Extreme Metaphor and Limits

October 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

There has been in recent years a boom in surrogate motherhood in India. The ethical concerns surrounding this phenomenon are numerous. Allowing for an extreme moral relativism and putting aside one’s own gut revulsion, it is very hard to imagine this fact/state as an aim, say, of a progressive agenda. A more egalitarian earth we hope, will surely erase the sort of inequality and poverty which sustains such a boom.

Mother Armenia, Mother Svea, Mother Bengal, … there are quite a few mothers personifying nations around the globe. Its not too difficult then to see the period in which a nation’s resources are spent on its citizens to educate and nourish them prior to their entrance into labor market as a gestation of sorts. A mass-preganancy funded variously through a nation’s resources (via taxes or wealth from natural resources within a nation’s territory).

The arguments by pro immigration lobbies in Europe – citing demographic problems or research, affirming economic benefits of a large influx– in a sense too, sound much like the sort made to highlight the pros of surrogacy. Those have mainly been, the fact that surrogacy enables infertile couples to fulfill a dream, and that it gives an opportunity to some women to climb out of extreme poverty.

But what if anything, is the fruit of this metaphor? Can we for instance speculate that global policy with regards to Near East by fueling increased misery has enabled macro surrogacy?

Robert Aumann in a talk titled “Who Are the Players?” listed some implications of viewing collectives such as nations as agents in game theoretic sense.

“Full World” analysis of game situations and moral judgement of collectives, he reckoned, may be possible. Akin to viewing pairs of European nations with low fertility, implanting Near Eastern nations with a cocktail of chaos (via Nato bombings and export of ISIS volunteers) whilst maintaining a self-posture of welfare and tranquility.

Perhaps one can conjure the famous Coleman’s Boat or Bathtub, where arrows of causality may, if traced, ascertain blame or moral depravity on macro scale, but would it really float?

Let us consider a number of ethical questions regarding surrogacy, and see if the individual subject and object can possibly be replaced by collectives.
– To what extent is it right for society to permit women to make contracts about the use of their bodies?
Can the community of nations permit some to, if not to make contracts enabling an exodus, enter arrangements which would make it inevitable …for this to make any remote sense, the analogy should be restricted to economic migrants, …These too have mostly never needed the permission from the nation from which they depart …
Should the state be able to force a woman to carry out “specific performance” of her contract if that requires her to give birth to an embryo she would like to abort, or to abort an embryo she would like to carry to term?
Its not of course the case that developed nations with demographic problems are entering into agreements with less developed countries, who then have to tearfully forgo their claim on the working age youth they nurtured….But considering the enthusiasm shown by Europe as a collective in removing structures of minimal order in Libya and Syria …one is tempted to retain bits of this metaphor.
There is also empirical evidence that transferring parental rights does not annul but rather it conceals the existing parental bonds between the gestational mother and her child. In order to make it easier for her to relinquish the child, she must invoke a number of “cognitive dissonance reduction strategies”
Mother Russia or Kartvlis Deda might never lose their love and attachment to their respective expatriates. Macro moms would surely rejoice when a person from their collective womb makes it big in the new family …this while true in a banal sense, contains none of the trauma of the scenario at individual level.

Anthropomorphic or zoomorphic maps such as the two below, quite popular in late 19th and early 20th century, sort of encapsulate both the charm and limits of such narratives. Collectives personified in such style while amusing cover more than they expose.

Angling in Dangerous Waters, 1889

Angling in Dangerous Waters, 1889

L’Europe Animale, 1882

L’Europe Animale, 1882


Not Quite Meaningless

April 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

It was quite interesting to go through this post by Professor Hertzberg of Åbo Akademi wherein he elevates a viewpoint which he is opposed to, by excluding it from the set of “meaningless claims” and permitting its consideration as an “interesting formulation”.

I first came across Professor Hertzbeg’s name watching a conversation he had with Frederick Stoutland on Georg Henrik von Wright, and remember him mentioning that he liked and preferred very much von Wright’s Den logiska empirismen to A J Ayer’s Language truth and Logic, which is a book I very much adore.

So when reading this post I was half aware or at least assumed that for philosophers of that tradition the term “meaningless claim” may have a far more restricted denotation than one would usually encounter.

Nevertheless I find that if one follows a primitive formula according to which,
Something has meaning for a subject by way of making a “difference to them”
the question does not even arise in the way it’s raised. A claim is meaningful for the claimant as an essential expression of the way such concepts make a difference to them.

The claim in question is one of the varieties employed by the opponents of a recent marriage law reform in Finland, and so Professor Hertzberg points out that:
“Clearly, the intended force of “Marriage is between a man and a woman” can’t be that of a definition. The fact that a linguistic convention exists does not preclude going against it.”

Surely so, but there is no reason why the convention itself should not have supporters, who would base this claim on convenience of the norm. What stops the proponents from devising an alternative name is not quite clear.

But it is in the next argument, that one finds if not a contradiction, an element which can just as easily lend force to the claim in question:
“Furthermore, as a description of an existing linguistic convention the claim would not even be true. The word “marriage” has traditionally been employed in speaking about polygamous relations.
In fact, one would be unable to explain what “polygamy” means without allowing for the conceptual possibility of a marriage involving something other than one man and one woman.”

Polygamy to the best of my knowledge is not legal in Finland and its been overused as an argument by conservatives opposed to gay marriage, who suggest that once such a law is passed we would be on slippery slope of including varieties of arrangements under the same label, which would devalue its currency and alter the “meaning” of the convention.

If we were to imagine a not so desirable future, where, given a demographic shift in favor of certain non-indigenous religions there would be a citizen’s initiative in Finland, and a law is requested in favor of polygamous marriage, would such a reminder lend as much favor to that hypothetical initiative?

I don’t quite get why Professor Hertzberg then goes on to discount a reading of the claim as a stand or opinion. Opinions are not meaningless claims. What is declared in one, is an expression of a state of affairs which makes a difference to the speaker, and yes it would have to be pushed into the arena of argument.

The necessity of the position is in the value, the restricted definition, has in the life-world (umwelt) of those subjects, and in their respective attempts to structure and make sense of bio-cultural streams of stimuli.

This would make even more true the confusion they’d want to attribute to the supporters of same sex marriage, apropos of their appropriation/seeking of the term. An essentialist crime if any can just as easily be attributed to the proponents as they seem to be attributing an essence to the term “marriage” which justifies their challenging the will of those who hope to reserve the term.

Moreover as Roger Scruton has expressed in a characteristic dialectical fashion this attempt is in a sense self-defeating for “…in seeking equality with something unlike yourself the thing that you join to is no longer what you joined.”

Professor Hertzberg’s conclusion leaves one even more dissatisfied:
“What makes the proposition “Marriage is between a man and a woman” philosophically interesting is that it shows that people may say things that do not fit into any of the standard categories philosophers commonly use in classifying utterances. It is neither the expression of a linguistic convention, nor a statement of empirical fact, nor a normative claim.”

How is it not a normative claim? It seems to be nothing but that?!

But its even true as an expression of an empirical fact in so far as the petition is made to the Finnish parliament and it is the Finnish state which we expect to solemnize marriages and secure them through legal privileges.
This same state has through its history in penalizing say bigamy or incest used just such a conception as claimed by “Marriage is between a man and a woman” and not those of Toda people of Nilgiri plateau, whose fraternal polyandry may not necessarily be more accommodating to such an initiative.

Again its not the initiative which Professor Hertzberg has argued for, its just the sense and status of the claim
“Marriage is between man and woman” which is pondered on. It appears this would only be problematic if we agree that as an utterance its neither normative nor empirical. Yet in the context of an exchange between citizens of Finland and the Finnish Parliament I fail to see how this assertion holds.

I am tempted to refer to a delightful essay by Professor Hertzberg titled “The Sense Is Where You Find It”. which considers how invocations of nonsense in philosophy are to be understood.

The essay concludes that at most what can be said about problematic/nonsensical/appearing to be nonsensical utterances are things like ‘You can’t say this and mean that’, or, ‘If you say this here, it will come out as something quite different from what you mean to be saying’, or maybe even just, ‘I wouldn’t say that if I wanted to make that kind of point in this situation’.

Now as a proponent of the initiative I don’t imagine Professor Hertzberg would be much bothered to indulge in any of the above as a response to “Marriage is between man and a woman”. But I am curious as to how otherwise could the opponents utter their view, to say, make it easily classifiable as a normative claim?

Aggression and Measure

December 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

Bonobos, consensual playful fisting…really… if Pinker’s thesis is anywhere close to accurate, then there seems to be a grave need to redefine violence for this coming century.

The Nordic, I feel, would be the perfect terrain for investigating how absences can be employed to suffocate adversaries.

Terence Deacon in Incomplete Nature advocates in ways which are not too relevant to this project for redefinition of violence or aggression, that natural sciences too should consider a a causal role for absence.

Lets check his synthesized rules about nature of information and its relationship to energy:

1) Information potential: Information is dependent on the physical features of a communication channel or (more generally) a sign medium and so the capacity of that channel or medium to assume different states (its maximum possible Shannon entropy) determines the maximum amount of information it can convey.

2) Physical basis of information: The Shannon entropy of a communication channel or sign medium is a function of the variety of states it can assume along with the degree of their causal independence from one another. This in turn can be described in terms of Boltzmann entropy.

3) Information as absence: The maximum potential information that a signal or sign can convey must be measured with respect to signals or signs that were not produced. It can only be defined and quantified with respect to the probability of these unrealized possibilities. Even in noisy conditions where an unreliable medium does not allow complete reduction of uncertainty from the maximum Shannon entropy, any degree of reduction provides a measurable level of information.

(Shannon-Boltzmann-Darwin: redefining information, Part 1, p.15)

A superquick and super simplified way this last principle can be hijacked is to consider how a lack of response of an agency in supposed communication in effect contains maximum amount of unpronounced signal or sign.

In so far as the other party may have entered into a relationship of anticipation, it is being showered with maximum entropy. On can metaphorically label this as an act of incineration by an entropy flame thrower.

On Music and Painting

October 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Picture this- A yotta?

Eno does it with such ease, running through and elucidating the logic of movements in music and painting in the 20th century. Whilst modern painting and visual arts tried to best aspire to the condition of music, with the advent of the recording studio the reverse became possible for music.

There is a funny  coda of sorts on surrendering in arts and creation. Which are the occasions when we humans surrender in our life projects?

The chosen markers/assumed forms-  are not surprising : Sex, drugs, religion & art

All four providing ways for us to lose control and to also enjoy this loss. When to surrender and how to surrender both being skills which have to be rehearsed. Most cultures use one or more of these forms, Eno would love to find one  where all the four are linked.

At this point of all things I recalled a passage from a letter Jung sent Freud on 11th February 1910. George Steiner too quotes passages from this same letter in those superfine Massey  lectures he gave titled “Nostalgia for the Absolute”.

Jung discusses a suggestion made to him by Alfred Knapp that the psychoanalytic movement join the “International Fraternity for Ethics and Culture“. He wonders though if this fraternity is able to hand out a new myth for us to live by? Because why?

“Only the wise are ethical from sheer intellectual presumption, the rest of us need the eternal truth of myth.”

🙂 woowoowoozela the Aryan Christ goes on:

“The ethical problem of sexual freedom really is enormous and worth the sweat of all noble souls. But two thousand years of Christianity can only be replaced by something equivalent. An ethical fraternity, with its mythical Nothing, not infused by any archaic-infantile driving force, is a pure vacuum and can never evoke in man the slightest trace of that age-old animal power which drives the migrating birds across the sea and without which no irresistible mass movement can come into being. I imagine a far finer and more comprehensive task for psychoanalysis than alliance with an ethical fraternity.I think we must give it time to infiltrate into people from many centres, to revivify among intellectuals a feeling for symbol and myth, ever so gently to transform Christ back into the soothsaying god of the vine, which he was, and in this way absorb those ecstatic instinctual forces of Christianity for the one purpose of making the cult and the sacred myth what they once were-a drunken feast of joy where man regains the ethos and holiness of an animal. That was the beauty and purpose of classical religion, which from God knows what temporary biological need has turned into a Misery Institute.”


The Reins – Steve Kenny

This painting by Steve Kenny, seems to contain a sentiment present in the following lines from Freud’s response:

” I am not thinking of a substitute for religion; this need must be sublimated. I did not expect the fraternity to become a religious organization any more than I would expect a volunteer fire department to do so!…”



September 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Fifth Philosopher’s Song

A million million spermatozoa All of them alive;
Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah
Dare hope to survive.

And among that billion minus one
Might have chanced to be Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne
—But the One was Me.

Shame to have ousted your betters thus,
Taking ark while the others remained outside!

Better for all of us, froward Homunculus,
If you’d quietly died!

—Aldous Huxley (1920)

Somehow the humor of this ditty when juxtaposed against Masha Gessen’s essay for NYRB titled The Dying Russians produced such a mixture of dread and pseudo-profundity, that made concepts like selection pressure and extended phenotype melt into a bitter tasting brew.

This thesis linking the ability to hope to people’s willingness to have children had intuitive appeal for sure. But of course nowadays  it only takes a day or two for such an appeal to be challenged by data. Courtesy of Mark Adomanis contributor to Forbes it appears the stats do not support the assertions of the essay.


Poor Gessen went on to reply in a postscript calling Adomanis a useful idiot for Putin’s regime. Which made it all more interesting since he restricted his response to data points and didn’t slip into ad hominem remarks.


I see the point in his counterargument that :
“…a country’s demographic trajectory has nothing whatsoever to do with its liberal credentials or its government’s “ability to inspire hope.” Some of the most demographically unstable countries on the planet, places like Germany and Japan, are social democracies with robust welfare states, democratic elections, and clean and transparent governments. And some of the most demographically ascendant countries are horrible dictatorships like Saudi Arabia or chaotic failed states like Iraq. There are many ways in which one can gauge the goodness or badness of a government or a country, but looking solely its long-term population projections might very well be the worst.”

But it could be the highly religious societies stated as counter-examples do not really rely on state for inspiring hope …and no matter how miserable things get, belief in after life being a mighty “fitness producing meme” cancels the impact of present doom.

To stretch this thought into a more politically incorrect domain, if the contested assumption is a correlation between a thinking primate’s idea of control over future and its willingness to procreate, what would be the impact of a climate of misandry. A tour of white nationalist forums and odd blogs on the web often provides fierce critiques of what they either term “Cultural Marxism” or “Multiculturalism” which in their usage tends to include feminist thought. These are blamed for emasculating say the men in Nordic countries via education which blames and inculcates in boys feelings of guilt. This they believe has disadvantaged the white resident populations. Also the tournament attributes of the foreign males are often rewarded more despite the cultural hegemony of the pair-bonding ideal.

Statements such as the following from Chateau Heartiste are not uncommon  “If you listen carefully and follow to the letter your women’s rambling feminist inanities, you get Sweden, land of the castrated men who repulse their own women”. Rather bogus this image of castrated vikings except maybe in a Lacanian sense of symbolic lack of an imaginary object.

The blog Nonrhotic has an amusing summary of contradictions arising from such gender engineering. I have selected below a few of the amusing headlines the blogger lists exemplifying this project/agenda:

  • The elementary school system in one Swedish city mandating that for one week all male children had to wear dresses to school to help break down stereotypes.
  • A feminist group at Stockholm University is campaigning to ban all urinals from campus, and one Swedish elementary school has already removed them based on the “logic” that a man standing up to urinate is deemed to be triumphing in his masculinity, and by extension, degrading women.
  • Last year after the Pirate Bay file-sharing trial, Annika Qarlsson, a female member of Sweden’s parliament, wove a meandering web of “logic” that went something like this: Since most of the people sharing files are boys, and they support the right to share files, then they are protecting their privacy, and most Swedish woman who are raped are raped by people they barely know, if the woman barely knows the rapist then the rapist is protecting their privacy, therefore Pirate Bay supporters are rapists. ““I realize that my earlier post can be interpreted to mean that I’m accusing all Pirate Party supporters and all young men of being rapists.” she later said.
  • Tiina Rosenberg, a professor of gender studies at Stockholm University, and the brain trust behind Sweden’s politically influential feminist movement who boldly asserted that “women who sleep with men are traitors to their gender.”

All surely too random to constitute much except for the fact that none appear as symptoms of a climate of hope in the sense used in the article on Russian demographics. What self respecting male would want to contribute to such a system/society if it were as portrayed by these sources.

For the sake of argument if we assume that there is any substance to such critique can it be that reluctance to procreate is an instance of dysfunction in what Tim Tyler terms “memetic immune system” in his comment on David Sloan Wilson’s suggestion of a cultural system dysfunction hypothesis.

I think such a proposal requires, to start with an analysis of cues which may frighten various primate males into a state of reluctance.
 Back in 2007, read a curious post on K-punk which contained the following:

“… when an orang-utan was presented with pornography, it ceased to show any sexual interest in its fellow apes and spent all day masturbating. The orang-utan had been inducted into human sexuality by the ‘inhuman partner’, the fantasmatic supplement, upon which all human sexuality depends.”

Does all this permit speculation about a “memetic cocktail” best suited to inspire a will, to procreate, in the absence of which the system is derailed. Not sure it does nevertheless, the word derailed gives me some room to share the following Limerick:

There once was a man who said “Damn!
It is borne in upon me I am
An engine that moves
In predestinate grooves;
I’m not even a bus, I’m a tram.”
—Maurice E. Hare (1886-1967)

Externalities, Two Riffs from Libertarian Extremes

September 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Myth of efficient distribution/allocation of resources and goods
Under certain assumptions a free market will lead to a pareto-optimal outcome
if there are no externalities
if every market is perfectly competitive
if every participant has perfect knowledge
if all the markets are in equilibrium
(not likely to hold)

“only if ” and that to just get an efficient not a fair outcome

In what percentage of our markets do we have these externalities …where are the empirical investigations/dissertations
on the significant externalities?
Karl William Kapp – Social cost of private enterprise

market cost of energy made using coal compared to negative external effect – people are undercharged by 70%
electricity generated by natural gas off by 19%
heat production ny natural gas off by 42%
yet fossil fuel industries in United States are the largest recipients of subsidies
if you don’t get the prices right you wont get efficient outcomes
Policy correctives for externalities …how high to put the Pegovian tax or subsidy

When it comes to assumption 2 of perfectly competitive markets the trend demonstrates decline of anti-trust action

Regulatory capture – not realistic given the degree of lobbying power

5-16 % unemployment is a clear indicator of inefficiency in labor market – fiscal stimulus – govt should buy more in a recession

(unions, minimum wage, progressive taxation)

all external parties are disenfranchised and transaction cost of collective consumption is left out of equation

Approaches to the problem of coordination
how to fix rules such that I bear both the costs of benefits of ventures
individual has incentive to avoid cost to larger group ~ pollution

absence of infinitely wise & benevolent central planner

Pegovian tax ~ In most cases we don’t have information needed
to accurately assess damages

Coase ~ In a world of zero transaction costs, bargaining would produce an efficient rule
to limit externalities

laissez faire in population ~> More people less of every thing
A child is not born with a deed so with resources that are private property
it’s not negative externality rather the parents have to work for providing for the child therefore they are enriching
say the landlord or some seller or some employer
but what of the commons …??
positive externalities more people more tax payers # sounds like bull how can you tax an impoverished mass

Net effect of carbon cap trade – we can’t even predict the sign of impact on externalities ???
It is taken for granted that change is bad

Nordhaus – if you only look at the clearly predictable effects it’s not a large negative that would justify X policy/action/effort/cost but there are many ways the outcome can turn out to be worse
Odd asymmetry in Nordhaus is the inclusion of low probability high cost scenario of allowing global warming without calculating high cost low probability estimate of not allowing

Group Selective Benefits of Brutality

August 12, 2014 § 3 Comments

Jonathan Haidt starts a lecture titled “The Groupish Gene” with an argument in favor of abandoning Methodological individualism” in Economics and Social psychology …

Next the paradigm is linked to the unit of selection

…by the end of the talk  Group selection (GS) or Multi level Selection (MLS) is used to explain both death as punishment for apostasy in Islam (Irtidād) and Elinor Ostrom’s findings on how common fisheries can be managed successfully.

And yes ….eusociality is not caused by haplo-diploidy but by shared defensible nests…

Before I forget the apostasy bit, lets see how best I can word the argument

“Groups that evolved to have rituals whereby apostates were killed (that had mindsets, fixed during their life span vis-à-vis this matter and which mindset can be argued to have been coded for by genes???) had more advantage, reproduced better and we are descended from them and hence share those sentiments (the urge to kill murtadds).”

I fail to see how the proponents of GS can maintain the possibility of such an outcome, since its appeal seems primarily based on the fact the it best explains why “virtue” will be selected for.

Haidt keeps using the term groupishness. If MLS is a better explanation for emergence of groupishness its not clear what all is subsumed under that term.

If there is ever a wish that lay people should be exposed to arguments among high profile academicians this whole correspondence following Steven Pinker’s essay contra-group selection on (Edge.org) surely answers it.

One of the simplest yet most incisive of responses was written by Nicolas Baumard of University of Pennsylvania.

He started by the following simple query:

Let’s grant that group selection is theoretically possible and let’s assume, at least for the sake of discussion, that it had an impact on human evolution; what would this really predict about human psychology?

Now individual selection does not exclude selection of moral behavior.

So the debate is not between a theory that predicts that humans are moral (group selection) and a theory that predicts they are not (individual selection), but between two theories of morality: one based on sacrifice for the group and the other one based on individual interests……. Is morality utilitarianist or contractualist?

To illustrate the inadequacy of utilitarianism a hypothetical case by moral philosopher Judith Thomson is put forward:

“A brilliant transplant surgeon has five patients, each in need of a different organ, each of whom will die without that organ. Unfortunately, there are no organs available to perform any of these five transplant operations. A healthy young traveler, just passing through the city the doctor works in, comes in for a routine checkup. In the course of doing the checkup, the doctor discovers that his organs are compatible with all five of his dying patients. Suppose further that if the young man were to disappear, no one would suspect the doctor.”

Let us bracket the question as to weather the response to such a question/situation is a discrete trait that can be selected for and if the same doctor will consistently (non randomly ) opt for the same solution. While ants and bees would agree to kill the young individual in the interest of the group, Baumard points out that, we humans, disagree.

Now in terms of our ideas of just punishment if again it were not just a spandrel what would we expect of GS? If punishment is a utilitarian trait, preferred sanctions should have evolved for their effectiveness as deterrents.

But taking a case like death penalty Baumard argues that:

Although many people claim that their opinion about death penalty is based on efficiency (partisans argue it deters crimes, opponents that it has no effect), several studies have shown that, many people would actually continue to support death penalty even if it had no deterrent value.

People support death penalty first and foremost because it seems to them that it is the only proportionate penalty for certain crimes (murder, rape, etc.), not because they see it as a useful tool to deter future crime.

If humans punish to restore fairness rather than to help the group, a preference or support for death as punishment for apostasy, is not something we’d expect.

But if we imagine societies who on average lack an immediate gut revulsion to this punishment, can any fruitful speculations be made about what sort of selective advantage such average instinctual preferences may lend them.