Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"It is a paradox of the work of Artificial Intelligence that in order to grant consciousness to machines, the engineers first labor to subtract it from humans, as they work to foist upon philosophers a caricature of consciousness in the digital switches of weights and gates in neural nets.  As the caricature goes into public circulations with the help of the media, it becomes an acceptable counterfeit currency, and the humanistic philosopher of mind soon finds himself replaced by the robotics scientist."

William Irwin Thompson
"The Borg or Borges? Reflections on Machine Consciousness"
in honor of the news that bots now outnumber humans on the Internet.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world."

President Obama on Wednesday, announcing the immediate establishment of normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, and other measures.  But most of these words pertain to other aspects of the future, such as addressing the climate crisis.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Climate Notes

It's a kind of subsurface story from Lima but one that bears watching: some real discussion and support for a bold longterm goal: zero carbon pollution by the year 2050.

That the story appeared in the Washington Post begins to tell you on what level this is being considered.  How Lima turned out may not be a great indicator of the possibility, but the idea that it is practical is getting around.

The story points out that corporations want some kind of longterm goal for their planning.  Right now, absent international or national goals, they are dealing with regional, state and local regulations and models.

We'll see how far the idea gets in Paris.  In Washington, we may be in for a kind of showdown over the Keystone Pipeline early in 2015, as the GOP majority leader has announced it is first priority.  With oil prices so low, it makes less economic sense, except for the fossil fuel billionaires to whom the craven GOP officeholders are beholden.

But the goal itself could begin to transform energy, economics and global society, and give human civilization a fighting chance to survive this, while at last getting closer to living up to its promise.

Meanwhile, a scholarly survey of scholarship on climate as an important factor in history.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reality-Based? Fear-Based? You Decide

                      Doonesbury from this past Sunday.

The Torture Doctors

Apart from the nature and extent of the brutality, I didn't think there was much new to learn from the Senate torture report itself.  But it did expand on a little known aspect of it--the role of "professional" psychologists, and indeed, the organization that purportedly represents professional psychology.

Those are the allegations in this report on Slate.  It begins: Thanks to revelations in the newly released report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it is now widely known that the CIA’s torture program was created, supervised, and implemented by two licensed clinical psychologists—James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen—who were paid millions of dollars for their efforts. Less widely known is that the Bush administration’s torture operation, at both the CIA and the Pentagon—at “black sites” and at Guantanamo—was devised and supervised largely by clinical psychologists.

The piece by Steven Reisner goes on to note that the only major professional organization in medicine not to forbid their members to engage in torture is the American Psychological Association.

This has more than symbolic significance.  These professional associations police their membership.  If members are found guilty of ethical violations, they could lose their right to practice. Yet, Reisner writes:

"Recent revelations in James Risen’s new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, add an additional dimension to this story—it appears that senior staff members of the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest association of psychologists, colluded with national security psychologists from the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House to adapt APA ethics policy to suit the needs of the psychologist-interrogators."

I've made the observation before that the psychology seems to be the only science that's actually gone backwards in the past few decades.  I based this on the lack of scientific rigor, and the rise of behavioral psychology which is deterministic and mechanistic on the most basic levels.

Implicit in this is the power to manipulate behavior, something that's largely absent from the psychology of William James or of Carl Jung, which sought to provide tools to individuals to help them guide their own behavior.

Now we see where these trends in psychology lead.  Led by craven opportunists, with apparently little or no self-knowledge.  Unless of course they knew they were evil and just didn't mind.      

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lima Call for Climate Action

The UN climate conference in Lima ended with a glass half-full, half-empty agreement.

The glass half-full was that there was an agreement at all, but especially that, as the Guardian subhead declared: Deal would for first time commit all countries – including developing nations – to cutting emissions.

The Guardian story also has the full text of the agreement, and a summary of what is in it, and what is not.

It is an agreement in principle.  As the Guardian wrote: The five-page text agreed on Sunday – now officially known as the Lima Call for Climate Action – represents the embryonic phase of the deal due to be delivered in Paris.

As sketched out in Lima, all countries, rising economies as well as rich countries would pledge action on climate change. Wealthy countries would help developing countries fight climate change, by investing in clean energy technology or offering climate aid.

Countries already threatened by climate change – such as small island states which face being swallowed up by rising seas – were promised a “loss and damage” programme of financial aid.

The all-inclusive nature of the emissions cuts constitutes a break with one of the defining principles of the last 20 years of climate talks – that wealthy countries should carry the burden of cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

The Guardian described the agreement as "embryonic."  Others derided it as weak. The Reuters story took the dim view, with its headline: Lima climate talks fall short, making 2015 breakthrough less likely.  Its story stated:Lima had a straightforward agenda: agree the scope and schedule for the Paris agreement.
But countries split on both big fundamentals and many of the details of a future agreement, and the meeting ended with a far more modest agenda than many had hoped for.

Both stories have accurate facts, and mostly state them differently, or with different emphasis.  There will be a lot of that going around.  But the fact is that nobody knows yet what will turn out to be more important: the agreement in principle, or the resistance to setting specific and tough standards.

Will reality sink in and urgency surface in Paris?  All the media's pundits and all the presidents men don't know either.