Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

Putin’s Novorossiya Retreat?

April 17, 2014

CONFRONTED TO FORCE, PUTIN IGNOMINIOUSLY RETREATS…

…Behind A Cloud Of Aggressive Smoke.

In human matters, psychology is everything, and, in light of social standing, often the exact opposite of what it is made to appear. The negotiations in Geneva produced an accord, April 17, that gives Putin the occasion to hide his ignominious retreat under the fury of self-damaging admissions.

The good news: the accord’s core is the disarmament of all armed “civilian” groups in Ukraine under international supervision (headed by Switzerland). Putin hid his invasion behind armed groups of his agents, so he won’t be able to use them, and this is a major anti-Putin victory.

Putin will be able to go back to the routine of prosecuting homosexuals, feminists, atheists, women who dance in churches, and “fifth columnists” inside Russia.

Moscow Did Not Yet Exist, Yet Kiev Ruled A Vast Empire

Moscow Did Not Yet Exist, Yet Kiev Ruled A Vast Empire

As his foreign minister was bringing up the white flag in Geneva, Putin was giving a giant news conference, to assert his supremacy. It was delicate: he had to hide his ignominious defeat under colossal bluster.

That’s why Putin recognized his invasion of Crimea six weeks ago. Six weeks ago, soldiers in immaculate uniforms, covered with masks, equipped with the latest Russian weapons, appeared all over Crimea. They came to be known by the locals as the “little green men”. But they did not come from Mars. Now Putin admits that he sent them, and congratulates himself that “our troops acted professionally”.

Why does Putin admits this grave violation of International Law he himself committed six weeks ago, and sternly denied then? He could be prosecuted for that crime, in the future. Von Ribbentrop. Hitler’s foreign minister, was condemned to death, and hanged for that exact charge: war of aggression.

So why does Putin risk prosecution, for the entire planet to see? Because he wants to go on as President of the Russian oligarchy, at this point. To pose as a ferocious war chief, stomping over International Law, and civilization, for his now red-hot supporters, is bound to buy him time. This way, by posing as a triumphant criminal, Putin hides the fact that he just suffered a crushing defeat in Geneva, and tries to inspire shock, awe, and fear.

On the question of Ukraine, Mr. Putin repeated that Russia feels an obligation to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine who are a large minority in the region. Whatever “ethnic” means, it’s never far removed from “ethnic cleansing”.

“We must do everything to help these people to protect their rights and independently determine their own destiny,” Putin said, sounding exactly like that other self-celebrating apostle of peace and minorities, Adolf Hitler, about the Sudeten Germans (who lived inside the Czech mountains forming the border with the great Reich).

“Can a compromise be found on the Ukrainian question between Russia and America?” Mr. Putin asked. “Compromise should only be found in Ukraine, among Ukrainian actors” Putin substantively said. So far, so good.

However, Putin used, repeatedly, the same meta-argument for East and South Ukraine that he had used previously in Crimea.

Putin used the historical term “NOVOROSSIYA” or “New Russia” to refer to the part of Ukraine closest to Russia… And to the Black Sea. The term was introduced under the German princess, the redoubtable Catherine the Great, famous for, among other things, drawing and quartering alive her opponents on (what is now) Red Square.

Putin is insistently replicating his assertions of historical ties, which he used for Crimea before occupying and annexing the peninsula. He says:

“The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast. It’s New Russia (“Novorossiya”). Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there — we need to encourage them to find a solution.”

Ah, Czarist times: what Putin is longing for. Putin, Rasputin. “Russian southeast”? That is of Ukraine that Putin is speaking: Ukraine is Russian! Putin thinks God knows, but I also. Novorossiya” covered both East and South Ukraine. It was “New Russia” because Moscow had just conquered it, when it annexed it in 1783.

1783 may sound like a long time ago, from the American perspective. But not so from the European one.

Czarist Russia, and Prussia, occupied entire nations for centuries, and they, ultimately recovered their independence (through the Versailles Treaty).

Whereas the USA destroyed Neolithic Indian nations, during its genesis, some European nations, because they had their own languages, religions and very deep culture, were able to survive centuries and sometimes even millennia of occupation by hostile powers: Britannia (!), Eire, Spain, Greece, Albania, Serbia, Armenia are examples.

Ukraine is very old, more than twice older than Russia. More importantly, Ukraine’s culture did not grow exclusively, at the Mongol’s ferocious teat… As Russia’s did. So Ukraine’s culture is more worldly than the much more military-imperial overstretched oriented Russian one.

In Eastern Ukraine, up to 200 kilometers from the border with Russia, some of Putin’s Special Forces have acquired control of (some) Ukrainian armor (they then put special, prepared, orange and black symbols on them, that symbolize the struggle against Nazi Germany… a not so subtle identification of the authorities in Kiev with Nazism).

Putin explicitly denied that his Special Forces were deep in Ukraine (although even the UN says so!). His proof? They don’t wear “masqui” (masks). However he already lied about that precise point in Crimea, as he now recognizes. The trick of having his military show its face is not working: locals don’t know these very disciplined, latest equipment soldiers, who refuse to talk, or be approached, by journalists… although one of them admitted being a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army.

A damning report about what happened in Crimea, by the United Nations, came just in time.

The United Nations report, based on investigations by Ivan Simonovic, a United Nations assistant secretary general, and United Nations human rights monitors, pointed to evidence that some participants in deadly clashes in Eastern Ukraine had come from Russia.

The report said excessive use of force by Ukraine’s special police forces, the Berkut, against initially peaceful demonstrators, had radicalized protesters and led to the violence that erupted in January and February.

UN investigators found that 121 people were killed in clashes in February, as a result of severe beatings or gunshots, and that more than 150 people were still missing.

UN investigators received reports of attacks on Ukraine’s Russian minority, but these were “neither widespread nor systematic.” Instead, the report said, “greatly exaggerated stories of harassment of ethnic Russians by Ukrainian nationalist extremists, and misinformed reports of them coming armed to persecute ethnic Russians in Crimea, were systematically used to create a climate of fear and insecurity that reflected on support to integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation.”

The UN said there were numerous reports of vote rigging in the annexation referendum, complete with harassment and abductions of journalists and activists who were opposed to it, as well as the presence of armed militias, and transparent ballot boxes.

Some of the journalists and activists who disappeared have since been released, but had been tortured, the UN report added.

The UN established a human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine with outposts in five cities, and reported that Russia said it did not support the deployment of human rights monitors in Crimea.

Against such a blitz of truth, what could the Kremlin’s propaganda do?

So Putin retreated. But then, again, he is just one guy, who decides upon the Earth, Sky, and Reality itself. No checks and balances for him, except inside his unbalanced self. This is the problem with representative oligarchy: one man should not be able to say whatever comes to him, and lead everybody into war.

Conclusion? This is good. The Obama administration held to a tough line, tougher than G. W. Bush during Putin’s Georgia invasion of 2008. Europe’s three dozen countries fell in four groups, completely disorganized by their economic ties with Russia (ten times those of the USA).

What of the future? Russia is a one man show. Putin’s mind is all over the place. For example, he got so enraged about Kosovo (a few miles from Rome), in the past, that he may have sincerely believe that Kosovo is just like Crimea. A completely idiotic idea. If some people around him pointed out enough of his idiotic beliefs, he may have realized, or will realize, that he went too far.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is in charge of sending observers. Interestingly, it is presided by Switzerland. Differently from what happened in the 1930s, transnational world governance is acting well, and in a timely manner. More than 100 nations voted in the UN General Assembly, against Putin’s invasion of Crimea, and that was well before the more damning facts established in the meantime.

In light of this, and the world climate report, the United Nations is acting well these days. World governance can work better than a one-man show.

Yet Crimea is now Russia, illustrating an ominous new boss, same as the old boss: force rules.

Patrice Aymé

Animal Minds, As NATURE IS NURTURE

February 25, 2014

Descartes famously pontificated that animals were machines. Actually, Descartes was just parroting famous stoic philosophers from way back (Chrysippus, Diogenes, etc.). Not to worry. According to his own logic, Descartes, being a parrot, was a machine. (Descartes may have had an anti-theocracy agenda, but that’s another story.)

Darwin, a non-peer reviewed, non academic hyper intellectual, dared to show more subtlety in the Origin of Species when he wrote: It is a significant fact, that the more the habits of any particular animal are studied by a naturalist, the more he attributes to reason, and the less to unlearnt instinct” (1871, Book I, page 46)

I pushed that point of view further in Instinct Is Fast Learning”.

We Think, Therefore We Floss

We Think, Therefore We Floss

Lions premeditate when hunting in the wild. They spent hours plotting under the weary eye of their potential prey. They reveal each other presence by discreetly pointing up their dark circled ears. Lions are good scientists with a knowledge of the minds of others, and excellent geography. Don’t ask me for a link, I saw it done as a child in West Africa. A few days ago, I ran below a rock where a puma was contemplating a gigantic panorama. It was not just to admire the forests tumbling in the Pacific Ocean.

Some will feebly object to my use of the word “science”. I stand ready to devour them, having long premeditated this. Science means to know, and lion knowledge has to be effective enough to feed them, it’s an excellent thing. Take much of today’s physics: differently from aerospace engineering, it could be completely wrong. Planes fly, but not necessarily the Big Bang. Lion science is much more true than much of physics. Why? The proof is in the pudding, or more exactly the buffalo lying in his own blood.

(See note.)

Lions have to be very innovative. Protecting cubs require quite a bit of knowledge about physics and the ethology of various species. Including saurian: watch this lioness protect her cubs by deliberately attacking a crocodile. I have seen a lioness use what she knew to be the knowledge of antelopes have about crocodiles to foresee what said antelopes would do (and thus follow a trajectory that would make her prey fall under her claws).

That told me lions’ hunts depend upon a theory of other minds to feed themselves.

Alexi Helligar, objecting to my vision of lions premeditating when planning dinner: … “Birds do this as well, especially corvidae. Just because an animal is able to calculate a priori means to an end does not meet my definition of premeditation.”

Tyranosopher: Call it precalculation then! Some birds plan and make tools, others speak and outperform chimps mentally. Wild animals are smart. Underestimating the mental capabilities of animals is the first order of the rawest, crudest anthropomorphism.

Brazilian scientists are discovering that wild parrots speak and name each other (work in progress).

Alexi Helligar: “Overestimating the mental capabilities of animals is the first order of anthropomorphism.”

This reflects Ivan Pavlov who in 1927, wrote that animals should be considered “without any need to resort to fantastic speculations as to the existence of any possible subjective states“. The Oxford companion to animal behaviour (1987) parroted this: “one is well advised to study the behaviour rather than attempting to get at any underlying emotion”.

Well that’s Conventional, not to say Communal, Wisdom (let me not think of other things communal). Claiming that animals are not like humans, that various tales for children with animals as if they were human, were completely wrong, is what a whole line of thinkers following a gross interpretation of mysteriously subtle statements of the Stoics, took for granted. It fit perfectly well their religions. That became the philosophical party line: animals have nothing to do with humans. Some, all too many, scientists have goose stepped behind that.

The simplest observations show that claiming that animals don’t think is completely unthinkable. To survive in the wilds, one has to outsmart animals, and it’s not easy to do. I have extensively observed animals in the wild. I still do this. Call it Ethological Watching (in analogy to Bird Watching).

Observing animals in the wild is like observing a human outside of a small cage: it’s very different. According to my theory of mind, the mind is constructed by the environment.

NATURE BECOMES NURTURE.

Experiments on rats support this: a rat in a richer cage has a richer brain. The richest cage of all is the grand wild outdoors. Hence a wild animal will have more of a mind.

I have had dozens of bear encounters, typically when I run. Once I charged two mountain lions within 15 minutes (cautiously establishing a prudent life-saving hierarchy of ferocity: charging the enemy is often most wise).

Last week, during a run, I was loudly growled at, by a mountain lion (whom I did not see it). We had a short, but complicated interaction. S/he clearly wanted to scare me off, as s/he crossed the trail I just ran on (and ran back minutes later, because my way got blocked by poisonous vegetation).

Reason for the unusual growl? There was a dog with some hikers barking in the far distance, and the lion got worried that we were together doing lion hunting, and was legitimately worried. Hence the attempt to terrify me away.

I used to follow lions on foot in Africa. Using plenty of psychology.  General psychology applies to animals. It is not anthropomorphism, it’s life-saving. It’s ethology. Paleolithic natives knew well this science. Their lives depended upon it.

The animal kingdom on Earth is a bit like the network of mind on the planet Pandora (represented in the movie Avatar). Animals communicate, and they use their common psychology to do it.

Crocodiles concur. Their flossing and tooth cleaning methods are arguably more advanced than ours (as we can’t invent tiny cleaning robots yet). They can use them only because both birds and crocs have sophisticated theories of each other’s minds. Even feeding sharks under water involves shared theories of mind. The sharks know enough to have figured out they should not eat the feeder, lest the feeding stopped, and that, if they behave cool and nice, they will be fed tuna heads.

Why to think that animals don’t think? Descartes and his fellow theocrats would have to admit that animals had souls. That would have opened a vast can of worms: do worms have souls, can I eat them? Does that make me into the Devil? (One should get carried away in attributing too much equality to animals as Peter Singer tends to do; the main danger there is that deference to the individual animal could lead to the disappearance of the species; say by forbidding the incarceration of the last remaining specimen while attempting to save species.)

However the logical thing to do is that, considering we are animals, other animals do like us, and think. It’s the most natural approach: when a reasoning, or observation, works, so should what’s not too far topologically.

This is the line of inquiry that was started in Paris in the 1950s, where Eric Kandel was told to study the neurology of Aplysia Californica. The idea was that STUDYING THINKING IS ONE. That is the exact affirmation of anthropomorphism.

And it was highly fruitful. Ever since, and ever more, the minds of animals, all the way down to the fly Drosophila, have been studied, and the result of these studies has illuminated the way humans think.

We Think, Therefore We Floss.

Patrice Aymé

Note: A French scientist just found 120 gibberish published articles written haphazardly by computer, another scandal in peer review. Much of peer reviewed published biology is irreproducible, biotech companies such as Amgen have complained. This for those who have whined that I do not publish among my non-existent peers. Let them steal instead.

Bamboozling Power

February 18, 2014

Carl Sagan viewed the Confidence Trick, or Bamboozling, as an important concept. It is. And not just because it explains why people goose step behind dictators, superstition and other insane ideas. The basic mechanisms behind bamboozling also explain not just the problem of Free Will, but how the mind itself arises.

Paraphrasing Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

One of the most alarming meta-lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, or spectacularly enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth, we can’t even find the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. It’s best to ignore it, to reduce our pain. So we ignore it. Once you give in to a charlatan, or to madness, it’s very hard to get common sense back.

Bamboozling: An Enemy Of Rationality

Bamboozling: An Enemy Of Rationality

In practice, it’s even worse. Charlatans reign through institutions. If the institutions have been themselves bamboozled, the effect is much amplified. This is what happens in places such as North Korea. Hitler is a famous case. Again and again, in history, obvious charlatans bamboozled their subjects into extinction.

Other cases are closer at hand: the much celebrated North American educational system is still trusted. Yet, it is the Trojan Horse of plutocracy unleashed. Higher education is so expensive that only a small percentage of the population can afford it for their children, without crushing debt (tuition in the top universities is above pre-tax median family income: $54,000 at Harvard). It’s bamboozling on an Academic scale.

Recently the Wall Street Journal revealed that, after spending more than six figures paying for an education, learning to fly, “airline pilots face a new danger: minimum wage”. Great bamboozling at work here.

Don’t worry: the owners of the airlines are making a fortune, and a galaxy of profiteers make good money from the so called private universities, be it by just exploiting their sport franchises.

Why do we react to bamboozling with denial?

It’s in the nature of neurology. It’s a case of colossal mental inertia, intrinsic to the nature of minds.

Neurology, whatever its details, is something built from the outside. The environment determines its nature. However, once a neurology is built, it’s built. The environment, in the past (that’s where the connection with Free Will is) has built it. In the past.

A neurology is not build like a software program. An incarnated neurology is built like a dam: once it’s built, it’s built. If rain does not fall anymore, and the lake dries up, the dam is still there.

Neurology is not just very hard to change. It is made for this environment that built it. If the environment changes, the changed environment cannot rebuilt it from scratch, for the simple reason that it already exists.

A mind is as a sand castle. Once it has been built, and the builder, the environment, changes, or moves away, it stays behind, and decays. It’s the simplest observation, it has momentous consequences.

Intellectuals, paradoxically, tend to be bamboozled, because they are often too busy with the mental task at hand, to become more than a cog in the machine (some have revolted: the most famous example was Sakharov, a great Soviet physicist who helped built the H Bomb, but then turned against his masters with devastating efficiency.)

I have been bamboozled personally more than once, big time, typically by large, honorable scale institutions, and the small critters that serve them inside, like bacteria in termites’ guts.

Once we have been taken by some confidence trick, can we rebuild our minds enough to reject it?

True, one has demonstrated in experiments on mice, that neurogenesis is necessary for learning, and happens at all ages. So neurogenesis, the fabrication of neurons is always active. Maybe we could use that to rebuild our minds?

No. Most of the brain has been established long ago, during youth. One may be able to change the details, it’s much harder to rebuild a functioning machine, than to make it from scratch.

Is there a way to mitigate the ease with which one can get bamboozled? Yes. To learn to take one’s knowledge and certainty, with a grain of salt. To practice the “WHAT IFS”, systematically. To teach the mind the yoga of doubt. Any sure thing that can be bent, should be bent, with “What Ifs”.

It’s not easy to learn this meta-learning. Systematically not just what is true, but why it is true (why the alternatives have been ruled out) ought to be taught. (Some say there is no time for this, but then children are taught only half a day, and often in too boring a fashion. Exposing children to “What Ifs” makes it much less boring, because that’s what our neurologies are made for.)

Thinking Is Most Human, & Thus, The Hardest Thing

Thinking Is Most Human, & Thus, The Hardest Thing

The yoga of doubt can even be extended to the realms of emotions. Emotional geometrodynamics is actually one of the interests of sports. Many sports involve states when one is at war. Even somebody who dives in apnea has to fight. Against her, or his self, when they desperately want to breathe. Going to war in normal society is not just abnormal, but discouraged. In sports, it’s encouraged.

However, some of the most pervasive Confidence Tricks are not just made possible by denial, as Carl Sagan says. Denial is what they sell. Take Christianity (or Islam). What the Christian institutions sell is an unbelievable story, yet, if one believes in it, it’s most comfortable. All we have to do is be good, and believe (that the Confidence Men and their sacred texts tell the truth). Then we will be rewarded.

There is no more struggle: submission is the key to heaven, and if we die, alleluia!

Thus life can be experienced as a happy dream, or torpor (as Marx noticed). However the Con Men (= Confidence Men”), in particular the Plutocrats, can rarely find a balance of exploitation. So at some point, the dream turns into a nightmare. The dam breaks, the sand castle is wiped out by a tsunami, and the great passion of revolution sweeps the land.

We can’t just cultivate our garden (whatever Voltaire said). When the wave comes, all gardens get washed away; we have to run. Given enough time, the wave always comes, and washes civilization away. Right now it’s just washing the biosphere.

Although the destiny of humanity is not clear. However, passion, in practice, is all the destiny we need. Yet not all passions are good. Passion for violence has to be diverted (hence the obsession with watching team sports, war by proxies). But passion for truth ought to be indulged in ever more. Be it just to save the biosphere.

Patrice Aymé