Black Swans and Cherry Picking

A family of black swans. [Photo by luis rock from FreeImages]

There’s nothing quite like arguing with Climate Change disbelievers or those who believe that 5G is harmful. Or similar ‘fringe’ believers. Oh, some of the fringe beliefs may turn out to be true, it is true, but most of them, and almost certainly the ones I mention above, will turn out to be false.

One particular line of argument caused my jaw to drop. I want to share its ridiculousness with you. It goes this way. Firstly those who cite mainstream articles, ones which espouse Climate Climate or the harmlessness of 5G are accused of cherry picking the results that support the mainstream point of view. There are after all, hundreds of papers, the critics point out, that espouse the opposite view.

Well, yes. In a very narrow sense they are right, of course, but why would anyone cite papers that oppose their point of view? There are good theoretical grounds for believing that Climate Change exists, and that 5G will not harm us, therefore the fact that most experiments support this view is not surprising. Experiments that do show that Climate Change doesn’t exist, or that 5G will harm us should therefore be considered with suspicion, especially if, as is usually a case, there is no theoretical basis for the claims, and the claims are unverified.

It is worth noting that some papers that support Climate Change do cite papers which deny Climate Change and the same is true of some papers that investigate the effects of radiation on the human body. They cite them in the sense that “we looked for the effect described in this paper, but didn’t find it”.

But mainstream believers can turn around and accuse the deniers of Cherry Picking their references too! Can’t they? Surely they also have been choosing only those results that align with their view?

“Not so!” the deniers cry. “The references that we pick are Black Swans!”

What?

A little background. The philosopher Karl Popper stated that a theory can never be proved, but can only be disproved. One example that is often quoted is the theory that “All swans are white”. This can never be proved because, no matter how many white swans that you find, the next one you find might be black. Or red or green or blue, maybe. All the white swans that you find support the theory, but one Black Swan demolishes it completely.

Of course, it is rarely as black and white as that (sorry). Scientists figuratively find an off-white swan.

“See, we said that the theory is false. That is not a white swan,” say the deniers. The other camp say “Yes, of course it is white! A bit of a dirty white, but still white.” “No, it isn’t!” “Yes, it is!”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a finance professor and former Wall Street trader, extended this idea. He defined a Black Swan event as one which  is impossible to predict due to its extreme rarity but which could have catastrophic consequences, and which is explained in hindsight as if it were actually predictable. Just as a verifiable counter example could be catastrophic for a widely accepted theory.

The deniers, it appears, have in turn extended this definition to “a Black Swan is any experiment whose results run contrary to mainstream thought”. This completely demolishes the counter argument, supposedly, whether the experiment is verified or not. And they are never verified.

A true Black Swan experiment could be defined as one which is a) verified and accepted as producing true results, and b) contradicts a currently widely held theory. The ‘Black Swans’ pointed to the anti-5G supporters fail to fulfil ‘a)’ above.

Leaving aside the fact that scientists have their biases just as do normal folk, one can’t tell simply from a list of papers whether they have been verified by others or not. Very often, the list is said to contain ‘peer reviewed’ papers, as if that adds any veracity to any of the papers in the list. A peer reviewer merely reports that a paper is OK to publish or not.

For example, there were plenty of peer reviewed papers that supposedly showed that smoking cigarettes was harmless. There were others that supposedly showed that smoking would kill you.

Why did those that argued that smoking was dangerous win? Certainly not because of any ‘cherry picking’ or ‘black swans’.

Picked cherries [Photo by fgdfgd dfgdfg from FreeImages]

Firstly, there was a consensus among scientists that smoking endangered health. This was driven by the sheer corpus of evidence that built up in favour of that theory, and the fact that the experiments that favoured the opposite could be criticised on many levels. It couldn’t be said that the opposition was ignored. In fact many scientists spent many hours examining supposedly contrary evidence and decided that it was wrong.

Secondly, there was evidence that the chemicals in tobacco smoke were shown, outside of the context of smoking, to be dangerous. So, if you inhaled them because you were smoking, then you exposed yourself to those dangers.

Thirdly, there was ample evidence that stopping smoking resulted in better health outcomes, even if the smoker had been a smoker for years. Even the proverbial man in the street could see it.

As regards Climate Change and 5G opposition, the evidence continues to build for the former, and attempts to demonstrate a harmful effect for the latter continue to be less than impressive.

Climate Change is all but confirmed, but people do continue dissent. That is their right, but it is pointless.

The 5G opposition is strident and irrational. They continue to ignore the evidence, and instead present a body of so-called evidence that is not convincing. They ignore a body of evidence that claims that EMF of the 5G frequencies does not affect the human body, and justifies this by a ludicrous appeal to ‘Black Swans’ which is misapplication of the ideas of Karl Popper.

I’m sure that Popper would be spinning in his grave, if he knew the ways that the 5G opposition were misusing his wise words.

5G [Image by ADMC from Pixabay]

Extinction

Trilobyte
Photo by Martyn E. Jones from FreeImages

Most people would agree that the climate crisis is real and serious. Many people would say that we are not doing much to combat it, and they are probably correct.

One effect of the climate crisis and the spread of humanity to all corners of the globe is that species are becoming extinct, as climate change or the spread of humans and their activities destroys their habitats. In some cases, humans have deliberately targeted species for food or even sport. If you search the Internet you will find numerous lists of extinct species like this one.

The effect of our activities and the resulting climate changes on wildlife is horrific. For example, Polar Bears are affected by the melting of the sea ice, which they use to travel, and which they hunt on and hunt from.

Image by Thomas Picard from Freeimages

Unless these animals, and others who have lost their habitats from climate change, or human expansion, can find new ways to hunt, then they are doomed to extinction.

Humans are expanding so fast, and taking over so much land, that they are destroying the habitats of species and driving them to extinction. Logging and forest fires, both natural and deliberately lit, have decimated the habitat of the orangutan , for example, and many, many other less noticeable species have probably already been driven to extinction .

As I have said, the coming apocalypse is probably unavoidable. Many species will become extinct, and the human race, at best, will be reduced almost to the caveman level. At worst, we will become extinct too. Post-apocalyptic novels generally show the human race bouncing back from almost complete annihilation, but that is unlikely to happen. Species don’t often rebound from such a set back if their habitat has been destroyed.

“_MG_3544” by Lauer Manuel B is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Suppose the human race and 90% of life on Earth becomes extinct. What then? Well, actually, the outlook is bright for the planet. This is not the first time that such an extinction event has occurred. According to some, there have been five prior mass extinction events.

So, life on Earth, as a whole, has bounced back, even if individual species, have been rendered extinct. How does this happen? Surely there would be fewer species around, and while competition might be reduced and predators may have become extinct, still, how are a few species going to repopulate the world?

It may be surprising to some, but almost all of the species that have ever existed are now extinct. Every species that we see is a descendent of a few species that survived the previous extinction event. Only about 25% of species that existed at the time survived, and in earlier extinctions, only 5% of species survived.

“Badger’s face” by Heliosphere is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Suppose one species, maybe a badger, survives. Whatever species (plural) survive, they are likely to be adaptable, able to eat anything, and be fast breeding. The badger flourishes in the post-apocalyptic world, and spreads far and wide. Few other mammals are around to compete with it.

The badger families start to differentiate. Some prefer open areas, some prefer trees, some might even take to the water. Over a long period the families lose the ability to inter-breed. They become different species, filling all the niches that other species used to fill, and they don’t even look like badgers any more.

If this is a sixth extinction event then for a long time only a few species would rule the world. But over a longer time frame, as I noted above, the few species would evolve to fill all available niches.

Photo by schulergd from FreeImages

DNA, which is within every living thing, determines everything about an organism. Species, shape, abilities. DNA is so flexible that the number of possible organisms is very large, almost infinite. This means that even though millions of species may become extinct, the few survivors can evolve into millions of new but different species.

So, while there would not be mice, there might be mouse-like creatures. There would be bird-like creatures, mosquito-like creatures, and probably human-type creatures. They wouldn’t look much like their present day counterparts, but they would fill those niches, provided those niches still exist. As an example the replacement for the bird species would probably be as different from birds as the pterodons were from present bird species.

Photo by Davide Guglielmo from FreeImages

It depends on what the conditions turn out to be. For example, in the time of the dinosaurs, the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, conditions favoured large herbivorous animals, although there were certainly also large carnivorous animals.

But those were only the most obvious species. I avoid the word ‘dominant’ because they may have been the most obvious, the biggest animals, but there may have been smaller, less obvious animals that we know little about. (I may be showing my ignorance here!)

Intelligence has, so far as we know, only evolved once. It may well be a fluke, and in the future, post-apocalyptic world, it may not evolve again. If it does, let’s hope that any intelligent species that evolves in the future will do better than we did.

Photo by John Nyberg from FreeImages

Writing is dangerous

Old rickety bridge
Photo by Raphael Pto from FreeImages

Writing is dangerous. When you put that pen to paper, or more likely, hit that first key, you don’t know where you will end up. You set up a situation, a garden, say, with God, a tree, a couple, and a serpent. The serpent urges the woman to eat fruit from the forbidden tree, but, of course, she doesn’t because God forbade it, and she and her husband live happily ever after in the garden.

Hmm, that’s a bit of a dead end, but I’d guess that you could think of improvements. Let’s say that God visits them one day.

“Adam, Eve, are you happy here?” asks God.

“It’s brilliant. We love it.”

“”How do you know?”

“You told us. You’re God. You must be right.”

“Just eat one of the apples on that tree, guys, please.”

Sounds of munching.

“Erm, God, what’s it like out there?”

“There’s misery, pain, trouble and worries, and there’s also joy, love, happiness. There’s also kids, who roll up all those things into one delightful, infuriating package.”

“Can we go and see?”

“Yeah, but you can’t come back again.”

“OK. We understand. Where’s the door?”

Stained Glass - Adam and Eve
Photo by Janet Burgess from FreeImages

So, I didn’t know where that was going and I’ve only just started! Obviously, I began from the Garden of Eden, and had Eve resist the blandishments of the serpent. Then I had God urge Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, and consequently Adam and Eve became curious about ‘out there’. God’s going to have to cut them some slack out there, since it was He who encouraged them to eat the fruit, but I’ll leave it there, for now.

In “The Lord of the Rings” Bilbo Baggins recites a poem several times. Bilbo is referring to a real journey of course, but writing a story is much like a journey. You start off with the first word, or the first step, and you have no idea where your journey or story may take you. No idea at all.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

At some point, your feet, or your words, come across a broader way. Your feet may encounter a highway, and other people. Your words may lead you to a larger narrative, in which are embedded new characters. These characters all have ambitions and objectives. They may help or hinder you. And so the road or narrative goes on, leading you to who knows where. Whither then? You cannot say.

As a writer you live your characters. You say their words. You fight their demons. You love their loves, and sometimes you die their deaths. You experience their defeats and their triumphs. You are the hero and the villain.

Pears on a tree
Photo by Linda DuBose from FreeImages

At the same time, paradoxically, you can’t predict what happens. Any writer knows the feeling of surprise when something unexpected happens. When Adam and Eve eventually find their way back to the Garden and politely request entry, God lets them in, because, after all, he told them them to eat fruit from the Tree of Curiosity. What? You thought it was the Tree of Knowledge? If the fruit gave them knowledge, why did they have to leave the Garden? They would have known what’s out there just by eating the pear from the Tree.

And God and Adam and Eve would sit down and Adam and Eve would relate their story. Oh, God would already know it of course, but a story, even if you know it, always sounds better coming someone else. They’d introduce their kids,  and God would ask them if they wanted to stay. Adam looks at Eve and they shake their heads. Nah, Eden is OK, but it’s a bit boring, duplicitous serpents aside. They’ll take real life. God saw what He had done, and it was good.

Writing is dangerous. You never know where it is going to take you, and you never know how long it will take. You start with one sentence and the next thing you know you have a whole book. You will have agonised with your characters, you will have been surprised or shocked at what they get up to, and you will discover that the house is a mess and the dog will have left you.

Yellow Labrador
Photo by ! Dujazz from FreeImages

Writing is dangerous. It soaks up you time, your energy, and possibly your money. You will have forgotten to do your washing, your diet will have lacked balance and vitamins, and your garden will resemble a jungle.

Writing is dangerous. You sit back having completed your story. And rewritten it, perhaps several times. And altered it, added characters, removed characters, changed characters. And spell checked. And grammar and syntax checked. Dozen of times. And then you have a thought. The serpent. Embodiment of evil? Or God’s loyal servant doing God’s bidding, maybe?

Writing is dangerous. Even after you’ve finally, finally finished, you sit back, momentarily satisfied. Then you jolt upright. That documentary on waterfalls! What if the world was split by a single humongous waterfall. Those living at the top would naturally look down from above and see the lands below, but they wouldn’t be able to reach them. Those down below look up and see the towering waters and wonder if there is anything up there. Then some intrepid top-dweller invents a hot air balloon and floats over the waterfall and his craft descends to the lands below. And then…

And then you type the first sentence and everything begins again.

Empty Valley
Photo by Wim Delen from FreeImages

The Coming Apocalypse

Bombed out church
Photo by Lisa Setrini-Espinosa from FreeImages

I see people and nations trying to come to terms with global warming, but the efforts to reverse it seems disorganised, incomplete and ineffective. Governments sign agreements containing measures that sound good, but which are not implemented or implemented badly, and all the time the ice melts and the ice caps break apart.

I see Greta Thunberg ranting at the United Nations about their inaction on climate change. She has a point. If the world is to be saved, then those in power should take decisive action, now. But she is preaching to the wrong congregation. Most of those in the UN are in the later stages of their careers. The people that Greta should be taking to task are those of her parents’ generation, those who are just coming into their powers, mainly the millennials.

Can the millennials save the world? I think not.

Can the world be saved through democratic processes? I think not.

The problem with global warming is not the flooding of islands and the melting of the icecaps inundating coastal areas. People can always move inland. No, the problem is inland, in the areas that grow the crops that feed the world and in the forests that provide the life-giving oxygen and remove the stifling carbon dioxide. Global warming is going to inevitably cause crops to fail and forests to die. Droughts, floods, storms that devastate large parts of whole countries will become common.

Dry ground
Photo by Scott Liddell from FreeImages

This will lead to food shortages and famine. Famine leads to the spread of disease and to war, as those without food invade those areas which have food, and those who have food fight to keep what they have. Inevitably the wars will result in the inability of the food growing areas to produce food, leading to deepening famine, and deaths in the billions.

Technology will suffer. The things that we use every day, like cooking equipment, technology that we utilize to entertain ourselves, or our means of communication, like our smartphones, will not be produced as people find it necessary to concentrate on obtaining food rather than producing technological wonders. The networks will fail.

We will see the failure of democracy and the rise of autocracies as wars proliferate and famine and disease spread.

Fidel Castro
Photo by Mike Minor from FreeImages

The autocracies and wholesale death by famine and disease may be the saving of the human race. If the human race is decimated, the pressure on the planet may ease, and the forests may return, springing up from remnants of the original forests or from species that have imported into the area by humans of our era. The autocrats may force workers to recreate the forests, because, after all, they will have experienced the effects of global warming. They can compel whereas democracies cannot. Autocrats are not magnanimous, but their best interests will hopefully be served by an end to global warming.

Where does that leave us? With a human population of much less than a billion. With the forests returning, maybe not the original forests, but forests made up of different species from other parts of the globe. There will be animals, but probably not the original species. With temperatures falling, and oceans returning to health.

There will be countries, but not the countries of today, and it is unlikely that any global organization, like the United Nations will remain. All current treaties and agreements will be long gone, replaced by other more local agreements and treaties.

Indigenous peoples may resurge in some places, but disappear in other.

It will be a world unlike our current world. Technology will have reverted as the huge factories needed to support it will have gone, but the knowledge may be retained, and the technology may resurge, but probably in a simpler fashion, using fewer resources. The day of the mega-factory will be over.

People will not fly around the world, and would probably live, and die close to where they were born. Large cities, of the size of London, Shanghi, or New York, will probably die, but smaller cities will likely survive.

That is the best case scenario. In the worst case the famines and wars will reduce the human race to very small numbers, and once the decline has got to those sorts of levels, the human race will fade away. No species resurges to previous levels after a die off of this magnitude without outside help. Where are the aliens when you need them ?

Inflatable aliens
Photo by Cheryl Empey from FreeImages

A Can of Worms

The Writer at Work
The Writer at Work

This is yet another post about the writing process. OK, it fascinates me, as I consider what happens in my brain/mind as I write something, but I risk the possibility of it not being interesting to anyone else. It’s around 1500 words long, which is a bit longer than my usual posts.

So, the conventional view of the writing process is that it is a linear process. The writer sits down at his or her desk, starts furiously writing, casting off page after page, until with a final flourish he types or writes “The End” and the deed is done.

The real process is much more dynamic than that, at least for me. The following is a brief description of what happened when I wrote a story that I have written about in previous posts. I haven’t included any elements of the story because I want to concentrate on the process.

The End
The End

In a previous post, I wrote about a story that, as I wrote it, became too long for the competition in which I wanted to enter it. When I had completed it, I modified it and shortened it. However I wasn’t happy with the result, so I abandoned it, and started again from scratch, cutting and pasting bits from the original now and then.

This worked fine and I submitted the story into the competition. However, I now had three versions of the same story, and one of them, the original short one, was significantly different from the other two. A core topic in the story had changed, and the motivation of the main character was consequently different. There were other things about that version that I didn’t like so I considered consigning it to the bit bucket. However (fortunately) I didn’t do that right away.

I was happy with the version that I submitted for the competition, but I felt that the longer version could be improved. With no limit on the length, I could be more descriptive, go into the characters a bit more and draw out their motivations and fill in their back stories. I could also pull in bits from the short version which did work, and also ideas from the competition version that weren’t in the longer version.

Merging three stories into one
Merging three stories into one

I hope that I’ve given some idea of how complex this was. I was effectively merging three versions into one, and some bits didn’t fit together too well. I was constantly revising the longer one so that the timeline and the events fitted together properly with the bits I was getting from the other two versions. Normally things don’t get as complex as this for me!

After I got a consistent story, I developed it further. I’d add a paragraph or two to bring out the motivation of some character or other, and as a result one or two of the minor characters blossomed into being more than minor characters.

Initially the main character and his wife were a bit aloof, but I decided to make them more sociable, more friendly. The wife mostly dropped out of the main story, but returns for a major cameo. Another major character developed to become almost the equal of the protagonist, and a minor character emerged from the shadows to become a more rounded character.

The Protagonist
The Protagonist, but not of my story! It’s actually the goddess, Nike.

By this stage my story was complete in the longer version, and, because I had effectively gutted and abandoned the original shortened version I deleted it, as mentioned above. So now I had two versions, the shorter competition version and the longer version.

Now, when I’ve written a story, and although it is in a sense complete, I don’t leave it there. I read it through, again and again, constantly revising and modifying it. I don’t usually change the story that much, but I go after spelling errors, grammatical errors, continuity errors, and so on. In every run through I change something. Maybe just the way that I said something. The position of a word in a sentence. Maybe a name, a location, a motivation. I could keep editing probably for ever. I never write “The End”.

My main point here is that, using modern technology, I have been able to, basically, rewrite the story twice and extend and revise the original story dramatically.

Juliet's Balcony
A balcony in Verona which has nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet, but still gets visited and photographed by tourists who think it has.

I wonder how ancient writers did it. I can’t imagine Shakespeare turning out multiple drafts of his plays. For one thing, he did it by hand. To create a new draft, he would have to write out the whole thing again with the changes. The decision to change the name of a character from “Fred” to “Mercutio” wouldn’t be taken lightly. For another thing, paper was, relatively speaking, expensive in those days. Printing was expensive.

Once he had written the play, it would be printed, but only a few copies would be produced. The printed copies were not intended for general reading, but were intended as “prompt books” for use in a theatre. This means, of course, that each printing might be different.

Old Books
Old books. I imagine that Shakespeare’s plays would have been printed in books like this.

I’ve not heard of Shakespeare making notes or outlines of his plays, but maybe he did. Maybe somewhere there is Shakespeare’s hand a scrap of paper that says something like “R sees J on blcny. J doesn’t see R. R calls J, J calls guards. R thrown out.” But we know that the final version doesn’t run that way!

I conclude that Shakespeare probably had the whole play mapped out in his mind, or at least great parts of it, including the words that he invented, the sentence construction, the characters and the plot. It’s an awesome feat if he did do it that way. The idea of juggling all those characters and scenes in his head, developing the story, and finally getting it down on paper in an almost final version is amazing.

Well, I wrote that before actually wondering if there was anything on the Internet about how Shakespeare wrote his plays. The answer is fascinating, at least to me! It seems that Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights of the era cooperated extensively with each other, adding bits to each other’s plays. So Shakespeare’s plays were, in part, written by others! Interestingly, that’s very similar to the way that TV shows are written today, I understand.

An author at work
An author at work

We have the luxury, these days to dash off a story (or a play or whatever) and not worry too much about the details. We can fix those on the second go through! Electrons are as cheap as chips. I could have edited the bit about Shakespeare above, but I wanted to demonstrate how I was thinking, since this is post is about my thought processes when I write things.

So, I’d say the my writing style is like opening a can of worms. Who knows in what direction they are going to wriggle? Who knows where they are going to take us? I have a strong feeling that when I write a story, I’m only nominally in charge. The characters seem to have a life of their own, and they have their own needs and desires. They interact in way that I would not have predicted when I started writing their story and often the story changes as I write it. I’m often interested in how it is going to turn out.

That’s how I write. But others do it differently. Some, even in this electronic era write things out by hand. Others use mechanical typewriters and a few swear by old, really old, versions of software.

Mechanical typewriter
Mechanical typewriter

Things are different from Shakespeare’s day in many ways. It is more usual to write novels, rather than plays, and books are cheap and widely available. Writers do not, as a general rule, cooperate, as in Shakespeare’s day. A book will perused by an editor and checked by a proof reader many times before it is printed, and may be revised many times.

Even for those who write things by hand have the advantage of paper being cheap and readily available. They, and those who use mechanical typewriters, can easily rewrite a page and slot it into the manuscript fairly easily.

If you read the advice out there on how to write, you would sometimes think that the bare essentials are a well developed plot and well defined characters. I’ve read advice to that effect many times, but there are people who advocate the “just start writing” approach, and that is, as you can see above, my preference. I would not like to be straitjacketed by a rigid plot and static characters.

Inspiration?
Inspiration?

But some people prefer that approach and good luck to them! And there are those in the middle. Those who might have plot in mind or a set of characters, but aren’t about to spend time in developing the plot or the characters in detail. That’s maybe most writers.

Whatever approach you prefer, it is a good idea to research how to write. How to structure a story, how to develop characters and so on. It’s silly to think that all you need to do is pick up a pen and write, and you will produce a best seller. Even the best writers didn’t do that. They wrote at home and at school as kids, and they will have read voraciously, in all sorts of genres, and they may have actually formally studied literature. They will have practised extensively. And that’s what I am doing, and continue to do. Studying and practising. It’s one of the reasons for this blog!

Editing the first draft
Editing the first draft. That’s not me. I would be doing it directly on the computer!

Rehabilitation

Embed from Getty Images

Rehabilitation. Let’s start from that word and see where it takes us. The definition that most appeals to me is the restoration of someone to a useful place in society”. I was surprised that most definitions appear to emphasise the restoration of appearance or status, which is not quite the same thing.

To physically restore something, it must have gone wrong or been damaged. Rehabilitation of a person similarly means that they have gone wrong or been damaged. By “gone wrong”, we probably mean that they have committed a crime and they may have been damaged by their environment.

Embed from Getty Images

There is an argument that a tendency to commit crimes may be have some genetic component and thus you have families where several generations have committed crimes. However, while there probably is a genetic component it is difficulty to distinguish between genetic reasons and a environmental reasons for a person committing a crime. In most cases of course, both causes may be in effect. It’s the ancient nature versus nurture debate, of course.

It’s possible that a solution to the genetic predisposition to commit crime might be found and a future criminal may be offered a choice – take this pill or go to jail. At the very least, it may be possible to spot potential criminals when they are very young, and use environmental means to combat their innate tendency to crime.

Embed from Getty Images

Any genetic tendency to crime may arise from something missing in a person. One obvious lack would be lack of empathy. If a person is empathetic, they can put themselves in the other person’s shoes so to speak and can imagine what it feels like to be robbed or raped or even murdered. I’ve simplified a bit there, but it will do.

On the other hand, if you live in an environment where violence is common, and lying and cheating is commonplace, then you are likely to come to think that such behaviour is normal. You literally wouldn’t be able to conceive of an environment where violence never happens or is very rare.

Embed from Getty Images

Society promotes the view that crime should be punished and that retribution in the form of punishment is to be expected if a crime has been committed. Punishment often takes the form of locking the criminal up with other criminals away from their home environment.

Without anything else happening, this seems like a singularly ineffective strategy. It does remove the criminal from society, but forces the criminal to associate with others who have similar antisocial defects. They learn off each other, not to be better people, but to better at whatever criminal activity that they have indulged in.

Embed from Getty Images

When the criminal is released, he or she is sent back to the very environment that may have been a large factor in causing him or her to become a criminal in the first place. The result is that he or she may go back to behaving as he or she did before, and indeed may introduce new antisocial behaviours that he or she has learnt in prison.

Another aspect of punishment of any sort is that it is supposed to deter others from similar actions. This assumes that the others in question have the empathy to understand the effect that punishment has on someone and the effect that this punishment would have on them.

Embed from Getty Images

How would we rehabilitate someone, if we had to resources to do so? Most such attempts appear to involve teaching the criminal a trade, so that when they get out of prison, they can take up a useful trade and not have the desire to commit any more crimes.

There’s a couple of problems with this, and one is what I’ve already mentioned above – they are going back into the same environment that had probably been a factor in their committing the crime that got them sent to prison in the first place. And they have more skills which could be used in criminal pursuits.

Embed from Getty Images

Of course being taught a trade in prison works for some people, or so I believe. These people would be those on the borderline environments where there is some criminal activity, but not much, and prison is seen as a deterrent and not as an occupational hazard. Nevertheless, they still face huge barriers, not the least of which is getting a job when they have a criminal record.

So it’s not surprising that rehabilitation, as it happens today, doesn’t seem to be effective, and that is because it doesn’t address the causes, genetic and environmental that cause people to commit crimes.

Embed from Getty Images

I suspect that any genetic tendency to commit crimes would be next to impossible to remedy. If the genes which cause a tendency to antisocial behaviour were to be identified, then the next question is what to do about it. Until and if it is possible to medically change the expression of these genes in utero or after birth, it would become an ethical dilemma. Just how far should society go in ensuring that crime is not committed. Should society prevent the full expression of a human being’s abilities and tendencies, even if they are criminal.

Society could somehow prevent people who carry such genes from reproducing, or at least stop then from producing offspring with those genes, but again that merely makes the issue an ethical one. Such meddling is usually labelled “eugenics” and generally frowned upon.

Embed from Getty Images

Various science fiction novels present arguments both for and against it. The major argument against eugenics as a way of reducing crimes is that the preconceptions and biases of individuals and societies make their choices suspect.

The environmental issues may be easier address. It is often thought that crime and poverty are linked, and that removing poverty may reduce crime. This is plausible, but while someone who is poor might be pushed over the line and commit a crime, there is no doubt that there is a great deal of crime committed by people who are not usually considered to be facing poverty.

Embed from Getty Images

So called white collar crime can be committed on all scales from defrauding individuals to crimes committed by people in huge corporations. While poverty related crime affects a few people, white collar crimes can be perpetrated on millions of people, and by people who have never had direct contact with their victims.

So, it seems to me that society is not really addressing rehabilitation. We concentrate on punishment, which is a deterrent, but once a person commits a crime, no real attempt to rehabilitate them happens. For it do so, society may have to change dramatically, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Embed from Getty Images

Do as you would be done by.

Embed from Getty Images

In the book the Water Babies by Charles Kingsley there are two fairies, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. These two fairies embody two principles of altruism.

Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby represents the principle that if you want other people to treat you well, then it would be advisable to treat them like you would wish other people to treat you. Obviously, everyone wants to be treated well by others.

Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid represents the other side of the coin. If you treat other people badly you can expect others to treat you badly too. Together the two fairies represent the Golden Rule.

Embed from Getty Images

This implies the philosophical concept that other people are internally much like you. They are thinking beings with feelings, beliefs, and prejudices, just like you. Even if they are philosophical zombies it be a good idea to treat them as if they actually were conscious, sentient beings, because, if they are zombies of this sort, they are constrained to act as if they were conscious, sentient beings.

Unfortunately there are people who don’t know about the Golden Rule, and who return kindness with unkindness. The sort of people who make friends with people only to scam them. As an aside, I find such people incomprehensible. Why would anyone make friends with a pensioner, say, just to get at their life savings.

Embed from Getty Images

Of course, such people may have been treated in this way themselves, but, reading between the lines, that doesn’t seem so. Or they may have an addiction or something which drives them to desperate measures. It’s true that some scammers do have a gambling addition, but others just splurge the stolen money on luxuries.

Scammers obviously don’t believe in the dictum that you should do as you would be done by, but it seems that greed or addition makes them believe that it is acceptable to take money from vulnerable people, though when questioned, they are often unable to explain why they have committed the crime.

Embed from Getty Images

Some may say “Oh, but I meant to pay it back,” and stolen money is sometimes characterised as “loans”, but after the second or third time of committing similar crimes, one wonders how they can hide from themselves the fact that paying back the “loan” is never going to happen.

If someone treats you in a way that you certainly don’t want to be treated, and that you wouldn’t want to treat other in that manner, what options are there?

One of the options is to “turn the other cheek“. This option  is the one where you continue to treat the person in the same way, presumably in the hope that he or she will realise that they have harmed you and will change their ways. This is very unlikely to work in the majority of cases, but it allows you to feel morally superior. Big deal.

Embed from Getty Images

If the harm is a crime, like conning money out of you, you have the options of going to the authorities with the problem but this goes against the golden rule. If you imagine that you were a scammer, then you would not like to be arrest and charged of a crime. You would imagine that it would be better for the conned person to forgive you for the crime, and that you, as an imaginary scammer, would change your ways.

The Golden Rule assumes that there is mutual empathy between you and other people. With normal well adjusted people this is so, but there are enough of the other sort for this strategy to be a big risk. Scammers and thieves do not have empathy for their victims. They can’t imagine that the iPad that they have stolen contains irreplaceable photos, (did you not back them up?) and in addition, it took you months to save up the money to buy it.

Embed from Getty Images

One of the issues is that fraudsters almost always come across as friendly and helpful when they gain the trust of the person that they are aiming to defraud. They are very plausible, otherwise, when they ask you for a “loan” or to “invest” in some dodgy scheme you would immediately become suspicious.

I don’t think that society has an answer to this issue yet. If a fraudster is reported to the police, is arrest and charged, found guilty and tossed into jail, then all that happens is that the fraudster spends some time there, then comes out and immediately starts looking for someone new to defraud. There is no serious attempt to rehabilitate them.

Embed from Getty Images

It is often said in court that a person who is charged with a crime has shown remorse. That may be so, but even if the remorse is genuine, and not just regret at being caught, showing remorse doesn’t really prove that the perpetrator of the fraud has fundamentally changed.

There seems to be a certain blindness or lack of forethought in some people. To a large extent they don’t think that their actions will deprive their victim of money or possessions, and also they don’t believe that they will be caught. In the vast majority of a cases they will be caught.

Embed from Getty Images

This blindness also occurs in those who have repeated business failures. These days, when we are told that various entrepreneurs have succeeded in business in spite of academic difficulties and made millions, then the less competent and the downright incompetent see this as a green light to fail and fail again.

While it is true that successful entrepreneurs may have had a few failures in the past, this does not imply that all who try will, eventually, succeed. In fact the reverse is true. Many people will fail repeated and never ever succeed. This is a dangerous example of survivorship bias.

Embed from Getty Images

It would be nice if everyone followed the Golden Rule, but unless the nature of humans changes, that is impossible. While there are still people around who do not follow the golden rule, there will be scams and scammers, and it is difficult to think of a way to address the issue, so ensure that if anyone asks you for money, that you check with someone else that they borrowed money from before you. It may end the friendship, but it might save you from a nasty surprise.

Embed from Getty Images

Eggsactly

Embed from Getty Images

A woman has, within her ovaries, all the ova or eggs that she will ever have. No ova develop in a woman during her lifetime. When she ovulates one egg passes through her reproductive system and embeds itself in the wall of her uterus. If it is not fertilised, it gets shed with the lining of her womb during menstruation.

Actually, I skipped a point above. What a woman has in her ovaries are oocytes, or objects which have the potential to form ova. Even before oocytes form, the future baby girl has seven million oogonia, most of which die, some few hundred of which become oocytes.

Embed from Getty Images

If you are wondering why I started thinking about ovulation and all that, the answer is chickens! Chickens lay eggs roughly every day once they start laying and lay for two to three years at least. Some lay for much longer.

I knew that ova, or rather oocytes, are not formed in human females once they are born, and I sort of thought that chickens would be similar. If my maths is correct, human females are born with five hundred or so oocytes, given that one ova is used up during each reproductive cycle and they have thirteen or so cycles per year for approximately forty years.

Embed from Getty Images

Chickens however lay one egg per day, for up to four years or so, meaning that chicken ovaries have at least fourteen hundred to fifteen hundred oocytes, assuming a similar system to the human female system. Ah, Google showed me this article which pretty much confirms the above.

So, chickens are pretty much big bags of potential eggs. I found it interesting that chicken have an internal production line for eggs operating inside them, and several may be on their way to the outside world at any one time. When I read that it reminded me of my Gran, who used to pluck and gut her own chickens, showing me the immature eggs in a chicken’s oviduct. There can’t be many of the younger generations who have seen that!

Embed from Getty Images

Of course a chicken egg must contain a life support system for the embryo (assuming the egg is fertilised, of course), whereas the life support system for mammals is contained within the mother’s body. This does allow humans to grow larger than chickens – the size of an external human egg would have to be at least as large as a small football, and probably larger, as the developing human embryo takes nourishment from the mother’s body, and an external egg would have to contain all that nourishment at the time that the egg is laid.

Another difference between chickens and humans is that the chicken’s offspring have to immediately be able to walk, eat, and largely look after themselves. The human offspring however can feed off the human mother’s milk for sometime, and can gradually get used to normal human foods, like pureed pears, laced with sugar in a glass jar. Yes, well, that’s a side track I can get into another time, I guess.

Embed from Getty Images

In the animal group called the marsupials, this dependency on the mother is extreme. The babies (joeys) are so dependant on the mother’s milk and are born so small, that they are kept in the mother’s pouch until the become big enough for independent life.

So, which is the best strategy? Well, all things being equal a chicken could have at least a hundred or two offspring, but we aren’t drowning in chickens, so of the thousands of eggs that a chicken lays, only a small number don’t end up as scrambled eggs or feeding a predator. There is huge “wastage”.

Embed from Getty Images

Humans on the other hand, well, we are drowning in humans, one might claim, so the strategy of having only a few, but initially very dependent offspring, seems to work for us as a species. In spite of the fact that children could be totally independent of their parents by the time they are reaching the end of their teens, most human children are so bonded to their parents that only the death of the parent breaks that bond.

Another advantage of laying eggs is that humans like eggs. Boiled, scrambled, fried, poached eggs. Eggs used in cooking. As result, rather than searching the landscape for eggs, humans have domesticated chickens. Everywhere humans are, there are chickens. They have even gone into space with us. On that measure chickens have been very successful. In exchange for a few unfertilised embryos chickens have gone further than chicken-kind has gone before. It’s even possible that when mankind sets up outposts on the Moon or Mars that chickens will accompany them.

Embed from Getty Images

Of course, chickens are often kept in conditions which are, to put it mildly, not very nice. It’s even possible that at least partially because of this, that at some time in future, chickens as a food source may be phased out in favour of some sort of artificial egg production process. However, if we manage to visit and maybe colonise earth-like planets, we won’t initially be able to ship out vast protein manufacturing plants.

No, since we probably won’t know what we will find on a distant planet, we will probably ship along some chickens, or at least some eggs. In addition, if the chickens eat the local vegetation and then keel over, we will know that it is harmful, at least to chickens. In addition, the sound of clucking chickens is restful, and would remind the settlers of a distant of what they have left behind them. They would be a comfort, as well as providing a self replicating source of protein in several forms.

Embed from Getty Images

In understand that scientists can produce chicken meat by using a chunk of chicken and feeding it with nutrients. They can then carve off chunks of it and feed it some more. I don’t know if they have actually tasted such meat, and what the pitfalls are for this scheme. There will be some. It’s likely that it is a cumbersome and tricky process.

No, I suggest that when we travel to the stars we take our chickens with us. Our motto could be “ad astra per alia pulli”. To the stars on the wings of chickens.

Embed from Getty Images

[A note about Gettyimages. Gettyimages is a site that provides images, some of which are free and embeddable in WordPress, and no doubt other similar sites. I’ve decided to use images from Gettyimages to decorate my site. The images may or may not bear any relationship to my text, and I do not endorse any views represented or implicated by the images. They are just decoration. I highly recommend Gettyimages.]

Why did he do it?

Embed from Getty Images

Why do people become murderers or rapists, or even petty thieves. I mean, sure, sometimes a person could irritate you to the point where a fleeting thought of carnage crosses your mind. But most people would immediately shut down that thought and even be shocked and revolted by it. They certainly wouldn’t act on it.

Surely no one wakes up one morning and thinks “Oh, I’ll become a career criminal,” or “Oh, I’ll violently attack someone today.” It’s easier to explain when the person is immersed in a culture where crime is normal and maybe even expected of one. But there are law abiding people even within the worst of environments, where crime is common.

Embed from Getty Images

Fear of consequences is often used to try to deter people from crime, but in many cases the fear of consequences is not enough to prevent a person committing a crime. Prison may be seen as normal and expected. So called petty criminals may expect to be thrown in to jail many times in their lives and to them it cannot be much of a deterrent.

Of course, one’s better judgement can be nullified by drugs or by alcohol. Many assaults happen when the person who assaults another person is drunk or high on drugs. Other crimes like rape, burglary, and vandalism are also more likely to happen when a person is intoxicated.

Embed from Getty Images

One way that is often suggested to reduce crime is to increase the severity of the punishment, so that fear of consequences is increased. However, this has limited effect only. People still committed murder even when capital punishment was still used. When in a blind rage, if a person is mentally ill, or if the person believes that they can get away with a crime without being caught, then the consequences often do not come under consideration.

In a court of law it is assumed that the person knew that consequences and still continued with their action. In many cases I believe that this is simplistic to say the least. A person sees another person leave a phone or wallet somewhere that the first person can take it from. Often the first person doesn’t think through the consequences of the theft. They don’t even consciously think that they can get away with it. They just react to the item being accessible.

Embed from Getty Images

Also each successful theft reinforces the thief’s feeling that he or she will not be caught, so they do it again. In fact, of course there is a chance that they will be caught each time that they commit the theft, and the more times that they commit the crime, the more likely it is that they will eventually get caught.

If they are likely to get away with the crime nine times out of ten, then if they commit the crime seven times, the chance of them getting caught is better than even. Maybe one way to reduce crime is to teach criminals statistics!

Embed from Getty Images

It seems that the propensity to commit crime is inherent in human beings. It is not related to social standing, as crimes of theft and of fraud are seen to be committed by people of all social standings. The criminals, even those higher up the socioeconomic ladder tend to make the mistake of repeating their crimes, which, as I mentioned above, renders them more likely to be caught.

Of course those lower down the socioeconomic ladder commit simpler crimes like theft and violence often fuelled by alcohol and drugs, and those higher up commit the so-called white collar crimes. A person’s position on the ladder doesn’t seem to bear much relation to whether or not they commit sexually related crimes, and in fact, a person’s higher standing often seems to protect them against being caught – they are able to convince people to look the other way when such a crime is committed, by using their influence or by using their money to buy people off.

Embed from Getty Images

If the propensity for crime is to be found at all levels of society, and the punishment of criminals is relatively ineffective as deterring criminals from committing crime, what is there that we can do about it? In my opinion, not a lot. But nevertheless we need to try, if only to reduce it to the minimum possible.

That is what society, from the beginning up to the present day is trying to do, of course. The consequences of being caught committing a crime don’t stop everyone, but it is likely that they do stop some people. Over harsh penalties from crimes don’t work beyond a certain point, and this has been recognised in societies that have dumped capital punishment.

Embed from Getty Images

We try to keep down crime by locking up those who are caught committing it. Again this has only limited effectiveness as well as, effectively, targeting those at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder. A rich person who is fined for jumping a red light is likely to notice it much less than a poor person. The fines represent a much bigger portion of a poor man’s income than that of a rich man.

The only way to reduce crime to zero is to change the human race. If the genes for criminality and violence were to be bred out of the human race, then we would have no problem with crime. Women would not be raped and funds would not be embezzled. People would not drink drive, and would not bash other people.

However, the genes for criminality might be perilously close to the genes for creativity. Creative individuals are often those who break the rules, who go beyond what is allowed. Creative individuals also tend to be those who are close to the boundary between sanity and insanity. They are the eccentrics among us, the ones who do not fit in.

Maybe we could prevent crime by changing the human race, but we risk creating a society which also has no artists, no eccentrics, and essentially no Leonardo DaVincis, no Isaac Newtons, no Shakespeares, no Albert Einsteins. Society would be the poorer for that.

Embed from Getty Images

 

Meditation – sort of

English: By kac's meditation
English: By kac’s meditation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meditation brings a lot of contentment to a lot of people, but it is not for me. Oh, I’ve tried it, but I can’t get around a feeling that I’d rather be doing things than sitting there musing on things. Introspection yields practically nothing for me.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t ponder on life, the Universe and all that as anyone who has ever read any of my pondering in this blog and elsewhere will know. In particular I have a fascination for numbers and mathematics. I’ve also wondered about most of the things that occur as topics in philosophy at one time or another.

English: Square root of x formula. Symbol of m...
English: Square root of x formula. Symbol of mathematics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These musings occur mostly when something triggers them, like a comment in a blog that I’m reading, or the title of the latest book on philosophy. Or even something as mundane as a lotto draw. Or washing up. Any of those can trigger a period of thought about some topic.

In case anyone is wondering, washing up can trigger thoughts about bubbles, or caustic curves, or music when two items of crockery produce a note when they touch during the process. Why, for example does an octave resonate in our minds.

Embed from Getty Images

A note sounds remarkably like a note one octave above it, while sounding different to it. Two notes clash or alternatively resonate, and we call them consonant or dissonant. OK, part of the answer to that one is that if the ratio of the frequencies notes is simple, then the notes are consonant, whereas if the ratio of the frequencies is not simple, the notes are dissonant. However, it is not as simple as that.

Three notes for a chord and things get even more complex, and yet composers seem to intuitively know the rules and complexities and use and even bend them for their own purposes. One composer’s consonance is another composer’s assonance.

Embed from Getty Images

Meditation seems to have benefits for many people, and some organisations have reported benefits from introducing meditation into the workplace. Presumably these benefits outweigh the cost of the time lost in meditation, otherwise it would be of little benefit to the organisation.

That’s the crux of the matter, really. Is the time spent in meditation worth the cost in time taken to meditate? Is it better to spend your time out in the open walking and observing the views, the plants and animals around you, or to stay in one spot and meditating on a flower or whatever? Of course, you can tramp the trails and meditate as some level as you go.

Embed from Getty Images

A form of meditation is introspection, where the person who is meditating tries to examine his or her conscious thoughts or feelings. I’ve tried to do this many times and I find it frustrating. It is easy enough to gauge one’s mood and how one is feeling at a particular time, but I have never ever had a glimpse of any conscious thoughts.

Never have I observed my thoughts when I am thinking about something. For instance, I can imagine that I am staring at something green. I can gain no insight into what it means to be looking at something green. Try it yourself. Close your eyes and imagine a uniform greenness. I would say that you can think of greenness, and you can think of yourself thinking of greenness but you can’t think of yourself thinking of greenness at the same time that you are thinking of greenness.

Embed from Getty Images

Similarly, we can think of ourselves winning the lotto and what we would do with the money, but we can’t, at the same time, think of ourselves thinking of winning the lotto. We can think about our thoughts, but only after we have thought them. We can’t think of the while they are happening.

Out thoughts don’t have to be about real things. There are people, usually mathematicians who try to visualise objects in four dimensions rather than the usual three. Actually, visualising three dimensional objects is hard enough. Try this. Imagine a flexible torus (doughnut shape). Imagine that you make a small puncture in it and pull the edges of the puncture over the torus.

In other words, try to turn it inside out. What shape do you get? The answer turns out to be another torus, but it is not easily visualised. In addition while you can imagine yourself visualising it, you can’t think about yourself visualising it while you are actually doing it. In other words, our consciousnesses seem to be single threaded.

Actually, if you could observe yourself thinking about something, you could presumably observe yourself observing yourself thinking about something, and so on. This would, in theory lead to an infinite layers of you observing yourself.

Embed from Getty Images

Meditation on thoughts or deeds, as I understand it as a non-practitioner, then comes down to a focused concentration on thoughts that have already been thought, as it were, and I guess that meditation could bring one awareness of why one thought those thought or did that deed. This is no doubt beneficial as such meditation could identify things about thoughts and deeds that one could change, perhaps simply by making one aware of why one had those thoughts or did that deed.

For example, if you meditate about what you have done on a particular occasion you might form the conclusion that you should have done something different. When the situation arises next, you will have a considered analysis of what you did before and it may influence you to do something different.

Or you may conclude, during your meditation, that certain events led you into that situation, and you could then avoid those events, thereby avoiding the situation. For instance, you may conclude that rashness is an issue for you and that you should avoid rashness. Tying this to a mantra or key phrase could enable you to avoid rashness, by reminding you of your conclusion and enabling you through the mantra to avoid it. This of course depends on you being able to determine when you are about to do something rash and therefore trigger the mantra and the avoidance.

[I’m not too happy with this post. But let it stand for now. I’ll maybe revisit this later.]

Embed from Getty Images