Anti-Authoritarian equals mentally ill

Why anti-authoritarians are diagnosed as mentally ill.

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by (1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians, and (2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.

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Our community media project

Here’s what some friends of mine and I have been working on for a couple of years now. We’ve got it all nailed down and we’re looking for funding and other kinds of support:

That’s our TEDx talk about the basis of the idea. If you want to read more, and especially if you want to be part of it, then take a look here.

And if you like the idea, spread the word. We need somewhere between one and two hundred thousand dollars, and about 6 months to get to the point where we can launch the beta. At that point we need contributors, testers, and all sorts of more hands on help. But it’s a great idea, a really important idea. I truly think it can make a difference in empowering people and building community feeling and enabling real social change.

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California Penal Code Section 12403.7 (a) (8)

(g) Any person who uses tear gas or tear gas weapons except in self-defense is guilty of a public offense and is punishable byimprisonment in a state prison for 16 months, or two or three years or in a county jail not to exceed one year or by a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, except that, if the use is against a peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, engaged in the performance of his or her official duties and the person committing the offense knows or reasonably should know that the victim is a peace officer, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in a state prison for 16 months or two or three years or by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.

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Giving it away

There’s no privacy

Imagine the U.S. Census as conducted by direct marketers – that’s the social graph.

Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook. [source]

via the wonderful Making Light

And of course this all relates to this:

If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

But the level of evil involved has become crazy-high. I’m feeling not just indignant but sort of sore of ass and can’t remember getting home.

For example: Facebook “Like” buttons track your movement to any page containing one on the web, even if you’re logged out of FB. G+ “+1″ buttons do the same. Well, potentially, it’s up to the goodness of these organizations’ hearts to say the pinky promise not to.

For example: Use Google’s blindingly fast DNS servers on and and they have the capability to know every place you request an address for, which is, effectively, every place you visit on the web.

We’re not just being sold. They’ve installed cameras in the bedroom and they’re selling the tapes to that sketchy video store on the corner.

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Fear, risk, and investment

NYT headline today: US Panel advises that prostate test may do more harm than good.. Here’s why, briefly: around 70% of elevated readings from the test are false positives – they do not indicate cancer. Men who get a positive reading, and the urologists who treat them, feel constrained by a positive reading to get invasive follow-up tests or even prophylactic treatment. This follow-up has generally worse health outcomes, including incontinence and sexual dysfunction, than if the test result had been ignored. But faced with that positive reading few men will accept that they may be better ignoring that 30% possibility that they have cancer, however slow growing. Urologists have a lot to lose if they recommend against treatment and nothing much to lose if the treatment has a bad outcome. So it would be better to not even know, because you don’t really know anything useful, there’s just the illusion of control in a situation which can’t, with current medical technology, be controlled.

The other side of this is interesting, too. When the same panel recommended in 2009 that mammograms be used only every two years and only for women between 50 and 74 there was a furor. Doctors groups and cancer victims advocacy groups strongly disagreed. The same thing is happening, with even more heat in this case. It’s not just that doctors stand to lose a lot of income. Probably more important is that doctors and cancer advocacy groups have a huge emotional investment in their treatment of past patients. It’s not easy to admit to yourself that you have caused large amounts of unnecessary suffering from overtreatment. Patients have an investment in believing that their treatment was justified and necessary.

The logic of the US Preventative Services Taskforce‘s case is clear, but it runs up against the emotional argument “if even one life is saved it’s worth the cost.” When that cost is suffering and worse quality of life for many, it may be a bad bargain. The problem is that risk is badly weighted, psychologically, when there’s fear involved. If you have an elevated PSA reading, do you say “I accept the risk because the balance of value goes this way” or do you say “I’ll endure the suffering to feel safer” – even if that feeling is largely an illusion.

We see this problem everywhere, it’s Pascal’s Wager. But Pascal’s wager is a bad bet; he phrases it as “I have everything to gain and nothing to lose” but ignores the costs – society warped by superstition and time wasted in church, for example. Look at the TSA’s Security Theatre. Failure to understand risk. It’s why so many people are stuck in a job they hate, or personal relationships that are unsatisfying. But it’s also why people will so strongly defend their risk-averse bad decisions. If you want to design a cult, take advantage of that. Get people to cut off a piece of themselves, metaphorically or literally, as the price of joining. I’ve met so many people who hated school but insist their children go to the same one. Remember the argument that we can’t leave Iraq because it’s cost us so much already that it would be disloyal to the fallen?

This is about Baysean analysis. If the human race has a weakness it’s that the fight-or-flight survival patterns baked in to us have some very bad decision making heuristics built in. And one of them says: “if it looks like it might be connected; if it looks like there could be a pattern there — then there is. We only see the smallest fraction of all patterns and everything is really a pattern.” Well, no. Also yes but that’s another story. The no is that we assume patterns and then look for evidence, so we always have survivor bias. Tombstone epitaph: should have applied Bayes.

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The connection between health, fat, and exercise

Why is it so easy to get fat and yet being fat predisposes one to heart disease, cancer, and adult onset diabetes? It seems like a maladaption to the presence of plenty of food.

First of all, it’s not nearly so bad if you exercise. For each condition, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, being sedentary is as much or nearly as much of a risk factor as being overweight. It’s also the primary reason people put on weight. So weight may be as much a symptom as a cause of increased morbidity. People who appear thin because they diet may not get the health benefits [source]. It’s just that weight is an easy thing to measure, and it’s an easy thing to discriminate against, so it’s been the factor a lot of studies have examined.

Imagine our hunter gatherer ancestors. Any healthy animal is active, either finding food, socialising, or just being curious. You’re sedentary when you’re sick or when you’re starving. At the end of winter or when food can’t be found the tribe expends as little energy as possible while waiting for things to improve. When there’s an abundance of food it’s stored as fat, within reason. There’s a huge gene-survival advantage in being one of the few in your tribe to survive a bad famine or a bad winter. When food returns and the other homo-sapiens aren’t competing for it, the remaining individuals’ children and grandchildren are going to thrive.

To get that advantage, humans are adapted to

  • put on as much fat as won’t interfere with their normal activity and
  • quickly slow down their metabolism (including losing energy-expensive muscle mass) to burn energy slowly when they don’t need to be active

The 21st century human evolved primarily before agriculture and definitely before computers. So being inactive pushes the body into a high-risk strategy. Slow down the metabolism and conserve energy. It’s high risk because a slow metabolism easily gets sick. It’s high benefit if you’re the famine survivor. That’s not a big problem for the average hunter gatherer, who isn’t sedentary without good reason and doesn’t live long enough to suffer most of the downsides. Things are different now. We’re very well adapted for things which just don’t apply in the modern west.

Update: Likely connection between bad diet and alzheimers: 9/2012.
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SETI, Life and the Rate of Change of Entropy

Here’s a reasonable working definition of life – a process which produces localised entropy decrease. Intelligent life doubly so.

Think about it like this: light from the sun hits the moon and turns to heat. No life involved. Light from the sun hits Venus and creates an enormous amount of turbulence in the atmosphere, also heat, eventually the turbulence generates heat too. So there’s a more complex process turning low entropy energy (light) into high entropy energy (heat). On Earth the process is, in places, even more complex. The sunlight might hit the leaves of a plant which turn certain chemicals into other chemicals, later eaten by a herbivore then shat out onto the forest floor and breaking down into, once again, heat.

So what’s involved? There’s a complex system – life being localised order bought at the cost of generally increasing disorder. In our case the concentration of energy in the Sun makes an entropic gradient on Earth, between sunlight and heat. That gradient generates order. Not just any order. The storms on Venus are both very simple in their general description and utterly chaotic in their detail. We can say that winds form at such and such a speed in weather patterns like x. But the movement of any particular set of particles within that doesn’t have a pattern, it’s simply a stochastic process. Look at life and you get patterns from top to bottom, from cells and DNA up to migrations of species and evolution of behavioural traits over time. Everywhere are patterns, the intersection point of simple order and simple chaos, maximal information density.

But life arises and exploits that entropy gradient. Thermodynamics notes a variable beta = dS/dE, the rate of change of entropy with respect to energy. Energy will tend to flow from systems with small beta to systems with high beta. As it does so the total entropy of the combined system will increase. Actually temperature can be defined as 1/beta, or dE/dS. Thus for constant pressure and volume dE is TdS. Greater rate of change in energy, in other words more energy available as work, where there are high temperatures and the rate of change of entropy is high.

For this reason we would expect to find life in steep entropy gradients and high temperatures. But life arises as complexity and high temperatures make structure unlikely. True, there are weather patterns in sun spots and they seem complex, they might be good places to look for life. By the way I’ve always thought that the red spot on Jupiter is a good candidate. But prima facie we should be looking in entropy gradients where complex structures are more easily possible. It’s all about that border between chaos and order.

Here’s my proposal for SETI. If we’re not finding attempts to communicate perhaps we should look for large-scale exploitation of entropy gradients at moderate temperatures. Perhaps these can be detected through observation of complexity, but it would be enough to see heat signatures indicating unexpectedly slow entropy changes in places which should have steep gradients. Or piles of waste heat being pushed out of the way so as to maintain the steep gradient and high exergy. If this sort of thing exists at the scale we can see from far off with crude instruments then I’d start to think we’re seeing intelligent life. Life that can get outside its initial ecosystem. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

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A Cosmologigram

kissing at the protest

I firmly believe in the present. There literally is no past and no future, just the changing now. Sure, it contains evidence of things that have been, other circuits of the Earth around the Sun. We can be pretty certain at some point, some other now, there are even more such circuits engraved and erased upon what is. That means, of course, that it’s not strictly meaningless to talk about time. But leave aside the idea of a future and a past like a great crystal block, fixing things in some supposed and uniquely directional dimension, and you find that change is the actual substance of reality all about. Time is a construction of the speed of a regular change. Think about that metaphysical ice – it makes no sense. Where’s the present? Is it any slice you take, orthogonal to the line from past to future? But “time” is a mess. The geosynchronous satellites experience a slightly slower clock than all of us walking down here in the gravity well. The red-shifted galaxies tick slower still. When is now, in that universe-cube? Am I a four dimensioned worm, growing from the fetus-tail to the aged and decomposing head, unchanging yet experiencing one segment at a moment? A flip-book, with each page pre-written? Bull. My experience is the present. The light of those galaxies leaves them in their present and reaches me in my present. Everything happens where the change happens, because change is what there is.

This moment is deeper than an instant. That famously uncertain cat has a smear of present, each one a possibility of disaster. It experiences each but only one. Are the others still there, branches pruned from the tree of this-cat-present, burning in some irrecoverable parallel? Until the box is opened, I experience that smear as cat-reality. Opened, my smear is likewise pruned as this-cat-present cuts apart the tree of what I see. Or so you’d think, but you think that way to make tigers persistent in the long grass when our distant relatives had lost the smell and sight of them. It’s a necessary trick of the mind’s eye, harder to see than the past-future illusion but from the same cause. The absent tiger isn’t in my present, not even the box of undecidable cats is here. What’s here is the sight of the box, or the supposition that the present will change to include a tiger if I’m not rather careful.

That’s how I can experience the superimposition of cats or, on opening the box, generate in the experience of some more distant particle or person the effect of a superimposition of myself. But I cannot experience being a superimposition. One can suppose, from for example the various cats, that things like me – who call themselves me – experience presents like this one or very different. That’s the small truth, the best model predicting how the present changes. The big truth is the one the models and predictions obscure, this perfect flow of what *is*. And everything is, although very little of that happens in any one experience.

Experience and belief are inseparable. Each generates the other. Beliefs are genetically imprinted consequences of our perception systems; they are also taught, cultural things which fasten onto and reinforce those basic proclivities; and perhaps they can be chosen, no longer habits of thinking but consciously re-patterned thought processes and methods of perception. Beliefs shape our perception which shapes our experience which causes belief. It takes quite a bit of thought and imagination to tease this cycle apart, but it can be done because at the deepest level we require the world to make sense – to be consistent with itself. In other words we require the beliefs, which are in the end patterns, to fit throughout our experience and in harmony with one another. Even where a religious person says “that’s a matter of faith, not science” they don’t mean that has no pattern, they mean it is part of the religious pattern and the science pattern. But they’re aware a serious discomfort in this claim. All patterns should match with one another, or rather, all shapes should form part of a greater pattern. So the scientist who believes in religion is actually a religious person who thinks science is the expression of religion in the field of the measurable.

This is to say, we all make models. Finding patterns is deeply intrinsic to any intelligence – it’s what intelligence *is*, and patterns are models. The deepest rooted model, perhaps the structure on which all our models are founded, is the idea that experience happens to us. The implied subject. Without this the elements of experience cannot be collected or sequenced. Perhaps a new baby feels hungry and instinctively cries, but does not at first connect the hunger happening to it, the crying being done by it. Or perhaps a baby always understands that “I” is the common element between hunger and crying and being fed. Each individual assumes itself as subject of experience, and assumes itself – the subject – has a continuing identity even though the characteristics that identity expresses may change and the world around it changes.

So, in the best available model, the most likely small truth, I make every choice – with various degrees of probability – and the causes of and consequences of that choice are embodied in the present I of that possibility. If “I” makes any sense then “I” experience each choice and its outcomes as the “I” who would make that choice. Thus embodying a logical past and future. Some I experiences each one but it’s a different I in each case. So how is it really me? If is me why is the cat not me? If it’s not me, then how is the I of 5 minutes ago or the I of tomorrow “me” in any meaningful way? Two possible answers – every locus of experience is equivalent and the idea of identity is only a convenience, a construct on which to found the small truth, the Science, the coherent model of the world with best predictive powers. Or, on the other hand “I” exist only at any particular instant, but that instantaneous I includes the experience of memory, conscious and otherwise, of similar instants where similar subjective realities pertained, and it’s therefore not surprising that similar choices were and will be made by those and this similar I.

Those two answers are the same. There is only me in this present, and also there is no me, no identity, so all loci of experiences, all subjectivities the one experiencing.

Chinese junk-hulk sinking as pirates attack, and you flee the burning deck. I sit in front of a keyboard. Green things send chemical messages to one another, forming a process akin to thought. A bored child, too hot in the sun, looks out a car window as his parents argue. A sorcerer listens to the words spoken by falling autumn leaves and is afraid. Experience is too full for consciousness, too much even for all the consciousnesses there are, though it generates them.

This is a cosmological love story that you’re experiencing. More than that, since it’s strictly participatory, it’s a love song. There’s just that bit of order needed for harmony, plenty of chaos to keep it interesting – but all the parts are sung, all the notes sounded. And you know this, dear reader. You know because I’ve looked into your eyes. That moment is in this present, sung and unsung. That moment is every this moment, that you look away, that you don’t, that makes all this richness and beauty.

We dance, you and I, and are in the turning world. I love you.

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