Hack Gaps and Noble Lies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/12/2018 - 7:37pm in

These days we are healthily cynical about the omnipresence of motivated reasoning in cognition and communication. Everyone is working to fool everyone, starting with themselves. (It used to be you had to read Nietzsche to learn this stuff. Ah, those were the days.)

Self-delusion squeezes the space for deliberate deceit. It is tempting, then, to believe that lies – that is, conscious untruths, told with deliberate intent to induce false belief in an audience – are … well, let’s start by saying: rarer than you might think. Let’s talk politics. When politically-motivated untruths are told, tellers are as victimized as audiences. To a first approximation, everyone is high on their own supply.

Politics is complicated. It’s easy to make mistakes and miss things and not understand things and not know relevant things. It’s easy to spend your scarce attention on convenient truths and downplay inconvenient ones. The will to believe will have its way.

So if someone says: politics, all lies! You should correct them: mostly delusions.

I confess to a skepticism about bullshit, in Frankfurt’s technical sense. Truth-indifferentism, that is. It’s interesting and real, but I tend to think the intense, self-righteous desire to have truth on your side swamps that effect. Indifference to truth doesn’t explain much. It’s a noble gas, you might say.

Obviously a lot of people are liars. Q is a liar, I assume. But Qanon is a broad base of delusion.

A lot of political actors – including politicians, needless to say – lie a lot to do their jobs. They know what is true and deliberately lie about it.

A lot of political actors are also pretty clearly severely delusional. They are ideologues or partisans who have cognized themselves into a pretty severe state of denial. (Just because you’re a liar about how they are out to get you, doesn’t mean you aren’t paranoid about how they are out to get you.)

Trolls are like liars, at least part-time, and there are plenty of trolls.

There are disinformation campaigns, massively well-funded.

But I’m still always a little surprised when I see professional or amateur pundits – thought-leaders and would-be thought-leaders – peddling what I think they themselves must think are ‘noble lies’, in Plato’s sense.

I was struck by an example from Rich Lowry this morning, and then – coincidentally – I read Kevin Drum saying he was pissed off at the obvious lie. It is pretty obvious. Like Drum, I find it hard to believe Lowry didn’t have a chuckle to himself about what a whopper it was, while he wrote it. But, then again, it’s no good as a noble lie unless it fools folks into believing what you want them to believe about justice. If it fools folks then, on average, it will fool the fool who tells it – who’s just folks. So perhaps Lowry’s brain succeeded in locking down, for the time it took to compose his nonsense, his awareness of its nonsensicality. Yet it allowed him access to some facts, and a crippleware logic engine. Oh, what a piece of work is man!

Here’s another example that struck me, from Mark Levin, a couple days ago. Again, not important, but striking because I have a hard time believing Levin – who is quite sharp, in a way, and legally trained – didn’t think to himself: ‘eh, I’ll tell my audience a silly lie about the Constitution. If any of them check Wikipedia, or think about what I’m saying for five seconds, the gig is up, but what are the odds?’

Then again, I think Levin is a nut, so why should I be surprised his paranoid craziness has spread to the point of infecting his grasp of (gasp!) the point of the emoluments clause itself? Why should his deceiving demon – a.k.a. Mark Levin – have trouble getting him to think whatever it wants him to think about emoluments? That’s straining at gnats.

I guess it comes down to this. I take for granted Sarah Huckabee Sanders knows the important part of her job is to tell lies. (Any fool can tell the truth.) I imagine it’s exhausting – an uncomfortable, undignifying mental juggling act. But you are getting paid, and you believe the country is better off, on the whole, if more people believe the lies. You think the small truths that are on the side of your enemies are the spear tips of their Big Lie; whereas your small lies are the spear tips of your Big Truth, yesterday and tomorrow. You are making a basically utilitarian calculation.

Politics is a trolley scenario and, somehow, the trolley always needs to run over some truth. So you keep pulling that switch, deliberately. You see yourself doing this.

But, despite being a utilitarian who thinks you should generally pull the switch, and a Plato scholar, I find the life of the Noble Lie cognitively alien and weird. I have no doubt that I engage in motivated reasoning all the time. I have many a time deliberately encouraged people to help themselves to enough rope to hang themselves, in debate. There’s an element of lying in that sort of Socratic maneuvering. (Heighten the contradictions. Things have to get worse before they get better.) But, to my recollection, I have never, in my life, with conscious, deliberate awareness and full intent, tried to reinforce someone’s healthy political belief (or undermine their unhealthy belief) by telling them what I myself regard – at the moment I tell it – as a ridiculous and utter untruth. One my interlocutor is, odds on, likely to swallow. Honestly, I couldn’t do it if I tried. It’s not principled squeamishness. I just couldn’t make my brain look for the bank shots and actually try to take them. I couldn’t be a politician. Or a press flack. My digestion would be shot in a week.

Just as pushing the fat man is viscerally unpleasant to contemplate, pushing the fat lie – even in a good cause! – triggers inner resistance.

Am I weird?

People tell lies to defend themselves and, in general, when their interests demand it. I don’t think I’m more truthful, under pressure, than the next person. I’m no moral hero. But few people’s interests truly demand going online and telling deliberate lies to trick people into believing some supposed, larger truth. A bit of trolling, sure. Some sophistical shading and coloring and emphasizing and de-emphasizing. Who can resist? It’s recreational. But out-and-out lies?

I think lying about politics sounds like a no-fun job, so for sure it’s a terrible hobby. (But I admit trolling is a popular hobby. But that’s roleplay.)

I guess I really don’t think I know how many liars are out there.

Does everyone who works for FOX News think that it’s a Noble Lie Factory? But the pay is ok and otherwise the Democrats will take over.

How self-aware is Trump of his penchant for lying?

What do you think? Tell me true.

Video of Three Military Robots

This is another video I round on robots that are currently under development on YouTube, put up by the channel Inventions World. Of the three, one is Russian and the other two are American.

The first robot is shown is the Russian, Fyodor, now being developed by Rogozin. It’s anthropomorphic, and is shown firing two guns simultaneously from its hands on a shooting range, driving a car and performing a variety of very human-style exercises, like press-ups. The company says that it was taught to fire guns to give it instant decision-making skills. And how to drive a car to make it autonomous. Although it can move and act on its own, it can also mirror the movements of a human operator wearing a mechanical suit. The company states that people shouldn’t be alarmed, as they are building AI, not the Terminator.

The next is CART, a tracked robot which looks like nothing so much as a gun and other equipment, possibly sensors, on top of a tank’s chassis and caterpillar tracks. It seems to be one of a series of such robots, designed for the American Marine corps. The explanatory text on the screen is flashed up a little too quickly to read everything, but it seems intended to provide support for the human troopers by providing extra power and also carrying their equipment for them. Among the other, similar robots which appear is a much smaller unit about the size of a human foot, seen trundling about.

The final robot is another designed by Boston Dynamics, which has already built a man-like robot and a series of very dog-like, four-legged robots, if I remember correctly. This machine is roughly humanoid. Very roughly. It has four limbs, roughly corresponding to arms and legs. Except the legs end in wheels and the arms in rubber grips, or end effectors. Instead of a head, it has a square box and the limbs look like they’ve been put on backwards. It’s shown picking up a crate in a say which reminds me of a human doing it backward, bending over to pick it up behind him. But if his legs were also put on back to front. It’s also shown spinning around, leaping into the area and scooting across the test area with one wheel on the ground and another going up a ramp.

Actually, what the Fyodor robot brings to my mind isn’t so much Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies, but Hammerstein and his military robots from 2000AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ strip. The operation of the machine by a human wearing a special suite also reminds me of a story in the ‘Hulk’ comic strip waaaay back in the 1970s. In this story, the Hulk’s alter ego, Banner, found himself inside a secret military base in which robots very similar to Fyodor were being developed. They were also controlled by human operators. Masquerading as the base’s psychiatrist, Banner meets one squaddie, who comes in for a session. The man is a robot operator, and tells Banner how he feels dehumanized through operating the robot. Banner’s appalled and decides to sabotage the robots to prevent further psychological damage. He’s discovered, of course, threatened or attacked, made angry, and the Hulk and mayhem inevitably follow.

That story is very definitely a product of the ’70s and the period of liberal self-doubt and criticism following the Vietnam War, Nixon and possibly the CIA’s murky actions around the world, like the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. The Hulk always was something of a countercultural hero. He was born when Banner, a nuclear scientist, got caught with the full force of the gamma radiation coming off a nuclear test saving Rick, a teenager, who had strayed into the test zone. Rick was an alienated, nihilistic youth, who seems to have been modelled on James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Banner pulls him out of his car, and throws him into the safety trench, but gets caught by the explosion before he himself could get in. Banner himself was very much a square. He was one of the scientists running the nuclear tests, and his girlfriend was the daughter of the army commander in charge of them. But the Hulk was very firmly in the sights of the commander, and the strip was based around Banner trying to run away from him while finding a cure for his new condition. Thus the Hulk would find himself fighting a series of running battles against the army, complete with tanks. The Ang Lee film of the Hulk that came out in the 1990s was a flop, and it did take liberties with the Hulk’s origin, as big screen adaptations often do with their source material. But it did get right the antagonism between the great green one and the army. The battles between the two reminded me very much of their depictions in the strip. The battle between the Hulk and his father, who now had the power to take on the properties of whatever he was in contact with was also staged and shot very much like similar fights also appeared in the comic, so that watching the film I felt once again a bit like I had when I was a boy reading it.

As for the CART and related robots, they remind me of the tracked robot the army sends in to defuse bombs. And research on autonomous killing vehicles like them were begun a very long time ago. The Germans in the Second World War developed small robots, remotely operated which also moved on caterpillar tracks. These carried bombs, and the operators were supposed to send them against Allied troops, who would then be killed when they exploded. Also, according to the robotics scientist Kevin Warwick of Reading University, the Americans developed an automatic killer robot consisting of a jeep with a machine gun in the 1950s. See his book, March of the Machines.

Despite the Russians’ assurances that they aren’t building the Terminator, Warwick is genuinely afraid that the robots will eventually take over and subjugate humanity. And he’s not alone. When one company a few years ago somewhere said that they were considering making war robots, there was an outcry from scientists around the world very much concerned about the immense dangers of such machines.

Hammerstein and his metallic mates in ‘ABC Warriors’ have personalities and a conscience, with the exception of two: Blackblood and Mekquake. These robots have none of the intelligence and humanity of their fictional counterparts. And without them, the fears of the opponents of such machines are entirely justified. Critics have made the point that humans are needed on the battle to make ethical decisions that robots can’t or find difficult. Like not killing civilians, although you wouldn’t guess that from the horrific atrocities committed by real, biological flesh and blood troopers.

The robots shown here are very impressive technologically, but I’d rather have their fictional counterparts created by Mills and O’Neill. They were fighting machines, but they had a higher purpose behind their violence and havoc:

Increase the peace!

Lessons on Disagreement from a Psychologist of Human Error

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/09/2018 - 11:58pm in

Lee Ross (Stanford), an influential social psychologist, reflects on his career of studying error and disagreement in a new essay at Perspectives on Psychological Science.

It’s an informative essay that should be of interest to anyone concerned with how to think about the causes and possible resolutions of disagreement and conflict.

Ross discusses his work on the “fundamental attribution error”—our tendency to explain human behavior largely in terms of people’s dispositions or personality, failing to take into account the causal role of the circumstances in which the behavior takes place. He also talks about the actor-observer difference in susceptibility to this error, whereby actors “attend to the specific features of the stimuli or situations to which they are responding and/or have responded in the past” and “observers, by contrast… overlook or… underestimate the relevance of those features, and instead focus their attention on the actor [and the actor’s] underlying traits, abilities, or other dispositions.” (Here’s a brief description of this bias.)

Though he coined the term “fundamental attribution error,” he does think there’s an error in reasoning that’s more accurately deemed “fundamental”: the illusion of personal objectivity.

Under the illusion of personal objectivity, Ross says, one tends to believe:

  1. My own perceptions are realistic and “objective”—and therefore (reasonable) others will (and should) share them. This illusion of objectivity applies not only to my perceptions of objects and events, but also to beliefs, preferences, priorities, and feelings prompted by those perceptions.
  2. I will be able to persuade those who disagree with me, if they are reasonable and open-minded, once I explain what the real facts are and what they really mean.
  3. Those who disagree with me, and especially those who challenge the most important beliefs of my group, are unreasonable and/or irrational. They have succumbed to particular sources of bias and error in reasoning.

Much of the article concerns experiments about, and the implications of, the “objectivity illusion,” with examples ranging from small-scale disputes modeled in lab experiments to attempts to promote dialogue between opposing parties in large-scale geopolitical conflicts.

Applications of lessons learned from the research surveyed to disputes among philosophers, be they over philosophical questions or professional matters, are, alas, left as an exercise for the interested philosopher.

The whole essay is worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:

It is a cliché that when confronting disagreement, one should try on the other side’s lenses or walk in their shoes. Unhelpful eyewear and footwear metaphors aside, the advice to consider the perspective of those with an opposite point of view has obvious merit. In principle, it is difficult to disagree with such a prescription, although in practice the exercise too often becomes an exploration of the sources of the erroneous views of the other…

A personal example: I sympathize with athletes who kneel during the National Anthem. Moreover, I accept their right to define the meaning of that gesture not as an insult to our country or to the veterans who have fought under its colors but as a protest against racial injustice and unfair police practices. However, when it comes to gestures and protests by those whose politics I decry, on issues ranging from access to late-term abortion to the renaming of buildings and removal of monuments that honor Confederate generals, I do not similarly grant the protesters the right to define the meaning of their actions and to stipulate the motivations behind those actions. Can I really defend the notion that the meaning of all political issues and actions should be defined by the groups with whom I personally identify, regardless of whether those individuals are the ones protesting existing policies, those defending the status quo, or those calling for further changes?

The objectivity illusion poses a unique dilemma. One cannot escape the conviction that one’s views capture reality better than some other set of views. Indeed, any departure from that conviction would be tantamount to the adoption of the conviction that one’s new views capture reality. Consider the perceptual illusion whereby a straight stick in water seems bent (because of refraction of light). Regardless of one’s efforts, one cannot see the stick as straight as long as it remains submerged. Only removing the stick from water allows one to fully recognize the illusion and use the stick accordingly. Unfortunately, when it comes to the distortions in perception that fuel most conflicts, we have not yet discovered a strategy akin to removing the stick from water.

Nothing can prevent adversaries from seeing their conflict and the possible agreements to end it through the lenses of their own narratives and motivations. However, there are some strategies one can use to counteract the most negative consequences of the objectivity illusion. In working with dialogue participants on opposite sides of the conflict between Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland, my colleagues and I have employed a particular exercise as a prelude to any exchange of proposals for future agreement. This exercise obliges those on the two sides to try to present the other side’s position—and to keep trying until those on the other side agree that they are getting it right. This procedure initially proves difficult for all concerned and inevitably produces false starts. Yet when the two sides finally are satisfied with the efforts of their counterpart, they feel greater empathy for each other, avoid the caricaturing of each other’s views, and are on the road to a more thoughtful and less defensive exploration of future possibilities.

It is rare to see a public figure avoid both the fundamental attribution error and the illusion that his or her own perspective is the most reasonable one. I will close this personal saga not with the results of an experiment or strategic recommendation, but with a truly remarkable passage in a truly remarkable speech. Tom Gilovich and I quoted this passage in The Wisest One in the Room, where we offered a more extensive discussion both of naive realism and, later, of barriers to conflict resolution. Frederick Douglass delivered the speech 10 years after the end of the Civil War, at the dedication of the Freedom Memorial Monument honoring Abraham Lincoln. Douglass offered the following assessment of the martyred president: “Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent”. This assessment was understandable in light of Douglass’s long-standing impatience with the pace of the president’s steps toward the abolition of slavery.

However, he went on to add a further, less idiosyncratic assessment: “Measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined. . . . Taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln.”

What Douglass did that spring day is something worth contemplating and emulating. He recognized the constraints governing Lincoln’s actions. More remarkably, he acknowledged that his own views and those of his fellow abolitionists reflected a particular vantage point, history, and set of experiences; he also acknowledged that a future, more objective perspective would render a more objective and more charitable assessment. Less famous, and perhaps more provocative, is the answer Douglass gave to fellow abolitionist in defending his willingness to meet with slaveholders, “I would unite with anybody to do right; and with nobody to do wrong”.

(via @DegenRolf)

The post Lessons on Disagreement from a Psychologist of Human Error appeared first on Daily Nous.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/06/2018 - 9:23am in

(Embiggenate the cartoon below by clicking the existential angst of any character.)

Bizarro is brought to you today by Adorable Furry Robbers.

I’m generally skeptical of technology and firmly believe that too much immersion is bad for the human mind and spirit (if such a thing exists separately) but I do enjoy a few of the conveniences it provides. For instance, in colonial times, people often had to walk several miles with a couple of buckets of fresh milk to pay their cable TV bill in person. Now, through the magic of technology, we can do that with a few clicks of a keyboard. When I move into a new neighborhood, I immediately schedule automatic bank withdrawals with all of the local muggers so I don’t have to mess with it. It makes life so much simpler.

In last week’s blog, I mentioned we have some new Bizarro Secret Symbol enamel pins available in our shop. Since then, they’re selling like crazy and our stock is dwindling fast so if you’re into that kind of thing, now is a good time to grab some for yourself and your favorite imaginary friends. We also released our new Hello Shitty pin, which is quickly gaining ground on the Secret Symbol pins. If you thought Hello Kitty and the Poop Emoji were cute (or disgusting) you’re going to love this mash-up. This one will be a collector’s item because we expect to be shut down by Japanese trademark ninjas any day now. (Also available on a shirt.)

(Secret Bizarro Inside Info: She goes by Hello Shitty on the job, but her close friends call her Howdy Poopy.)

A glance at the clock tower in the town square tells me it is time to see what Wayno was scribbling last week on his eternal roll of butcher paper…

I love this gag but I hasten to point out that pig therapists are extremely rare. Pigs normally choose legal careers because it is a stepping stone to politics, where they can be richly rewarded for being unmitigated. (See “Donald Trump” and the current Republican Congress.)

I can’t even comment on this cartoon without going into a rant about the wreck of a human who is currently imagining he is king of America, so I won’t. If you’re one of those propaganda-blind Americans who still think he’s doing a good job, don’t come running to me when it is your head will be on the chopping block. (Or your kid in a warehouse prison.)

I’ve no doubt that far worse selfies-on-the-job than this one are on the Interwebs already, but please don’t google that and post pictures in the comments section. I’m pretty squeamish.

Scotch, cigarettes and floor pie in the middle of a workday? Who are these animals? Just your average, soulless corporate oligarchs.

For “Throwback Thursdays,” which is a social media thing where people post old stuff, apparently, on my @danpiraro Instagram place, I posted this scribble of my own from 2007. 

Careful not to run into these guys in a dark alley or you might get assigned homework.

When is somebody going to produce a big-budget version of Lancelot Link: Secret Agent with iguanas? That MUST happen!

When I was a kid, the severity of my punishment was proportional to my honesty, so I learned to lie like a decent adult. Among other things, it has saved me quite a bit in taxes.

Thanks for reading this far, Jazz Pickles.  Don’t forget to check out Wayno’s amusing but less verbose blog post about these same cartoons. And please help support our meager humor efforts by clicking the links below. Until my next post, be happy, be smart, be nice, and resist ignorance and fascism.

Wayno: Weekly blogTwitterInstagramWaynoVision

Piraro: Bizarro shop (enamel pins, a Hello Shitty shirt and more!) … Bizarro tip jar Signed, numbered, limited edition prints and original cartoon art …Piraro Instagram  Piraro Twitter … Piraro coloring book

Inequality breeds stress and anxiety. No wonder so many Britons are suffering | Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/06/2018 - 12:56am in

In equal societies, citizens trust each other and contribute to their community. This goes into reverse in countries like ours

The gap between image and reality yawns ever wider. Our rich society is full of people presenting happy smiling faces both in person and online, but when the Mental Health Foundation commissioned a large survey last year, it found that 74% of adults were so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Almost a third had had suicidal thoughts and 16% had self-harmed at some time in their lives. The figures were higher for women than men, and substantially higher for young adults than for older age groups. And rather than getting better, the long-term trends in anxiety and mental illness are upwards.

For a society that believes happiness is a product of high incomes and consumption, these figures are baffling. However, studies of people who are most into our consumerist culture have found that they are the least happy, the most insecure and often suffer poor mental health.

Related: The psychological effects of inequality – Science Weekly podcast

Related: Rising inequality linked to drop in union membership

Continue reading...

Tuesday, 18 July 2017 - 3:23pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 18/07/2017 - 3:23pm in

I was just in the chemist shop, waiting for a prescription to be filled. I became aware of a customer behind me, asking an assistant if she had anything to help with insomnia. She said she was very, very stressed, and having trouble sleeping. I am not a psychologist (and in fairness nor was the shop assistant), but the lady was clearly not in a happy place, psychologically. So did the shop assistant at least suggest that the customer pop in to see her GP to find out if there was anything they might recommend?

Did she f***. She sold her some f***ing valerian pills!

It's like calling a crisis hotline and being told "It's probably nothing. Have you tried a nice cup of hot chocolate?"

It's bad enough that pharmacists are allowed to sell snake oil from the same shelves as real medicines. In a sane world any pharmacist caught doing this would be instantly deregistered. At the very least, staff should be instructed to err on the side of caution in the case of any ailment with a potential psychological component. The above conversation should have gone something more like this:

"Do you have anything for insomnia?"

"Yes, we do. This is a mild sedative. For anything stronger you'll need to see your doctor, which would be a good idea anyway if it's a persistent problem. And this here is a medieval folk remedy. Might do you some good. Might do you harm. No solid evidence either way. In fact I've no idea why we stock it. Given there's nothing to recommend it beyond uninformed heresay, you'd be a fool to try it."

The poison of inequality was behind last summer's riots | Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/08/2012 - 6:15am in

A year on from the riots, the government is still failing to identify their underlying causes

If you're trying to explain the riots that started a year ago, the safest strategy is not to put all your eggs in one basket but to come up with a long list of contributory factors. That is what the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel set up by the government did. It lists lack of community, family difficulties, low social mobility, poor relations between police and young people, consumerism – and of course the panel is right. But we need to think a bit further. We need to join up the dots and think about the causes of these causes.

None of these things crop up by chance, quite unrelated to one another. That's like thinking it's just bad luck that smokers are not only at greater risk of lung cancer, but also of cancers of the bladder, larynx, mouth and throat, and of respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases too. The truth is that just as tobacco is a physiological poison, Britain's high levels of inequality are a social poison that increases the risks of a wide range of social ills.

Continue reading...