Saturday, March 29, 2014

Innovation, Complex Systems and Computation: Technological Space and Speculations on the Future

I have a new article, coauthored with Euel Elliott, Professor of Public Policy and Political Economy and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the School of Economics, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, in Studies in Emergent Order titled "Innovation, Complex Systems and Computation: Technological Space and Speculations on the Future". In it we investigate technology as a spontaneous order, discussing what happens when the technological order overlaps with the catallaxy. Further, we discuss the potential of technological innovation given the Internet. The Internet is yet another kind of spontaneous order network, and its overlaps with the economy and technological innovation (not to mention other spontaneous order, like the arts and literature) is having an effect on these areas that we are only beginning to feel and recognize.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rational Justice to Emotional Moral Judgments

Ethics are based in our emotions, but it seems that justice is based in our reason. This certainly suggests that morality and justice are in fact two quite different things. Yet, what are we to make of the fact that the "feeling of injustice" we have when we are cheated is in fact a feeling, an emotion? Is this in fact a sense that the person in question is acting immorally toward us?

Let us consider this:

Anyone who feels a sense of disgust at some activity will argue that the action in question is immoral. This is the basis of homophobia, for example. Yet, one can simultaneously experience this disgust and agree that homosexuals should, nevertheless, be treated equally under the law. However, I would have to wonder how long one would be able to feel such moralizing disgust once one is rationally persuaded against unjust treatment of homosexuals.

Might justice be reason's way in to persuade our moral sense?

I will also note that Haidt shows libertarians to show rather low emotional responses to ethical issues and to be more rational than most people. Might this explain why libertarians are so justice-centered in their thinking?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Your Work Is Who You Are

Yesterday my wife observed that my work is deeply intertwined with my identity. It was not the first time she observed it, but sometimes the Nth time you hear something is when you start to think about it.

I hadn't really thought about it before because she was and is right. And it seems so natural to me. I am a poet/playwright/interdisciplinary scholar/spontaneous order theorist. When I awake, those things are on my mind; they are on my mind throughout the day; they are on my mind when I go to sleep. my mind is always active thinking about my various projects.

Asperger's has been called the "Little Professor Syndrome," and I certainly fit that description. When I was obsessed with dinosaurs, I could have held my own with a paleontologist; when I was obsessed with sharks, I learned everything I could find on sharks; when I was obsessed with plants -- and later narrowed that obsession to orchids -- I learned everything I could find on plants and, particularly, orchid. That obsession later turned into molecular biology in college, then economics, then quantum physics (at least, to the degree one can learn about it without math), then chaos theory and complexity, then fiction writing, then poetry, then play writing. The older I have gotten, though, the more I have retained past interests. I remain curious about molecular biology, and I very often think with the concepts of biology; I have increased my interest in economics, combining my interest in complexity with economics into Austrian economics and spontaneous order theory; I still write plays and poems.

One of my more recent obsessions is learning about autism. When I learned my son had autism, I did the autistic thing and became obsessed with the topic and learned everything I could about it. My familiarity with molecular biology and neurobiology helped. It was in dong this research that I learned I had Asperger's.

It turns out that those with Asperger's deeply identify with the work they do, with the work with which they are obsessed.

If the person with autism can find a place that will indulge his obsessions, he will be a great worker and will do great work. If the person with autism cannot find such a place, he won't allow that job to interfere with his "real" work. One can perhaps imagine what the outcome of that is likely to be.

For autistics with advanced degrees, like me, the logical place to work is a university. And if universities were primarily interested in research, scholarship, and teaching, they would be the ideal place for autistics. Unfortunately, universities are primarily interested in more fully developing their bureaucracies, playing university politics, and engaging in all sorts of other social games at which those with autism are terrible. If universities were places where a professor could see that something was not working, and the next semester change the way he taught classes based on his observations of what worked and what did not, they would be ideal places for those with autism. However, universities are in fact places where professors are pressured into teaching the same way as everyone else, no matter what the educational outcomes may be.

It seems, then, that there are no places to support people with autism. There is no institutional support; the institutions we have are structurally opposed to both the strengths and weaknesses of autistics, while thoroughly supportive of both the strengths and weaknesses of neurotypicals.

Worse, because people like me are so personally identified with their work so that there is little differentiation between the work and person (please note I said "the work" and not the ideas, as particular ideas will be chucked if they are shown  not to work out), we tend to take it quite personally that nobody wants us or wants us to do what we are good at. We resent the fact that we cannot make a living being who we are, because of the prejudice against us built into the institutional structures of society. I do not know if there was ever a time when things were better for those with autism; however, I suspect that before the growth of bureaucracy as a fundamental institution in all areas of life, life for those with autism was much easier.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Institutional Discimination Against Those With Autism

Institutions matter.

The structures of our institutions do indeed matter a great deal. The structure of our property rights, for example, can be the difference between widespread wealth and the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few who are politically powerful. Those structures affect whether or not we are playing a positive sum game, a zero sum game, or a negative sum game. Inevitably, the structures of our institutions influence who is successful and why.

Thus, the Left's complaints about "institutional racism" or "institutional sexism" are not wrong. It is likely that there are structural elements to various institutions in any society that make it easier or more difficult for a particular race or sex to succeed.

But I have discovered another kind of institutional discrimination.

I have come to realize that there is widespread institutional discrimination against those with autism. I know this because I have experienced it. In fact, I have been experiencing it for a long time now, only I did not know or understand this to be the case because I was unaware I was autistic.

For example, there is perhaps nothing more anti-autism than bureaucracy. Bureaucracies reward those who socially conform the most, who are socially most clever, who know how to brown nose the best and play office politics the best. They do not reward hard work, innovation, or insight. In other words, bureaucracies are an autistic's worst nightmare. Yet, it is not uncommon for high functioning autistics to have advanced degrees. If that advanced degree is a Ph.D., that means working in a university more often than not. Yet there are few places more bureaucratized than universities.

While being a university student actually plays into many of the strengths of those with autism -- which is why so many get advanced degrees -- the work environment is anti-autistic. And this includes the work environment of colleges and universities.

More, among neurotypicals, HOW something is done is just as important -- sometimes more important (especially in places with large bureaucracies) -- as the outcome. To take something with which I am familiar, it should matter more whether or not the students actually learned the material than whether you are teaching those students the same way as everyone else. But it turns out that student learning per se is not what is important to anyone in the universities' bureaucracies; rather, what is important is that you are conforming everything you do to how everyone else is doing things. And if you are doing even one small thing differently, you have to defend what you are doing to more and more and more people -- until you just give up on it just to get people to leave you alone. Nobody cares if what you are doing works; they only care that they aren't doing it, or that they hadn't heard of it before. For the autistic person, none of that stuff matters. The only thing that matters is what works. Show me it doesn't work, and I won't do it. But if I show you it does work, you should leave me alone to do what works. Perhaps you ought to try doing it yourself. But ego gets in the way of neurotypicals adopting things others have developed.

Neuroptyicals typically won't adopt something new until and unless they are made to do so -- either by a boss or by circumstances. This also works in reverse. You are expected not to adopt something new until and unless the boss makes you. You are not supposed to just do things on your own. Yet, this is exactly what you can expect people with autism to do. We care only about what works, and ego or hierarchy or anything like that does not come into play at all.

Bureaucratic  hierarchies play into the strengths of neurotypicals, but outright punish autistics. One could almost define neurotypicals as political animals and autistic as poetic animals. The poetic person wants to simply make or do (this is the origin of the work in ancient Greek), while the political person wants to be social and to interact with other human beings. Most of our modern institutions are political in structure, rewarding those who engage in politics. It is not hard work that gets rewarded, but whoever is the  most politically savvy. More, the more autistic you are, the more difficult it will be to succeed in a job, as most jobs reward social intelligence over other kinds of intelligence. And social intelligence is precisely where autistics fall short.

Thus we can see that our institutions are discriminatory against those with autism.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Orthodoxy in Academia, or Why Universities are So Conservative

David Friedman has a post in which he discusses how orthodoxy arises in academia. Academia is one of the most conservative -- in the worse sense of the term -- places in the world. Few places, few departments provide a truly liberal education. The pursuit of truth (which is fundamentally anti-orthodoxy) requires people to question received truth, to question established knowledge, to unsettle all that is settled. One may end up with the answers of two thousand years ago, or one may end up with new answers, but we must be fundamentally disruptive if we are going to discover knowledge, if we are going to discover the truth.

Universities are not structured to aid in this pursuit. Quite the contrary.

The way people are hired into a department necessarily leads to uniformity and orthodoxy. Any time you have a situation in which a person is hired by a committee, you are going to have the most orthodox candidates being selected. Committees select the one who is least offensive to everyone. More than likely that candidate will be teaching using the same pedagogy as everyone (whether students learn from it or not) and will be pursuing the same kinds of research using the same methods as everyone else. Of course, the main journals are themselves representative of orthodoxy -- or they would not be the main journals -- and one gets more "points" for publishing in them than in more heterodox journals.

Take, for example, English departments, about which I am most familiar. Businesses hiring college graduates are increasingly vociferous in their complaints that their new hires cannot write well. Yet, that fact has had no effect on writing pedagogy in our universities. Marxism remains the "economic theory" of choice through which to interpret texts; Freud, Jung, and Lacan (of whom nobody outside of literary studies seems to have heard) are the psychological theorists; and postmodernism is the overall interpretive strategy. What is an Austrian school theorist, who uses evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology, and Gravesean psychology, and unifies them with complexity theory, emergence, and J.T. Fraser's philosophy to do? Not have a job.

Now, I am hardly claiming that I can't get a job because of my interpretive strategies in literature. And I have towed the line on writing pedagogy until recently, when I have begun to toe the line. More, there are a variety of institutional problems with colleges that have resulted in composition professors being relegated to almost nothing but adjunct status (thank you, useless bureaucrats, with your 6 figure salaries!), and English and humanities and any other related majors being relegated to nothing but composition professors. The adjunct/bureaucrat situation contributes to the shameful situation of having a very high percentage of our most educated people having some of the lowest wages in the country. And I am one of this system's victims.

But this situation, too, contributes to the creation of orthodoxy. Universities can "try out" someone as an adjunct, then try them out as a lecturer, then perhaps offer tenure track, once you have proven that you are harmless and won't challenge anyone on anything ever. The result is increasing orthodoxy in our universities across the board, regardless of department. Such a situation creates the conditions for the establishment of illiberal orthodoxy, conservatism in the worst sense of the term, and thus the ultimate rejection of liberal education. Truth in our universities is already established, all are to abide by the truth as already established, and if you question anything, you will be thrown out.

And as standards become more and more centralized in the hands of those in government, things are only going to get worse.

But don't worry. Eventually, the shame of people with Ph.D.'s not being able to provide for their families will overwhelm those people, and then there will be a social revolution. At least, according to history. Unfortunately, history also shows us that these revolutions almost never turn out well.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Honesty, Loyalty, and Autism

Two of the positive attributes attributed to those with Asperger's/Autism are loyalty and honesty.

People with autism are loyal to those with whom they are in a relationship and they are loyal to their employers (and employees, if they are the boss). Indeed, I have always felt strong loyalty toward my employees. I am fiercely loyal to my wife (though my fierce honesty does sometimes make it appear otherwise -- though I promise [Sweetie] that in my mind the two do not conflict). I am loyal to all my friends and family. It's part of my nature. But it appears that it is in the nature of any with autism.

Now, the issue of honesty is an interesting one. It's not that someone with autism cannot lie. I can lie. My 4 yr old son can lie. I've caught him. But when I do lie, it really, really, really, really, really bothers me. It's like a deep brain itch I can't scratch. So I don't lie. It just bothers me too deeply, and I'd rather not be that uncomfortable all the time.

At the same time, people with autism are known to believe pretty much anything anyone says to them. This is perhaps attributable to the fact that with theory of mind, one attributes others as having the same mind as oneself. I don't lie, therefore others don't lie. Except that's not true. People lie all the time. And when you reach the level of self-awareness I have about who I am, especially in regards to my high functioning autism, you come to realize just how much people lie all the time.

I'm still prone to believe you in the moment, but I can at least now look back and see I've been lied to.

For example, when I tell you I'm going to do something, you can go to the bank on it (unless my terrible memory takes over, at least). I remember things better if I write them down; if I write something down, you can guarantee I'll do it. It doesn't matter what it is; it doesn't matter how small it is; it doesn't matter if I'm tired or if something else comes up. If I say I'm going to do something, I'll do it. However, this is absolutely not true at all when it comes to neurotypicals. I have noticed that neurotypicals will tell you they will do something, then change their minds or come up with some excuse for why they can't, etc. And this is assuming they ever intended to do it at all, and weren't just trying to make you feel better or shut up at that moment.

This is where conflicts between those with autism and neurotypicals can arise. Two neurotypicals will lie to each other without a second thought about doing something together, and then blow it off when minds are changed. Do that to someone with autism, and they will say, "Nope, that's what you said. You said you were going to do it." Thus, those with autism tend to "call out" neurotypicals on their small lies with which they fill the day. And let's face it: people don't like to be called out on their b.s. But since autistics don't like to lie, and therefore don't like to be lied to, they have a tendency to point it out when you lied to them. Thus, a source of our "social awkwardness."

Indeed, people want to be lied to all the time. They want to be told they look nice when they don't. They want to be told their project is good when it isn't. They want to be told they're good people who don't lie all the time just to get through the day. But you know what you won't get from someone with autism? None of those things. They'll tell you you don't look nice in that dress. They'll actually critique your work. And they'll write blog posts telling you that you are all a bunch of petty liars. And that, too, is a source of our social awkwardness.

Of course, the tendency to believe others when they say things can get someone with autism in trouble. Suppose that you have two people, one (A) with autism, another (B) who is neurotypical. They are working on a project together. B is working on something that must be finished before A can work on his part. A asks B how things are going. B says he ran into a problem, but he was working on it and would let A know when it was ready for him. Do you know what A will do? A will believe B and not bother B ever again. Three weeks later, when the boss asks A about the project, A will tell the boss about the conversation he and B had -- and guess who will get in the most trouble? It will be A, who knew there was a delay, but didn't come forward sooner. A of course won't understand in the least what the problem is or why he's suddenly in trouble. If someone points out to him that he should have come forward sooner, he will reply that that make sense, but in reality it doesn't make that much sense to him. Didn't B say he was handling it? If this happens to A enough times, he'll end up fired, but be completely clueless about why he was fired.

Now, I can point all of these things out, but all of this comes about from reading and from thinking through past experiences. I have a head-knowledge that this takes place, but it is unfortunately only intellectual and not useful knowledge. I know I will continue to make these mistakes, and it's frustrating to know that you will and also to know that in the moment, you will "forget" all that you know.

About the only thing I know to do is to beg those who have to deal with those with autism on a daily basis to please always say exactly what you mean and to mean exactly what you say. If you say you are going to do something later, please do it. It's extremely frustrating for the autistics in your life if you don't. Of course, this only translates into the work place if you have told everyone with whom you work that you are autistic. Of course, there are both problems with and benefits to telling; you just have to decide if the benefits outweigh the problems. Of course, that's a socially-based judgment call, and that's precisely what we with autism are bad at.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When Scholarship Violates Academic Justice

There is a spectre haunting academia – the spectre of academic justice – and while its manifesto, of sorts, may have been penned last month in The Harvard Crimson by Sandra Y. L. Korn, the idea has been present, if not always so explicitly articulated, in our universities for a long time now. Korn is in fact merely a product of her professors – she is hardly the origin of the idea that academic freedom should be jettisoned in favor of what she terms “academic justice.”

In this piece, Korn demonstrates how well she has absorbed the illiberal ideology of her professors by arguing that we need to jettison academic freedom, to be replaced by what she terms “academic justice.” Now, the first thing one might ask is, “what, exactly, is academic justice?” Indeed, one can ask the question Socrates himself once asked: What is justice? Socrates did not receive a satisfactory answer, and over 2000 years of philosophy and jurisprudence has not improved matters in the least. More, ideas of what is just and unjust have changed over time and have varied from culture to culture. And therein lies the problem with Korn’s idea. What idea of justice? Whose? From what period in time?

Let us take an example from Harvard’s own history: the controversy surrounding E. O. Wilson’s theory of sociobiology. In the late 1970s Wilson faced protests of exactly the kind Korn admires. Wilson was called a racist and a sexist for his theory as it applied to humans. After over a decade of such controversy, things began to settle down, and now, almost forty years later, the idea is almost completely uncontroversial. There was, of course, nothing inherently racist or sexist in the theory to begin with, but because some people thought it had such implications – which only they themselves read into the theory – there were attempts to actively prevent the dissemination of his ideas. And it was all done on what Korn no doubt would agree were concerns about “academic justice.”

The history of this episode points to the inherent problem in the very idea of only allowing professors to do work according to a particular political agenda. Had Wilson been fired, it would have been Harvard that looked bad for having fired him, given the uncontroversial nature of sociobiology today. In science, facts trump ideology – or, they should. Yet, we see again and again ideologues attacking certain ideas to only later adapt the ideas to their ideologies once the evidence is overwhelming that the idea is correct. Engaging in dialogue – even to the point of protesting – is part of the discovery process. That is how science is done. But when people who have a theory seek to silence their critics, what we have is hardly science. Rather, we have an ideologically-driven agenda.

 And things have not gotten better since the 1970s, though the issues have changed. For example, in 2012 Nicholas Drapella, who had worked for ten years as a Lecturer of Chemistry at Oregon State University, suddenly found himself fired, despite receiving excellent reviews from students. No official excuse was given by the university, but he had expressed skepticism about global warming just shortly before being fired. What does it say about a theory – any theory – when supporters of the theory cannot and will not stand for anyone to question it? Science advances one skeptic at a time; to silence skeptics is to effectively silence science itself.

Such is increasingly the case in climate studies. For example, in 2012 Nicholas Drapella, a Lecturer of Chemistry at Oregon State University, was fired in the middle of the semester shortly after he had expressed skepticism about global warming. No reason was given to him as to why they were firing him. That same year, UCLA fired James Enstrom,a research professor in UCLA’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, after he exposed fraud and scientific misconduct at the University of California (UC). The fraudulent results of the research being done at UC were being used to push for stronger environmental legislation, while Enstrom’s own work had disproven many myths regarding certain pollutants. Requests by warming skeptics for climate data being denied by promoters of global warming are almost too numerous to list – and should make anyone wonder why they wish to hide their data. But having open data is part of academic freedom, and may undermine academic justice.

Given the history of politically incorrect research – including climate and biological research – resulting in protests and even firings, it should perhaps not be surprising that someone like Korn took things to their logical conclusion. She of course was aided by the prevailing academic philosophy of postmodernism, in which there is no such thing as truth, but only power relations. Having digested a diet of postmodern theory that tells her that everything is always already political and that there is no such thing as objective truth, we should not in the least bit be surprised to hear her argue that we should reject the search for truth – aided as it is by academic freedom – and instead embrace academic justice, which of course is determined by purely political considerations by those with power. Those with power get to determine what can be thought and discovered – and that is whatever conforms to the One True Belief of those in power.

Another recent example was in December 2010, when tenured law professor Lawrence J. Connell was banned from campus for engaging in microaggressions by using the term “black folk” and using hypothetical scenarios involving the dean. When it was found he could not be suspended for those actions, he was later suspended without pay and required to undergo psychiatric evaluation for “retaliation” which, apparently, involved his defending himself to his students. It seems clear to me, at least, who was really retaliating against whom. When one reads Korn’s article, there is little question that what she means by justice is anything that does not offend her particular ideology. Her very first example of Professor Herrnstein’s work on I.Q. demonstrates this. Her objection is not to whether or not Herrnstein’s work is factually accurate; rather, she objects to the work having ever been done at all. Why? Because she doesn’t like the outcome. Its truth – or even untruth – is completely irrelevant to her. All that matters is that she doesn’t like it. That is enough to suppress the information.

One may wonder what Herrnstein’s, Wilson’s, and Harvey Mansfield’s (whom she also mentions) work all have in common that they could cause people to lash out at them. Is there anything inherently racist in claiming variations in I.Q.? Is there anything inherently racist or sexist in identifying biological foundations to human behavior? Is there anything inherently sexist in claiming there are differences between men and women in the way they behave? Of course not. What they have in common is that someone, somewhere chose to take offense. And when someone takes offense at your work – though taking offense is a choice made by the person taking offense – then the person who did the work to which the other took offense committed a microaggression. Since a microaggression can occur even if you have no earthly idea that what you are doing could possibly be considered offensive, the idea is a particularly insidious one if one is interested in having a healthy academic environment.

But that, of course, is precisely what Korn does not want at Harvard or any other university. No, she wants an academic environment identical in every way to her, that reflects her every value, her value rankings at any given moment, her morals, and her sense of justice. For this to happen, her values, rankings, morals, and sense of justice would have to be forever unchanging, because if they did ever change, then she herself would find herself in violation of her own rules of “academic justice.”

Now, one may wonder exactly where free speech fits into Korn’s idea of justice. She seems to address this question by arguing that the academics she would fire can still publish what they want, just not at any university she is attending. But given that if someone were to publish something that offends her she is clearly of the opinion they should be fired, one has to wonder where the boundaries are going to end. She wants the freedom of speech to criticize, but she doesn’t want you to have the freedom of speech to say anything she might criticize. No, you have to be completely removed from her presence, made invisible to her, so she won’t have to even face any ideas contrary to her own. This is the death of academia itself, of the very notion of a liberal education. But a liberal education is precisely what Korn sees as her enemy.

The purpose of academic freedom is to undermine the idea that there is One True Belief to which everyone must conform so they may be allowed to engage in philosophy and scholarship. In other words, academic freedom is designed to undermine exactly what she wants to establish. She wants to establish The Truth, which cannot ever be questioned. All must conform to The Truth or else one must go before the Inquisition. In this sense Korn is right to object to academic freedom, for academic freedom as such undermines her world view at its very core. That is its purpose; that is its design.

Perhaps the real irony comes at the very end of Korn’s piece. She states that “if we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just.” But wait . . . how on earth can we consider more thoughtfully what is just unless we have the academic freedom to investigate what is just? This demonstrates the compete incoherence of her views. She wants to cut off any investigations into anything with which she disagrees, then argues that by doing so, we will be able to better investigate what is just. One supposes that what she really means is that by cutting off all investigations into anything with which she disagrees, all investigations into justice will result in answers that support her ideology. Then she won’t have to live with the overwhelming burden of having to consider views other than her own. The point, then, is the same as that at UCLA: to make correction and consideration of ideas other than your own impossible at the university, thus making education itself impossible.

There are two elements to the university: teaching students and creating academic output. The graduate students at UCLA seek to undermine the former under the guise of microaggression. Korn wishes to undermine the latter with essentially the same ideology. More, Korn’s piece in The Harvard Crimson demonstrates that when the university fails at the former, the latter will be negatively affected as well. Clearly Harvard has not taught Korn things like logic, tolerance for views other than her own, the nature of inquiry, or even the nature of justice. The result is someone who seeks to destroy, to strike at the very root of, the very institution which created her. If Harvard wants to destroy itself from the inside out, you may rest assured that other universities will come along to replace it. But if such anti-intellectual, intolerant ideas as Korn’s spreads, that will be the death of academic inquiry itself. More, it will be the death of justice in the world.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Autism as Strong Explicit Learners, Weak Implicit Learners

I recently discussed the idea that we need to differentiate between learning and acquiring; imagine my excitement to learn that it was recently discovered that there are two different brain areas for implicit and explicit learning. What I was calling "acquiring" they are calling "implicit learning."

Things that are implicitly learned have instinct modules attached to them -- this is what allows for the rapid acquisition of implicitly learned knowledge. Spoken language falls into this category. So do morals.

Things that are explicitly learned do not have instinct modules attached to them, and thus are learned with more difficulty. Reading and writing fall into this category. So does driving a car. Of course, each of these make use of areas where instincts are at play -- it should be obvious that written language is strongly connected with spoken language -- but these are a step removed from the instinct, made more conscious.

It seems, from the research I have done on autism, as well as my own experiences (as someone with Asperger's/autism) and observation of my son, Daniel, who has autism, that people with autism have difficulty with implicit learning/acquiring, and thus have to rely more on explicit learning. This would go a long way to explaining why so many with autism have language delays, as explicit learning takes longer than does implicit learning. The fact that general purpose artificial neural nets can learn to recognize language without the presence of a language instinct points to a way the human brain could learn language without the ability to acquire it. In fact, if we accept Steven Pinker's argument from "The Language Instinct" that in evolution explicit learning precedes implicit learning because anything that is learned and needs to be learned quickly will soon develop into an instinct, then we can perhaps understand that it is not only possible, but necessary, that language be learned explicitly.

This would also explain the "social awkwardness" of those with autism. And coordination problems. What is naturally acquired by neurotypicals must be explicitly learned by those with autism.

Of course, this raises any number of questions. What are the connections between implicit and explicit learning? Is the implicit learning module(s) weakened in those with autism, or is the explicit learning module strengthened in them? Or both?

Given that implicit learning is in fact going to be multi-modular -- social learning is a different module(s) from language learning -- one would expect variations in what instinct-based modules are affected. Some (such as I) are unaffected in acquiring language, but affected in acquiring social skills. My son has delays in both.

If we combine this idea with the Intense World Theory of autism, we might be able to make the argument for stronger explicit learning -- perhaps even to the extent of hijacking some of the implicit learning hardware. This would also help us make sense of some of the mental abilities of many with autism. Things like mathematics and playing a musical instrument are explicitly learned, and these are two areas often associated with autistic savantism.  I learned how to read by the time I was 2.5 (as noted above, I did not have the language delay; also, reading is learned explicitly).

A more hyperconnected brain, as found in those with autism, is a brain that more closely resembles the architecture of artificial neural nets, and artificial neural nets (ANNs) are general use explicit learners. If you feed enough information into an ANN, it will create concepts and thus learn patterns. ANNs are excellent at finding patterns. I do not think it a coincidence that this also describes how autistic minds learn and behave. While neurotypicals can extract concepts from a handful of examples -- perhaps even only one example -- autistics need many more examples before a concept can be formed. The result is a more fragmented world, but also more accurate to reality concepts that do not have to be modified nearly as much once formed.

In all of the things I have read on autism, I have yet to come across this explicit theory.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Open Borders Day

Today is Open Borders Day. Those of us who believe in open borders believe that people should not be condemned by the accident of the location of their birth to poverty and oppression. The Constitution of the United States of America was created in no small part for the express purpose of creating open borders among the various states -- borders open to the free movement of people and goods. Until the 20th century, the U.S. pretty much had open borders. Thus, there is nothing more un-American than opposition to open borders. And there is nothing more un-American than believing that we should exclude people because they won't "fit in." Who doesn't fit in to a multicultural, pluralist, cosmopolitan country? Freedom of movement is central to liberty. If you are free to move, you are free to go to places you think are better than where you are currently living. Unless you can threaten to leave, freedom of speech has little power. "Change or else I'll leave!" That has power. Consider the situation of depopulated places like Detroit. Detroit is in a crisis because the government was corrupt and wouldn't change, and people voted with their feet. When the power monopoly in Detroit is broken, it will have hope -- for people will stay and, just as importantly, people will move in. If we want the world to become freer and, thus, more prosperous, we need to tear down borders and allow the free movement of people and goods. Then we will see governments creating the conditions for people to want to move there. Any person who wants socialism can move to a socialist country -- and any in that country who do not want socialism should be allowed to leave. The same with various other forms of government, governance, and political economy. And the U.S. ought to be on the forefront of that, by allowing for the free movement of people into and out of our country, and by radically decentralizing the country's power so that people can move within this country to places governed as they prefer. If Massachusetts wants to be the Socialist State of the U.S.A., more power to them. Just don't force it on any of the rest of the states. Is New Hampshire wants to be a libertarian utopia, let them. And let us see where the chips fall. The fact that so many people don't want that to happen says volumes.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

To Succeed

What is the one thing that unifies all successful people?

We hear this sort of question all the time. But it seems to me that there is but one real answer: those who are willing to really double down on who they are are the ones who are most successful. If you want to get hired by someone else to do a job, then by all means fit in and conform and suppress your true self. You may win yourself a comfortable, stable, uninteresting job and life. You won't win big, but you won't lose big, either. Many people want that. And I can hardly blame them.

But the wildly successful have all always insisted upon being themselves in the truest, deepest sense of the term. They do not seek to conform to the world; they seek to conform the world to them. Their ideas are more at home 50 years in the future? Then they seek to create the future! Why wait 50 years? Bring the world to you! Those who think like this are the ones who best succeed.

Of course, doing this is scary. What if you fail? Well, failure is a part of life. You cannot succeed spectacularly unless you are prepared to fail spectacularly. And if you fail? So what? You get up and go back at it. To create the future, you have to expect failure, you have to expect resistance, you have to expect people to condemn and hate you. You have to go through that to get to the other side, where you succeed and  all you did seemed inevitable and the world loves you for all you've done for them.

Thus, if I am to succeed, I must myself double down on who I am. And who am I?

I am a bottom-up, pattern thinker. A high-functioning autistic. I am a complexity thinker -- spontaneous orders and evolutionary psychology and Gravesean psychology and J.T. Fraser's philosophy of time and beauty. I am a poet and a playwright, and the plays I write are in verse and often rhyme. I have radical ideas on education, particularly on teaching writing. I believe the foundation of all things is information. I am a classical liberal in the Scottish Enlightenment-Austrian Economics tradition. I believe paradox drives complexity and results in the emergence of greater complexity over time. I believe in evolutionary epistemology, evolutionary metaphysics, evolutionary morality, evolutionary aesthetics; I believe in emergent complexity in epistemology, metaphysics, morality, aesthetics.

And it is time to double down on those beliefs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dallas Buyer's Club

I just finished watching Dallas Buyer's Club, and I must say that I highly recommend it. The story is great and the characters are interesting and it's well acted and directed. All of those are excellent reasons to watch the film.

But the main reason people should watch the film are its moral lessons.

The big villain of the story is the FDA, whose agents are constantly trying to prevent dying people from trying not to die. Throughout the film they are constantly trying to prevent adults from engaging in mutual trade. Why? Mostly because the FDA hasn't approved of the drugs and methods in question. Dying people don't have the 8+ years to wait for FDA approval, but that doesn't matter to those in government -- what matters is that you are not obeying them, no matter how stupid, irrational, and indeed evil their decisions may be. You will obey, or else.

The "or else" came in what a judge termed "bullying." Bullying, indeed. Seizing medications people needed to survive -- thus condemning people to death. Sending the IRS to harass on their behalf. Bullying, indeed. But that is what you should expect from a government with that kind of power over fully capable adults.

The FDA only bent slightly -- when a large pharmaceutical company greased the right palms -- for AZT trials. Public choice demonstrated. Ron, the main character, did not have the money to pay off the right people, so he was shut down. Which, after all, is the real purpose of government regulations anyway -- to make sure that those with the money to pay off the right people are protected from the little guy's competition.

Thus, the regulatory evils of the FDA were demonstrated.

But there was another moral  demonstrated: which is how mutual trade makes people more tolerant and accepting of others. We see that in the transformation of Ron from a virulent homophobe to being a true friend of a transsexual man, Rayon. This happened when he became business partners with Rayon because Rayon was a major "in" for Ron to meet customers. Ron of course was doing what he was doing for purely selfish reasons. He needed the money, and he himself needed the drugs. But this business partnership turned into a friendship because, after all, the proximity demanded by a business partnership results in you learning who that person really is. Free trade breeds tolerance and even creates the foundations for friendships among people who may otherwise hate each other.

Properly understood, this film was  a celebration of free markets, and a condemnation of the kind of crony capitalism which necessarily emerges out of paternalistic regulations. Ron befriends Rayon because of mutual trade; government regulations then kill Rayon. Free trade makes Ron a better person, while government regulations kill people. This is the moral of the story.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Repetition, Music, Poetry

In Aeon Magazine there is a fascinating article on repetition and music. In it the author notes that people consider repeated sounds as more musical. More, repeated words become more like songs.  And by extension, more like poetry.

What this implies, then, is that Fred Turner is right about poetry in, well, everything he has written about poetry. Poetry is repetition. It is repeated sounds, repeated rhythms, repeated words, repeated structures. This would also explain why some forms of poetry involve repeated lines.

Sonnets, for example, have repeated sounds in the end rhymes and in the iambic pentameter rhythms.

With ghazals there is the repetition of the end phrase.

Then there is the villanelle, in which we have entire lines repeated.

But if we take a poem like In the Multiverse, one may wonder how it is any different from prose simply cut up into lines. Well, first, the poem is in iambic pentameter lines, so there is that level of repetition. But it is blank verse, so sound repetition seems gone. But note that there are in fact several repetitions of sentence patterns:

"If there are..." is repeated. "In some," is repeated. And "And, [gerund]," is repeated. Parallelism such as this is a kind of repetition, and is not uncommon in poetry -- see for example the Psalms.

Is non-repetitive poetry even possible? If not, what do we make of the works out there called poetry but do not have repetition? Are they merely prose with line breaks?

The writer who wants to successfully move his audience is one who will use repetition. If you want to make memorable works, you have to use repetition. If you want your work -- poem, prose, play -- to embed itself in the minds of your readers, you have to use repetition. With repetition, your reader, viewer, listener will go away with you forever in their minds.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Direct Instruction for Writing and Ethics is Useless

The model of education currently in use assumes that if you want to learn something, you have to learn that thing directly. If you want to learn math, you should be taught math and not, say logic or music. If you want to learn physics, you should be taught physics (and math). If you want to learn chemistry, biology, or psychology, be taught chemistry, biology, or psychology, respectively. Of course there are overlaps -- to best understand biology, you need to learn chemistry and some physics -- but in the end you will take far, far, far more classes in your major than you will classes in associated fields.

By this logic, then, if one wants to learn how to write, one should take writing classes. If one wants to learn how to be more ethical, take an ethics class. But what if -- in these areas in particular -- we are wrong? And not just wrong, but completely wrong?

Let's take ethics first. If you wanted a person to become more ethical, would you want them to take a class on Aristotle, Hume, and Kant? To discuss whether or not ethics is relative, or if there is a metaphysics of morals? No. Certainly, if your goal is to make the person more ethical, the last thing you want to convince them of is that ethics is relative. An ethics class is important if you want to learn about ethical theories, but not if you want to learn how to become more ethical yourself.

So how does one accomplish the latter?

If I were to teach a class on how to be more ethical, I would not have them reading philosophers. With one exception: Plato. I would actually have them read The Apology of Socrates, because in that work we see at work what will work to make someone more ethical. In The Apology, we get to know Socrates. We are invited to empathize with him. And when we empathize with Socrates, we are then open to reconsidering our own behaviors toward others and our own ways of thinking.

Along those lines, I would then have my students read fiction. I would have them read fiction precisely for the reasons Aristotle said fiction (mythos) is superior to history: because fiction tells us what could and ought to happen, while history only tells us what did happen. In history -- even with the mot unbiased of history writers -- we are invited to take sides; in well-crafted fiction, the characters are too complex to entirely side with one or the other. We are invited to feel at least some empathy for even the more despicable characters -- Iago goes far too far, but he is not without his reasons. More, the more complex the story, the more marked the moral impact. The reason is that complex stories make for more complex minds, and more complex minds are inevitably more open to more kinds of people and experiences and are thus more moral minds. I would also include literature from foreign cultures so that my students would more directly learn to empathize with other peoples.

But that is working in a sort of top-down manner. Which certainly has it's place, to be sure. But is there a bottom-up manner that would work in conjunction with the top-down method of reading literature? Yes. It is called etiquette and manners. We have mostly denigrated etiquette and manners as too small to concern ourselves with, but as anyone who understands complex systems (like society and the mind/brain), it is the small things that count -- it is the small things that build up into large things, and which can have butterfly effects. A person who has manners and is polite and respectful is already well on the way toward being an ethical person.

Now, I know there are those who will object that by doing things, by teaching etiquette and manners, we are really only teaching something quite superficial. The person will not in fact be ethical, but only appear to be so. In answer, I turn to literature:

“Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery
That aptly is put on. Refrain tonight,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence; the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

 As Hamlet points out, if we act as though we are something long enough, we will in fact become that thing. Act ethically, and you will become ethical. The big ethical decisions will emerge from the etiquette and manners you practice.

Thus, through a combination of having students read literature and learning etiquette and manners, it would be possible to teach those students how to be more ethical people.

Now let us turn to writing.

Having students write a bunch of random essays is perhaps the single most useless activity I can think of. You do not learn how to write good sentences by writing a bunch of bad sentences then having someone stand over you and fix those sentences for you and make you write the essay over again. This is a colossal failure, and it is how things are most typically done in writing classes. If you want people to learn how to do something, you don't have them just try to do it on their own, and have a bunch of people with skills as bad or worse than your own trying to help you. No other skill is taught that way. No, if you want people to do something right, they have to be familiar with examples of how it is in fact done right. That is, they need to read extremely well-written works, both in fiction and non-fiction. We need to spend far, far, far more time reading good writing and learning how to read well than we do writing. And all writing needs to be in response to other works. When writing was taught that way, people learned how to write well -- all people of all cultures. We have moved away from this, and the outcome is hideous and an embarrassment.

In other words, if you want to learn how to write, the last thing you should do is take a writing class. Rather, read. A lot. Read and read and read. Then write. And keep reading while you write. Find a writer you love and try to write like them. Copy well-written sentences. Then you will learn how to write well -- because you will be familiar with well-written sentences. And you won't be having your horrible writing habits reinforced by reading other terrible writers' works.

For things like ethics and writing, the last thing you want to do is be directly instructed in the area. But so long as we think all instruction must be directly in the area in which you wish to improve, we will continue to fail in these areas.

Thursday, March 06, 2014


Stratford Caldecott's piece The Question of Purpose reframes the Medieval Trivium and Quadrivium in a way that is truly generative. His insights into grammar are particularly telling, and I would like to particularly expand on those insights.

Caldecott points out that "“Grammar” goes to the very root of our existence, the source of our being." It is not just the underlying structure of language.If we understand what grammar is, we can understand how true Caldecott's statement is.

Let us look at the structure of a sentence -- any sentence in any language:

Subject -- Verb -- Object

Though the order differs in many languages, the fact is that each of these elements are necessarily present, either explicitly or implicitly.

We can see, too, that all actions have the same grammatical structure:

Subject -- Action -- Object

A subject is acting on an object. Verbs of course are action words. Even linking verbs are in fact actions if we understand that objects necessarily are self-acted to maintain existence. There is an internal action of self-maintenance, from atoms to living cells to minds to societies. This is what gives each thing qualities.

From this we can see the grammar underlying logic (logos):

All men are mortal (men/human beings have an internal quality resulting in mortality)
Socrates is a man. (Socrates has an internal quality that makes him a human being)
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (Socrates shares the qualities of other human beings)

Caldecott also includes stories as being grammatical -- something I discussed at length in my Ph.D. dissertation, Evolutionary Aesthetics.

Thus, grammar helps us to understand language, to understand stories (mythos), to understand human action, and to understand grammar.

But ethicists have also discovered that morals have a grammar, too. Thus, Caldecott's rhetoric-as-ethics is clarified through an understanding of grammar.

But what about the Quadrivium? Well, the first thing one could point out is -- as Caldecott himself observes -- that music has grammatical structure as well.

Since math follows the rules of logic, math, too must therefore be grammatical. The = sign is identical with the word "is".

Geometry is the practical practice of arithmetics, so if math is grammatical, then so, too, must be geometry. And finally, "astronomy" -- of which we ought to take the largest view possible, and call it "physics" which, as physika, includes the study of all of nature -- being the practical practice of music (which is really the study of movement, of change), is therefore also grammatical in nature.

If our very thinking, our very actions, our very communications are all grammatically structured, then it would certainly behoove us to understand grammar quite well. But perhaps this might be a quite different grammar -- a truly deep grammar -- we ought to study and learn about.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

On the Origins of Liberals and Conservatives

Chris Mooney reviews two books I definitely want to read:

Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences
by John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford

Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us
by Avi Tuschman

Both books seem to solve several problems we face in understanding human behaviors. Why are humans both xenophobia and xenophilic? What are humans both homebodies and adventurous?

This is portrayed as discovering the differences between left and right, but that is wrong. It is really discovering the differences between conservatives and liberals. You may ask, Isn't that the same? No.

Let is consider the differences between liberals and conservatives as laid out by Mooney:
  • more likely to take risks
  • "tend to score higher on one of the five major dimensions—openness: the desire to explore, to try new things, to meet new people"
  • outsiders and out-groups are enticing
  • more exploratory and cosmopolitan
  • egalitarian structure for power relationships
  • explore and change
  • xenophilic
  • favor diversity
  • sexual libertarians
  • "reciprocal altruism (which can be toward anyone) "

  • risk-averse
  • "score higher on conscientiousness: the desire for order, structure, and stability"
  • " have a greater focus on negative stimuli or a “negativity bias”: they pay more attention to the alarming, the threatening, and the disgusting in life"
  • outsiders and out-groups are threatening
  • more tribal
  • hierarchical structure for power relationships
  • hunker down and defend
  • xenophobia
  • favor uniformity
  • "want to seem to control and restrict reproduction (and other sexual activities)"
  • altruism toward kin
 Now, if we look at these two lists, we can see that the "liberals" list is an almost perfect description of libertarians. But the Left-Right divide is a bit more problematic.

On economic policy, the Left is almost by definition "risk-averse," favoring economic policies that keep everyone and everything stable and in their places. And while they talk a good egalitarian game, their actual policies favor nothing but hierarchical power relationships. The left -- in the U.S., at least (the left is unquestionably conservative throughout the non-Anglophone world) -- may be socially liberal, but on economics they are conservatives. And the right in the U.S. is the exact opposite (the right in the rest of the world is typically as illiberal as the rest of the world's left). How are we to make sense of that?

The Anglophone world emerges out of a common law and free trade tradition -- meaning, free markets and other kinds of social spontaneous orders are in a sense "conservative," insofar as they are traditional. Centralized government control over law and resources was what was "new," though it was the conservative position throughout most of the rest of the world (ancient Greece being one of the other exceptions). Thus, in Anglophone countries like Britain, the U.S., Canada, and Australia, the conservative parties are actually in no small part liberal parties, if we are talking about their economics. On social issues, they are unquestionably conservative. Look at conservatives' positions on gay rights, women's rights, and immigration.

Most of the rest of the world comes out of a more conservative set of institutions: hierarchical governments and legislation, with a great deal of government and legal control of the economy. In Europe, in the wake of the Renaissance, we saw the emergence of a strong liberal world view. And these liberals were almost all pro-market. They all promoted risk-taking, openness to new experiences and different peoples, cosmopolitanism, egalitarianism, change, and sexual liberation. Emphasis was placed on reciprocal altruism -- being good and generous to all others. Adam Smith's economics is reciprocal.

Also notice that these traits are the traits of entrepreneurs. A successful entrepreneur cannot be conservative. And starting a business is not the same as being entrepreneurial. You can start a conservative business -- doing what you think is safe to do. I would not be surprised if we discovered that those who start up conservative businesses tended to hire friends and family far more than do risk-taking entrepreneurs. One can probably also guess the politics of each.

This might also explain the seemingly strange phenomenon of so many successful entrepreneurs favoring Democrats in the U.S., seeming in direct opposition to their own interests. The Democrats are perceived to be liberal -- at least on social issues -- so those with a liberal bent are more likely to support Democrats (though I would argue they ought to lean more Libertarian, that being the only true liberal party in the U.S.). Equally, most small businesses are in fact conservative -- people opening businesses with proven track records of success -- which would explain why most small business owners vote Republican.

Thus we can see how a combination of the two dispositions -- liberal and conservative -- in combination with the unique institutional history of the Anglophone world gave rise to the odd economics-social issues pairings we see in those countries, but nowhere else.

And from a group selection point of view, we can also see the benefits of having both groups present -- as paradoxical tensions give rise to complex orders. The conservatives among our ancestors may have led them to establishing farms and cities, but it was the liberals among them that made those settlements cosmopolitan. And it was the liberals that led humans out of Africa in the first place.