turing's test. Soon after the backlash began: the test was rigged, the resulted were hyped, and Eugene, the machine in question, was lame.  Now the backlash is giving way to even stronger criticisms. @111907992359490335188 recently argued (http://goo.gl/VdilBI) that not only was this test illegitimate, but Turing's test itself should be abandoned. But Massimo's argument is deeply mistaken about the nature of Turing's test, what it seeks to prove, and why it matters for science.  I've been writing all week about this event: http://goo.gl/J26xbs, http://goo.gl/5RKIm7, http://goo.gl/c07lLG, http://goo.gl/T98ubJ, http://goo.gl/8cMKSI But now that the backlash against the event is directed at Turing's views themselves, I feel something more than an essay is required to address these concerns. To be convincing, this requires a human face and a human voice to speak out in defense of Turing's proposal. I'm fully aware of the irony of this situation.  So come hangout with me and @103315650425474752023 this Friday at 10pm EST while I defend Turing's proposal in light of the criticisms that have accrued over the last week. I'll be providing a defense of Turing's position informed by recent experimental work in psychology. I hope to convince even the skeptics like Massimo that Turing's test deserves a central place in our discussion of artificial intelligence in the modern world. Why the Turing Test matters2014-06-14 04:00:009  
Daniel Estrada30,624Seriously, what the hell is Strangecoin?  Join me and @103315650425474752023  this Thursday night at 9pm EST. We'll talk about Strangecoin and the reaction it's getting online, and we'll field questions and comments from the Internet about whatever it is we think we're doing.  The original Strangecoin proposal: http://digitalinterface.blogspot.com/2014/03/strangecoin-proposal-for-nonlinear.html HackerNews thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7494709 SomethingAwful thread: http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3620968 #strangecoin  Strangecoin: The Hangout2014-04-04 03:00:007  
Daniel Estrada30,624Made of Robots Your weekly HoA in the philosophy of technology  Week 5 readings: Andy Clark & David Chalmers (1998) "The Extended Mind"  http://consc.net/papers/extended.html Clark (2010) "Memento's Revenge: The Extended Mind, extended" http://goo.gl/W2GNtQ Every Tuesday at 7pm EST I'll host an HOA on the philosophy of technology.  We'll select short readings made available in advance and begin with an overview of the highlights. Then we'll have a general discussion for an hour, open to anyone who wants to join in, all of which will be archived on YouTube. Beyond doing some good philosophy, Made of Robots hopes to bring together a community of people interested in raising the level of popular discourse on technology.Made of Robots #52014-03-12 00:00:006  
Daniel Estrada30,624Made of Robots Your weekly HoA in the philosophy of technology  Week 4 reading: Andy Clark (2003) _Natural Born Cyborgs_ Ch 3: *Plastic Brains, Hybrid Minds* http://goo.gl/yriTC Every Tuesday at 7pm EST I'm hosting an HOA on the philosophy of technology.  We'll select short readings made available in advance and begin with an overview of the highlights. Then we'll have a general discussion for an hour, open to anyone who wants to join in, all of which will be archived on YouTube. Beyond doing some good philosophy, Made of Robots hopes to bring together a community of people interested in raising the level of popular discourse on technology.Made of Robots #42014-03-05 01:00:007  
Daniel Estrada30,624*Made of Robots* A new weekly HoA in the philosophy of technology  This Tuesday at 6pm EST, I'll lead the first of a weekly series of Hangouts devoted to the philosophy of technology. The topic covers a range of issues in the history of ideas and at the cutting edge of science. Despite its importance, technology can be frightening and bewildering (http://goo.gl/NmwDpm), and we sometimes struggle to know what to make of the world we've made for ourselves.  Made of Robots will be a public reading and disscussion group meeting weekly as an HoA designed to address these issues. We'll select short readings made available in advance and begin with a quick recap of the highlights. Then we'll have a general discussion for an hour, open to anyone who wants to join in, all of which will be archived on YouTube. Beyond doing some good philosophy, I hope Made of Robots will bring together a community of people interested in raising the level of popular discourse on technology and helping others think clearly about it. We'll start this Tuesday (6-8pm EST) with a short, 4 page contemporary classic:  Stephen Kline (1980) What is technology? http://goo.gl/lKOKP Future readings will come from my "short essential reading list" (http://goo.gl/OXqhvP), from these anthologies (http://goo.gl/kxbf41, http://goo.gl/K52alc), and from other sources I have available. I'll announce the next reading on the air. I'm happy to lead the first few (dozen) sessions, but I'd be delighted if others were interested in leading future sessions with readings of their own selection.  If you're interested in participating or have suggestions on the format or for future readings, please let me know!Made of Robots #12014-02-11 23:55:384  

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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 15

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2016-03-16 02:57:24 (15 comments; 18 reshares; 27 +1s; )Open 

My Scientism

I had a great long discussion with someone on Facebook this afternoon in which I laid out an overall framework for my philosophy of science, and in particular my "brand" of pluralistic scientism in what I think is a relatively clear way.  My friend raised most of the standard objections to my view(s), and I've never really put those (plus my answers to them) down in a single place before.  It occurred to me near the end of the conversation that I had a skeleton of a fairly well-worked out paper (or more) giving a holistic account of my view, and why I self-identify with the "scientism" label.  Virtually all of what I have here consists in things that I've said in one place or another (which makes this look like a lot more work to compose than it actually was), either in discussions or in more formal contexts, but I've never aggregated it allan... more »

Most reshares: 43

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2016-04-02 21:48:08 (8 comments; 43 reshares; 16 +1s; )Open 

"It is literally a programming language for bacteria," says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. "You use a text-based language, just like you're programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell."

Most plusones: 27

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2016-03-16 02:57:24 (15 comments; 18 reshares; 27 +1s; )Open 

My Scientism

I had a great long discussion with someone on Facebook this afternoon in which I laid out an overall framework for my philosophy of science, and in particular my "brand" of pluralistic scientism in what I think is a relatively clear way.  My friend raised most of the standard objections to my view(s), and I've never really put those (plus my answers to them) down in a single place before.  It occurred to me near the end of the conversation that I had a skeleton of a fairly well-worked out paper (or more) giving a holistic account of my view, and why I self-identify with the "scientism" label.  Virtually all of what I have here consists in things that I've said in one place or another (which makes this look like a lot more work to compose than it actually was), either in discussions or in more formal contexts, but I've never aggregated it allan... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2016-07-07 07:45:35 (5 comments; 2 reshares; 14 +1s; )Open 

___

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2016-07-07 07:42:43 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

"This case does not exist in isolation. It exists in a political climate where secrecy is regarded as the highest end, where people have their lives destroyed for the most trivial – or, worse, the most well-intentioned – violations of secrecy laws, even in the absence of any evidence of harm or malignant intent... In 2011, Army Private Chelsea Manning was charged with multiple felonies and faced decades in prison for leaking documents that she firmly believed the public had the right to see; unlike the documents Clinton recklessly mishandled, none of those was Top Secret.

[...]

Like the Wall Street tycoons whose systemic fraud triggered the 2008 global financial crisis, and like the military and political officials who instituted a worldwide regime of torture, Hillary Clinton is too important to be treated the same as everyone else under the law.

[...]
B... more »

"This case does not exist in isolation. It exists in a political climate where secrecy is regarded as the highest end, where people have their lives destroyed for the most trivial – or, worse, the most well-intentioned – violations of secrecy laws, even in the absence of any evidence of harm or malignant intent... In 2011, Army Private Chelsea Manning was charged with multiple felonies and faced decades in prison for leaking documents that she firmly believed the public had the right to see; unlike the documents Clinton recklessly mishandled, none of those was Top Secret.

[...]

Like the Wall Street tycoons whose systemic fraud triggered the 2008 global financial crisis, and like the military and political officials who instituted a worldwide regime of torture, Hillary Clinton is too important to be treated the same as everyone else under the law.

[...]

But a system that accords treatment based on who someone is, rather than what they’ve done, is the opposite of one conducted under the rule of law. It is, instead, one of systemic privilege.

[...]

[Clinton] recklessly handled Top Secret information, engaged in conduct prohibited by law, and lied about it repeatedly to the public. But she won’t be prosecuted or imprisoned for any of that, so Democrats are celebrating. But if there is to be anything positive that can come from this lowly affair, perhaps Democrats might start demanding the same reasonable leniency and prosecutorial restraint for everyone else who isn’t Hillary Clinton."___

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2016-07-03 05:10:47 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

"Morphine spread through my body in relaxing waves. 'Was that alright?' asked Ike, smiling. 'If God made anything better, he kept it for himself.'"

"Morphine spread through my body in relaxing waves. 'Was that alright?' asked Ike, smiling. 'If God made anything better, he kept it for himself.'"___

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2016-07-02 02:44:59 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

Casually buried in the middle of this:

"Clinton's favorability is 39/54, and Trump is even worse off at 35/58. This has given rise to the 'Giant Meteor for President' movement, and we find that the Meteor would poll at 13%- far more support than the third party candidates actually on the ballot- with Clinton at 43% and Trump at 38%. The Meteor is particularly appealing to independent voters, functionally in a three way tie at 27% to 35% for Clinton and 31% for Trump." (emphasis added)

This is the year nihilism finally goes mainstream.

Casually buried in the middle of this:

"Clinton's favorability is 39/54, and Trump is even worse off at 35/58. This has given rise to the 'Giant Meteor for President' movement, and we find that the Meteor would poll at 13%- far more support than the third party candidates actually on the ballot- with Clinton at 43% and Trump at 38%. The Meteor is particularly appealing to independent voters, functionally in a three way tie at 27% to 35% for Clinton and 31% for Trump." (emphasis added)

This is the year nihilism finally goes mainstream.___

2016-07-01 04:08:12 (2 comments; 1 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

*Plenary Meeting July 1*

Hey everyone, we're planning to have an initial hangout meeting tomorrow, July 1, to discuss scheduling and planning for the group. We're shooting for some time in the evening (likely between 8 and 9 PM) Pacific time. Please join in if you can! I'll get an exact time up tomorrow once I have one.

*Plenary Meeting July 1*

Hey everyone, we're planning to have an initial hangout meeting tomorrow, July 1, to discuss scheduling and planning for the group. We're shooting for some time in the evening (likely between 8 and 9 PM) Pacific time. Please join in if you can! I'll get an exact time up tomorrow once I have one.___

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2016-06-30 19:07:59 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

"Although Capitol Hill and the campaign trail are miles apart, the breakdown in order in both places reflects the underlying reality that there no longer is any such thing as a party leader. There are only individual actors, pursuing their own political interests and ideological missions willy-nilly, like excited gas molecules in an overheated balloon. [...]

Trump, however, didn’t cause the chaos. The chaos caused Trump. What we are seeing is not a temporary spasm of chaos but a chaos syndrome.

Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization."

"Although Capitol Hill and the campaign trail are miles apart, the breakdown in order in both places reflects the underlying reality that there no longer is any such thing as a party leader. There are only individual actors, pursuing their own political interests and ideological missions willy-nilly, like excited gas molecules in an overheated balloon. [...]

Trump, however, didn’t cause the chaos. The chaos caused Trump. What we are seeing is not a temporary spasm of chaos but a chaos syndrome.

Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization."___

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2016-06-28 03:21:51 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s; )Open 

+Alexandra Spector, +Jon Lawhead and I went on a hike last night in the Hollywood Hills. Nearly 750' of elevation in 3/4 mile. Steep enough to be quite dangerous at night, so definitely fun. The tree at the top was the only one to survive a 2007 wildfire that burned through 817 acres in and around Griffith Park. People left notes between the stones of a small village of cairns in the area around the tree. Somewhat invasively to their authors, we are sharing a selection of them with you. #Goldilocks

http://www.welikela.com/los-angeles-wisdom-tree/



+Alexandra Spector, +Jon Lawhead and I went on a hike last night in the Hollywood Hills. Nearly 750' of elevation in 3/4 mile. Steep enough to be quite dangerous at night, so definitely fun. The tree at the top was the only one to survive a 2007 wildfire that burned through 817 acres in and around Griffith Park. People left notes between the stones of a small village of cairns in the area around the tree. Somewhat invasively to their authors, we are sharing a selection of them with you. #Goldilocks

http://www.welikela.com/los-angeles-wisdom-tree/

___

2016-06-28 03:15:52 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

Want to learn about the math and science of dynamical systems theory this summer? Join in!

Want to learn about the math and science of dynamical systems theory this summer? Join in!___

2016-06-28 02:32:11 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

Want to learn about the math and science of dynamical systems theory this summer? Join in!

Want to learn about the math and science of dynamical systems theory this summer? Join in!___

2016-06-28 02:27:23 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

I'm a philosopher of science interested primarily in the philosophical foundations of the natural sciences, particularly the complex systems sciences and climate science. I completed my PhD in philosophy in 2014, under Philip Kitcher at Columbia University. My doctoral work analyzed climate science from the perspective of complex systems theory, and discussed the role that computer simulations play in climate prediction. I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Southern California, working on interdisciplinary problems in philosophy of science and climate science.

My interests and background are strongest in the foundations of climate science and related problems, but I also have a strong base of knowledge in complexity theory and dynamical systems more generally, as well as in the foundations of computational modeling in the natural sciences. My research... more »

I'm a philosopher of science interested primarily in the philosophical foundations of the natural sciences, particularly the complex systems sciences and climate science. I completed my PhD in philosophy in 2014, under Philip Kitcher at Columbia University. My doctoral work analyzed climate science from the perspective of complex systems theory, and discussed the role that computer simulations play in climate prediction. I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Southern California, working on interdisciplinary problems in philosophy of science and climate science.

My interests and background are strongest in the foundations of climate science and related problems, but I also have a strong base of knowledge in complexity theory and dynamical systems more generally, as well as in the foundations of computational modeling in the natural sciences. My research centers on the novel problems posed by modeling complex natural systems, including structural model error and the interplay between pragmatic value judgements and the construction of objective formal models, as well as more general foundational questions about the nature of self-organization and emergence in complex adaptive systems. I have also done work at the intersection of complexity theory and the philosophy of biology, engaging with questions about self-organized complexity and function in biological systems, and drawing a contrast with synthetically engineered systems of similar organizational structure.
I also have strong interests in the philosophy of technology, information theory, network theory, and the foundations of quantum mechanics.

I'll be leading the reading group, at least nominally, though I hope other people with different areas of expertise will contribute just as much as I do.___

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2016-06-28 02:10:40 (1 comments; 3 reshares; 6 +1s; )Open 

Welcome to the summer study group on dynamical systems theory and philosophy!

This group is aimed at philosophers (and other interested non-specialists) who want to learn more about the mathematics and science of dynamical systems, with a particular eye toward applying the concepts from that field to contemporary problems in philosophy. We'll cover the basics of most of the mathematics necessary to understand what dynamical systems theory is all about, and to understand how it contributes to our understanding of the world.

The group will consist of both independent reading/work and joint discussions on the material, as well as on the implications of the material to contemporary philosophy (especially philosophy of science). The group discussions will take place here on Google's "Hangouts On Air," and so will be archived and available on YouTube after the... more »

Welcome to the summer study group on dynamical systems theory and philosophy!

This group is aimed at philosophers (and other interested non-specialists) who want to learn more about the mathematics and science of dynamical systems, with a particular eye toward applying the concepts from that field to contemporary problems in philosophy. We'll cover the basics of most of the mathematics necessary to understand what dynamical systems theory is all about, and to understand how it contributes to our understanding of the world.

The group will consist of both independent reading/work and joint discussions on the material, as well as on the implications of the material to contemporary philosophy (especially philosophy of science). The group discussions will take place here on Google's "Hangouts On Air," and so will be archived and available on YouTube after the fact. Anyone who wants to participate at any level is welcome. Feel free to follow along closely and participate in the group discussions, or merely watch the hangouts after the fact (or anything in between). No specific background is necessary, though a familiarity with algebra and geometry will make things much easier for you.

We'll be starting with a review of the basics of single and multivariable calculus (probably drawing heavily on Khan Academy's stuff on that), and then move on to work through Stephen Strogratz' book excellent book Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos (https://www.amazon.com/Nonlinear-Dynamics-Chaos-Applications-Nonlinearity/dp/0738204536), possibly supplemented with other things.

The discussions will run weekly or semi-weekly, but this group will be a constant resource for people who prefer to participate asynchronously. Feel free to post discussion threads, questions, or reflections on the material (and related issues). I'll do my best to answer any questions that come up, and hopefully others will participate as well. Both the main participants (myself and +Kyle Broom ) are philosophers by training (i.e. we have PhDs in the subject), but I'm hopeful that people with different backgrounds will join in as well.

The focus here will be on conceptual rather than computational understanding, so rather than working on problem sets and the like, we'll emphasize getting a good intuitive understanding of the mathematics--enough to understand the field--and then considering some of the more "philosophical" (or foundational) issues the mathematics and science raises.

More material will be forthcoming soon (including a schedule, hopefully). In the meantime, feel free to invite other people whom you think may be interested, and post an introduction about yourself in the "Introductions" category so we can get a feel for what everyone's background and interests are.___

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2016-06-24 01:42:39 (2 comments; 1 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

This actually looks extremely fun. 

This actually looks extremely fun. ___

2016-06-24 01:29:48 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s; )Open 

Hey that theory sounds familiar.

> Simondon’s most basic argument is that the “individual” is never given in advance; it must be produced, it must coagulate, or come into being, in the course of an ongoing process. This means, first, that there is no “preformation”; the DNA in a just-fertilized egg cell, for instance, does not already determine the nature of the individual who will be produced in the course of nine months of gestation and years of growth after birth. DNA is not just a code, it is also a set of potentials, which can unfold in various directions, and which do not attain form except in the actual process of unfolding. Everything always starts in the “preindividual” realm. The preindividual is not a state in which identity is lacking — not an undifferentiated chaos — but rather a condition that is “more than a unity and more than an identity”: a state of radical potentiality, of excess or “supersaturation,” rather than one of negativity. Simondon rejects fixed entities as much as any dialectician; but he offers an account of process that is radically different from the Hegelian or “dialectical” account.
In the second place, this means that an individual is never final; there are always untapped potentials, additional possibilites for metamorphosis, further individuations. “The living organism conserves within itself a permanent activity of individuation” (16). Even at the end of the maturing process, the individual is not a complete and closed entity. A reservoir of untapped potential, of metastable, preindividual being, still remains. Further individuation can happen to any individual, but it can also happen transindividually, on the level of a group.

Information often seems independent of materiality, because it operates precisely by transduction: it is the continual transfer of patterns both within a given medium, and from one medium to another. But transduction is never independent of its material medium in the way that we sometimes imagine “information” to be. The medium has a great degree of influence on what patterns are possible and how they can be propagated. Just as Simondon shows the process of individuation to take place in between “form” and “matter” — rather than being the sheer imposition of an already-existing form upon a previously shapeless matter — so “information” cannot just be abstractly opposed to the medium in which it is instantiated, or across which it is transmitted. Medium and message intersect. The shape of the information transmitted within a medium, or between media, is in important ways a function of the qualities and potentialities of the medium or media in question.

More: http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=471
via +Jordan Peacock

#plural #identity
___Hey that theory sounds familiar.

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2016-06-22 00:49:46 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

Summer Study Group on Applied Math and Dynamical Systems Theory

+Kyle Broom and I have decided to do a little "reading group" type thing on mathematics, with an eye toward applications toward dynamical systems theory. We'll be starting with a review of the basics of single and multivariable calculus (probably drawing heavily on Khan Academy's stuff on that), and then move on to work through Stephen Strogratz' book excellent book Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos (https://www.amazon.com/Nonlinear-Dynamics-Chaos-Applications-Nonlinearity/dp/0738204536), possibly supplemented with other things.

I'm pretty familiar with most of this stuff, so I'll be leading the group. We'll do readings and whatnot independently, and then meet in a Google Hangout On-Air every week or so to talk about the new material, work through some example problems, and generally... more »

Summer Study Group on Applied Math and Dynamical Systems Theory

+Kyle Broom and I have decided to do a little "reading group" type thing on mathematics, with an eye toward applications toward dynamical systems theory. We'll be starting with a review of the basics of single and multivariable calculus (probably drawing heavily on Khan Academy's stuff on that), and then move on to work through Stephen Strogratz' book excellent book Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos (https://www.amazon.com/Nonlinear-Dynamics-Chaos-Applications-Nonlinearity/dp/0738204536), possibly supplemented with other things.

I'm pretty familiar with most of this stuff, so I'll be leading the group. We'll do readings and whatnot independently, and then meet in a Google Hangout On-Air every week or so to talk about the new material, work through some example problems, and generally discuss the implications of what we're working on. Kyle and I are both philosophers by training (and I do a lot of work on the philosophy of complexity and nonlinear dynamical systems), so I'm sure things will tend to hew in that direction during our discussions.

We're open to other people joining us for this group if there's interest, either to actively participate with us or just to follow along and watch the Hangouts. We might have a preliminary hangout this Friday, but we'll probably start in earnest in a week or two. I'll post more details as they arrive, but if you're interested in participating let me know, and I'll tag you in future updates.___

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2016-06-17 00:17:58 (0 comments; 4 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

___

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2016-06-12 06:52:27 (14 comments; 8 reshares; 14 +1s; )Open 

*Spoiler Alert: Nader, Clinton, Trump, and the 2016 Election*

I haven't been shy about the fact that I intend to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November. Since Sanders is almost certainly out of the race for the Democratic nomination now, the Clinton crew has really been ramping up the claims that voting for anyone but her constitutes an endorsement of Trump; I've found myself encountering this argument over and over again in various places (and I suspect lots of other progressives have too). The "either you're with her or against her" crowd is only getting louder, and rather than continuing to have the same argument over and over again in different places, I thought I'd put everything down in one place.

If you genuinely think Clinton would be a good President, then obviously you should vote for her. However, if you don't think... more »

*Spoiler Alert: Nader, Clinton, Trump, and the 2016 Election*

I haven't been shy about the fact that I intend to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November. Since Sanders is almost certainly out of the race for the Democratic nomination now, the Clinton crew has really been ramping up the claims that voting for anyone but her constitutes an endorsement of Trump; I've found myself encountering this argument over and over again in various places (and I suspect lots of other progressives have too). The "either you're with her or against her" crowd is only getting louder, and rather than continuing to have the same argument over and over again in different places, I thought I'd put everything down in one place.

If you genuinely think Clinton would be a good President, then obviously you should vote for her. However, if you don't think she'd be a good President (or represent your interests), then don't let her campaign (or her supporters) browbeat you into voting for her if you don't want to: the idea that a vote for anyone but Clinton is functionally, ethically, or mathematically equivalent to a vote for Trump is absolute nonsense. The usual argument Clinton supporters make consists largely in a reminder that Nader voters cost Gore the 2000 election, and got Bush elected, but this too is nonsense. Many different things contributed to Gore's loss--both nationally and in Florida--and the number of votes that Nader got was among the least significant factors. Even setting aside concerns about voter suppression, Gore's questionable decision not to demand a general recount in Florida, and the role of the Supreme Court, there are a lot more people deserving of a lot more blame than Nader voters.

308,000 of Florida's registered Democrats voted for Bush in 2000, along with 191,000 self-identifying "liberals" from outside the Democratic party. By comparison, 24,000 registered Democrats and 34,000 self-identifying liberals voted for Nader in Florida. Of those who did vote for Nader, exit polls showed that had he not been on the ballot, 25% would have voted for Bush, 38% for Gore, and the rest would have just stayed home. That means that of the 97,421 people who voted for Nader in Florida, about 37,000 might have voted for Gore otherwise. Assuming they all genuinely would have, that's 37,000 potential Gore voters diverted to Nader, compared to half a million Democrats and liberals who voted for Bush directly--more than an order of magnitude difference.

Hell, according to the final official numbers in Florida, Gore lost by some 500 votes, and every single third party candidate on the ballot--from the openly theocratic Constitution Party to the Socialist Workers Party--got more than that. The Natural Law Party, whose official platform includes (seriously) government subsidies for Yogic Flyers and "aligning politicians with the four fundamental forces of nature" via transcendental meditation, got more than 2,000 votes in Florida. If 25% of the single-issue Yogic Flying voters had voted for Gore, he would have won. More plausibly (and saliently), had Gore gotten even 1% of the registered Democrats who voted for Bush to vote for him instead, he would have won. In addition, just under half of eligible citizens (both in Florida and nationwide)--some 100,000,000 people in 2000--simply failed to vote at all. Assuming that the preference statistics of that group roughly mirrored those of actual voters, that amounts to something like 47 million people who would have preferred Gore, but simply chose not to vote for anyone. If he'd gotten 1% of those people to vote for him, Gore would have not just won, but won comfortably.

Gore wasn't terribly popular with either progressive or low-income voters: in 1992, people making less than $50,000/year made up about 65% of Democratic voters, while people making over $100,000 per year made up about 7%. By the 2000 elections, the under-$50,000 crowd had dropped to 47%, while the over-$100,000 crowd had risen to 15% of Democratic voters. The vast majority of those working-class people who had been voting Democrat didn't switch over to the Republican Party: they just stayed home in 2000, because they thought neither candidate would represent them. Gore wasn't a particularly inspiring candidate, and was associated with a large number of scandals (via Bill Clinton's administration) in the minds of many voters. He ran as a centrist Democrat, basing much of his campaign on his support for neo-liberal economic policy and a corporate-friendly image. People found him unexciting, and were disenchanted with the prospect of just voting for the lesser evil (a Harvard study in 2000 found that 60% of registered voters agreed with the statement “politics in America is generally pretty disgusting”), and so they just stayed home. The Democratic party knew all this, and chose to nominate Gore anyway, since it was his turn at bat

Hmm, that all sounds kind of familiar.

When Gore failed to motivate members of his own Party to the polls (he didn't even win his home state), alienated the progressive wing of the electorate, and lost the election, the Democrats blamed Nader voters. That's a little like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute at 30,000 feet, and blaming your impending splat on the fact that you're going to land on concrete instead of grass. Lots of people deserve blame for Gore's loss: Democrats (and everyone else) who voted for Bush, people who preferred Gore but stayed home, the election officials who unfairly purged tens of thousands of non-white Florida voters from the rolls, the Supreme Court, and Gore himself. The fixation on on a vanishingly small number of people who voted for Nader is pure propaganda, designed to allow the Democratic party to continue ignoring the progressive wing of the electorate, nominate mediocre candidates who are a little more palatable than the Republican nominees, and then claim that anyone who is left-of-center is obligated to vote their way, lest we hand the election to the Republicans.

Yes, the American Presidential election is winner-take-all, but determining who will be President for the next four years is only one thing the votes will do. How many people support which candidate also determines which Parties will be given access to Federal funding in the future--if the Green Party gets a significant (but still very, very low) number of votes, they'll be able to run a better campaign next time around. This campaign season has exposed big, systemic problems in how both parties are run, and boosting a third party to national visibility (and funding) via helping them garner a significant portion of the votes might well pay off significantly in the coming years. Whomever wins the Presidency in November, we really need genuine progressives to run in down-ballot contests in 2018 and 2020. Throwing everything behind the mainstream Democratic candidate signals strongly to those who might be considering that not to bother: the Democrats might pay lip-service to your ideas, but at the end of the day they'll use their significant contacts and funding to run a centrist, and everyone who might have supported you will be expected to fall in line. I know I wouldn't want to run if that was what I expected. Voting for a third party candidate isn't about protesting or "throwing a tantrum;" it's about signaling your support for policy platforms you like, and showing that someone who runs on those policies has a reliable base. That will help encourage people who actually endorse ideas you like to run. Voting is only a zero-sum game if you think of each election as a totally independent event, completely disconnected from both past and future results. That's not how things work.

If the Democrats lose this election, it's not going to be Sanders' fault, or Stein's fault, or your fault (even if you vote for a third-party): it's going to be the fault of the people who vote for Trump, people who prefer Clinton but stay home and, yes, people who insisted on running a demonstrably weak candidate in spite of early and consistent evidence that she wouldn't have an easy time winning the general election. A vote for Stein--or a vote for anybody (with the exception of Trump)--is not a vote for Trump; that's not how this works. It's a vote for Stein. Yes, it will be a shame if Trump gets elected, but don't accept the narrative that anything but a vote for Clinton counts as a vote for Trump. Nobody owes Clinton specifically (or the Democratic party generally) their vote, and the appeal to Nader's impact on the 2000 election is specious.

Likewise, don't accept the narrative that "now isn't the time" or "the stakes are too high this year." There’s never going to be a “good time” for demanding real change, and there’s never going to be a risk free election. There are always going to be SCOTUS nominations on the line. There’s always going to be someone worse running. Like the "third party spoiler" story about Nader, the perpetual state of emergency is just a tactic designed to convince the electorate that now is not the time to stand on principle. The longer we let the Democrats get away with framing themselves as “the party of slightly less evil,” the worse off everyone will be.___

2016-05-17 22:51:44 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

A collection of resources/readings on a wide range of topics in complexity theory.

A collection of resources/readings on a wide range of topics in complexity theory.___

2016-05-17 22:51:37 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

A collection of resources/readings on a wide range of topics in complexity theory.

A collection of resources/readings on a wide range of topics in complexity theory.___

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2016-05-02 01:42:42 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

The 2016 Presidential election season summarized.

The 2016 Presidential election season summarized.___

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2016-04-17 09:25:06 (1 comments; 1 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

Crazy Bundy's enormous herd of Sovereign Cattle is now slowly starving to death on public land, because he won't take care of them unless he can do it for free. The BLM is (quite reasonably) concerned that if they try to round them up and feed them, they'll get shot by crazy people, so there the cows sit: gradually starving to death while destroying a piece of land the size of Rhode Island. Just like the Constitution says we're all free to do.

Crazy Bundy's enormous herd of Sovereign Cattle is now slowly starving to death on public land, because he won't take care of them unless he can do it for free. The BLM is (quite reasonably) concerned that if they try to round them up and feed them, they'll get shot by crazy people, so there the cows sit: gradually starving to death while destroying a piece of land the size of Rhode Island. Just like the Constitution says we're all free to do.___

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2016-04-17 07:50:43 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

March was the sixth month in a row to shatter its temperature record. This October, November, December, January, February, and March were all the warmest in recorded history.

Welcome to the future. It's fucking hot here.

"Most likely there is a confluence of events going on to produce this huge spike in temperature—latent heat in the Pacific waters, wind patterns distributing it, and more.

And underneath it all, stroking the fire, is us. [...]

El Niño might produce a spike, but that spike is sitting on top of an upward trend: the physical manifestation of human induced global warming, driven mostly by our dumping 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year.

Until our politicians recognize that this is a threat, and a very serious one, things are unlikely to change much. And the way I see it, the only way to get ourpo... more »

March was the sixth month in a row to shatter its temperature record. This October, November, December, January, February, and March were all the warmest in recorded history.

Welcome to the future. It's fucking hot here.

"Most likely there is a confluence of events going on to produce this huge spike in temperature—latent heat in the Pacific waters, wind patterns distributing it, and more.

And underneath it all, stroking the fire, is us. [...]

El Niño might produce a spike, but that spike is sitting on top of an upward trend: the physical manifestation of human induced global warming, driven mostly by our dumping 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year.

Until our politicians recognize that this is a threat, and a very serious one, things are unlikely to change much. And the way I see it, the only way to get our politicians to recognize that is to change the politicians we have in office."___

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2016-04-14 22:33:01 (4 comments; 4 reshares; 10 +1s; )Open 

This strikes me as the political equivalent of what Dan Dennett called a 'deepity.' Depending on how you read it, it's either trivially true (and so inconsequential) or screamingly false (and so inconsequential); to the extent that it's true, it doesn't matter, and to the extent that it matters, it isn't true. Dennett's example was "love is just a word," which is obviously right in one trivial sense ('love' is a word), but obviously wrong in another (love isn't merely a word). A deepity trades on this double meaning to present the illusion of a profound insight where there is none.

This article is one long-form deepity. It's obviously true that most people (not women) want a partner who is a secure, confident, individual with their own personality, interests, and ideas--someone who isn't a "whiny, passive-aggressive... more »

This strikes me as the political equivalent of what Dan Dennett called a 'deepity.' Depending on how you read it, it's either trivially true (and so inconsequential) or screamingly false (and so inconsequential); to the extent that it's true, it doesn't matter, and to the extent that it matters, it isn't true. Dennett's example was "love is just a word," which is obviously right in one trivial sense ('love' is a word), but obviously wrong in another (love isn't merely a word). A deepity trades on this double meaning to present the illusion of a profound insight where there is none.

This article is one long-form deepity. It's obviously true that most people (not women) want a partner who is a secure, confident, individual with their own personality, interests, and ideas--someone who isn't a "whiny, passive-aggressive pushover." It's obviously false that feminism stands in contradiction to those desires, that respect for women turns a man into a person like that, or that women are being "told" to want such partners. Like deepity king Deepak Chopra's nuggets of wisdom, it's an uninteresting assertion either way: the apparent depth and insight is just a mirage stemming from the ambiguity. ___

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2016-04-13 02:38:05 (1 comments; 5 reshares; 6 +1s; )Open 

A very cool concrete illustration of the probabilities associated with climate change and its various scenarios, in the form of two Roulette wheels.

"The Greenhouse Gamble™ wheels were developed by the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change to better convey uncertainty in climate change prediction. The roulette-style spinning wheels depict the estimated probability, or likelihood, of potential temperature change (global average surface temperature) over the next 100 years. The face of each wheel is divided into colored slices, with the size of each slice representing the estimated probability of the temperature change in the year 2100 falling within that range.

The Greenhouse Gamble wheel on the left is the "no policy" or reference case, in which it is assumed no action is taken to try to curb the global emissions of greenhouse gases. The medianv... more »

A very cool concrete illustration of the probabilities associated with climate change and its various scenarios, in the form of two Roulette wheels.

"The Greenhouse Gamble™ wheels were developed by the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change to better convey uncertainty in climate change prediction. The roulette-style spinning wheels depict the estimated probability, or likelihood, of potential temperature change (global average surface temperature) over the next 100 years. The face of each wheel is divided into colored slices, with the size of each slice representing the estimated probability of the temperature change in the year 2100 falling within that range.

The Greenhouse Gamble wheel on the left is the "no policy" or reference case, in which it is assumed no action is taken to try to curb the global emissions of greenhouse gases. The median value of the "no policy" wheel, or the temperature at which there is a 50% chance of falling above or below that level (even odds) is 5.2 °C.

The Greenhouse Gamble wheel on the right is the "with policy" case, which assumes that policies are enacted to limit cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases over the century to 3.4 trillion metric tons, measured in CO2-equivalent. The median warming level (even odds) is 2.3 °C.

The resulting change in probabilities when switching from a "no policy" scenario to a "with policy" scenario is shown by the altered size of the representative temperature slices. If policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are enacted, the likelihood of constraining global temperature change in 2100 to below 3 °C warming increases to 90% (9 in 10 odds) from the "no policy" scenario. As global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase, the "no policy" roulette wheel continues to spin. By reducing emissions, we can limit the risks from global climate change impacts."___

2016-04-13 00:22:39 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

Macer: What is our objective?
Graver: To dramatically over-react.
Sicario (2015)

// I watched the film Sicario the other night, knowing nothing about it. It ended up being a pretty strong crime thriller, notable for having a solid female protagonist whose gender wasn't ignored but also wasn't an issue. It's not the kind of thing I would mention, except that the plot involved the explicit discussion of chaos as a strategic weapon in international intelligence operations, which i thought was interesting. I noticed the director mentions chaos explicitly in interviews, but otherwise I couldn't find much explicit discussion of the issue online.

I did find someone on Quora with the same question, though, so I decided to write an answer myself, with help from +Jon Lawhead (which can effectively be assumed). See my full response below. I'm happy to take... more »

Macer: What is our objective?
Graver: To dramatically over-react.
Sicario (2015)

// I watched the film Sicario the other night, knowing nothing about it. It ended up being a pretty strong crime thriller, notable for having a solid female protagonist whose gender wasn't ignored but also wasn't an issue. It's not the kind of thing I would mention, except that the plot involved the explicit discussion of chaos as a strategic weapon in international intelligence operations, which i thought was interesting. I noticed the director mentions chaos explicitly in interviews, but otherwise I couldn't find much explicit discussion of the issue online.

I did find someone on Quora with the same question, though, so I decided to write an answer myself, with help from +Jon Lawhead (which can effectively be assumed). See my full response below. I'm happy to take suggestions for improvement.

> In the movie Sicario, what are examples of how chaos theory was used to solve a massively complex problem?

Graver: This is the future, Kate. Juarez is what happens when they dig in. This is it!
Macer: What am I doing here?
Graver: What you’re doing is you’re giving us the opportunity to shake the tree and create chaos.

https://www.quora.com/In-the-movie-Sicario-what-are-examples-of-how-chaos-theory-was-used-to-solve-a-massively-complex-problem/answer/Daniel-Estrada-4?srid=O5pW___

2016-04-13 00:21:07 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

"We inhabit a world that is not only small but supports efficient decentralized search - an individual using local information can establish a line of communication with another completely unknown individual. Here we augment a hierarchical social network model with communication between and within communities. We argue that organization into communities would decrease overall decentralized search times. We take inspiration from the biological immune system which organizes search for pathogens in a hybrid modular strategy. "

"We inhabit a world that is not only small but supports efficient decentralized search - an individual using local information can establish a line of communication with another completely unknown individual. Here we augment a hierarchical social network model with communication between and within communities. We argue that organization into communities would decrease overall decentralized search times. We take inspiration from the biological immune system which organizes search for pathogens in a hybrid modular strategy. "___

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2016-04-06 04:26:45 (2 comments; 5 reshares; 17 +1s; )Open 

"The last-millennium Digital Millennium Copyright Act has managed to stay on the books because we still think of it as a way to pull off small-potatoes ripoffs like forcing you to re-buy the movies you own on DVD if you want to watch them on your phone. In reality, the DMCA's anti-circumvention rules are a system that makes corporations into the only "people" who get to own property -- everything you "buy" is actually a license, dictated by terms of service that you've never read and certainly never agreed to, which give companies the right to reach into your home and do anything they want with the devices you've paid for."

"The last-millennium Digital Millennium Copyright Act has managed to stay on the books because we still think of it as a way to pull off small-potatoes ripoffs like forcing you to re-buy the movies you own on DVD if you want to watch them on your phone. In reality, the DMCA's anti-circumvention rules are a system that makes corporations into the only "people" who get to own property -- everything you "buy" is actually a license, dictated by terms of service that you've never read and certainly never agreed to, which give companies the right to reach into your home and do anything they want with the devices you've paid for."___

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2016-04-06 03:20:10 (2 comments; 16 reshares; 14 +1s; )Open 

I turned that thing I wrote yesterday into a more shareably formatted blog post.

I turned that thing I wrote yesterday into a more shareably formatted blog post.___

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2016-04-05 21:33:11 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

The world is messy, and science is hard.

I really like the scientific method made of memes from ascienceenthusiast.com, but it's too simple. So I've attempted to make it more accurate. Not complete or totally accurate, because that's not possible - just more accurate. It still has a few flaws and it's still a simplification, but I think it gets the point across.

Science is a very different process to the one taught in high schools. As I've written before, it has a lot more similarities to the humanities and particularly the arts than is often appreciated. Yes, it deals in hard facts. But the interpretation of those facts, when it comes to front-line research, is every bit as subjective as the beauty of a Shakespearean sonnet.

The difference is that science makes testable predictions, and it has that all-important "reject hypothesis" scenario. This is no small difference - but the similarities matter too. It's not a black-and-white case of "scientists baffled" versus "mystery solved", whatever the popular media might say. Which matters a great deal, because if you see scientists continually getting things wrong without understanding why that that's integral to the process, of course you'll see them as untrustworthy idiots. Getting children to do experiments is one thing. Getting them to understand that there might not actually be a right answer at all -  just the best answer that's possible given the available data - is quite another.

Thinking about this some more, I think the major deficiencies of this version is that it lacks the extreme cases. You can prove a theory, occasionally. You can also disprove one - nowhere near as easily as a hypothesis, but it can be done.___The world is messy, and science is hard.

2016-04-05 03:21:51 (3 comments; 4 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

11 Climate Myths and Responses

One of my colleagues at USC is teaching a general education course on climate science this semester.  He invited the undergraduates to submit their favorite "myths" or misconceptions about climate change, and collected them all into a single document.  I spent today writing a detailed response to each of these 11 myths.  Here it is.  Feel free to make use of this however you like.

11 Climate Myths and Responses

One of my colleagues at USC is teaching a general education course on climate science this semester.  He invited the undergraduates to submit their favorite "myths" or misconceptions about climate change, and collected them all into a single document.  I spent today writing a detailed response to each of these 11 myths.  Here it is.  Feel free to make use of this however you like.___

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2016-04-02 21:48:08 (8 comments; 43 reshares; 16 +1s; )Open 

"It is literally a programming language for bacteria," says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. "You use a text-based language, just like you're programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell."

"It is literally a programming language for bacteria," says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. "You use a text-based language, just like you're programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell."___

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2016-04-02 21:01:09 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s; )Open 

We took a poll of all the seminar participants asking them to rank the United States' level of climate change policy readiness on a scale from 0 to 10, once at the beginning of the seminar and once at the end. The initial mean was about 5 (mode of 4). After hearing me and the other person's talk, the mean dropped to about 2.5 (mode of 3).

One person told me "your talk was really upsetting, and it makes me want to scream at a senator until he cries."

#MissionAccomplished

We took a poll of all the seminar participants asking them to rank the United States' level of climate change policy readiness on a scale from 0 to 10, once at the beginning of the seminar and once at the end. The initial mean was about 5 (mode of 4). After hearing me and the other person's talk, the mean dropped to about 2.5 (mode of 3).

One person told me "your talk was really upsetting, and it makes me want to scream at a senator until he cries."

#MissionAccomplished___

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2016-03-31 02:14:23 (2 comments; 2 reshares; 7 +1s; )Open 

 I've finished up my Prezi for the Arsalyn Seminar on Climate Policy & Options this weekend, and here it is. It's called "Everything is Terrible and Nobody Cares." It's supposed to be a survey of the current state of the science, a look at where the Paris agreement might take us, and a survey of some of the basic policy options. I've got an hour, plus time for a Q&A.

I shamelessly stole several images and quotations from +Jordan Peacock 's recent talk.

#climatechange   #climatescience   #climateaction   #climatepolicy   #climate   #science  

 I've finished up my Prezi for the Arsalyn Seminar on Climate Policy & Options this weekend, and here it is. It's called "Everything is Terrible and Nobody Cares." It's supposed to be a survey of the current state of the science, a look at where the Paris agreement might take us, and a survey of some of the basic policy options. I've got an hour, plus time for a Q&A.

I shamelessly stole several images and quotations from +Jordan Peacock 's recent talk.

#climatechange   #climatescience   #climateaction   #climatepolicy   #climate   #science  ___

2016-03-30 04:49:17 (4 comments; 1 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

Great talk from +Jordan Peacock about climate change and global politics titled "Hope without Optimism: The state of climate geopolitics." The slides are linked in the Soundcloud description. Very nice, Jordan!

Great talk from +Jordan Peacock about climate change and global politics titled "Hope without Optimism: The state of climate geopolitics." The slides are linked in the Soundcloud description. Very nice, Jordan!___

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2016-03-28 02:54:58 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

It's good enough for me

It's good enough for me___

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2016-03-27 02:16:20 (7 comments; 6 reshares; 26 +1s; )Open 

OK, I'm about to throw down some science here.  Prepare yourselves.

This is the first I'd heard about this film, or about the "coverup" that it's supposedly exposing.  I did a little bit of digging into it, so if you're like me and hadn't heard about this latest bout of craziness from the anti-vaccers, here's the story (from what I can tell), along with my analysis of why it's crap.

The Story 

Wakefield and another anti-vaccer named Hooker made contact with a supposed "whistleblower" at the CDC by the name of Thompson.  They claim that Thompson claims (I couldn't find any direct statement from Thompson) that the CDC orchestrated a "cover-up" with respect to the widely-cited 2004 case-control study looking at the age of first MMR vaccine in kids diagnosed with autism vs. neurotypical control kids.  Thatis, ... more »

OK, I'm about to throw down some science here.  Prepare yourselves.

This is the first I'd heard about this film, or about the "coverup" that it's supposedly exposing.  I did a little bit of digging into it, so if you're like me and hadn't heard about this latest bout of craziness from the anti-vaccers, here's the story (from what I can tell), along with my analysis of why it's crap.

The Story 

Wakefield and another anti-vaccer named Hooker made contact with a supposed "whistleblower" at the CDC by the name of Thompson.  They claim that Thompson claims (I couldn't find any direct statement from Thompson) that the CDC orchestrated a "cover-up" with respect to the widely-cited 2004 case-control study looking at the age of first MMR vaccine in kids diagnosed with autism vs. neurotypical control kids.  That is, they looked at two groups of children: autistic and non-autistic, and then compared the age at which kids in each of the groups had received their MMR vaccination to see if they could find a link.  Specifically, they examined whether the rates of autism were higher among kids who had received the MMR at 18 months, 2 years, (24 months), or 3 years (36 months) of age.  They (of course) found no link at all.

Hooker/Wakefield are claiming that Thompson (who apparently works at the CDC?) now claims that the data was manipulated to obscure a very particular link: a 340% increased risk of autism among African-American males only who received the MMR vaccine, and that the CDC has spent the last 12 years covering this fact up.  I know we haven't gotten to the "Why It's Crap" section yet, but there are two immediate problems: (1) there's no obvious physiological reason why such an increased risk would manifest only in African-American males, which should make us suspicious immediately and (2) even if this were true, it would only further undermine the main anti-vaccer point that vaccinations put everyone at risk for autism (think of all the big-name anti-vaccination celebrities who supposedly have children that got autism from the MMR, and think of how many of them have African-American sons).

The "manipulation" that Thompson supposedly alleges consisted in the researchers discarding data points that came from children who didn't have valid Georgia birth certificates.  That's not nefarious or suspicious data manipulation, though, because access to the birth certificate is crucial to control for other factors that might be causally relevant here--things like birth weight, whether they were premature, parental age, &c.  Tossing those data points out will give you a more representative data set not a less representative one, because it will be more tightly controlled.  Anything you detect in the bigger dataset is more likely to be noise, and less likely to be signal.

Why It's Crap

But let's let that point slide too.  Based on what I can tell, the "reanalysis" of the original (uncut) dataset basically consisted in Hooker running it through SAS a bunch of times, cutting it up in every possible way and looking for a correlation.  Anyone who's taken a basic statistics (or science) course will tell you that doing this with any data-set will, more often than not, yield some kind of correlation between some factors.  That's why we don't just look for correlations blindly: we go into a study looking for specific things; otherwise we just end up with stuff that could go up on the Spurious Correlation Generator (http://tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations).

Even setting that aside, we can think about where this correlation might have come from.  There are a few obvious possibilities (none of which consists in the MMR vaccination causing autism in Black males).  

(1) The correlation that was (supposedly) detected was that among Black males, there was little correlation between autism and vaccination at 18 months, moderate correlation between vaccination and autism at 2 years, and strong correlation between vaccination and autism at 3 years.  There's a really obvious non-causal explanation for this, though: autism is rarely diagnosed by 18 months, and frequently diagnosed by 3 years of age.  This "reanalysis" discarded the control group, looking only at autistic children to see if there was a link between vaccination age and autism: given that, of course this correlation was there: most of the kids getting vaccinated for the first time at 3 years of age were also at the age where autism is definitively diagnosable, so you'd expect higher diagnosis rates among that group.  That's why the original study (like all reputable studies) used a control group.  You can't detect causal factors like this with this sort of methodology.  I'm not even a statistician (nor do I work in a field where this kind of statistical analysis is used) and that's screamingly obvious even to me.

(2)  There ended up being only five kids in the 3 year vaccination and autism set.  _Five_ kids.  Nice sample size ya got there.  People who wait until their kids are 3 years old to get a vaccination that they're supposed to get when they're 1 year old are (for whatever reason) probably not people who are taking their kids to the doctor for regular preventative checkups.  If that's true, then it's also no surprise that the five late-vaccinators had higher diagnosis rates.  Most people got earlier vaccinations, more regular checkups, and so got an earlier diagnosis (when appropriate).  But since more people overall got their kids vaccinated earlier, the statistical correlation seems to get stronger with later vaccination, because the sample-size shrinks with each step, and the kids who are left at the end are less likely to have seen a doctor at all, and thus less likely to have been diagnosed with anything before then.  But then why does this effect look strongest among African-Americans?  Well...

(3)  Might there be a correlation between race, socioeconomic status, and early-intervention health care?  This dataset was collected in Atlanta, where race and socioeconomic status are highly (negatively) correlated: African-Americans are less wealthy, on average, than non-African-Americans.  Less wealthy people are less likely to be able to make the time and/or have the money for frequent medical appointments, potentially leading to a kind of selection bias: the people who waited the longest to get their kids vaccinated might well have been the poorest people, and African-Americans are disproportionately represented among the the poorest people in Atlanta.  If the late vaccination population is smaller, less likely to have been diagnosed (irrespective of whether or not autism is present), and more likely to be African-American, then it's going to look like there's a correlation between being African-American and being diagnosed with autism.  But that correlation isn't causal: it's an artifact of the confluence of all those other correlations.

So, in conclusion: 

- The "reanalysis" failed to show any general link between MMR vaccines and autism, even if you believe everything in it is true.

- The statistical methodology behind this "reanalysis" was awful and universally recognized as likely to turn up spurious correlations 

- The "manipulation" of the original data set was perfectly legitimate, and designed to allow the investigators to control for other factors (which the reanalysis now cannot control for)

- The "reanalysis" failed to include a control group at all.

- Even if they actually found a correlation, there's a perfectly reasonable non-causal explanation: African-Americans in Atlanta are more likely to be poor, poor people are more likely to skip early-childhood medical appointments, and people who skip early childhood medical appointments are more likely to be diagnosed with autism later on, because it couldn't have been caught earlier.

#science   #vaccines   #antivaccination   #vaccination  +Science on Google+ ___

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2016-03-26 20:58:42 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

The minimal agent

> My goal in this paper is to think about agency by investigating its most deficient case: the minimal agent. By definition, the minimal agent is the simplest possible agent; it can be made no simpler without sacrificing its very identity as an agent. I’ll survey the literature for some proposed “minimal agents” to get a sense of the options available, and I’ll try to systematically analyze the field in order to draw some meaningful conclusions. I will argue that debates within the literature seem to count against any hard lower bound on agency. In other words, there is no minimal agent

https://www.academia.edu/23709061/The_minimal_agent

// This paper was rushed to meet a conference deadline that ultimately rejected it. The ideas in this paper are solid and will probably be used for a project in the future. But in its current form, thispaper is... more »

The minimal agent

> My goal in this paper is to think about agency by investigating its most deficient case: the minimal agent. By definition, the minimal agent is the simplest possible agent; it can be made no simpler without sacrificing its very identity as an agent. I’ll survey the literature for some proposed “minimal agents” to get a sense of the options available, and I’ll try to systematically analyze the field in order to draw some meaningful conclusions. I will argue that debates within the literature seem to count against any hard lower bound on agency. In other words, there is no minimal agent

https://www.academia.edu/23709061/The_minimal_agent

// This paper was rushed to meet a conference deadline that ultimately rejected it. The ideas in this paper are solid and will probably be used for a project in the future. But in its current form, this paper is unlikely to do anything more than sit on my hard drive.

Since it bears directly on Venter's syn3.0 "minimal organism" announced this week (see: https://plus.google.com/+DanielEstrada/posts/Rj6uYioyheT), I thought it better to put online for open discussion.

___

2016-03-26 06:31:47 (0 comments; 3 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

I gave a 15 minute interview on the Minnesota NPR affiliate this morning about weather modeling, chaos theory, and computational models. Here it is, if anyone wants to hear. I come in about half way through, with Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight.

This week on the Weather Lab, MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner pulled back the curtain on weather modeling and why different agencies can get such different forecasts out of the same underlying weather data. Professor Cliff Mass, writer Harry Enten, and Jon Lawhead of the University of Southern California joined Paul for the discussion.

I gave a 15 minute interview on the Minnesota NPR affiliate this morning about weather modeling, chaos theory, and computational models. Here it is, if anyone wants to hear. I come in about half way through, with Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight.

This week on the Weather Lab, MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner pulled back the curtain on weather modeling and why different agencies can get such different forecasts out of the same underlying weather data. Professor Cliff Mass, writer Harry Enten, and Jon Lawhead of the University of Southern California joined Paul for the discussion.___

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2016-03-26 03:57:35 (1 comments; 4 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

“I don’t think it really matters if you get the words right,” said Andrew Moore, the dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. “To me, the most important distinction is whether a technology is designed primarily to be autonomous. ... The second question—of whether this thing, whatever it is, happens to have legs or eyes or a body—is less important.”

“I don’t think it really matters if you get the words right,” said Andrew Moore, the dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. “To me, the most important distinction is whether a technology is designed primarily to be autonomous. ... The second question—of whether this thing, whatever it is, happens to have legs or eyes or a body—is less important.”___

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2016-03-22 23:30:36 (3 comments; 4 reshares; 6 +1s; )Open 

"While any given change in shape for the system is mostly random, the most durable and irreversible of these shifts in configuration occur when the system happens to be momentarily better at absorbing and dissipating work. With the passage of time, the “memory” of these less erasable changes accumulates preferentially, and the system increasingly adopts shapes that resemble those in its history where dissipation occurred. Looking backward at the likely history of a product of this non-equilibrium process, the structure will appear to us like it has self-organized into a state that is “well adapted” to the environmental conditions. This is the phenomenon of dissipative adaptation."

"While any given change in shape for the system is mostly random, the most durable and irreversible of these shifts in configuration occur when the system happens to be momentarily better at absorbing and dissipating work. With the passage of time, the “memory” of these less erasable changes accumulates preferentially, and the system increasingly adopts shapes that resemble those in its history where dissipation occurred. Looking backward at the likely history of a product of this non-equilibrium process, the structure will appear to us like it has self-organized into a state that is “well adapted” to the environmental conditions. This is the phenomenon of dissipative adaptation."___

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2016-03-18 05:25:24 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

Of all the central active fields in complexity theory, I find the stuff about military optimization by far the weirdest. I mean I get it, and this is a fine paper, but still...

"Much like a multicellular organism, human civilization is composed of a set of distinct and heterogeneous social tissues. Responding to disruption and restoring health in a system with highly diverse local social conditions is an essentially complex task. SOF have the potential to mitigate against harm without disrupting normal social tissue behavior. This analysis suggests how SOF might be leveraged to support global stability and mitigate against cascading crises."

Of all the central active fields in complexity theory, I find the stuff about military optimization by far the weirdest. I mean I get it, and this is a fine paper, but still...

"Much like a multicellular organism, human civilization is composed of a set of distinct and heterogeneous social tissues. Responding to disruption and restoring health in a system with highly diverse local social conditions is an essentially complex task. SOF have the potential to mitigate against harm without disrupting normal social tissue behavior. This analysis suggests how SOF might be leveraged to support global stability and mitigate against cascading crises."___

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2016-03-18 05:24:54 (2 comments; 4 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

Of all the central active fields in complexity theory, I find the stuff about military optimization by far the weirdest. I mean I get it, and this is a fine paper, but still...

"Much like a multicellular organism, human civilization is composed of a set of distinct and heterogeneous social tissues. Responding to disruption and restoring health in a system with highly diverse local social conditions is an essentially complex task. SOF have the potential to mitigate against harm without disrupting normal social tissue behavior. This analysis suggests how SOF might be leveraged to support global stability and mitigate against cascading crises."

Of all the central active fields in complexity theory, I find the stuff about military optimization by far the weirdest. I mean I get it, and this is a fine paper, but still...

"Much like a multicellular organism, human civilization is composed of a set of distinct and heterogeneous social tissues. Responding to disruption and restoring health in a system with highly diverse local social conditions is an essentially complex task. SOF have the potential to mitigate against harm without disrupting normal social tissue behavior. This analysis suggests how SOF might be leveraged to support global stability and mitigate against cascading crises."___

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2016-03-16 02:57:24 (15 comments; 18 reshares; 27 +1s; )Open 

My Scientism

I had a great long discussion with someone on Facebook this afternoon in which I laid out an overall framework for my philosophy of science, and in particular my "brand" of pluralistic scientism in what I think is a relatively clear way.  My friend raised most of the standard objections to my view(s), and I've never really put those (plus my answers to them) down in a single place before.  It occurred to me near the end of the conversation that I had a skeleton of a fairly well-worked out paper (or more) giving a holistic account of my view, and why I self-identify with the "scientism" label.  Virtually all of what I have here consists in things that I've said in one place or another (which makes this look like a lot more work to compose than it actually was), either in discussions or in more formal contexts, but I've never aggregated it allan... more »

My Scientism

I had a great long discussion with someone on Facebook this afternoon in which I laid out an overall framework for my philosophy of science, and in particular my "brand" of pluralistic scientism in what I think is a relatively clear way.  My friend raised most of the standard objections to my view(s), and I've never really put those (plus my answers to them) down in a single place before.  It occurred to me near the end of the conversation that I had a skeleton of a fairly well-worked out paper (or more) giving a holistic account of my view, and why I self-identify with the "scientism" label.  Virtually all of what I have here consists in things that I've said in one place or another (which makes this look like a lot more work to compose than it actually was), either in discussions or in more formal contexts, but I've never aggregated it all and presented it in a way that shows how it's all supposed to fit together into a comprehensive view.  This is mostly for my own use later on, though comments are certainly welcome.

There are three main parts here.  First, the basic claim (really two basic claims): one about a commitment to scientism, and one about the role of prediction in science.  Second, an account of how philosophy, history, art, and literature are supposed to fit into this view, and how those pursuits can have value in the context of a scientistic philosophy.  Finally, an account of the relationship between prediction and explanation.

The Basic Claims

Science is the business of identifying real patterns in how the world changes over time, cataloging those patterns, and using them to make predictions about what's going to happen in the world.  This makes science deeply prediction centric: on this view, the central job of the scientist is to find patterns that are stable enough across time and environmental perturbation to be able to ground our predictions about what's going to happen in the future of some system.  Moreover, science is the best and only reliable methodology to accomplish this task.  Other "ways of knowing" (ugh) are legitimate only insofar as they are simply disguised ways of doing science or else have successfully hit on some stable pattern entirely by accident.

So there are two controversial claims here: (1) that prediction is at the core of everything science does (call this the "prediction-centric claim," and (2) that science is the best and only methodology we have for understanding the structure of the world around us (call this "the scientistic claim").  The goal here is to unpack and defend those two controversial claims, show how they relate to one another, and how they don't lead to believing crazy things.

The Humanities as Sciences

There's an immediate objection here: what about the humanities?  People tend to be uncomfortable with scientism as it's standardly articulated because it seems to leave no room for things like philosophy as legitimate pursuits.  Considering that what I'm doing now counts as philosophy, unless I want my argument to be self-undermining, I need an account of how philosophical inquiry--and, more broadly, humanistic disciplines like history--can be legitimate enterprises.  

Let's tackle history as an example case, and generalize from there.  Historians do lots of uncovering patterns in data, but the kinds of patterns they discover don't always (don't usually?) lend themselves to making predictions about the future, it seems.  So what do we say about that?  Is historical inquiry only worthwhile insofar as it uncovers patterns that could lead to predictions about the future?

To begin, I'm not at all sure that historians' patterns don't lend themselves to making predictions about the future. Knowing how things went in the past is an excellent guide to knowing how things will go in the future, and historians can uncover general trends in various kinds of systems that are incredibly useful for making predictions in similar contexts. Moreover, just uncovering facts about what went on in the past is very helpful in lots of other areas. Testing a model of some system or process for retrodictive success is a great way to start to figure out if you've got something that might be a predictive success as well. In some cases, that's actually all we have to go on (most climate models are empirically vetted primarily on the basis of their success at retrodicting paleoclimate trends based on the right initial conditions and parameterizations). In climate science (along with lots of other "mainstream" scientific fields), there are people who almost exclusively do data collection (rather than building models or theories themselves). I'd see historians as fitting into the larger project of science in pretty much the same way in many cases: just doing that kind of data collection is extremely important. Of course, there are also historians who advance more grand theoretical frameworks (maybe somebody like Marx counts here) that are supposed to be explicitly predictive, and they're even easier to fit in.

Here's my view somewhat more generally. I don't want to suggest that the actual business of making particular predictions is the only thing that's worth doing. While I wholeheartedly embrace the "scientism" label, I like to think that my scientism is at least somewhat nuanced or sophisticated (that's the whole point of aggregating all of these arguments). The notion that "the only activity worth doing is making predictions about the future" is a sort of "naive scientism" in the vein of someone like Sam Harris, and I certainly want to contrast my brand of pluralist, pragmatically motivated, naturalistic scientism with that sort of position. 

I've used this metaphor really frequently (including in my dissertation), but I think it bears repeating here:

I think of science as being something like air travel. The (straightforward) point of air travel is to get people safely from one point to another by flying planes. It's quite clear that in order to do that, you need a lot of people who know how to fly planes safely, and that the people doing that are the most salient contributors to the overall project. But it would be extremely silly to suggest that because their contributions are the most salient, they're the only ones doing anything worthwhile in pursuit of that project. It would be silly, that is, to suggest that because the plane mechanics, ground crew, air traffic controllers, mechanical engineers, ticket agents, flight attendants, and so on aren't physically flying planes they're not contributing to the same overall project that the pilots are engaged in--viz., air travel. Without those people, the project of air travel wouldn't (so to speak) fly: it wouldn't work, or at least it wouldn't work nearly as smoothly. It's the entire system of pilots plus all the people working behind the scenes to support them that makes the whole process work as smoothly as it does.

There's an excellent short paper by Stephen Kline called "What Is Technology?" (https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4wR7F7Si7hseS0yWllsYWxqNkE) in which he distinguishes four different senses of "technology," starting with artifacts themselves and working up to what he calls a "sociotechnical system of use" in which the artifacts--along with their design, manufacture, deployment, management, maintenance, and so on--are deployed. When I talk about science, or claim that the whole business of science is prediction, I have in mind a definition of "science" that's roughly analogous to Kline's definition of "technology" as "sociotechnical system of use" sense; that is, by "science" I mean not just the business of making predictions, but also all the other things that have to happen to make that particular endeavor possible. In the context of the air travel metaphor, scientists are flying the planes, but people in many areas of the humanities (philosophers, historians, and lots of other people besides) can and do contribute by doing aircraft maintenance, air traffic control, and all that other stuff. It's all equally worthwhile in the sense that it's all necessary to make the system function smoothly, and it's all part of science in the sense that it's oriented toward the same broad goal.

Still, this may leave out much of what is interesting about historical inquiry: namely, understanding the specific ways in which the past is not and could never be like the future--the uniqueness and particularity of the past. Certainly, one can be interested in these things not accidentally or secondarily, but primarily. A historian of that kind would be looking out exactly for those features of the past the understanding of which will not lend themselves to making predictions about the future.

All this is surely correct.  Still, it seems to me that identifying those features, clarifying what made them distinctive, and articulating why they couldn't be repeated is still part of the same overall business of identifying patterns. The fact that you've found a pattern that's unlikely to repeat doesn't mean that you've found nothing at all. Knowing why the pattern won't repeat--why it was unstable against a certain kind of perturbation of the boundary conditions, say--can, in many cases, involve (or lead to) an even more intricate understanding of the structure of the system as a whole than just picking out more obvious repeating patterns.

This account generalizes fairly straightforwardly to include standardly "philosophical" pursuits like metaphysics.  Metaphysics (and philosophy in general) can fit in when it works in tandem with science (in the standard narrow sense) to facilitate this predictive project. The extent to which I find a metaphysical theory worthy of consideration (for example) is a direct function of the extent to which it contributes in some useful way to the scientific (in the broad sense I just outlined) project.  Good metaphysics is naturalized in the sense of Ladyman & Ross' Every Thing Must Go: it takes our best contemporary physical theories as its starting point, and engages in a kind of "conceptual engineering" or foundational work.  That is, I take the metaphysician's job to be the clarification, articulation, and (in some cases) critique of the concepts deployed by the natural sciences, in order to facilitate scientific investigation.  

Philosophers in general, I suggest, play a role similar to that of air traffic controllers while scientists play the role of pilots: while it is the pilots who are directly responsible for the success or failure of the project, their job can be (and is) made significantly easier with competent support and direction from the ground.  The air traffic controllers cooperate with the pilots to further a shared goal: the goal of moving people about safely.  Likewise, philosophers cooperate with scientists to further a shared goal: the goal of identifying genuine projectable patterns in the world around us. Philosophers are not scientists in just the same way that dotted yellow lines are not cars, or that air-traffic controllers are not pilots, or that traffic engineers are not commuters trying to get to work on time.  Like our transportation analogues, though, philosophers have a vital role to play in the scientific project as a whole: a role of coordination, general analysis, optimization, and clarification.  

We are suited to play this role precisely in virtue of not being scientists: we are uniquely suited (to both carry the transportation theme and echo a famous metaphor of Wilfred Sellars') "build bridges" between the activities of individual scientists, and between different branches of the scientific project as a whole.  Philosophers are trained to clarify foundational assumptions, note structural similarities between arguments (and problems) that at first glance could not seem more disparate, and to construct arguments with a keen eye for rigor.  These skills, while not necessarily part of the scientist's tool-kit, are vital to the success of the scientific project as a whole: if we're to succeed in our goal of cataloging the interesting patterns in the world around us, we need more than just people directly looking for those patterns.  We might take this as a special case of Bruno Latour's observation that "the more non-humans share existence with humans, the more humane a collective is," and note that the more non-scientists share in the scientific project, the more scientific the project becomes.

Art and Engineering

But what of even more humanistic disciplines?  What of English literature?  More generally, what about art?  How do those fit into this view?  Surely there is no explicit pattern identification or prediction going on there, and yet surely those can still be worthwhile pursuits.  How do we account for this?

Again, I'm not convinced that prediction isn't hidden somewhere in here, at least in many cases.  Something like comparative literature can teach us a lot about how people in various times, places, and circumstances saw the world, what their values and priorities were, and what was culturally salient to them when they wrote what they did. This is a potentially useful adjunct to the scientific project too. The art that people make is a kind of projection of the interplay between their own psychological and social circumstances; looking at it (and especially comparing it) can give you some idea of what those circumstances were, in the same sense that looking at an object's shadow from many different angles can give you some idea of the object's physical structure. Studying the literature, sculpture, folklore, or other artistic work of some culture can teach you a great deal about the culture itself. In at least some cases, disciplines like English literature are doing a kind of cultural anthropology. This is, I take it, part of why people get so upset when curricula include only things written by white male European authors: since the texts are in some sense proxies by which to examine the culture of the author, an "all Western classics" curriculum is exploring only a single culture.

Even still, I'll grant that not every case is going to straightforwardly work that way. In that case, I'd just say that what those people are doing isn't science at all. But that's OK--they don't claim to be. People do all sorts of things that aren't science, even broadly construed, and I certainly don't think that that's a problem. The scientistic claim, recall, isn't the view that everyone should be doing science and nothing else all the time, but just that science is the best and only methodology we have for discerning the structure of the world around us. 

Perhaps more controversially, I think it's reasonable to see the production of art (of any kind) as a species of engineering: the artist is attempting to manipulate the psychological and/or neurological states of the audience in a very specific way. This is straightforwardly true with something like narrative writing: when I'm making a philosophical argument, part of what I'm trying to do is put down some marks on a page that will get you into a particular psychological state, and something similar is true with narrative fiction, I think. Doing the same thing through the more roundabout and indirect interventions consisting of colors on a canvas, or non-narrative writing, or notes on a score is arguably more difficult, and more impressive. The fact that Mark Rothko can reliably induce certain highly specific emotional states in people who look at his pieces just by juxtaposing some blocks of solid colors, for instance, is absolutely astounding, and a remarkable feat of "psychological engineering" (or neurobiological hacking, maybe). All of the people we consider "great artists" produce works that still "resonate" with people hundreds (or even thousands) of years after the work was produced. The fact that a person was able to create something that continues to induce similar psychological states in people in vastly different cultures and circumstances indicates a truly remarkable understanding--conscious or not--of what makes people tick, and how to manipulate parts of the world to effect certain changes in people. Even if that's not science, it's certainly informed by a kind of implicit scientific-ish (scientifish?) understanding of the world: the great artists of history have identified some extremely robust patterns in how our perceptual and psychological systems are hooked up, and figured out how to reliably exploit them to effect certain reactions.

I think I claimed somewhere in my dissertation that everything people do is a kind of science, a kind of engineering, or a kind of recreation. I still think that's basically correct.

An Explanatory Gap?

There may seem to be some tension between the prediction-centric claim and the scientistic claim.  Specifically, the scientistic claim ("the best and only methodology we have for discerning the structure of the world around us"), makes no mention of prediction, instead referencing understanding.  In what sense does prediction lead to understanding, and why is that exclusively scientific? 

It's not obvious how to reconcile those two claims, but I think there's a way to do it. One natural objection to the prediction-centric view of science is that it leaves no room for explanation. Addressing this worry, then, involves giving an account of how prediction and explanation ("understanding" in the context of what I said there, I suppose, though I was speaking loosely) hook up. I don't actually think there's a substantive difference between the two; or, maybe more precisely, I think explanation is a certain kind of prediction (or pattern identification).

We want to say that there's a difference between a well-developed science and a "Magic 8-ball:" some kind of mysterious device that correctly answers questions about what will (or what is likely to) happen in the future (and so generates accurate predictions), but which is explanatorily empty. There's a practical illustration of this drawn from the history of climate science and meteorology. The most popular method for forecasting the weather during the first part of the 20th century involved the use of purely qualitative maps of past weather activity. Forecasters would chart the current state to the best of their ability, noting the location of clouds, the magnitude and direction of prevailing winds, the presence of precipitation, &c. Once the current state was recorded on a map of the region of interest, the forecasters would refer back to past charts of the same region until they found one that closely resembled the chart they had just generated. They would then check to see how that past state had evolved over time, and would base their forecast of the current situation on that past record. This turned forecasting into the kind of activity that took years (or even decades) to become proficient in; in order to make practical use of this kind of approach, would-be forecasters had to have an encyclopedic knowledge of past charts, as well as the ability to make educated guesses at how the current system might diverge from the most similar past cases. This approach faded away as people got a better theoretical understanding of atmospheric physics and other relevant theoretical processes underwriting the weather and climate systems. Eventually, it was replaced entirely by computational modeling that's grounded in stuff like fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and other relatively well-understood physical processes.

It seems natural (and correct) to say that something was added to meteorology when people started making predictions based on things like atmospheric circulation models and other well-articulated theories grounded in formal models, rather than just looking at past weather maps. It also seems like whatever it was that was added in that transition is at least partially independent of predictive success: even if the weather map method was about as good at predicting tomorrow's weather as the computational modeling method, the latter seems more like a mature science in virtue of explaining why tomorrow's weather prediction is what it is. In both this case and the Magic 8-Ball case, the thing that seems missing is explanation. Most people take this to mean two things: (a) explanation is separate from prediction, and (b) good science explains in addition to predicting.

I think that (b) is right, but that (a) is mistaken: explanation is definitely a part of good science, but it's just a species of pattern identification, which makes it a species of prediction.  When I was taking a graduate seminar on the philosophy of the special sciences with Michael Strevens, he neatly summed up this view as "explanation is just prediction with a fancy hat on". I think that's the perfect slogan. 

More precisely, explanation is the unification of multiple different predictive schemes, generally operating at different scales of analysis or from multiple perspectives on system individuation. The 8-ball case bothers us because the predictions of the 8-ball seems to "float free" of the rest of what we know about the world; we'd want to know how it works, which is just a demand for an account of the 8-ball from the perspective of another set of patterns (e.g. Newtonian mechanics). Likewise, we took the weather forecasting approach to be explained once we saw how it was that the patterns they saw--patterns like weather fronts and storm systems--were related to things like the Navier-Stokes equations in fluid dynamics, and how the circulation of the atmosphere drove weather. This is still a widening of our predictive capacities, because it consists in bridge-building between different ways of carving up the same system. Hooking up multiple sets of prediction-bearing patterns in this way strengthens our overall predictive framework, because it helps us understand how the dynamics of one "kind" of system--i.e. the dynamics of the world corresponding to one system individuation--correspond to those of another. 

This is a sort unificationist account of explanation, but I think it's unification of a different kind than (grounded wholly differently from) that of Kitcher and the rest of the standard unificationist account of explanation folks. I think it follows fairly straightforwardly from the way that I've laid out science as a general project, plus the sort of pluralist "rainforest realism" metaphysics behind the way I've articulated the system individuation problem in that paper that's coming out in BJPS one of these days (http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11832/).  

The formal account of this view would discuss the system individuation problem a bit, and show how all of this fits in there as well.  I already have that in one place, though, and don't feel the need to rehash it here.  This is all just a sketch, and would need a lot of filling in and referencing for formal presentation.  Still, it's a good start.

#scientism   #philosophy   #philosophyofscience___

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2016-03-15 23:19:09 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

A couple of days ago, I published a longish post (Good Science, Failed Science, and Pathological Science, https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JonLawhead/posts/6R32xdB1crT) about the demarcation problem,  arguing that we should replace the "science vs. pseudoscience" distinction with a simpler distinction between good science, failed science, and pathological science.  Today, randomly, I came across this paper written by Philip Kitcher (my PhD advisor), and published the month I was born.

From that paper:

"We can manage without a criterion of demarcation. I prefer to change the problem. The division between science and pseudoscience is not what is at stake in this controversy. The issue is the location of various proposals on a continuum. To put the point briefly: There is excellent science, good science, mediocre science, poor science, and dreadful science."more »

A couple of days ago, I published a longish post (Good Science, Failed Science, and Pathological Science, https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JonLawhead/posts/6R32xdB1crT) about the demarcation problem,  arguing that we should replace the "science vs. pseudoscience" distinction with a simpler distinction between good science, failed science, and pathological science.  Today, randomly, I came across this paper written by Philip Kitcher (my PhD advisor), and published the month I was born.

From that paper:

"We can manage without a criterion of demarcation. I prefer to change the problem. The division between science and pseudoscience is not what is at stake in this controversy. The issue is the location of various proposals on a continuum. To put the point briefly: There is excellent science, good science, mediocre science, poor science, and dreadful science."

Literally an identical point to the one I was making, almost an identical title, and published the month I was born.  Apparently he was advising me in utero.  What the actual fuck.___

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2016-03-11 22:10:58 (0 comments; 3 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

"A representation is a map of a system onto mathematical variables. More correctly, a representation should be understood as a map of the set of possible states of a system onto the possible states of mathematical variables. A faithful representation must have the same number of states as the system it is representing. This enables the states of the representation to be mapped one to one to the states of the system. If a model has fewer states than the system, then it can’t represent everything that is happening in the system. If a model has more states, then it is representing things that can’t happen in the system. Conventional models often do not take this into account and this results in a mismatch of the system and the model; they are unfaithful representations and do not properly identify the behavior of the system, and thus ultimately its response to environmental forces or interventions wemig... more »

"A representation is a map of a system onto mathematical variables. More correctly, a representation should be understood as a map of the set of possible states of a system onto the possible states of mathematical variables. A faithful representation must have the same number of states as the system it is representing. This enables the states of the representation to be mapped one to one to the states of the system. If a model has fewer states than the system, then it can’t represent everything that is happening in the system. If a model has more states, then it is representing things that can’t happen in the system. Conventional models often do not take this into account and this results in a mismatch of the system and the model; they are unfaithful representations and do not properly identify the behavior of the system, and thus ultimately its response to environmental forces or interventions we might consider. Because we are interested in influencing the system, we only want to know the distinctions that matter. We have to focus attention on those states that are distinguishable at a particular scale of observation."___

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2016-03-11 22:10:18 (0 comments; 6 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

"A representation is a map of a system onto mathematical variables. More correctly, a representation should be understood as a map of the set of possible states of a system onto the possible states of mathematical variables. A faithful representation must have the same number of states as the system it is representing. This enables the states of the representation to be mapped one to one to the states of the system. If a model has fewer states than the system, then it can’t represent everything that is happening in the system. If a model has more states, then it is representing things that can’t happen in the system. Conventional models often do not take this into account and this results in a mismatch of the system and the model; they are unfaithful representations and do not properly identify the behavior of the system, and thus ultimately its response to environmental forces or interventions wemig... more »

"A representation is a map of a system onto mathematical variables. More correctly, a representation should be understood as a map of the set of possible states of a system onto the possible states of mathematical variables. A faithful representation must have the same number of states as the system it is representing. This enables the states of the representation to be mapped one to one to the states of the system. If a model has fewer states than the system, then it can’t represent everything that is happening in the system. If a model has more states, then it is representing things that can’t happen in the system. Conventional models often do not take this into account and this results in a mismatch of the system and the model; they are unfaithful representations and do not properly identify the behavior of the system, and thus ultimately its response to environmental forces or interventions we might consider. Because we are interested in influencing the system, we only want to know the distinctions that matter. We have to focus attention on those states that are distinguishable at a particular scale of observation."___

2016-03-11 04:33:24 (0 comments; 5 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

Good Science, Failed Science, and Pathological Science

I've always been really critical of the demarcation problem, because I'm a science totalitarian.  I want to count everything as science, and the distinction between science and pseudoscience has never been particularly successful anyway.  Irving Langmuir, a mid-20th century chemist, gave a talk (attached) in which he coined the term "pathological science."  Langmuir defined pathological science as "the science of things that aren't so," but which nonetheless remain areas of research that "will not go away," despite having been long abandoned by most scientists.  I've always liked this concept a lot, and I think it suggests a very natural way to think about (or perhaps avoid) the demarcation problem.  Rather than distinguishing between science and pseudoscience, I prefer to distinguishbetw... more »

Good Science, Failed Science, and Pathological Science

I've always been really critical of the demarcation problem, because I'm a science totalitarian.  I want to count everything as science, and the distinction between science and pseudoscience has never been particularly successful anyway.  Irving Langmuir, a mid-20th century chemist, gave a talk (attached) in which he coined the term "pathological science."  Langmuir defined pathological science as "the science of things that aren't so," but which nonetheless remain areas of research that "will not go away," despite having been long abandoned by most scientists.  I've always liked this concept a lot, and I think it suggests a very natural way to think about (or perhaps avoid) the demarcation problem.  Rather than distinguishing between science and pseudoscience, I prefer to distinguish between "good science," "failed science," and "pathological science."

A solution to the demarcation problem is supposed to act something like a door bouncer at a nightclub, determining who does or doesn't get into the club, and excluding those that don't meet the right criteria before they get through the door.  I prefer to be extremely permissive when it comes to admission: anything claiming to identify real patterns in how the world changes over time gets counted as science.  However, once a candidate is "through the door," as it were, it's held to the same standards as everyone else: produce evidence that the pattern's you're claiming to identify are real, and can underwrite useful predictions.  Many candidate sciences will fail to meet these standards, and some of those will be things that usually get counted as pseudoscience, but some will not be.  I don't think making that distinction is important or useful: those that fail to meet the standards are just failed science.  What's important then is how the theory's proponents proceed in the face of this failure.

Consider astrology, one of the paradigm cases of pseudoscience, and (for most people) something that falls clearly into that category.  It has a long track record of failure, has been rigorously tested, and has been shown not to make specific predictions that are better than chance.  It checks most of the pseudoscience criteria I mentioned above, and is very clearly not science.

Moreover, astrology lacks a mechanism for its predictions.  There's no sensible way to fit in the central claims of astrology into the framework of scientific theories--almost everything we know would have to be revised in order to make it the case that the position of celestial bodies at the time of one's birth has lasting, detectable, strong impacts on their personality and events in their life.

However, consider the way things look when astrology was originally proposed as a theory (in its modern European form, this was around 1000 CE).  At that point, the totality of our solid scientific knowledge was much shakier, and astrology looked a hell of a lot more plausible.  We didn't have a good understanding of the mechanism for much of anything, so astrology was no more suspect than most other proposals.  At the same time, though, the predictions of astrologers in 1000 CE were no more reliable than they are today--the fact that it didn't openly conflict with what we knew didn't make it the case that it succeeded in identifying real patterns in the world.  So, while astrology might have been a candidate for good science at the time, it should have fairly quickly been discarded on the basis of failing to make accurate predictions.

The business of science is to identify reliable patterns in the way the world changes over time.  _Anything_ that purports to do that counts as science, on my view.  Astrology makes a series of very explicit claims about patterns in how the world changes over time--patterns linking the position of celestial objects to terrestrial events.  However, on examination, the patterns that astrology proposes simply fail to support any useful predictions.  Consulting an astrological chart in no way improves the accuracy of your predictions about what the world (or any subset of it) is going to do from one moment to the next.

That doesn't make it a pseudoscience, though, unless luminiferous aether theory's failure in the face of special relativity or the caloric theory of heat's inability to underwrite accurate predictions about heat transfer makes those pseudosciences as well: in all cases, it seems better to just think of them as failed science.  Astrology is different only in the sense that its proponents don't seem to care that it failed.

Astrology is pathological, that is, in a sense that the caloric theory of heat is not, but only because people still do astrology. On this view, anything that purports to be identifying genuine patterns in how the world changes over time never gets kicked out of the club: the only demand is that everyone play by the same rules, and produce evidence supporting the reality of the patterns they're claiming to identify.  If this demand isn't met, the candidate is simply bad science.  If people continue to use it despite its failures, it's pathological science.

It seems to me that this is a much more useful distinction to make than science vs. pseudoscience, and that distinguishing good science, failed science, and pathological science is far less problematic than distinguishing science from pseudoscience.  In particular, labeling something as pathological science suggests that it has failed to produce the sort of results we expect from science, but that it still "won't go away;" it's tied to pragmatic success, and the judgement is made after rigorous examination, not on the basis of methodological characteristics, the rhetoric used by proponents, or anything else.  

Everybody gets to play, but everybody follows the same rules, and not everybody wins.  Good, failed, pathological, or still unclear, it's science all the way down.___

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2016-03-09 04:11:39 (4 comments; 2 reshares; 12 +1s; )Open 

People who want to be critical of science as a whole always seize on examples like this one and try to trumpet them as evidence of the fact that science is no better at getting at the truth than any other "way of knowing" (ugh).  I don't understand that.  It seems to me that this sort of case--in which a long-held theory that's very popular in its subfield and seemed very well-confirmed has its accuracy dramatically called into question--is evidence of science working exactly like it's supposed to.  This sort of thing is a "crisis" only if you take the view that scientific orthodoxies work somewhat like religious orthodoxies do: they're handed down from above, and serve as unquestionable bedrocks on which the whole edifice is built.  That's just not the case, though; all science is always a work in progress, and the whole point of peer review,rep... more »

People who want to be critical of science as a whole always seize on examples like this one and try to trumpet them as evidence of the fact that science is no better at getting at the truth than any other "way of knowing" (ugh).  I don't understand that.  It seems to me that this sort of case--in which a long-held theory that's very popular in its subfield and seemed very well-confirmed has its accuracy dramatically called into question--is evidence of science working exactly like it's supposed to.  This sort of thing is a "crisis" only if you take the view that scientific orthodoxies work somewhat like religious orthodoxies do: they're handed down from above, and serve as unquestionable bedrocks on which the whole edifice is built.  That's just not the case, though; all science is always a work in progress, and the whole point of peer review, reproducibility checks, and ongoing meta-review is to try to weed out mistakes that have been made somewhere along the line.  When a previously accepted theory like this is substantially challenged, we should be excited rather than dismayed: it shows that our methodology is working, not that it's failed.  

As an aside, the nature of this particular case also reveals how deeply ridiculous claims that climate scientists are "covering up" or "suppressing" heterodox discoveries that contradict the consensus position on anthropogenic climate change are.  When someone comes up with a strong experimental result or dataset that contradicts the orthodoxy, he or she becomes an instant celebrity in the science world, and the results are shouted from the rooftops, irrespective of how much damage it might do to existing research programs.  If it turns out that ego depletion isn't a real thing at all (which isn't what this result indicates, at least not yet), then lots of people will have dedicated significant portions of their careers to chasing a ghost.  Even still, no one would want something like this "hushed up" for the sake of keeping his grant money, nor would that even be possible.  That's just not how science works.  Similarly, if there were people out there with genuine, strong evidence that the consensus position on climate change was incorrect, their results would be major scientific news, and hailed as breakthroughs.

Science-with-a-capital-S (that is, the social and cultural milieu of norms and practices like peer review and reproducibility) is designed to be self-correcting.  If someone puts forward a bad theory, or makes a mistake, or accidentally mistakes some noise for a signal, the set of practices that we've established are supposed to catch that eventually, and reveal the error.  

That's precisely what's happened in this case.  It's a success story, and like all stories in science, it's one of incremental progress through collaboration, not transcendent insight into perfect and timeless truth.  Now, it may also be the case that the way this plays out reveals some serious methodological issues with the way certain social scientific studies are carried out.  The most worrying aspect of this story in particular seems to be that there was so little standardization in the experimental design investigating the ego depletion effect, a state of affairs that made this sort of grand mistake possible.  If this is a pervasive problem across some areas of science, that's something that needs to be addressed: social scientists may need to rethink how they do experimental design, how they look for genuine signals, and so on.  I can guarantee, however, that they will rethink those things, and that people will learn from this mistake.  

That doesn't mean that there won't be more mistakes in the future--possibly even more mistakes of almost exactly the same kind--but it does mean that we'll do things a little better than we did before.  Again, this is a shining example of the process working exactly as it should; we're making incremental progress, learning from our mistakes, and trying to correct for newly discovered problems as they arise.  The system is far from perfect, and there are still a lot of serious systemic problems that need to be addressed (the reliable publication of null experimental results is one of the most important things we could do to make things better). It is, however, also by far the best thing we have for figuring out how the world works, warts and all.  We shouldn't expect to get things right on the first try, or even on the 10,000th try.  The world is messy and science is hard.  All we can do is just keep working.  ___

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2016-03-08 07:34:29 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

This is a bot that does nothing but create glitched corporate logos.

This is a bot that does nothing but create glitched corporate logos.___

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2016-03-08 06:14:11 (1 comments; 6 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

Oh yeah, that's the stuff right there.

"Nor did scientific progress rob philosophy of its former scientific subject matter, leaving it to concentrate on the broadly moral. In fact, philosophy thrives when enough is known to make progress conceivable, but it remains unachieved because of methodological confusion. Philosophy helps break the impasse by articulating new questions, posing possible solutions and forging new conceptual tools. Sometimes it does so when sciences are born, as with 17th-century physics and 19th-century biology. But it also does so as they mature. As science advances, there is more, not less, for it to do.

Our knowledge of the universe and ourselves expands like a ripple surrounding a pebble dropped in a pool. As we move away from the center of the spreading circle, its area, representing our secure knowledge, grows. But so does its circumference,... more »

Oh yeah, that's the stuff right there.

"Nor did scientific progress rob philosophy of its former scientific subject matter, leaving it to concentrate on the broadly moral. In fact, philosophy thrives when enough is known to make progress conceivable, but it remains unachieved because of methodological confusion. Philosophy helps break the impasse by articulating new questions, posing possible solutions and forging new conceptual tools. Sometimes it does so when sciences are born, as with 17th-century physics and 19th-century biology. But it also does so as they mature. As science advances, there is more, not less, for it to do.

Our knowledge of the universe and ourselves expands like a ripple surrounding a pebble dropped in a pool. As we move away from the center of the spreading circle, its area, representing our secure knowledge, grows. But so does its circumference, representing the border where knowledge blurs into uncertainty and speculation, and methodological confusion returns. Philosophy patrols the border, trying to understand how we got there and to conceptualize our next move. Its job is unending."___

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2016-03-04 06:11:26 (10 comments; 14 reshares; 18 +1s; )Open 

I used the latter part of this as my dissertation epigraph, but on seeing the whole passage, I wish I'd included it all.

I used the latter part of this as my dissertation epigraph, but on seeing the whole passage, I wish I'd included it all.___

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