The New Terrapin Gazette

Number 301
14 April, 2013

The West is in danger, but we can still prevail. We begin the struggle by standing up for our values and telling the truth about Islam. Even when we are insulted, even when we are harassed and intimidated, even when we are marked for death just for stating an opinion — we must never be silenced.

The Trial That Must Not Be Reported

It’s “…beyond the most morbid Hollywood horror. It will change you”. Yet the customarily sensationalist national mass media won’t report it (see the photo!).

If you were a student in a journalism school, this newsletter would advise you to start with the hyperlink immediately above, and then click through to this. And/Or read a Commentary article. Recent research may be relevant to your consideration of this topic. — More: misdirection.

There is a website where journalists may anonymously reveal editorial attitudes on coverage of the story. Yes, it has come to that — and no long-term reader of this newsletter should be surprised.

Addendum: The embargo on news is an effective collectivist tactic in the culture war; accordingly, “wingnut” websites are doing what they can to defeat it. Reader JY notes that the cringe-inducing story is having some success in getting through the barriers put up by politically correct journalists.

Book Review

Mind and Cosmos, by Thomas Nagel. Oxford, 2012, ISBN 978-0-19-991975-8.

Nagel, a professor at New York University, is at the very least one of the most respected philosophers in the USA. With this book of just 128 pages, he has ignited a firestorm of controversy. His crime: challenging the explanatory usefulness of Darwinian evolutionary theory, and speculating about what a truly scientific explanation for the emergence of life and subsequent consciousness would be.

The author is an atheist who has been accused of giving proponents of Intelligent Design and Creationism opportunities to attack the teachings of Darwin; he has also been damned for attempting to rehabilitate the Aristotelian concept of teleology. Those are not trivial charges. In fact one might wonder why in the world any philosopher in his right mind would publish anything that might be interpreted as such idiotic heresy.

Some elements of this newsletter’s comments on epigenetics as well as its review of Tallis’s Aping Mankind have tenuous connections to this review. Note as well that it would be profitable to read the conclusion of Mind and Cosmos first, and then the preface and introduction.

For many, Mind and Cosmos begins with a shock, for Nagel sees clearly that Darwin explained far less than he intended to. If evolution proceeded exactly as the nineteenth century naturalist conceived it, it would fail.

While repairs are under way, notably now that some scientists have realized that not all mutations involved in evolution are truly random, that does not mitigate the fact that evolution is not understood. Accordingly Nagel first points out that no theory adequately explains it, and, rather than dwell on that truth, immediately takes the reader adventuring in wondrous speculative realms.

He insists, for example, that an explanation of mind and body — of how life arose, and how consciousness developed within some organisms — must have the grandest of implications. What Nagel proposes is not to explain the ultimate mystery of the mind-body problem, but to make clear what the science of the future will explain if it is successful. It’s a breathtaking accomplishment, for it alters forever one’s view of the cosmos.

Nagel’s reasoning is precise, technical, and demanding. He clarifies how he eventually settles on a few sweeping speculations of astounding import. Chief among them are a theory of value that underlies ethics and a teleology of stupendous proportions and impact.

The following quotes, though out of context, may prove provocative:

…for a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works. The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes. …it seems to me that, as it is usually presented, the current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense.

….

I believe that the role of consciousness in the survival of organisms is inseparable from intentionality: inseparable from perception, belief, desire, and action, and finally from reason. The generation of the entire mental structure would have to be explained by basic principles, if it is recognized as part of the natural order.

We should seek a form of understanding that enables us to see ourselves and other conscious organisms as specific expressions simultaneously of the physical and the mental character of the universe. One might object that life is hard enough to understand considered purely as a physical phenomenon, and that the mind can wait. But adding the requirement that any theory of life also has to explain the development of consciousness may not make the problem worse. Perhaps, on the contrary, the added features of the natural order needed to account for mind will in the end contribute to the explanation of life as well. The more a theory has to explain, the more powerful it has to be.

This review will not attempt to clarify these concepts. The curious reader is advised to resort to the book. In fact the only need for a longer review would be in order to refute one of the linchpins in Nagel’s thesis. He is hereby pronounced correct.

Those with an interest in the hoary problems of life and consciousness will be absorbed by Mind and Cosmos. It is a scholarly work that sparkles with radical speculation and still relies on common sense.

While Nagel cites a number of recent papers and books, he does not mention that the premier theoretical biologist of the twentieth century, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, noted on several occasions that…

…notions of teleology and directiveness appeared to be outside the scope of science and to be the playground of mysterious, supernatural or anthropomorphic agencies… Nevertheless, these aspects exist…. …there is true finality or purposiveness, meaning that the actual behavior is determined by the foresight of the goal. This is the original Aristotelian concept. It presupposes that the future goal is already present in thought, and directs the present action. … Fitness in organic structures can presumably be explained by the causal play of random mutations and natural selection. This explanation is, however, much less plausible for the origin of the very complicated organic mechanisms and feedback systems. (From General System Theory, 1968.)

As he developed his concepts of isomorphic processes into a theory of general systems, von Bertalanffy encountered time and again suggestions that open systems do not behave in ways that submit to reductionist analysis. He participated in Koestler’s Alpbach symposium (see footnote 1), which was a frontal assault on the idea that science progresses successfully only when it reduces phenomena to their smallest discrete components.

Nagel takes the implications of this insight to a higher level. Value, he asserts, is somehow (inexplicably, see footnote 2) inherent in matter and process, and he asks science to consider the proposition that consciousness “…plays an active role in the world”. That does not mean simply that conscious beings exist and manipulate their environment; his proposal is infinitely more visionary and all-encompassing. Indeed, with regard to the appearance of life and then consciousness, “…the process seems to be one of the universe gradually waking up”.

Mind and Cosmos is a challenge, a bold statement of perceptive skepticism, and a prediction of incomprehensibly transformative scientific accomplishments. It is stunningly good, and accordingly deserves a wide audience outside the community of professional philosophers. Naturally it receives this newsletter’s highest recommendation.

Footnotes

1. Koestler was interested in teleological concepts. From his The Sleepwalkers:

… (An example) of the hubris of contemporary science is the rigorous banishment of the word ‘purpose’ from its vocabulary. This is probably an aftermath of the reaction against the animism of Aristotelian physics, where stones accelerated their fall because of their impatience to get home, and against a teleological world-view in which the purpose of the stars was to serve as chronometers for man’s profit. From Galileo onward, ‘final causes’ (or ‘finality’ for short) were relegated into the realm of superstition, and mechanical causality reigned supreme. In the mechanical universe of indivisible hard little atoms, causality worked by impact, as on a billiard table; events were caused by the mechanical push of the past, not by any ‘pull’ of the future. That is the reason why gravity and other forms of action-at-a-distance did not fit into the picture and were regarded with suspicion; why ethers and vortices had to be invented to replace the occult pull by a mechanical push. The mechanistic universe gradually disintegrated, but the mechanistic notion of causality survived until Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle proved its untenability. But this discovery has not led to any basically new departure in the philosophy of nature, only to a state of bewildered embarrassment, a further retreat of physics into a language of even more abstract symbolism.

… Yet if causality has broken down and and events are not rigidly governed by the pushes and pressures of the past, may they not be influenced in some manner by the ‘pull’ of the future — which is a manner of saying that ‘purpose’ may be a concrete physical factor in the evolution of the universe, both on the organic and unorganic levels. In the relativistic cosmos, gravitation is a result of the curvatures and creases in space which continually tend to straighten themselves out — which, as Whittaker remarked, ‘is a statement so completely teleological that it would certainly have delighted the hearts of the schoolmen.’ If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension almost on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations.

2. See David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order.

This Is How “Consensus” Regarding Anthropogenic Global Warming Is Created

You can hardly be blamed if you think anthropogenic global warming is a fact, and for the best of reasons: though the science behind it is bad, that bad science is promoted by the media (a) without being checked to see whether it has been disputed, (b) without informing the public that refutations of it exist when they are present, and (c) without making critical studies available along with the disputed information.

Here is a recent example. The editor of NTG came across a link to a science report that looked very ordinary and anything but alarmist. It stated that there were two hot summers in a row in the northern hemisphere. That should surprise no one, because it could be true.

But is it at least a fact that is agreed upon? Does this information support the claimed consensus regarding what is called “climate change”?

Begin by reading the article posted on the internet.

You might pay particular attention to two things: first, this scientific report comes from two people at Harvard, and second, there is this quote: “Insomuch as the past is prologue for the future, these results suggest that the hottest summers will track along with increases in mean temperature.”

All right, fine. Hard science, right?

Now have a look at this post.

The first thing you might notice is that you are immediately confronted with a great deal more information than you got on the first site.

If you persist, you will see that the second site makes some very blunt critical remarks about which data were used in the Harvard study, and how the statistics were handled. It’s clear that the quality of the data and the way they were analyzed are both disputed.

Whom to believe?

The one thing you can be sure of is that the first site will be quoted as yet more proof of “scientific consensus”, and the second will be ignored. That’s the way the press handles such things.

The people at Science Daily are not putting as much effort into their work as this newsletter puts into what it publishes. The New Terrapin checked to see whether this Harvard study had been subjected to criticism. If Science Daily did that — which NTG rates as virtually out of the question — they certainly did not report the critique, now did they?

Even if you can’t decide what and whom to believe about the validity and accuracy of the Harvard study, do you think you should have been told it has been disputed in detail? If science is objective and rigorous, should any report of research be above review? Do you feel you should know about responses to the study? Should that information be an integral part of the report of the existence of the study?

The issue here is actually one of where and when the reporting of news becomes advocacy. It’s essentially a matter of journalistic ethics.

Now: even if you choose to believe the data on the first site were properly interpreted, where, exactly, on the first site is the proof that those alleged hot summers were caused by man, and not by Nature?

Finally, consider that statement that “the past is prologue”. It’s a crudely irrational and very unscientific implication that past events predict future ones. If it were true, trends would be unbreakable; a couple of cold years would produce an eternal ice age.

Fact: the past is the past, and only gamblers and fools believe it has a supernatural influence on future events. That truth applies to stock prices, sports, roulette, sunspots, earthquakes — and especially to weather and climate.

Catching Up With Thailand

This newsletter missed an important post from November of 2012. It explained how current prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of fugitive from justice former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, planned to channel unrealistic benefits to her brother’s core constituency.

Recent reports (here and then from CNBC) explain how the scheme has fared. A combination of the traditional parasitism of corrupt politicians and the realities of the international rice market have cost Thailand market share. The long-term consequences can only work to the advantage of India and Vietnam, pushing Thai rice aside in spite of the fact that its highest grade is unique, and has always commanded top prices.

Yingluck’s misunderstanding of the economic facts of life should not come as a shock. Her main priority remains finding a way to bring her brother back to Thailand without seeing him tossed into prison. When in office, Thaksin was an extremely successful capo di tutti capi, coordinating the activities of the nation’s notoriously dishonest politicians and courting the poor farmers in the least productive region of the nation, the geographically under-endowed northeast. Yingluck is in the unenviable position of having to follow a very tough act.

While Thai politicians not in her party hope her financial blunder will bring down her ruling coalition, the voters outside Bangkok will doubtless place blame where it does not belong. There is little to no prospect that Thaksin supporters will lose any forthcoming national election.

Notes And Snippets

Mark Helprin: “(Hillary Clinton’s) record-air-mile tenure as secretary of state, in which restless ambition was the cause of unambitious restlessness, brought one of the most confused approaches to the international system ever foisted upon the long suffering Republic, unless you think donating Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood was Napoleonic genius. Was her January performance before the Senate Benghazi hearings, in which she accepted responsibility while at the same time angrily rejecting it, worthy more of the Queen of Hearts or the Cheshire Cat?”

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal quotes Obama (“Let’s make it a little harder for our kids to get gunned down,” and “What’s more important to you: our children, or a A-grade from the gun lobby?”) and then notes that The One is “…lapsing into…crude appeals — support his gun-control agenda or suborn mass child murder –“.

P. J. O’Rourke: “…all the US municipal solid waste of the next thousand years would fit in a hole 44 miles square and 120 feet deep. That’s about from Malibu to San Bernardino and from Pasadena down to Disneyland, and what a good idea.”

Links

Advisory: the linked video is not for children or the sensitive. No date, location. Muslim execution of homosexuals can mean burning the sinners alive. The Koran is a vicious denial of man’s minimal attainments, and should be anathema in all civilized nations.

Kerry the seer.

You have heard that the New Deal could not end the Great Depression, but have you heard what it did accomplish? Do you know how, exactly, the depression ended? Maybe you should. How about giving the truth a shot, for a change?

Pure joy.

No matter how much you despise the low sloping foreheads of the middle places, this “wingnut” analysis of the Korean situation should interest and concern you.

Obamoid propaganda regarding firearms is fabricated of lies and deceit.

A link in Number 300 noted that maize does not belong in fuel, and that its presence there was raising the cost of gasoline. The happy ending may be in sight.

This newsletter insists that ultimately, nobody will be responsible for this. Want to bet? What odds will you give? The New Terrapin says that with Obama in power, all the bad stuff just happens, as if by magic. People are not involved — it’s just Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi, and you can’t vote her out. — Really, though, is this what what was meant by that “It’s ON!” nonsense?

The way this guy talks, The One will be re-elected in 2016!

The Obamites take you for utter fools, Pilgrims.

Everybody loves prediction, and everybody would love to be a fortune-teller. (Some day the editor of this unread newsletter might tell you about his experience pretending to be a palm-reader in an altogether reprehensible Asian dive. You might have to ply the rascal with several shots of Laphroaig, but the tale is worth the expense.) Even mathematicians, who certainly should know better, want to play at being Gypsies. Don’t trust either group! The former are delusional, and the latter are illusionists. Neither is harmless.

The economic ignorance of The One.

Waves of violet go crashing and laughing
Rainbow-winged singing birds fly ’round the sun
Sunbells rain down in a liquid profusion
Mermaids on porpoises draw up the dawn

The masthead includes a quote from the works of Geert Wilders.

The staff of The New Terrapin Gazette expresses its sincere gratitude to the many people who have gifted the world with Slackware Linux, Emacs, and Firefox.

Publisher: The Eagle Wing Palace of The Queen Chinee.