Thursday, August 17, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 2

For part 1 see here.


A google search for "Marxism and HBD" currently returns only relevant posts on this very blog. Apparently the left-intellectuals of the world are silent on the topic. Why is that?

A provocative view is that human biodiversity (the inclusion of results from psychometrics and behavioural genetics et al into economics, sociology and politics) is ultimately toxic to Marxism; that the system of thought due to Marx is simply falsified by our best theories of human nature and human genetic variation.

But perhaps not.


Capitalism, according to Marx, is a form of society in which economic resources are deployed privately with production intended for exchange, thus realising an expansion of capital invested. Given the lack of central, rational planning, it is said, economic dislocations and crises are inevitable  .. with capitalism at some point failing to adequately develop society's productive forces further.

Reasonable Marxists disagree about the details.

The only way to abolish - supersede - capitalism is to abolish generalised commodity production. The alternative - the only alternative - is a consciously planned economy. The details are not well worked out, and where it has been tried the results have not been good.

There has never been a socialist revolution in an advanced capitalist country: a common response is to blame the working class. Despite much leftist rhetoric, the masses have never been generally fired up with an explicit ideological commitment to a post-capitalist world order. There have been many worker-uprisings and struggles to be sure, but psychologically and in the specifics of praxis, the struggles have always been either reactive or in favour of bourgeois-democratic ideals.

Workers Councils have coordinated struggles, but - pace Lenin and Trotsky - have never served as the foundations of a post-capitalist state. Anyone who thinks for a few minutes about the complexities and sheer technicalities of the modern bourgeois state, consuming 30%-60% of GDP, knows that the workers' committees are not going to replace all that.


Amazon link

I recently read Martin Jay's turgid history of the Frankfurt School, where dismay at the secular non-appearance of the revolutionary proletariat led to forays into psychoanalysis ('human nature') and the cul-de-sac of methodology. Is there no way to rescue Marx's project?

I'm in some sympathy with the Frankfurt School (Wikipedia):
"For Horkheimer, approaches to understanding in the social sciences cannot simply imitate those in the natural sciences.

"Although various theoretical approaches would come close to breaking out of the ideological constraints that restricted them, such as positivism, pragmatism, neo-Kantianism, and phenomenology, Horkheimer argued that they failed because all were subject to a "logico-mathematical" prejudice that separates theoretical activity from actual life (meaning that all these schools sought to find a logic that always remains true, independently of and without consideration for ongoing human activities).

"According to Horkheimer, the appropriate response to this dilemma is the development of a critical theory."

I think that Marx was:
  • right to understand capitalism (and all social formations) as evolving protocols of recurrent human relationships (not as reified 'structures'),

  • right to emphasise that capitalism automatically forms and reproduces the great classes of the bourgeoisie and proletariat,

  • right to raise serious questions as to whether the capitalist mode of production really was the end of history.
That does not mean we are locked into a dogmatic refusal to engage with the results of psychometrics, behavioural genetics and genomics which are transforming our understanding of human biodiversity.

As is traditional here, I will roll out the relevant quote from György Lukács, with which I agree:
"Let us assume for the sake of argument that recent research had disproved once and for all every one of Marx’s individual theses. Even if this were to be proved, every serious ‘orthodox’ Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of Marx’s theses in toto – without having to renounce his orthodoxy for a single moment.

"Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method.

"It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders."

So having established that Marxism is challenged by HBD research and having suggested that Marxism is not falsified by it - being methodological - what impact does HBD have upon Marxism? It may be true that human populations differ importantly amongst and between themselves for good historical-evolutionary reasons, but it's unsettling and impolite to notice, and it undermines solidarity in the face of the common bourgeois enemy.

Doesn't it?

Just as generalised commodity production is the core of Marx's theory of capitalism, human genomic-phenotypic variability is at the heart of HBD. Distinct human populations have distinct evolutionary histories and significant genomic and phenotypic differences. Some recent adaptations, including cognitive-abstraction and prosocial personality traits, appear to be adaptations to post-tribal environments. Adaptation to new complex-society constraints can be fast, as some theories of Ashkenazim intelligence suggest.

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) currently being undertaken are expected to demonstrate what observation already makes clear, that certain populations - some sub-Saharan African countries, aboriginal populations in countries such as India - lack a sufficiently large 'smart-fraction' to make a modern capitalist economy work, let alone the implied additional cognitive and prosocial demands of post-capitalism.

As Dr Watson told The Sunday Times ..  he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really."

That would be the consequence of an evolutionary history which selected for hunter-gatherer/pastoral ecologies - forms of social life which do not reward Einstein-like hyper-abstraction or elevated prosocial personality traits.

Our so-called advanced capitalist countries are plainly not uniform in cognitive traits either of course. Half the population is below average, and most individuals could not today undertake the advanced cultural, scientific and technological vocations of elite groups. This is a consequence of heritable variation - not the result purely of inadequate education or life-history.

These points are not stressed by Marxists.


What exactly is wrong with capitalism anyway? It was pretty rough in the 1860s, when Marx and Engels were writing. Plenty of room for righteous indignation. But all modes of production with inadequate development of the productive forces are rough on those not at the top.

Capitalism has been growing those productive forces for centuries now on a Darwinian economic process, investment following market opportunity. As I mentioned, criticisms of capitalism which suggest that it will fail through internal contradictions are both theoretically implausible and contradicted by the evidence.

More Hegelian remarks about alienation confuse the technical distinction between the worker and the product of his or her labour with some psychological state of anomie - which either doesn't exist or is inseparable from any global division of labour. The purposelessness of life under capitalism is, however, something else.

Capitalism has not been bad overall for those living within its domain, certainly better than any of the alternatives on offer. Marxist critiques have been shrill, rhetorical, ritualistic, tribal or misplaced - placing blame on the capitalist mode of production for dysfunctions which actually reside within innate human social psychologies. No crime under socialism? Really, comrades? - Not without an excessive and self-defeating degree of genetic engineering!


I think what will actually happen is this:
  • There will be no proletarian revolution
  • There will be no socialisation of the means of production as currently understood
  • a rising tide of automation will eventually outstrip human-level cognition.
It is the latter which will unravel the fabric of capitalism. Cognitive automation is functional slavery. As wage-labour is removed from the economy, demand vanishes. Under capitalism, without demand there is no incentive to invest.

The increasing army of the unemployable will wander the halls of their automated nirvana and do what humans always do: bicker, fight, scream at each other in righteous indignation and be bored as hell. Some will vanish into virtual worlds.

And some will avail themselves of genomic engineering to remake themselves as we already remake our environment.

I have no idea how we would describe the mode of production which underpins all that, but undoubtedly Marx's methodology would be up to the task.


If this is indeed the last, great hope for humanity, then the most important thing is to:
  • encourage the development of the productive forces, which includes combating SJW agitation for 'equal outcomes', AI scaremongering and religious and 'green' lobbying against genetic engineering

  • apply intelligent mitigation against the many dire side-effects of capitalist accumulation - fight for retraining, pro-worker government economic policies, appropriate transfer payments

  • optimise the political conditions for a smooth post-capitalist transition.
The latter is likely to take many decades and involve many battles at all scales against the forces of privilege and obscurantism.

I'm sure this is our clearest view of the way forward, but it's not going to be that attractive to those brought up on the Leninist vanguard party. I'm not expecting converts.


Let me finally address the killer question: "What would you do - as a Marxist - about sub-Saharan Africa?"

First I observe that capitalism has completely failed to uplift the SSA economies, despite decades of effort by many well-meaning folk with significant resources. You just can't do much today about that lack of a sufficient smart fraction.

In the future we will be able to do more. At the material level, easy-to-maintain technologies such as solar panels and mobile phones today enrich the environment, particularly in the most deprived circum-urban areas. Improving automation will do so much more, but this will not, by itself, help with unemployment and lack of purpose.

When we have the capabilities - not soon! - we can offer two ways forward: (i) genetic enhancement to boost any attributes which people want; and (ii) synthesised environments - not necessarily virtual - providing people with the means of resolution of their multiple needs - as they present themselves.

Some combination of both tracks is the way forward, but we're maybe a century away from being able to realise them fully.

The reader will observe that this is not just a prescription for sub-Saharan Africa, it's a prescription for the whole of humanity.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Diary: Blacktop + anomic aphasia

Today has been a physical day. First the hoovering - no joke with thick pile carpets and an exceedingly heavy vacuum cleaner - which I slovenly accomplish once per fortnight. Then, brimming with energy, I did the two mile run into the Mendips in a new best time, just under 18 minutes.

One is pleased with oneself.


I guess it must have been oil on the drive asphalt

This asphalt damage on the driveway is, I think due to an oil spill. It's made the surface spongy and crumbly. After much searching, both in local hardware shops and on the web I ordered this: Dap Blacktop Asphalt Filler & Sealant 27065.

Amazon link

This afternoon, time to put it all together. The Blacktop is squeezed out using the gun thing you see in the picture below. It's brown and thick and poisonous and carcinogenic. Clare got to use her compétences de cuisine to smooth it off.

Clare using her compétences de cuisine

It now has to sit, protected from the rain, for a further 72 hours. They claim it dries to black: God, let's hope so!


Let it be noted that in my mid sixty-sixth year I finally realised that my body was not immortal, that age would wreak its toll on both competences and recovery time. I observed recently that due to over-enthusiastic lifting, I was now experiencing chronic elbow joint and tendon twinges which have not yet recovered. As a consequence I have to rethink this whole weight-lifting thing.

I suspect I will be doing more running and cardio work going forwards, with strength stuff more focussed on the core and upper back, where I have historically had muscle issues. Biceps and triceps can maybe go hang!

At least the brain still mostly works .. oh wait .. yesterday I completely forgot the word 'autistic' for three and a half minutes. I had started with neurotypical and then navigated to Asperger's and then altruism (!) - at which point my left parietal lobe entered an indefinite wait state.

I said to Clare, "Given the amount of hard physical labour, let alone intelligence this house requires to keep it functional, I despair of what will happen when we get old."

She observed that we bought the house from a couple of 90+ year olds, and that it was indeed in a terrible state of disrepair.

We agreed not to get old.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 1

What would have been the impact on Marx if the theory of human biodiversity (HBD) had been around at the time? Marx knew of course about evolution - he was a fan of Darwin (not reciprocated) - and he seems to have had sensible views on human nature (unlike current left-wing blank-slatism). So it's a hard question.

I don't think HBD would have had much impact on Marx's theory of capitalism per se, where he famously discusses capitalists and others as exemplars of their class behaviour, not as specific human beings.
"I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose [i.e., seen through rose-tinted glasses]. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests." - Preface to the First German Edition (Marx, 1867) [of Capital, Vol 1].
Equally, the ability of classes and class fractions to unite as one in uprisings and class struggle is not surprising to HBD. It relates to the ongoing issue in behavioural genetics as to how human solidarity above the level of 'family and friends' can evolve and be evolutionarily stable. No one thinks it's a scientific showstopper.

I suspect that HBD's true impact is to complexify post-capitalist governance, as well as the development of the productive forces for populations with overly-limited smart-fractions. Marx wrote little on those topics.

There are also implications for immigration policies, where conventional Marxists today echo neoliberal yearnings for 'open borders'.


Science is meant to say:  "If this situation pertains, then that will (likely) happen."

It's not correct to say: "If this situation pertains, then you ought to do that."

For example, if an individual has a genotype for psychopathy, then a genomic scientist should observe that a certain psychopathic behaviour set is very likely, in a certain environmental context.

Leave it to psychotypically-normal lay people to invoke values and call that person evil.

Marx didn't really respect this "Martian anthropologist", dispassionate paradigm. His work brims with moral indignation; it's easy to understand why.

But methodologically it's wrong.

How do we avoid the swamp of moral relativism - or worse, the absence of any moral direction at all? Don't look to Marx (or Hegel) for that; look to Darwin.

The purpose of life is to exist and abide - natural selection ruthlessly removes from this universe those genotypes which fail at this most basic of tasks.

If we favour the creation of a more prosperous, less alienating, more just society, it's because we root our emotional, value-laden political commitments in that underlying genetic imperative.

I'm not sure that Marx realised that here was the real source of his incandescent moral outrage.

Where Marx did not transcend the universalistic category of 'the proletariat', modern Marxists should do better. Developing the productive forces and creating an optimal society has to take account of real population differential adaptations and variation.

People (not just Marxists) need to decide how or whether their HBD differences are to be conserved or modified in the future arc of social development.

But they do have first to be recognised, comrades.


Marxism and HBD - part 2


BTW, if anyone is interested in developing theoretical work in this area let me know through the comments or by email at[*ng*]tznvy.pbz.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Diary: Eon/Tehanu + Rowan + David Harvey

Amazon link

I tried. For four nights now I've been reading 'Eon' to Clare - last night she fell (audibly) asleep at the thirty minute mark. 'Eon' is one of my favourite 'sense of wonder' SF novels but reading it aloud highlights the slow, super-expository startup; the way the narrative lays lifelessly on the page.

Amazon link

Tonight we flip to Earthsea Book 4, 'Tehanu'.


Clare plants the new Rowan tree

For the record, we were at Dobbies, Shepton Mallet this lunchtime to buy a Rowan tree for the front garden. I'm told it's good for the birds and that Clare intends one to mark her burial place.

Not in the front garden.


Amazon link

I have ordered David Harvey's 'Limits to Capital'. He has another book, 'Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason', coming out at the end of this month, but having read enough of other people's introductions ..

Amazon link

.. I have decided just to read the great man's work directly, so have started Volume 1 of 'Capital'.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Diary: vexatious Sunday

My day starts with the Sunday Times and I'm reading Dominic Lawson on the James Damore/Google affair. I'm reminded of the illiterate and distorted editorials in The Times and The Economist (previous post) and I fantasise about cancelling my subscriptions as I ponder the old dilemma: (i) do they know the science but choose to lie about it, which makes them mendacious hypocrites; or (ii) have they not even bothered to check the relevant body of knowledge carefully cited by Damore, choosing instead to ventilate their blank-slate wish-fulfillment fantasies - which makes them incompetent.

In either case, why am I spending good money reading them? I console myself that The Economist does a good quarterly Technology Review and The Times occasionally has some useful news in it.


While Clare is at Mass I resume Frederick Beiser's Hegel.

When you read highly abstract discussions relating to substance, essence, the necessary, the contingent, the noumenon and phenomenon, the synthetic a priori, it's tempting to think that the underlying problem set these guys are wrestling with is impossibly abstruse.

Not so: at the end of the eighteenth century, with enlightenment rationality crumbling under the Reign of Terror and religion on the ropes, Hegel and the Romantics are struggling with straightforward questions.
  • Is the universe a Newtonian machine or is there scope for free will?
  • If knowledge is just representations in our minds, can reality be truly known?
  • If we have free will, and God is not a personal judge, whence morality?
I think we have a good scientific framework for these questions today (not, of course, uncontroversial), but Hegel was definitely on the right track. His stuff is abstract both because the right scientific toolset hadn't yet been developed, but also because in a dynamic world of evolving connections, the individual concrete element of reality is conditioned by its relationships with other things - and some of those relationships are inherently abstract.

Quick example: you concretely see a human walking from one location to another where they start doing certain things in a structured way and conversing with others. What extra information about that scenario's history of embedding relations do you need to properly and fully understand what is happening?

If I tell you the person is a priest and he walked to his church? If I say she is a barista and she walked to her coffee shop in a now-desanctified church? How much more do you need to understand completely and fully? A lot.

You get the idea.


In our irreligious age, residual belief in God seems a mere foible. But Hegel was not an atheist, and to be consistent God had to be present in the ontology of reality. Looming over everything was Spinoza's immanent God, a divine presence infusing everything. But this leads to quietist, passive conclusions. If we are part of God, what scope for novelty or freedom?

Hegel adds conflict, dynamics and process through the dialectic, but does he really have a solution?


In the afternoon we strolled to Wookey and had toasted teacakes on our return.

The evening progresses,  I watch BBC coverage of the IAAF World Championships and my distaste with the deep feminisation of media culture surfaces again. Some Brit has just been disqualified in a walking race of epic length after three warnings, at the 10 km mark or thereabouts.

He seems tearful but full of resolve to do better in future. The BBC interviewer is like a trauma therapist: "How do you feel?" "Can you recover from this?" "You put in so much hard work!" ..

Call me systemising rather than empathising but - insofar as I care - I would rather have liked some footage of his DQ faults, and someone explaining technically what he had done wrong and what he should do about it.

Dispassionate analysis? Not what this is about.

OK. I'm done with being vexed for today .. until the BBC News at ten o'clock.

".. then I must be .." *

The Economist this week writes:
"Mr Pichai had good reasons to sack Mr Damore. One is the content of the memo. It says many reasonable-sounding things: that “we all have biases” and that “honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots”. But these are just camouflage before a stonking rhetorical “but”: the argument that innate differences, rather than sexism and discrimination, explain why women fare worse in the technology industry than men. “Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance)”, Mr Damore writes, “may contribute…to the lower number of women in high-stress jobs.”

"Research has indeed shown some smallish group-level differences in personality and interests between the sexes. But drawing a line from this to women’s suitability for tech jobs is puerile. An unbiased eye would light on social factors rather than innate differences as the reason why only a fifth of computer engineers are women. "
In today's Sunday Times, Dominic Lawson observes of The Financial Times:
"... the Financial Times, which in an editorial denounced Damore’s memo as “almost pure drivel”. That paper is facing industrial action on behalf of its female employees, who suffer from a 13% gender pay gap (according to the National Union of Journalists).

It, too, has an internal reason for declaring to the world how deplorable it finds young Damore, so it published another article accusing him of a “long email rant against diversity programmes . . . a rambling confused mash-up of outdated science”.

When these idealogues attend a performance of 'The Life of Galileo' by Bertolt Brecht,
"This was a lively, heartfelt performance which showcased reason and science vs. obscurantist arguments from authority designed solely to buttress the interests of those in power. This never fails to be relevant."
they root for Galileo, bravely sticking it to The Man. It never occurs to them that they are The Man.


The genius of Brecht was to give good arguments to the Catholic Inquisition. The interrogator points out that regardless of any purely-scientific merits of Galileo's thesis, the practical effects of the new doctrine would be to undermine the primacy and sanctity of scripture and thus subvert the social order, undermining authority and leading to dangerous chaos.

A very high price to pay for some arid, esoteric and contested version of 'truth'.


* Imposter.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Diary: garden surgery + Burrington Combe

The jet stream's looping to the south of the UK giving cool weather and endless rain, broken today by a rare ridge of high pressure and sunshine.

Taking advantage, the tree surgeons arrived this morning to sort things out.

Dense foliage almost hides the gardeners' truck

While the garden rang with the buzz of the chain saw, I ran my two mile route into the lower Mendips in a new best time .. and without knee-joint failure. So I was pleased.


Just a small aside: Clare arranged all this - I'm not a garden person - and they were actually booked in for tomorrow (Friday). At 8.30 this morning the doorbell rang which I answered.

A young man dressed in casual clothes smiled winningly at me, said "Good Morning" and put out his hand to shake mine. I glared at him (we have our share of door-to-door scammers) and said coldly, "Who are you?".

He looked quite nonplussed. Explained he was the gardener,  they'd had a cancellation and as the weather was good today they'd decided to do us. Mumbled something about voicemail (we'd received no voicemail).

That being cleared up, I offered them tea, which they declined, and they went about their business.

Clare tells me she went out a little while later to check progress and confided, "My husband mistook you for Jehovah's Witnesses."


This afternoon we drove to nearby Burrington Combe for an hour's stroll. There's a good view of the Severn south of Portishead and occasionally the landscape faintly echoed with the rumble of jet turbines - we saw an airliner lifting off from Bristol's Lulsgate airport a good five miles away.

Clare at our terminus - on the rocks

Your author in his favourite ninja attire

We mixed up the walk by debating the most likely scenarios for war between America and North Korea. It must be real because the markets are in free fall. I read lots of vaguely reassuring commentary in the newspapers, explaining how conflict is unlikely as it's in no one's interest.


If it gets hot, the first logical step for the US military is to sterilise the NK artillery lines abutting the DMZ. They could do it in a non-nuclear way. Think Daenerys's dragon amplified a millionfold.

I think Seoul is safer than the pundits imagine but the casualty rate for the North would be horrendous.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Diary: what I'm reading

I encountered Hegel (1770-1831) through others: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Lukács. He seemed to precurse those theorists as some dark formless cloud: Jehovah brandishing an absolutist dialectical idealism.

It's time to engage with the void, to sketch the contours of the man himself. Although I have only just started Frederick Beiser's book, Georg emerges as a rather earnest young intellectual, engaged with Christianity (he trained in a Protestant seminary), absorbed into the early Romantic movement which brought us Keats, Byron and Shelley.

Amazon link

His mature works, however, have a reputation of being 'difficult' and obscure.


I'm prepared to add Hegel to my - rather short - list of heroes, joining Marx, Lukács and J. S. Bach. One day I need to do the Central European pilgrimage, searching out the geography of their lives and times.

When I was studying philosophy at Warwick University c. 1970, I reacted strongly against the anachronistic treatment of Plato, Aristotle, St. Anselm, Descartes, Kant et al. I was being asked to study in isolation systems of ideas based on outmoded, rigid categories of thought applied to an obsolescent framing of problems.

In most cases modern physics, computer science and AI had totally transformed the paradigms in which these issues were posed. I felt like I was being asked to learn the Phlogiston theory of heat on equal terms with modern Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics - yet none of the lecturers seemed to notice or care. I never subsequently changed that opinion.

I guess that made me a historicist - like Hegel .. and Marx.

For Marx, philosophical categories were mediated by and abstracted from the concrete (social) experiences of individuals within their specific historical circumstances: "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas".

Made a lot of sense to me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

If Google did heavy lifting ...

Following on from the James Damore affair (read first).

Suppose Google's business involved heavy, manual construction work. The relevant Division is full of tough, strong endomorph types. They are mostly male with a smattering of shot-putter women.

Top software development is the mental equivalent of this level of performance ..

The HR people go crazy. This tip of the company spear is shockingly male-dominated, showing entrenched .. well, you know. They demand more diversity training and proactive affirmative action hiring. We want a 50-50 equal gender ratio. And we want it now.

A Damore-equivalent naïf observes that men are on average quite a bit stronger than women. That any women who can hack it are more than welcome in the Division. But biologically there just aren't that many applicants compared to qualified men. Going for 50-50 is going to be a stretch. Perhaps this equality of outcomes thing is, well, .. inappropriate?

As Google's CEO fires him, does he still say this?
"However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives.

To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”
Plainly the female employees of the Division - by virtue of the fact they were hired in the first place and are meeting the standards - are not  'less biologically suited'. No one said otherwise.

But comparison of the male-female population distributions for physical body strength indicates that women in the general population are 'less biologically suited'. It's why we have separate male and female sports events.

Female-Male trait distributions overlap, but are sometimes not identical.
If you're hiring for extreme values of such a trait, don't be surprised

 if the applicant pool sizes differ quite substantially.

I'm not sure the CEO's sophistry would work for physical strength employment. But cognitive and personality traits are not so obvious at a glance and playing word-games is easier.


Further reading.

*  "Women's Brains" - male-female comparison: Human Connectome project (N = 900).

*  "Women and Minorities in Science"  - a typically-erudite analysis from La Griffe.

*  "Sex Differences in Mathematical Aptitude" - La Griffe analysis relevant to software dev.

"It doesn't matter who you click with. Happy #PrideAmsterdam"

From Royal Dutch Airlines via Twitter.

Be diverse; be safe.

'Accelerando' and the architecture of superintelligence

After four years I've just re-read Charles Stross's Accelerando and was again blown away. Here are my summer of 2013 thoughts. But in a nutshell, as the solar system transitions through the Singularity, posthumans of superintelligence transcend even augmented versions of ourselves.

Can we say more?


Intelligence is a reified concept. It presents as a trait of performance but is frequently conceived of as a mechanistic 'thing'. It's as if we took athletes such as Usain Bolt and Mo Farah and claimed they had a high 'quickness-quotient'. We would discuss the heritability of QQ and perhaps derive a scale. We would discuss biological correlates - is there a QQ module somewhere in the body?

IQ is clearly telling us something about performance, but to a greater extent than admitted it's collapsing several different things into one measure.
  • Reaction time (where we're defeated by houseflies).
  • Logical inference - where we're easily beaten by simple AI systems.
  • Pattern induction (eg Raven's Progressive Matrices):  AI programs do well.
But perhaps the best definition of intelligence is the 'ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations'.


Back in March I wrote a piece about the architecture of intelligence, 'Roger Atkins: Mind Design notebook'.  I proposed that we should think of the intelligent mind as operating over a semantic network defined by nodes, links and overall processing speed.

-- Each node is a minitheory: some facts, rules and cached deductions + relevant inference rules. For example, you have a small minitheory about your pet and a much larger one about yourself.

-- Each link represents a kind of relation between theories (there are many). The classic 'ISA' relation familiar from object-oriented languages and ontologies would be an example. Also similarity relations for analogical reasoning.

-- Processing operations over a semantic net include:
  • Take a node (minitheory) and deepen it with new facts, deductions or rules. Or create a new node on encountering or constructing some new entity.

  • Create a new connection or relationship between nodes via an insight as to how they relate. A more richly-connected semantic net is potentially more powerful.

  • Given a problem, navigate around the semantic net to form a solution (then add it).

With this architecture, a more intelligent entity has:
  • a larger and more densely-connected link-set
  • more and more-elaborated nodes
  • faster link-traversal, new-link-creation and node-processing.
Links between different, and perhaps remote nodes will likely be rather abstract and removed from direct experience. For example, a notion of symmetry underlies both natural beauty and artificial design. A sophisticated semantic net requires the handling of complex abstraction.


This architectural model gives us a handle both on superior human intelligence and on posthuman superintelligence.

Firstly, why can't we just go and build an AGI today? Because the root set of competences in every human's semantic net are nodes and links which encode the experienced physical and social world, a net which requires a degree of innervated embodiment we have as yet no clue as to how we might build. Only when 'they walk amongst us' will designers be in with a chance.

Secondly, how would a superintelligence differ from today's humanity? A superintelligence would possess a semantic net with improved performance along all three dimensions. Observe however that no matter how complex a network of abstract nodes, at the base is the set of nodes which must connect to the complexity of the world. Even the brightest genius condemned to a sensory-deprivation cell wouldn't be that performative. Nothing there to work on.

I suspect that the sum total of new social experiences is parameterised by the possibilities of new physical environments, whether occasioned by exploration and/or technologies. And even these are ultimately bounded by the free energy available, as Accelerando reminded us with such gusto.

I think the take-home message is broadly as Stross imagined it. A superintelligence which walked amongst us (Hi Aineko!) would be bounded by the limitations of purely human technology + culture. But a society of superintelligences able to drive forward  their own physical, technological and cultural environment?

Well, let's just say there would be plenty of headroom.


Note: in this view, artificial neural nets are an engineering implementation of the semantic net architecture described above. We know from human neural nets (aka 'brains') that a 'compiled' semantic network runs real fast in the subconscious (maybe it is the subconscious) while trying to 'consciously' work on your own semantic network to address novel, complex problems is really hard work and a real test of IQ.

Diary: exercise from an advanced standpoint

... advanced in age, that is!

I am incredibly irritated by my 66 year old body. Fairly basic stuff like a two mile run and a weights session inflict unacceptable damage to my joints. Twinges in my knees and soreness in my elbows and tendons.

The only benign exercise is cycling, but I'm not a fan of road cycling - too many cars for my poor bike-handling skills, especially on steep uphill sections. Conversely, lengthy exercise-bike sessions are just too boring.

I am mostly at a loss. I will ration road runs to once a week and use lighter weights with more reps.

James Damore gets fired

The rainbow colours of diversity

The ex-Google employee was terminated for observing (in an internal memo) that genders differ in their aptitude for, and interest in, computer science.
Steve Hsu has this to say, while Scott Aaronson has written an elegant and oblique post.


Blank-slate ideology asserts that all humans - of whatever gender and/or race - are cognitively biologically-identical, and that therefore all detrimental differences of outcome are solely due to oppression. When elites defend plainly-wrong ideas with the utmost ferocity, I am reminded of Marx's point, "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas."

Why would the ruling elite want to believe it? Because it would be so dangerously divisive to look at any human subgroup and affirm that group's lower average cognitive performance or competence. Even identifying plainly outperforming groups - such as the Ashkenazim - risks opening the door to the concept of differences. So extreme is this impetus to faux-egalitarianism that many people deny even physical performance differences between genders or races. Social cohesion is the game.

I keep reminding myself (I already wrote about this) that globalisation is the economic driver for blank-slate ideology. Its young, educated beneficiaries are eager converts (arguably against their own longer-term interests) to causes so apparently egalitarian, culturally left-wing .. and economically convenient for globalised capital.

At least we haven't reintroduced the auto-de-fé yet or I wouldn't be writing this.


The Google CEO's sophistry was particularly disingenuous: see "If Google did heavy lifting ...".

Friday, August 04, 2017


I said to Clare, "Game of Thrones has got rather boring since they decimated all the extended families. When it was the Starks vs. the Lannisters, you could identify with all the intra- and inter-family personal dynamics."

But I was wrong, Series 7 is just as gripping as ever. Grown up Machiavellian realpolitik.

Apart from really sharp screen-writing, brilliant plotting, fantastic locations and the mega-budget to pay for it all, one secret of their success is the continuity of actors. How would you handle a situation where actors playing Cersei, Tyrion, Jon, Jaime or Sansa decided to skip the next series?

Peter Dinklage plays Tyrion Lannister

Must enormously increase their bargaining power. What joy for their agents.


The BBC is in trouble, not just for gender differences in pay but also for the sheer amount paid to their top staff. Radio presenter Chris Evans gets paid more than £2.2 million a year to present the breakfast show on Radio 2, which draws nine million listeners.

It's well-known in economics that the bulk of the economic value associated with a superstar ends up accruing to the talent themselves. Top footballers, rock stars and, yes, presenters get paid stupendous fees.

The reason is that they own a monopoly on their personal skills and typically engage in an auction process (via their agents) which allows them to identify and achieve their monopoly market value.

No competition, you see. But more on this in a moment.

With the BBC it's more complicated as they are a monopoly buyer (to a first approximation) in the UK entertainment market. If you want a truly mass audience, the BBC can potentially deliver it in a way that ITV, Channel 4 or Sky can't.

In theory, this should give the BBC monopsony power - lowering the price it has to pay for stars.

But in practice, the star will always win. The BBC cares most about the marginal, additional audience a top star can attract over the next best alternative. It's prepared to pay a hefty marginal price for that additional audience .. and since the absolute number of stars is not that large, the premium doesn't really register on its bloated budget.

Hence Chris Evans.


But technology has a way of undermining these simple truths. Game of Thrones is scripted and recorded. A lot already gets done in post-production. Soon it would not be hard to lose the estimable Peter Dinklage and hire a similarly sized actor. Use the latest AI to restore Mr Dinklage's face and voice and you've saved, no doubt, a shedload of money - and perhaps the series, if Mr D. was otherwise going to be a no-show.

I understand there's plenty of discussion around copyright for personal avatars and digital representations in Hollywood right now.

How is that going, I wonder?

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

My Personal Genome Project report has now arrived

Personal Genome Project Logo

I discovered the Personal Genome Project in September 2014 and immediately tried to sign up. They weren't taking new volunteers.

In December 2015 (15 months later) I finally did succeed in registering, but no-one was very interested in taking a spit-sample.

In May 2016, my sample collection kit arrived and I duly spat for science. I returned my sample for sequencing, at which point they stored it .. and nothing whatsoever happened.

It is now August 2017. Fifteen further months have passed and this morning I received an email from the PGP. I have been sequenced!

Here is my report (PDF) - I waive all privacy concerns.


My genome will now be released for research. Was there anything interesting in the report? No. Was it different in any important respect than that which I already received from 23andMe? No.

As usual, the report is mostly centred around SNPs. Unfortunately most interesting phenotypic traits are polygenic, the full connections with genomic variation yet to be unravelled. The SNPs - taken individually - simply adjust your odds ratio up or down for various conditions. Example: some of my SNPs elevate my odds for baldness; others lower it.

Insofar as the science centres around connecting my personal genome with my own phenotype characteristics, research should now focus on the latter.

I look forward to the first request for the promised punch biopsy.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The modern Panopticon

Janice Turner from The Times today interviews Maria Miller, the (Conservative) Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee.

The article: "How do you solve a problem like men in women’s changing rooms, Maria?"
"Maria Miller gathers up her handbag and makes to leave: “I don’t think I’m happy about this. I think I’ve finished . . . I didn’t realise this was such a stitch-up.

I’ve been questioning Ms Miller about a report on transgender rights she produced last year as chairwoman of the women and equalities committee. ...

"The heart of the controversy is the view, espoused by Ms Miller’s report, that switching gender should instead merely be a matter of “self-definition”. A man need only “declare” that he is a woman. Your gender is what you feel it to be: there would be no requirement even to take female hormones or have surgery — about 70 per cent of trans women still have intact male genitals — or even “present” as a woman to be legally female. ...

"Furthermore, if the law changes, “gender identity” is likely to become a protected characteristic under equalities legislation: ie if you deny a person is a woman or a man when they claim to be, you are guilty of discrimination or hate crime. ...

"Take this scenario: a man enters a female communal changing area, removes his clothes while women get undressed. Now they have a right to ask him to leave. Under gender self-definition, if he said “I identify as a woman” he would be entitled to stay. This, I stress, is unlikely to be a trans woman — many who use women’s changing rooms every day with discretion and no fuss — but could be a sexual predator exploiting the loophole. (There have been a growing number of cases in the US, including a man in Seattle using women’s pool facilities claiming “the law has changed, I have a right to be here”.) Does Ms Miller not see why women fear a conflict of rights? ...

"I show her a photograph of a bearded, male-born American called Danielle Muscato who dresses in men’s suits and ties, has made no attempt to transition but nonetheless “identifies as female” and insists on living in a women’s homeless shelter. On International Women’s Day he tweeted: “Some women have penises. If you’re bothered by this, you can suck my dick.” ...

"In Toronto, Christopher Hambrook claimed to be a trans woman to access a refuge then raped residents."

These spaces carry out a risk assessment before individuals are allowed to use them and those that pose a risk to safety are not necessarily one gender.

"But 90 per cent of violent crime and 98 per cent of sexual crime is committed by men. Trans women, such as Davina Ayrton, who raped a 15-year-old girl, have been convicted of offences seldom committed by natal females. Would self-identification mean these crimes would be registered as committed by women, skewing the figures? ...

"Sport is another problematic area: self-identification could destroy women’s competitions, allowing former-men with greater musculature and testosterone to dominate. In New Zealand a weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, has broken national records; in Canada the mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq dominated for years."

Those are already issues that professional bodies have to deal with. And again that is something which needs to be looked at in significant detail.

"I ask her about school sports. In Connecticut Andraya Yearwood, a male-bodied, moustachioed 15-year-old trans girl, has won state championships although she would have finished last in the boys’ competition. Does Ms Miller think this fair to the girl athletes?"

Well, I think it’s a bit of a difficult one to answer because boys are not going through gender reassignment when they’re at school.

"But what would you say to the girls who lost?"

It’s a very difficult one to answer . . .”

Walking along a country lane this morning I discussed this with Clare.

"This thing could run a long way. For example, I could claim to be a toddler and demand the right to join an infant play area. If someone objected that I'm a sixty six year old male, could they be open to the accusation of hate crime?"

"Don't worry," she said, "No-one can hear you here."


Would you like to know more?

The mediaeval belief that God saw all thoughts & actions was a powerful force for conformity.*

In a more secular age, it's good to know that our technology will soon step into the breach.


* Part II .. and related (SSC).

Friday, July 28, 2017

Smart pets? An *obvious* spinoff ...

From Steve Hsu today at Information Processing:
"Work on cognitive enhancement will probably be done first in monkeys, proving Planet of the Apes prophetic within the next decade or so :-)"
Many (most?) of the alleles implicated in superior cognitive functioning will doubtless have other physiological effects. This 'multiple and diverse impact' of genes is called Pleiotropy.

For this reason - when we have a list of the relevant IQ alleles - we would be ill-advised to shift into genome-editing mode and just flip all those genes to their 'enhancement' variants.

Naturally, there'll be loads of research first on mice, monkeys (expensive) and .. cats.


Contra Wittgenstein, I may yet share my life with a truly biologica Aineko before I die.


(Nothing worse than being incessantly nagged by an entitled creature which believes itself master or mistress of the universe and which additionally possesses claws).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Diary: Paris

Paris for the final stage of the Tour de France, street wandering and atmosphere.

Sunday morning before Mass at Notre Dame
Map-checking at the Père Lachaise Cemetery

I had compiled a Père Lachaise list: painters, poets, musicians, politicians and the odd surrealist. We had a map - trouble is, Père Lachaise is dense with graves and without signposts. Probably there's a GPS app but I skipped the research. We found nothing but enjoyed the walk.

Neither Clare nor myself found any of our targets

The Pyramide du Louvre from the Tuileries Garden


Our hotel was the 123 Sébastopol - at 123, Boulevard de Sébastopol 75002 Paris. A smart hotel pioneering early gentrification of a shabby neighbourhood, ethnically mixed between sub-Saharan Africans, North Africans and poor ethnic-European French. The streets were pretty crowded and it was plainly not a tourist area. It was, however, close and walkable to central Paris.

And not without interest.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Services I wish I could buy: Vengeance Ltd

It was a slow day
And the sun was beating
On the soldiers by the side of the road
There was a bright light
A shattering of shop windows
The bomb in the baby carriage
Was wired to the radio
.. and there again ..
A man walks down the street
It's a street in a strange world
Maybe it's the Third World
Maybe it's his first time around
He doesn't speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man.

We all like travelling in foreign parts, but let's face it, some of them are pretty dire.

Not all of us can afford, or would want to be accompanied by, a phalanx of bodyguards. So let's think about this: why would some random bad guys in a bad part of the world not want to rob you and leave you for dead?

If they could.

I think what might stop them is fear of retribution, so let's give them some good reasons.

Vengeance Ltd recruits former special forces and top operational support guys. As a client, you are required to carry at all times audio/video sensors plus GPS tracker. All this stuff is linked in real time to their HQ.

You also wear a somewhat conspicuous "V" badge and carry a Vengeance Ltd laminated card. They want the bad guys to know you're a client.

If the worst happens, there's not much they can do in medias res. They're not bodyguards.

Vengeance Ltd - helping out with your perfect holiday

The clue is in the name. They will relentlessly hunt down and bring terminal retribution to your assailants. They do not give up. The few times they had to do this were quite well-publicised: they have a good rep.

I think you would feel quite protected - and as a volume business, their rates are quite affordable.


Did I mention the heart-rate monitor? It can be quite difficult, instrumentation-wise, to distinguish between a holdup and an episode of passion. That's when they need to cross-check the video feed. They say it's all done by a real smart AI ... so no worries then.


For experts, this is an example of bourgeois commodification of pre-capitalist naturalistic social relations. Or in English, everyone used to belong to a clan or a tribe. If someone did you harm, your kinfolk would serve out retribution.

But for capitalism to work properly, we had to dispense with the clans ...

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Diary: what I'm reading

Books (on the Kindle) I'm currently reading:

Amazon link

An economist who can write well and who knows that markets require a plethora of institutions to make them work. Harder globally than nationally.

Unfailing interesting, and passes the 'ring of truth' test.


Amazon link

Razib Khan spoke warmly of this book, although warning it was heavy going. Really??

Martin Jay documents that intellectual commune of mostly German-Jewish left-intellectuals trying to figure out why the proletariat stubbornly refused to deliver the promised utopia-bringing revolution.

Like most people with a Marxist background, I tangentially knew about the Frankfurt School - especially via Marcuse - but never got around to actually engaging with Critical Theory.


Amazon link

Flagged critically as one of the better Jack Reacher thrillers, this seemed ideal to read to Clare after dinner.

As well as having a Jack Reacher haircut I share his interest in the blues.

I was sufficiently motivated to consider the best electric blues rendition of "Born under a Bad Sign" and listened carefully to Cream's famous version. But John Bonamassa is my favourite.


"Supermind" is on order!

Friday, July 21, 2017

More about METI

From Centauri Dreams today:
"I want to commend Johnson’s piece, which is titled “Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us).” As you can fathom from the title, the author is looking at our possible encounter with alien civilizations in terms not of detection but of contact, and that means we’re talking METI — Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence. "
The thing to worry about is not so much 'messaging' as 'meeting'. It's forever interesting to watch liberal propensities overwhelm scientific understanding wherever a warm, glowing chink can be found. Assuming Frank Drake was not misquoted in Johnson’s piece, this is what he said:
"Drake leaned forward, nodding. ‘‘It raises a very interesting, nonscientific question, which is: Are extraterrestrial civilizations altruistic? Do they recognize this problem and establish a beacon for the benefit of the other folks out there? My answer is: I think it’s actually Darwinian; I think evolution favors altruistic societies. So my guess is yes. ..."
The magic is in the word 'altruistic'. Social creatures are altruistic within the limits of kin and reciprocal altruism, and - when human - can sometimes be persuaded to interpersonal neutrality on larger scales, when their personal, family & friends' interests are not adversely affected (so nation states and empires).

But in general? If you're a bug and you annoy me, you'll get squashed.

How could an 'altruistic' approach to biological competitors ever be selected for?

One writer who really understands where Darwinian evolution actually leads you is Liu Cixin. You should read the extended excerpt here .. but this is a flavour:
"The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care.

"The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod — there's only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them.

"In this forest, hell is other people; an eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It's the explanation for the Fermi Paradox."
Any sufficiently advanced alien society would care about humanity about as much as we care about a local wasp nest. Sometimes we let it survive, because it's in our interests that the wasps do their thing (pest control) - which benefits us.

Other times, not so much.

And in this, we are not being backward, or under-evolved, or lacking civilizational maturity which future generations will fix. We are simply being optimally rational.

If we do meet those aliens any time soon - and given our woeful interstellar capabilities we would be the technologically inferior party - we should hope that, like the wasps, our existence adds some value for them.

Meanwhile I would hold off on all that signallin' and hollerin'.


Update: I'm not the only one with concerns.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Diary: exercise today

Weight this morning: 10 stone 10.4 pounds (68.2 kg) - admittedly after a 5:2 fast yesterday.

After five minutes on the exercise bike and some floor exercises (press ups, bicycle crunch, plank) I pioneered a new two mile run from the house, up the Mendips and back. Took 21 minutes and I wasn't pushing it. A good target would be 18 minutes - parts are quite steep.

Finished off with an abbreviated weights programme.

Finally had my hair buzz-cut - thanks Clare! - which in terms of reducing weight I maybe should've had done before I left the house.  😏

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Super-intelligence: A. E. Van Vogt - "Asylum"

Another SF short story which made an impression on me as a young teen. I was fascinated by this graphic description of what reality would be like to someone of immense intelligence.

The observer here, apparently a reporter named Bill Leigh, suddenly discovers he is actually the personality overlay of a covert 'Great Galactic' operative .. with an IQ of 1,200!

"The room and the girl in it changed, not physically, but subjectively, in what he saw, in the details.

Details burned at him; furniture and design that a moment before had seemed a flowing, artistic whole, abruptly showed flaws, hideous errors in taste and arrangement and structure.

His gaze flashed out to the garden, and in instants tore it to mental shreds.Never in all his existence had he seen or felt criticism on such a high,devastating scale.

Only - Only it wasn't criticism. Actually. The mind was indifferent. It saw things. Automatically, it saw some of the possibilities; and by comparison the reality suffered.

It was not a matter of anything being hopelessly bad. The wrongness was frequently a subtle thing. Birds not suited, for a dozen reasons, to their environment. Shrubs that added infinitesimal discord not harmony to the superb garden.

The mind flashed back from the garden; and this time, for the first time, studied the girl. On all Earth, no woman had ever been so piercingly examined. The structure of her body and her face, to Leigh so finely, proudly shaped, so gloriously patrician - found low grade now.

An excellent example of low-grade development in isolation.That was the thought, not contemptuous, not derogatory, simply an impression by an appallingly direct mind that saw - overtones, realities behind realities,a thousand facts where one showed. There followed crystal-clear awareness of the girl's psychology, objective admiration for the system of isolated upbringing that made Klugg girls such fine breeders; and then - Purpose!"

Here's a summary of 'Asylum'.
" two fugitive Dreeghs – energy vampires that suck blood and use energy – land on Earth. They are in dire need of blood and attack two humans right away to restore themselves. They then bury their spaceship under a New York restaurant where they dwell.

The murders shock the people on earth because murder is almost unheard of since Dr. Ungarn – currently residing on an asteroid near the Jupiter moon of Europa – devised serum to rid most of mankind of its murderous impulses. The story is investigated and reported by one of the world’s most recognized reporters – Bill Leigh. Soon after the publication of his article, he is invited by a stranger to his favorite New York restaurant to dine in a private room.

Leigh arrives and soon is joined by a young woman who hastily takes him through a secret door to a subterranean chamber where the Dreeghs are living. The young woman confronts them and warns the Dreegh that Earth is to be left alone. As a lower, fugitive race, the Dreegh will be dealt with most harshly.

Leigh is stunned and isn’t sure how to report this story and make it believable. But before he can, he is kidnapped by the Dreegh who use their mental powers to convince him to travel to the asteroid where Dr. Ungarn lives to destroy him and his daughter. The Dreegh suspect that the Ungarns are agents of the Great Galactics who will prevent them from settling and taking over Earth.

Leigh manages to hitch a ride on the freighter that routinely transports supplies to Dr. Ungard’s laboratory near Jupiter with no idea what his real intentions are, other than to find the girl who he met on Earth that he is sure is Patricia Ungard. They arrive on the asteroid and just as they are meeting with the Ungards, the two Dreegh arrive and capture them. They inform the group that more Dreegh are on the way and that this vanguard against their invasion of this solar system will be destroyed.

As the Dreegh prepare to draw the life force out of their three victims, a powerful mental force awakens in Leigh and he is able to slay the Dreegh before they can harm Patricia or her father. He is then contacted by a higher intelligence that informs him that he has never really been Bill Leigh, reporter. He learns that it is he who is one of the supreme beings of the Great Galactics. Leigh, unable to comprehend all this, jumps into a small space shuttle and flees to earth."
"Asylum" is better known as the first part of A. E. Van Vogt's "fix-up" novel "Supermind", which postulated  "... on an IQ curve that would include humans, Kluggs, Lennels and Dreeghs, the respective averages would be 100, 220, 380, and 450 ... ".

Sadly not available on Kindle.