Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Unboreable Lileks of Bleating

Reading this book of essays by and about Charles Hartshorne in conjunction with Knowledge and Power has been mutually illuminating. Hartshorne was the most famous acolyte of Whitehead, refining and extending his process philosophy, especially into theology. Both information theory and process philosophy describe a world of ceaselessly flowing information.

Again, mere order is not information. I hadn't appreciated this subtle point, but Gilder reemphasizes it in a section on fractals. Fractals are a form of order that reveals similarity across scale, but they actually contain virtually no information.

For example, I remember reading a couple of decades ago, about how researchers were attempting to predict the stock market by looking at the fractal pattern of day-to-day and year-to-year movements of the entire stock market -- as if its future were constrained by some macro-fractal pattern, or strange attractor.

But that makes no sense from the perspective of information theory, which again produces unpredictable novelty. Gilder compares the above approach to "analyzing water by focusing on the bubbles as it boils," on "trivial patterns yielding small or chaotic effects that are divorced from the actual substance of causes and consequences."

But one "cannot predict the future of markets or companies by examining the fractal patterns of their previous price movements," because "there simply is not enough information in current prices to reveal future prices."

It reminds me of an app Lileks has written about, which tracks his movements throughout the day. It produces interesting patterns that essentially depict the phase space in which Lileks lives, moves, and bleats.

But is he really constrained by that space? Does it really mean he has only the illusion of free movement? No, not unless he's severely OCD. But he's only a little OCD. Not to mention the fact that the exterior phase space doesn't say anything about his thrilling interior adventures. Another person running around in the identical phase space as Lileks would be totally boring.

But Lileks always manages to transform his low-entropy peregrinations and encounters into high entropy, entertaining bleats. It's called art -- a little like Joyce's Ulysses, only intelligible.

I mean, that's what art does, right? It takes the same materials available to all of us, but uses them to create novelty. Unlike Tom Friedman -- who always wants you to know that he lives in a very big phase space that takes him all over the world -- you never know what Lileks is going to say. Thus, there is no relationship between Friedman's expansive exterior phase space -- which seems so "free" -- and any meaningful pneumacognitive freedom.

For Gilder, "markets are more analogous to biological phenomena," which immediately calls to mind Whitehead's organismic approach to the totality of being: in short, reality is much more like an organism than it is a machine.

Hartshorne was a relentless critic of reductionism and determinism, because "chance and causal indeterminacy" are "negative but necessary aspect[s] of" of our freedom. In contrast, determinism "is a doctrine of the total insignificance of our freedom, giving human beings no greater scope of creative options than the lowest of creatures."

Thus, with the emergence of man, there is a huge ingression of freedom, novelty, creativity, entropy, and unpredictability into the cosmos. Where did it come from? To say that it comes simply from a prior state of low-entropy order makes no sense at all:

"Neither pure chance nor the pure absence of chance can explain the world" -- to which I would add that neither pure order nor the absence of pure order can explain it. Rather, "there must be something positive limiting chance and something more than mere matter in matter."

But what?

How about creativity? "Nuts and bolts cannot evolve," because "they have no intrinsic creativity. To have creativity is to have, in some sense, a goal or purpose. Future possibilities are causes in the present, both in sustaining the entity and enabling it to evolve." Conversely, determinism "is a theory of cosmic monotony, not of cosmic beauty."

Ah, now we're getting somewhere, because future causation is also vertical causation. Jumping ahead a bit, one of the essayists references Josiah Royce, who said that The best world for a moral agent is one that needs him to make it better. But how do we make it better unless we are lured by the attractor of a superior mode of being?

Or in other words, "The divine orderer works with entities that each have their degree of freedom to respond or not to respond to that influence. This may be tiny at the level of the electron" or the New York Times editorial page, but "is highly significant at the level of the human person."

And this is a very Raccoonish sentiment: "God, instead of being the all powerful manipulator of the creation, is its great persuader, providing its entities with specific goals or purposes and coordinating the activity of all."

In fact, this is where all the human information comes from -- in particular, I'm thinking of the "orienting" or "anchoring" principles that make a meaningful human existence possible.

A dog, for example is oriented by very simple attractors, e.g., food, sex, and companionship. But what is so surprising about man is that, the moment he becomes man, he is oriented around an entirely novel set of attractors, things like love, truth, beauty, virtue, nobility, courage, creativity, etc.

Where did these come from? From the past? From mere order? No. From the future -- or from the upper vertical (the former in time, the latter in space). In the absence of orientation to this upper vertical -- consistent with Voegelin's main point -- our lives are absolutely meaningless.

And ironically, this applies quintessentially to science, in that "the very sense of intensity in scientific activity is essentially bound up with the unpredictability of future discoveries and the frequent surprises in experimental results" -- for example, the surprising result that the globe hasn't been warming for the past 15 years after all.

Notice how the so-called scientists are attempting to characterize this as noise rather than information. That's not science. Nor is it religion. Rather, it is just the illicit attempt to impose a specious order upon surprising information so as to make it go away.

Gotta run. I'll leave you with another quote:

If becoming does not create new quality and quantity, new determinateness, then, we argue, it creates nothing and nothing ever becomes. And if nothing ever becomes, then there is no temporal passage from past to future. Everything simply is all at once.

Or in other words, history is just the time it takes for nothing to happen.

(The Sipster is another guy who can fling low entropy bits of his life onto the Internet floor and turn them into art. Few people can do that, and I'm not one of them. I always need to dialogue with high entropy folks like Gilder and Hartshorne in order to extrude a little novelty.)


JP said...

But one "cannot predict the future of markets or companies by examining the fractal patterns of their previous price movements," because "there simply is not enough information in current prices to reveal future prices."

No, but you can predict the future of markets based on how much money the fed is poofing into existence.

It has to go *somewhere*.

And when you give free money to traders (primary dealers), the money goes *somewhere*. And when that somewhere is the stock market, the market goes up.

It's taken me since 2009 to figure out how to ride this recent Fedstravaganza.

Gagdad Bob said...

True, but that's terribly distorting the information, for which reason there will be an inevitable day of wreckoning.

Open Trench said...

Bob wrote:

"- for example, the surprising result that the globe hasn't been warming for the past 15 years after all."

I dont' doubt this is true; yet all of the effort to decrease the carbon footprint and so forth will continue.

The green movement may not be based on facts; I think it springs from the magnitude of human civilization as it strikes the human faculty for shock and awe.

If one stumbled upon a pocket of several million coyotes, for instance, concentrated in some few square miles, one would say:

"That's too many coyotes. They will ruin the environment just from crapping all over it."

Humans are not just carnal beings who eat and eliminate but we also burn alot of stuff and eject a stream of waste materials incuding toxic by-products, etc.

Cities of millions of us pock the globe and settlements on the country-side mesh the world in a skein.

At night the entire planet seen from space is dotted with phosphoresces in the exuburance of the human overgrowth.

So....should we be taking it easy on burning stuff and so forth? Just in case?

I think its a no-brainer myself, unless you consider the world a disposable item. Use it up and move on?

mushroom said...

Neither pure chance nor the pure absence of chance can explain the world.

And it's also always good to keep in mind that chance is a verbal fig leaf for the unknown unknowns.

Lileks is a sort of a genius. The other day I called him the sanest man on the internet. I'm not sure that's saying much.

mushroom said...

OT, the first time you see coyotes installing a sewage treatment plant, give me a call. Ask yourself, are humans part of the natural environment or are they something alien, an invasive species, so to speak?

Coyotes are very adaptive, intelligent predators and scavengers worthy of respect. Their numbers are controlled by their food sources. The impact of a large concentration of coyotes would be a reduction in prey numbers.

Unlike coyotes, humans can adapt not only their behaviors to the environment, but their environment to themselves. The place where my orchard stands used to produce fescue -- useful to feed cattle. Now it produces an abundance of fruit of several varieties. I can irrigate in drought and still produce food whereas the herbivores and carnivores would have to migrate were I not here to help them out.

julie said...

Re. the Sipster, agreed. He also makes awesome furniture.

Gagdad Bob said...

I can make furniture, so long as it's low-entropy. Like sitting on a rock.

julie said...


Tree stumps are always good, too...

Gagdad Bob said...

Come to think of it, I'm almost an entirely useless human being. Lucky for me that in my self-serving philosophy, useless activity is the loftiest kind, for it is the means to no end, but rather, an end in itself.

Open Trench said...

Hi Mushroom:

True, coyotes can do nothing to help themselves.

People historically can and do mitigate their own impact.

The green movement is an extension of the same thinking that led to the construction of sewerage plants and so forth.

The idea is to keep pressing away at mitigation proactively--we can do better than we are doing now; this is no time to slack off.

The world is now at the same crossroads as 17th century London. You can either upgrade your water supply now, or you can wait until after the cholera epidemic.

The greens who ask for a reduction in population are the radicals; such a reduction has never been voluntarily performed.

However, Mother Nature historically can and does perform reduction activities Herself. Viruses, wars, etc are employed to cull the human herd.

But such cullings ain't pretty and they ain't fun. Let's not make them necessary.

Sensible people advocate for a steady state. Keep on eye on the population ball but don't let it stop you from having a nice little family.

That way everyone's happy.

Is it too much to ask to reduce carbon emmissions? Why? What do need all that carbon for? What does it do for you?

Peyton said...

Absurdity on absurdity:

"Is it too much to ask to reduce carbon emmissions? Why? What do need all that carbon for? What does it do for you?"

Well, carbon (dioxide) helps mushroom's orchard, for one. It helps my lawn, which today I shall mow and add the clippings to my compost pile. CO2 does lots of good things, even for OT.

The Global Cooling/Warming people remind me of the peasant in The Wizard of ID:

"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

Sir Rodney: "That's silly. The sky can't fall."

Peasant: "Oh, no! The earth is rising! The earth is rising!"

Magister said...

Love the Sipster, the furniture, and the coolio Take Fivers!

The carbon scam is a just a disguise for what's really going on, i.e. the same old story of punishing your enemies and rewarding your friends. The "science" is crap.

That doesn't mean people shouldn't care for the quality of their environment. They should, just for different reasons. But the warmists aren't really interested in reason. They're interested in power.

Same scam, different day.

julie said...

Re. the warmists and the cult of carbon, it isn't only that they reward their friends and punish their enemies. It's that they purport to be environmentally friendly, when in reality much if not all of what they do and advocate does much more harm than good.

Magister said...

Oh, I've been hearing about these "garbage islands the size of Texas floating in the Pacific ocean." Try googling for a satellite photograph. Go on, I'll wait.

Here's what NOAA has to say:

The name “garbage patch” has led many to believe that this area is a large and continuous patch of easily visible marine debris items such as bottles and other litter—akin to a literal blanket of trash that should be visible with satellite or aerial photographs. This is simply not true.

Agreed, you shouldn't throw that Cheetos bag in the ocean. But why this insistence on falsifiable propaganda? Don't the Greens know how completely they've become pitiable and absurd? They're just another scheister cult.

All it does is debase ethics in general. After the last ethical impulse is debased by your own hand, who will protect you from the whirlwind that follows?

Magister said...

Julie, I see a lot of them as cynical bastards. AG, for example, is just a user, laughing all the way to the bank.

I met a prominent government sort of person from California once. She bragged to a group of academics about how, with little knowledge, she persuaded very influential people at the national level to adopt all sorts of "carbon-neutral" policies. This, on the basis of her reading a single book. She proudly admitted she knew nothing of the science; she laughed that she, someone so ignorant, could yet be so just and effective. At that time, I was amazed that the academics in the audience simply smiled and nodded in admiration.

We have seriously entered the twilight zone.

Magister said...


The greens who ask for a reduction in population are the radicals; such a reduction has never been voluntarily performed.


julie said...

While I have never seen one of the floating garbage islands, I can attest to the disgustingness of cruise ship garbage disposal. Back in my college days, I spent one spring break doing volunteer work in Puerto Rico. One of our jobs was to clean up the beach on one side of an otherwise pristine little island. The side we were cleaning up faced a part of the ocean the cruise ships frequently passed, where they felt free to just heave their trash overboard. To say it was nasty is an understatement of epic proportions, and I can't imagine things have gotten better in the ensuing decades.

That said, the experience did teach me a couple of things: as gross as it was, I realized that everything I had been taught about trash, plastics, and "nonbiodegradeable materials" was quite overblown. Plastics do break down, especially when exposed to sun, and its hard to see much of a threat to marine life in something that literally crumbles to dust when you touch it.

For as many trash bags tossed overboard as our cleanup represented, most of what remained on the beach was bleached out and breaking down. It didn't seem to bother the local wildlife much at all.

I do wish the cruise ships would come up with a better way to dispose of their trash, but I am deeply skeptical about the claims of floating garbage dumps.

mushroom said...

Well, the Navy Yard gunman was doing his part. He even drove to the site in a rented Prius.

Dear God, does anybody need a Prius? When are they going to take these horrible machines off the streets? They are nothing but transportation for left-wing Buddhist extremists who are insecure in their masculinity.

I say we ban them all now before another madman comes humming up behind his victims with that silent, stealth electric motor.

Magister said...

nothing but transportation for left-wing Buddhist extremists who are insecure in their masculinity

Check this out:

Gasoline, baby.

Gagdad Bob said...

I always mix up Prius and Priapus, but obviously they're opposites.

Magister said...

It's hard to imagine buddhists inventing rockabilly, that's for sure.

Magister said...

Lileks' gallery of Corporate Allegory just ate part of my afternoon. Bad internet! Bad internet!

ge said...

'FBI Releases Footage of Navy Yard Shooter...'
'Believed he was controlled by radio waves...'
Bob! You think you might have talked some sense into him, or called for the strait jacket guys?

Open Trench said...

Ladies and Gents:

Yes, I can see the point about the carbon not being much of a threat. It really isn't where we should concentrate our energies. It's just a sop to fears raised by our gigantic population.

From a spiritual point of view, we've been given custody of the planet and will be held accountable for the outcome by God.

What does He want for our world? That is the question to ask. If he wants us to multiply to the point where we are nudging other species into eternity, so be it, I'm on board. His Will be done.

I've meditated on the subject; there is no reason to go Green except to create conditions that are best for the longest time for the most numbers of people. That's really it; the long haul.

From australopithicus to homo habilis to homo erectus to homo sapiens, its all been about getting a solid grip on dominion of our celestial holding pen.

Now we have it, so what do we do with it? Burn up all the combustibles? Grow stupendously numerous?

I don't have the answers. The utilitarian view seems to favor Green but I don't hold fast to it.

Maybe we should really get serious about raping Gaia and do a thorough job of it. Leave nothing but concrete bunkers under a sickly purple sky behind.

John Lien said...

Had to look this up..

In Greek mythology, Priapus or Priapos (Greek: Πρίαπος), was a minor rustic fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens and male genitalia. Priapus ...

If I weren't a Trinitarian I'd say this god is custom made for my homestead lifestyle. Well, I do wear stout trousers but a little extra protection couldn't hurt!

John Lien said...

...especially when climbing over barbed wire fences.

Magister said...


OT, obviously it isn't an either/or

The USA now has more forest than it did in the 19th century. Current levels can be verified by satellite imaging. New York is one example at the state level:

Note: today New York has more forest than it has had in the past 150 years. It seems we have bounced, and the air we're sending across the Atlantic is probably orders of magnitude cleaner than the air coming over to us from godless industrial China.

Steady as she goes. The real problem is in the human heart.

Gagdad Bob said...

Newsflash: normal human being stands up to tenured fascists.

River Cocytus said...

Good article on the misunderstood speech of the pope:

Plus, awesome pic of Three Future Popes In The Past:

I try to spin something out of the nothing of my peregrinations as well, though certainly I am less successful than Lileks or Sippican.

Open Trench said...


Thank you for the informative post, with an invitation to view the evidence. I feel better about things now.

I had been alarmist and had taken counsel from fear, which is never a good idea.

I think I'll just back cautiously away from this debate because I'm not being objective.

Magister said...

Bob, wonderful link!

OT, no problem.