Saturday, November 18, 2017

Reading Exercises You

More about the value of reading to your ability to learn, your behaviors, and your morals.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Walk in Midnight: A Novel

Everyone should check out Mohammad Sarwar's novel A Walk in Midnight.

The novel tells the story of Fakeer, who grows up in relative poverty in Pakistan but whose intelligence gets him into the best government schools and, eventually, a medical degree. He takes advantage of the U.S. doctor shortage in the 1960s to become one of the first in a wave of Pakistani doctors emigrating to the U.S. He finds success in the U.S.--even becoming a Yale professor for a while--but finally settles in to private practice in Texas. After his wife dies and he becomes wounded serving with Doctors Without Borders, Fakeer finds his way online, where he revels in alienating everyone he can. Eventually, he decides to retire to Pakistan, bringing his life full circle.

If you are interested in learning about life in Pakistan in the middle of the 20th century and the struggles of cultural assimilation--often told with great humor and wit--A Walk in Midnight is the novel for you. Because Sarwar is himself a radiologist (with a great many academic publications), the reader will get a great deal of verisimilitude in the portrayal of Fakeer. A combination of comedy and tragedy, science and mythology, poetry and prose, Sarwar's novel is full of complexity and depth.

As editor of Mohammad Sarwar's novel, I was able to read it many, many times. I honestly never got tired of it. I continued to find things in it with each reading as I worked with him on it. It was a great experience working with Dr. Sarwar, and I'm sure you'll have as great an experience reading his novel.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Ruiners of Mankind

"all the means by which one has so far attempted to make mankind moral were through and through immoral." -- Nietzsche, TI

In The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche warned us against the "improvers of mankind," that such people never in fact sought to improve a thing, but rather sought to weaken mankind. Why weaken mankind? Because, fundamentally, the "improvers of mankind" hate all of mankind. If they didn't why would they want to "improve" us?

The racists on the Right want to "improve" us through breeding. They imagine that it is their race which is the superior one which ought to be selected for, but if we are to be honest, this is really an argument for incest, ultimately. The Hapsburgs thought themselves too elite to marry outside their own family--the result being disfigurement and genetic disease. Purebred dogs are much more prone to health issues, while mutts are typically healthier and better-tempered. Those who would prefer one group of humans to another think mankind would be thus improved by breeding more of the preferred group over the unpreferred group(s)---if you think this in any way, shape, or form, you're a racist (whether you're on the Left or Right).

The postmodern multiculturalist Leftist version is the position that European culture is the bane of the world, and it needs to be completely destroyed in favor literally all other cultures. Of course, inverting the Right-wing racist position isn't any sort of actual improvement on anything, since it's really the same thing. Declaring one race superior to another, regardless of what race is considered inferior, is racist, just like declaring men superior to women or women superior to men is sexist.

Indeed, if you would "improve" women by making them more like men, you are sexist. And if you would "improve" men by making them more like women, you are sexist. Do you want to "improve" homosexuals by making them heterosexual? You're homophobic.

But do we then need people to "improve" the racists, sexists, and homophobes? Those improvers---those who would impose such improvement on everyone---are little better in their bigotry against people as they are. Does that mean we shouldn't try to improve mankind? Absolutely. Does that mean mankind cannot improve? Absolutely not. While those who tried to push acceptance of homosexuality primarily put homophobes on the defensive and retrenched their positions, T.V. shows like Ellen and Will & Grace actually caused people's minds to change and, as a result, the American culture to change. Attempts at shaming people failed and backfired, while artistic representations, fun and entertaining popular stories, succeeded.

We do not need improvers of mankind. We do not need socialists, we do not need fascists, we do not need racists, and we do not need sexists out there trying to improve us. They each and every one want to reform us, improve us, change us because they hate us---they hate human beings as such, qua human beings. They hate human beings for being human. Why should we listen to such people? Would you take advice from someone who hated you?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sex Disparities, Left-Handedness, ASD, and the Workplace

Is it possible for men and women to have identical abilities and yet still show a difference in those abilities without there being some conspiracy of men to keep women down?

Consider a few facts.

Studies of math abilities between men and women showed no difference at all.

All psychological studies necessarily exclude anyone who is left-handed or who isn't neurotypical so as to ensure there is only a single factor at play.

Therefore, all studies of math skills in men and women only involve neurotypical right-handers.

However, although left-handers make up 10% of the population, about 12% of men are left-handed, while about 8% of women are. That means men are about 50% more likely to be left-handed than are women. Why does this matter? Well, 15% of the top math and language scores on the SAT were made by lefties. And about 20% of professional jobs are held by lefties.

Now, if we assume that skill distribution is equal between men and women lefties, we would still end up seeing a disparity. A small one, but a disparity nonetheless.

Next, let's consider the fact that 70% of coders are male and 30% are female. Let's also consider the fact that one of the major hotspots for children diagnosed with autism is Silicon Valley. These two facts are not unrelated. There is a very good chance that almost every computer programmer is somewhere on the spectrum, whether they have been diagnosed or not (I think there are many, many more on the spectrum than we realize--I'm on it and unless you know me like my brother and wife know me, and unless you understand Asperger's very well, you would never guess me to be diagnosed with Asperger's). With autism diagnoses being 20% female and 80% male, if even half the coders are on the spectrum, we've almost completely explained the disparity.

These are just two possible explanations for a massive disparity that neither claims women are inferior to men in any way nor demands a massive conspiracy of men trying to keep women out of coding and other fields.

The Google Memo and Reading Yourself into What You Read

Nietzsche once observed that people don't ever actually read what is written on the page, but rather read themselves into everything they read. That is, they see their own biases confirmed far more often than they actually learn anything, or read what is actually there.

If there is a document that proves that in spades, it's James Damore's Google memo on diversity at Google.I have encountered people who literally see the complete opposite of what I see him saying. They see him denying there is any discrimination against women at all, claiming that men are superior to women in math and engineering and that men have higher IQs than women, and overall seeing the work as full of sexism. I, on the other hand, see a piece arguing that there is in fact discrimination against women, that that discrimination comes about from the refusal to acknowledge there are personality differences between men and women (not differences in ability or IQ, but personality), and providing what he sees as sensible solutions to making Google more welcoming to not only women, but to everyone (he argues that Google is creating a hostile workplace with their trainings and meetings designed to shame everyone).

How can we see such different things in the same text?

I see several things taking place. One, the left still believe in the blank slate. To them, any claim of genetic predispositions immediately makes one a racist and sexist, regardless of the actual words you use. And two, most people think that when you use the word "different," you really mean "better" and/or "worse." Damore says that women are different from men, and most people interpret that as "women are inferior to men." But Damore himself takes pains to clarify he means nothing of the sort. Those who see him as saying "women are inferior to men" are themselves projecting their own beliefs on Damore, and getting offended. But they are offended at their own beliefs, not the beliefs of Damore per se.

There are those who claim that Damore's claims are unscientific. But those people refuse to address the fact that four scientists who actually study such things say the memo is mostly scientifically accurate. Naturally, that means it's time to attack evolutionary psychology itself. Not surprisingly, the article writer gets everything in the memo completely wrong, so it's not surprising she doesn't understand the arguments of evolutionary psychologists, either. Her bias blinds her to such a degree that, like a fundamentalist Baptist, she denies the overwhelming scientific evidence and even goes so far as to distort it to support her creationist beliefs.

As Damore pointed out in a footnote, it was the Left who once upon a time supported genetic explanations--and, often, make eugenecist arguments on that basis. The shame of that history is perhaps why they are blank-slaters now, project blame for eugenics on the right rather than on the progressives who actually supported eugenics, and equate genetics explanations with racism and sexism (since that's historically how progressives used it). Ironically, the Right, which are typically religious and often creationists, are now favoring more genetics-based arguments.

The problem is that genetics alone explains nothing. Genes don't act in a vacuum. Genes are expressed in cells and are regulated, those regulations are influenced by the environment, and the behaviors of the organism contribute to the creation of that environment. That is, genes regulated by the environment create the environment that affects their regulation.

Our social environments came from somewhere, and that somewhere is an evolved environment founded on hundreds of millions of years of social evolution in conjunction with genetic evolution. Before there were social humans, there were social apes, and before there were social apes, there were social mammals, and before there were social mammals, there were social reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Our genes evolved in a social environment as much as a natural environment, and those genes co-evolved the social environment.

A good example of this is incest avoidance. There are laws against incest in every culture. This prompted Freud's idea of the Oedipus complex, which is based on an unnatural imposition of incest avoidance by society. But the Westermarck effect--a genetic predisposition to avoiding incest--is what actually resulted in the laws, not the other way around. The laws only reinforced the genetically-based disposition to avoid incest. The presence of differences in those rules/laws against incest doesn't mean the underlying disposition doesn't exist. Variations are what are expected based on various degrees of understanding of the connection between inbreeding and unhealthy offspring and other cultural differences.

It's not impossible, then, that if we see universal cultural differences in the ways men and women are treated (and we do), that this is based on genetic differences getting reinforced by culture. Of course, we have also, in many cultures, developed an attitude that we should minimize those differences. Cultures can certainly evolve in that direction as well. But if, as E.O. Wilson suggests, all culture/society is on a genetic leash, we can likely only go so far. If there are in fact personality differences that affect men and women in the workplace, doesn't it make more sense to understand and acknowledge them in order to make the workplace more open to true diversity of that kind? Wouldn't that make for a better workplace environment for both men and women, and allow for rules adjustments that wouldn't punish either group for their tendencies and wouldn't discriminate against anyone?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Some Statistical Analyses of Hear the Screams of the Butterfly

I am currently reading Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt, which analyzes literature using statistics. It's actually a pretty fun book, pointing out the linguistic DNA of each individual writer, and the linguistic differences between men and women, among other things.

I thought, for fun, I would do a few analyses on my own book, Hear the Screams of the Butterfly, and see what happens.

A great example is "he" vs. "she." Men use "He" much more often than they use "she," while women balance the two, with a slight bias toward "she" over "he." How, then, do I stack up?

He = 611
She = 273
That makes a 69% "he" imbalance.

However, when I do "him/himself" vs. "her/herself":

Him/Himself = 75
Her/Herself = 306
That makes for a very clear 18% "him/himself," meaning a striking imbalance in favor of "her/herself."

Since Blatt only analyzes him vs. her, this might suggest either a flaw in his methods, or an idiosyncrasy in my own writing. If we combine the two analyses above, we get:

He/Him/Himself =  686
She/Her/Herself =579
That brings us to a 54% "he/him/himself," meaning an almost perfect balance between the two.

In case you're wondering, 54% puts me on par with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and O Pioneers!, if we accept that my he/him/himself is identical to Blatt's he-only listing. If not, my he-only percentage of 69 makes me more on par with The Great Gatsby, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and A Passage to India.

Another thing Blatt analyzed was the use of -ly adverbs. I discovered that I used a total of 225 -ly adverbs in my novel of about 27,000 words. That gives us about 83 -ly adverbs per 10,000 words (the ratio Blatt uses), meaning I'm on par with Mark Twain (81) and Hemingway (80), between For Whom the Bell Tolls (75) and The Old Man and the Sea (92). Still, we all three get our butts kicked by Faulkner at his best: As I Lay Dying (31) and The Sound and the Fury (42). All in all, though, I think I'm in pretty good company when it comes to adverb use.

Many of the other analyses are too complex for me to do to my novella. And there was an interesting set of words where men and women differed in the uses of those words depending on whether they were describing women or men that I ended up not using at all, or only using once or twice. In a novella ostensibly about love, the word "kissed," for example, comes up exactly once. But then, my novella is about unrequited love, so that may in fact preclude much kissing.

So from the perspective of the use of gender pronouns, my novella is actually close to gender-neutral. And the lack of -ly adverbs suggests I did a pretty good job of going over and over and over the novella before it was published. As I read more in Blatt's book, I'll do further analyses of my novella. Should be fun.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

After Postmodernism: Epistemological Ecosystems

The economy is an epistemological ecosystem. It is not the only one, but the kind of knowledge created through the unimpeded price system makes it a very efficient and effective one. Some epistemological ecosystems--such as art, literature, philanthropy, philosophy, and others--suffer from the ambiguities inherent in reputation as the primary medium of value-exchange. Science works better than these with its peer review, but is still not quite as efficient and effective as is money-mediated trade. Technological innovation participates in the economy precisely because its winners and losers are chosen through the price mechanism. That fact also makes technological innovation effective, efficient, and wealth-producing.

All of these are knowledge-producing activities. To refuse to trade therefore means one is purposefully trying to remain ignorant, and to make sure that others too remain ignorant. Reducing trade--whether through trade barriers, wage and/or price controls, taxes, and so on--increases ignorance. We cannot know what would be the best use of raw materials, capital, capital goods, or human capital any time prices are distorted. Price distortions not only include the list above, but also include subsidies, regulations, and monetary inflation/deflation (real inflation/deflation, on the other hand, communicated information more accurately).

Insofar as postmodernism is a kind of radically skeptical epistemology, denying the existence of an objective reality (or at least an objective social reality), insisting that all knowledge is merely constructed and can therefore be deconstructed, denying any sort of human nature, and therefore that knowledge itself is impossible, we can see that postmodernism is an active denial of the very existence of epistemological ecosystems. It is not that it's not true that there is an element of knowledge-production (or else how could one even have an epistemological ecosystem), but rather that for there to be an ecosystem of any sort, there has to be foundational organisms to interact with each other and co-evolve. The ecological equivalent would be for postmodernists to deny the existence of organisms or species because there is evolution.

If knowledge-production is in one sense impossible, and in another sense nothing but imposition of power/power-relations (another postmodern claim), then any sort of structure is as valid as any other sort of structure. What matters, if knowledge is nothing more than the imposition of the powerful on the non-powerful, is who has power. We can begin to understand pretty much every postmodernist position from that perspective.

If free markets are simply ways business people create power relations that benefit themselves at the expense of others, and business people are bad (for some reason or other that seems to involve "greed"--never mind that postmodernists are also supposed to be radically skeptical of moral "facts" as well, meaning we could just say "greed is good" and accept that for just as much or little reason as anything else), then we need a system that benefits some other group of people instead. The most popular are the victim classes--which seems to somehow include something like 90% of the world's population--as those who somehow properly deserve the reins of power. It all thus becomes a bunch of arbitrary choices being made by self-appointed secular saints who are all somehow right-thinking, even though if they were consistent with their own postmodern epistemology, there could not be any such thing as right-thinking.

If knowledge truly were power, I'd be President now and not Donald Trump. Those who hold power in our governments around the world are the surest falsification of postmodern epistemology possible. But postmodernism means never having to say you're wrong.

The understanding that there are in fact epistemological ecosystems helps us retain the insights of postmodernism while evolving well beyond their nihilistic conclusions. It's not a choice between structuralism and poststructualism, but both simultaneously. It's not a choice between The Truth and radical skepticism, but rather truth as a strange attractor, with truth statements coming closer or moving a bit away, but always circling, circling--and often generating more truth attractors. This is how all ecosystems--natural or epistemological--exist over space and time. Yes, we create knowledge, but that doesn't mean the knowledge we create isn't true. Yes, there is socially constructed knowledge--which makes that knowledge useful rather than denying its existence--but that doesn't mean that there aren't facts in the world which we must live with, by, in, and through.

What comes after postmodernism? It's already been around for a while. Epistemological ecosystems is what comes after postmodernism. Given that people like Hayek and Michael Polanyi developed this idea, it's a bit ironic that the postmodernists were already behind the times when they came up with their ideas, since their replacement was already being developed before they even came on the scene.