December 04, 2006

The Reading Argument

The Reading Argument: Why the Probability that You Are Living in a Novel is Quite High

Sonny Moonie

(A parody of:

The Simulation Argument: Why the Probability that You Are Living in a Matrix is Quite High

Nick Bostrom

Times Higher Education Supplement, May 16, 2003)

The Simulation Argument had many otherwise naturally philosophical minds ruminating on the artificiality of reality. Picture the scenario of that essay for ridicule: our own minds assumed to exist possibly only as simulations in a computer programmed to amuse a relatively wealthy extraterrestrial individual, just to probe such questions as whether terrestrial civilization will ever achieve that libertarian tranhumanist fantasy.

However, a serious line of reasoning from a related, more plausible scenario leads to a striking conclusion about the world we live in. I call this the reading argument. Perhaps its most startling lesson is that there is a significant probability that you are living in the reading of a novel. I mean this literally: if the reading hypothesis is true, you exist in an imagined world read in a novel written by some advanced civilization. Your body, too, is merely a detail of that reading. What grounds could we have for taking this hypothesis seriously? Before getting to the gist of the reading argument, let us consider some of its preliminaries. One of these is the assumption of “substrate independence”. This is the idea that conscious minds could in principle be implemented not only on intrinsically unconscious substrates (such as the carbon-based biochemistry inside you or silicon-based electronics inside artificially intelligent computers) but also on some other computational substrate such as another conscious mind.

Of course, the minds we have today are not powerful enough to visualize all the mental processes that take place in your life. Even if they were, we wouldn’t know how to write a novel that lets them do it. But ultimately, what allows you to have conscious experiences is not the fact that your brain is made of squishy, biological matter but rather that it implements a certain computational architecture. This assumption is quite widely (although not universally) accepted among cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind. For the purposes of this article, we shall take it for granted.

Given substrate independence, it is in principle possible to emulate a human mind with a sufficiently intelligent other mind. Doing so would require very high powers of concentration that we do not yet have. It would also require advanced authorial abilities, or sophisticated ways of writing a very detailed factual biography of a human being which advanced novelists could then fictionalize. Although we will not be able to do this in the near future, the difficulty appears to be merely literary. There is no known physical law or material constraint that would prevent a sufficiently literarily advanced civilization from implementing human minds in a novel.

Our second preliminary is that we can estimate, at least roughly, how long a book it would take to implement a human mind along with a virtual reality that would seem completely realistic for it to interact with. Furthermore, we can establish lower bounds on how thick the novels of an advanced civilization could be. Literary futurists have already produced designs for imaginarily possible libraries of books that could be published using advanced molecular printing technology. The upshot of such an analysis is that a literarily mature civilisation that has developed at least those technologies that we already know are physically possible, would be able to write books long enough to describe an astronomical number of human-like lives, even if only a tiny fraction of their pages were used for that purpose.

If you are such a character in a novel, there might be no direct observational way for you to tell; the virtual reality that you would be living in would look and feel perfectly real. But all that this shows, so far, is that you could never be completely sure that you are not living in a reading. This result is only moderately interesting. You could still regard the reading hypothesis as too improbable to be taken seriously.

Now we get to the core of the reading argument. This does not purport to demonstrate that you are in a reading. Instead, it shows that we should accept as true at least one of the following three propositions:

(1) The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before becoming literarily mature is negligibly small

(2) Almost no literarily mature civilizations are interested in reading and writing books about minds like ours

(3) You are almost certainly in a reading.

Each of these three propositions may be prima facie implausible; yet, if the reading argument is correct, at least one is true (it does not tell us which).

While the full reading argument would employ some critical theory and wordiness, the gist of it can be understood in pseudoscientific terms. Suppose that proposition (1) is false. Then a significant fraction of all species at our level of development eventually becomes literarily mature. Suppose, further, that (2) is false, too. Then some significant fraction of these species that have become literarily mature will use some portion of their library resources to read novels about minds like ours. But, as we saw earlier, the number of read about minds that any such literarily mature civilisation could cause to exist is astronomically huge.

Therefore, if both (1) and (2) are false, there will be an astronomically huge number of read into existence minds like ours. If we work out the numbers, we find that there would be vastly many more such characterized minds than there would be non-fictional minds possessing organic bodies. In other words, almost all minds like yours, having the kinds of experiences that you have, would be fictional rather than real. Therefore, by a very weak principle of indifference, you would have to think that you are probably one of these fictional characters rather than one of the exceptional ones that possess real biological parts.

So if you think that (1) and (2) are both false, you should accept (3). It is not coherent to reject all three propositions. In reality, we do not have much specific information to tell us which of the three propositions might be true. In this situation, it might be reasonable to distribute our credence roughly evenly between the three possibilities, giving each of them a substantial probability.

Let us consider the options in a little more detail. Possibility (1) is relatively straightforward. For example, maybe there is some highly dangerous literary theory that every sufficiently advanced civilization develops, and which then destroys its culture. Let us hope that this is not the case.

Possibility (2) requires that there is a strong convergence among all sufficiently advanced civilizations: almost none of them is interested in reading or writing books about minds like ours, and almost none of them contains any relatively wealthy individuals who are interested in doing that and are free to act on their desires. One can imagine various reasons that may lead some civilizations to forgo reading novels, but for (2) to obtain, virtually all civilizations would have to do that. If this were true, it would constitute an interesting constraint on the future evolution of advanced intelligent life.

The third possibility is the philosophically most intriguing. If (3) is correct, you are almost certainly now living in the reading of a book that was created by some advanced civilization. What kind of empirical implications would this have? How should it change the way you live your life?

Your first reaction might think that if (3) is true, then all bets are off, and that one would go crazy if one seriously thought that one was living in a fiction.

To reason thus would be an error. Even if we were in a novel, the best way to predict what would happen next in our story is still the ordinary methods – extrapolation of past trends, scientific modelling, common sense and so on. To a first approximation, if you thought you were in a novel, you should get on with your life in much the same way as if you were convinced that you are living a non-fictionalized life at the ground level of reality.

The reading hypothesis, however, may have some subtle effects on rational everyday behaviour. To the extent that you think that you understand the motives of the authors, you can use that understanding to predict what will happen in the fictional world they created. If you think that there is a chance that the author of this world happens to be, say, a true-to-faith descendant of some contemporary Christian fundamentalist, you might conjecture that he or she has set up the story in such a way that the fictional characters will be rewarded or punished according to Christian moral criteria. An afterlife would, of course, be a real possibility for a fictional creature (who could either be continued in a different story after her death or even be transferred into the simulator’s universe by being provided with the temporary use of an actress's real body there). Your fate in that afterlife could be made to depend on how you behaved in your present fictional publication. Other possible reasons for writing novels include the artistic, scientific or recreational. In the absence of grounds for expecting one kind of novel rather than another, however, we have to fall back on the ordinary empirical methods for getting about in the world.

If we are just in a novel, is it possible that we could know that for certain? If the novelists don’t want us to find out, we probably never will. But if they choose to reveal themselves, they could certainly do so. Maybe an essay informing you of the fact would pop up in front of you, or maybe they would “write” you into their world. Another event that would let us conclude with a very high degree of confidence that we are in a fiction is if we ever reach the point where we are about to visualize our own literary characters exactly equivalent to human lives. If we start reading full characters, that would be very strong evidence against (1) and (2). That would leave us with only (3).

(Nick Bostrom is a British Academy postdoctoral fellow in the philosophy faculty at Oxford University. His simulation argument is published in The Philosophical Quarterly. A preprint of the original paper is available at

(Sonny Moonie is the pseudonymous author of this close parody which makes it possible to visualize a modern presentation of an old idea that is not exactly his own opinion, but may be imagined as being held by some fictional character.)

The Body of
B Franklin Printer,
(Like the Cover of an old Book
Its Contents torn out
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the work shall not be lost;
For it will, (as he believ'd) appear once more,
In a new and more elegant Edition
Revised and corrected
By the Author.

"Epitaph," Benjamin Franklin

[I wrote all of the above by March 9, 2004. I think someone else has done a "novel argument" in response to the "simulation argument," and I'm trying to find it. Some famous writer said you're supposed to burn all your backstory when you become a writer, and I agree, but I think this still holds up as funny, and it's just a word-substitution parody, and I haven't really become a writer yet if I'm still using a pseudonym.]

[I found the "novel argument" I was looking for. It's by Rudy Rucker, whose blog I found via Mac Tonnies' blog Posthuman Blues. Rudy's answer to the question at Edge in 2005: "What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?" is approximately that the universe has multiple revisions like a novel, not necessarily that it is any more like a novel.]

November 30, 2006

nondigital universe

I was thinking along similar lines to a comment by Morten Bek in a recent thread about the simulation argument, after I read Nick Bostrom's simulation argument from 2003. I continued developing my counterargument and made it a little more general. I don't just conclude we're not living in a simulation, I conclude the universe we live in isn't essentially digital.

1. If something can be simulated on a digital computer, then it is represented by a series of bits, which could be in the form of an array in multiple dimensions. Mathematicians call a particular kind of array a matrix. (That explains only part of the connotations of the name of the movie The Matrix.)

2. All arrays of various sizes already exist in the mathematical sense of existence. They exist in the same way as all counting numbers exist, the same way an infinite number of primes exist, and the same way an answer exists for every addition problem of counting numbers. Also, all various possibilities of digital contents of arrays already exist mathematically. For example: [0] [1] [00] [01] [10] [11] ... [0000,0110,0110,0000] ...

3. If some array contains a description of part of our universe that is adequate to describe someone's conscious experience, then at least a certain number of the bits in that array are determined by that description. If a computer is producing a series of three-dimensional arrays that represents a fourth dimension, time, then if those arrays describe someone's world, what happens in someone's future is described by the rest of the series.

4. It isn't necessary for a computer actually to run for the arrays to exist. You don't have to ask a computer to calculate pi to exact precision and wait for the computer to output an infinite string of digits to know that pi is irrational and has an infinite number of digits in its digital form. You can know that pi is like that with certainty by mathematics. If you accept the same mathematical assumptions, one of the consequences is that all arrays exist.

5. So, somewhere in mathematical space is someone described digitally, whose future is every possible digital array that could follow, no matter how improbable. Some sort of laws of physics might appear to be followed in part of the arrays, but not in other parts.

6. We do not observe the world around us to contain such improbabilities. It appears to contain consistent laws of physics, not things popping into and out of existence on a massive scale and not edges of chaos that swallow up orderly existence.

7. Therefore, our conscious experience implies order that encompasses the material cosmos. That's not to say that we're conscious of how it implies order, just that it does. While all versions of us described digitally, which go through every imaginable digital future possibility and then some, exist mathematically, our conscious selves experience a reasonably orderly universe. The real universe is not digital. Q.E.D.

8. Some physicists believe in interpretations of quantum mechanics that seem to have something to do with this subject. The order we experience may be implied by our conscious existence only to a certain extent of orderliness, while leaving many variations to be determined by the irreducible randomness of standard quantum mechanics. If so, that's still more order than any sort of digital array simulation allows for. The physical things that are supposed to be random under that theory are so small that on the human scale the chance of anything highly unusual happening because of them averages out to about none.

9. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is not compatible with this ontology. If all existent things exist on an equal footing, whether mathematical possibilities or some other sort of reality, then all branches of a many-worlds universe exist equally as much. However, in quantum physics most of the types of random events aren't binary choices and even when they are binary, don't have equal probability of going either way in real world situations, only in thought experiments of theoretically perfectly symmetrical measuring devices. How can we keep experiencing probabilities that are unequal, for example the blurring that happens at the magnification limit of a telescope in a smooth probability curve, if we live in a many-worlds universe where all possibilities are equally real?

I meant to get around to proving that nothing is random and something about our existential responsibilities, but I guess those are subjects for another night.

Looking at Morten's argument and mine side by side, I'd put the counterargument to the counterargument like this: To determine if the universe is orderly, if you're a rational skeptic and think by the anthropic principle that you may have arrived here despite the universe not being orderly, you can apply Bayes' theorem. Assign the odds of the universe actually being orderly 1 to 1 as your prior assumption. Then for every moment you continue to exist and don't change into a frog or whatever, double the first number in the odds. If you're not such a skeptic that you disbelieve there was similar existence in the past, then counting historical moments too gives you a way to instantly increase the odds to an absolutely astronomical number to 1, favoring the universe being and remaining orderly.

November 20, 2006

What is Paleodiet?

[The following is my translation of Vad är Paleodiet? by Hans Kylberg, an introductory article on Paleodiet. I found this article by a link from, after I first heard of Paleodiet from posts at This is my first written translation of a whole article from Swedish, or any other language, done as an experiment in language learning.]

Paleodiet means eating the way that man originally did, the way that man is made to eat.

During the most recent millennia the circumstances of man's life have changed radically. Certainly so for people 10 thousand years ago, for others quite recently, for northern Europeans in the last 3 - 4 thousand years. That is a very small part of our existence as a species. The genus "Homo" is approximately 1.5 - 2 million years old. The species "Homo Sapiens" is 100,000 - 150,000 years old (if one counts from when our ancestors became anatomically entirely like us.)

(I have attempted illustrating this here with a simple perspective on prehistoric time [in Swedish].)

What food is valid for us to eat underwent transformation as we began to eat a great multitude of domesticated grass seed and, in our part of the world, milk from cows, a species which overproduces, i.e. gives a surplus of milk in excess of what calves need. Plants which in their natural condition will not do for eating have been incorporated into our diet through being made edible thanks to being domesticated and/or through treating harshly in a different way (heating, fermentation, etc.)

In the latest times we have besides this begun to alter food in yet more sophisticated ways, e.g. refining. It has got to where we can quickly stuff in us a massive sugarlump which corresponds to a wheelbarrow loaded with beets. Or to alter molecules in vegetable oils to get margarine, etc.

Earlier our ancestors lived on what one could hunt and gather in nature. Longer back, the only tools made use of for this were stones and sticks, for killing game (stones and spears,) and cutting (sharpened stones,) and digging up roots (digging sticks.)

For anyone who would immerse himself more in this, see a detailed timeline of our ancestors' diet. (Latest updates: here, here, and here.) [Links in English.]

Our health has also altered. Foremost a new type of illness has arisen, autoimmune diseases, which come from immune defenses mistakenly attacking the body's own cells. These illnesses, in modern man very common, never occur in wild animals (but well may in domesticated animals and animals in captivity, if they get feed that is not naturally theirs) and never either in the small groups of people who still live a hunter-gatherer life.

Many researchers worldwide, in medicine, anthropology, archaeology, etc., have in modern times begun to realize the connection between these points now: (just now seen from the perspective which the human species' history makes up) eating habits and autoimmune diseases, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.

We are quite simply not made to eat a large part of our usual food. But, you may say, man has nevertheless eaten bread for thousands of years and survived. Yes, we have survived, and by and large multiplying ourselves immoderately (except those most badly getting by on the new food.) But at the cost of worse health, especially during the later part of life. The main point is we are not adapted to grain, milk, and so on. We are still intended to eat hunter-gatherer lifestyle food and nothing else.

Paleodiet is a search to recreate the combination of foods that are natural for mankind. Exactly what that includes is not quite clear. How long back shall we seek? In which environment did our ancestors live then, and what did they find to eat there?

[picture of wooly mammoth]

What we know fairly certainly is that after brains became bigger they demanded more high-quality protein in the diet. That was got from meat, in the beginning maybe in the form of carcasses. When one learned to use tools it became easier to catch and/or cut up prey, thus brains grew larger, thus tools were made better, and so on. Meat is consequently a very important part of the diet. It can come from all kinds of animals, but we do not know if some fish and shellfish originally entered into the diet. (Man especially needs certain substances that are foremost in these animals.)

Longer back we were primarily fruit and plant eaters and before that insect eaters. Among today's hunter-gatherer people this is still an important source of nourishment, if it is available. Some trace of pure vegetarian man has not been found.

How large a part of fare was made up of respective food groups one does not know with certainty. Neither do we know exactly which animals were most important, or which plants were available to eat. Plausibly we all descend from Africa 100 - 200 thousand years ago, but we do not know which part.

Therefore Paleodiet is nothing one can say something absolute about, without each doing research to educate himself for his own comprehension. It must more be looked at as an idea which can lay the ground for a personal diet.

It is clear though that grain and milk and products of these ought not to be eaten. Here one can also show clearly a connection with autoimmune diseases. Beans are by nature poisonous, and none can have entered into our original foodstuffs, but whether judged in a processed condition they can be eaten or not is unclear. Same thing with potatoes.

Besides we do not of course know what happens with food when it transforms through heating, pressure, etc., that is to say, if the result is something that our organism "recognizes" and can handle in the right way. This concerns quite clearly, for example, margarine and artificial sweeteners. But the question is what happens peculiarly when we eat prepared meat, vegetables, etc.

Another question is the composition of food substances in domesticated animals and plants that we eat. Cows, sheep, and pigs contain more and different fat than wild animals in general. Modern vegetables have less fiber than wild; fruit, more and different sugar. We may or may not eat a rich variety of plants, and can worry whether they are without important substances.

Additionally a question is those species which are not found in man's original territory (Africa.) It concerns, e.g., plants of the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) which answer home to America. Bananas I suppose come from Southeast Asia and are very different from other fruit (but contain by mass important substances, so it would be a pity to give them up.) Citrus fruit likewise. Are we so to speak adapted to fruit in general, or only to those fruits that had a home in (certain parts of) Africa?

Such a view is this very radical departure from the normal Swedish diet. Several important protein sources have gone out, which indicates that meat and fish need to be eaten in greater quantities. Many Paleodieters also have a concentration on moderation in carbohydrates and maybe accentuate fats more.

For those who would like to know more about paleodiet and the like, there a lot of links on The Paleolithic Diet Page. [The site in English that linked to the original of this article.]

Staffan Lindeberg is the foremost Swedish researcher into this territory: [This site includes one short article in English summarizing Lindberg's published scientific work on the diet of Kitava islanders.]

There is a Swedish e-postlist/forum Go to:

A second pair of Swedish sites with, among other features, discussion forums: as well as

An additional Swedish site with a lot of information on food: [English translation of that page.]

An interesting explanation of how lectin in grain, beans, milk, etc., can lead to autism is found in a contribution of Loren Cordain to "Paleodiet Symposium": "Grains, humanity's two-edged sword" [Links expired.]

For my own part I eat about this much: [In Swedish, but you can see a picture of what he eats.]

Last updated 2004-12-01 by Hans Kylberg

[Translation last updated 2006-11-18]

Open Thread / Where've I been?

Just reading about things in different places. I'm still hoping to use this blog for something.

If you're just dropping by, feel free to tell me what you expected this blog to be about, or what you'd like me to try to write about, or use this thread as a place to vent.

March 13, 2006

Prehistoric graves imply different ways of life

Anthropik had an article about early burials with grave goods and the implication that social hierarchy might have begun before agriculture. This was my response:

This evidence confirms my hypothesis that physical disability was one of the major motives for early settlement.

If the food supply for nomads in an area is high enough to raise population density to a certain point, then settlement at places favored for trade meets or festivals becomes viable. Those who settle down to trade and to store goods for trade are not necessarily disabled themselves, maybe they have a disabled member of their family or socially dedicated foraging band. These early settlers did not need to have any agricultural skills to start, so they are different from what we think of as settlers later in history, and they tend to be overlooked.

Once a person has a fixed location, storing goods becomes possible in quantities far in excess of what a nomadic band would carry or drag from camp to camp. Trade provides a way to accumulate artifacts and a motive for doing so, to have savings for seasonal variations in trade.

The settled lifestyle with caches and hoards of possessions (not yet property, which is a result of agriculture) may lead to a worldview where burial with grave goods is preferred to cremation or other quick forms of return to the energy flow of life on Earth. So then some early settlers, not necessarily all of them, appear to have chosen that new funeral option. It may have been considered especially appropriate when the body was of the member of the band whose disability had motivated the band to settle. By using up stored goods in funerals and burials, early bands may have been giving themselves the option to return to nomadism when their reason for settling was past. If that is the case, then it perfectly explains why all of those early skeletons found with grave goods have defects.

It's making me teary eyed just thinking about it.

[The Anthropik article by Jason Godesky linked to an article in British Archaeology, August 2002, by Paul Pettitt that I read all the way through next. I was disappointed by the sensationalism of speculating that they were all ritually murdered, as if being able to imagine such a hypothetical, culturally relative practice is the most intellectually valuable sort of imagination of history that can result from such archaeological discoveries. Do humans only study history and geography to practice thinking evil of others? (without judging them, of course.)]

January 26, 2006

TM introduction

David Lynch's TM presentation

I happened to see part of this presentation that took place at the UW, on cable today [January 7, 2006]:

Consciousness, Creativity, and the Brain

I wouldn't have paid attention to a lecture about meditation, but the part I came in on was showing pictures of activation in areas of the brain, like it was a real science show. They think, and want you to think, that a person who has anger problems or has been abused will have what are called "functional lesions" in the frontal area of their brains, areas where activity is lower as if there are physical lesions, compared with a normal brain scan.

The speaker, Dr. Fred Travis, claimed that when you're stressed, it causes this damage because your brain does "down shifting" to depend more on the motor area for activity, which can lead to making blunders like running to class and forgetting your homework. He explained that the frontal areas do the conscious decision making, "That's where your David Lynch is." He blames damage there for poor decision making, such as violent behavior.

Then the show got even better: They had a young man hooked up to an electroencephalogram and pointed out the differences in the graphs they showed on screen for the front and back of his brain as he they had him blink, close his eyes, open his eyes, and lastly, meditate. (A disclaimer on the screen said due to technical difficulties, some of that was recorded separately.) It made it look like meditating has some scientifically measurable effect, compared to just closing your eyes.

David Lynch and the other speakers talked for a few minutes about the benefits of transcendental meditation and surprisingly it wasn't boring. Knowing that the TM movement is like a religion, it seems like they may have been exaggerating with some of the success stories, such as reducing recidivism in a prison in Africa. (Once I heard a Christian missionary give a speech about a miracle in some place in Africa: lightning out of a clear blue sky that killed a lion. That sort of story about a place that listeners can never check on, if presented as if it is evidence rather than just a story, reduces the credibility of a presentation.)

The closing title screen gave this web address:

You can watch or download a video of the "Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain" presentation that was given at Emerson College in Boston (77 minutes). Film students ask Lynch questions about his movies for the first few minutes, until a film teacher asks the expected question about what TM can contribute to film making creativity and he starts on his speech about it.

After a few more questions, John Hagelin the physicist, who was in the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?" gives a speech about consciousness.

From 48:40 on, the presentation is similar to what I saw and described above, but with a little more apparent nervousness and searching for words, and not seeming to make the entertaining points as well, showing that a month and several tries later, they had improved their presentation. That's evidence of thinking on their feet, an ability which they would probably credit TM for enhancing.

What about the story of the prison in Africa? The first version I looked at: abstract from Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 2003. It says in Senegal, TM was introduced in prisons from 1987 to 1989, and recidivism went from 90% down to 3%. Next I found a webpage by David Orme-Johnson, Dean of Research, Maharishi International University, from 2001 that said recidivism went down to 8%. Here's a paragraph from an article from Corrections Today, December 1991:

"Before the TM program was introduced in Senegal in January 1987, inmates there returned to prison at a rate of about 90 percent within the first month. After TM had been instituted, a study of 2,400 inmates released through an amnesty in June 1988 revealed that fewer than 200 of them returned within the first six months-80 percent of those who returned did not practice the technique."

So the prisoners who didn't reoffend were released in an amnesty, not the usual releases. That means they might not be the usual inmates held for short times for offenses that are often repeated.

A letter from Colonel Mamadou Diop, Director of the Penitentiary Administration (in Senegal,) from January 1989, to one of the writers of later articles about it, who translated it from French, gives the same information, plus more details. It's at although the index of the site is not up. It appears to be the source behind the other stories. It contains this sentence just before the recidivism statistics:

"Indeed, we can say that in Senegal usually about 90% of the inmates released after serving their sentence (or those released because of the yearly presidential pardon) come back to prison within one month."

So the author (or maybe the translator?) has thought of adding the parenthesis about the yearly pardon to make the implications more scientific. Still, did the pardon in 1988 release the right prisoners for once?

Senegal is a majority Muslim country. Transcendental Meditation is associated with Hinduism. It seems unlikely they would let there be TM classes in the prisons for both the prisoners and guards, but maybe that's why the project was discontinued despite seeming so successful. Some critics of the TM movement say that studies about any form of meditation are called evidence for TM, so maybe it was some form of Sufi meditation.

Who knows what really happened? There are some countries where you can buy forged documents from government officials to have evidence for whatever you like.

January 08, 2006

Global Warming still in doubt, part 2

So the next day, I checked for a reply. There was one and I responded to as follows:


Re 140: (Hockey stick beaten again, skip if bored with it:)

I did not claim scientists have not considered the problems I mentioned. I specifically mentioned that those problems were just starter points to think about “in case you have trouble seeing the problems revealed in the disclaimer for the graph on your own.” I almost put the paragraphs containing those obviously non-expert common sense observations into parentheses to link them to that purpose, and I’m sorry that I didn’t. I was trying to point out that no one should be fooled by the hockey stick, because what it’s based on raises questions for anyone thinking skeptically or even critically that would lead to looking for explanations and critical reviews of it before accepting it, and that leads to learning that it has been discredited by scientists. The tree ring studies included WERE better proxies for rainfall than temperature. The statistical method DID lose the absolute temperature signal, by which I mean obviously the information about whether temperatures were generally high or low several centuries ago, not the relative information about when shorter term global highs and lows were.

No, I do not work for the petro industry. Another study by Mann et al. in 1999 doesn’t count to me as replication. You see, I am in fact a rank amateur rather than a professional shill, and as such I have the right and the pleasure of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes when you try to pull that self-replicating study business that is so beloved in professional circles.

Yes, anthropogenic global warming is probably true. I didn’t claim otherwise. The subject I was keeping track of when you brought up the dreaded hockey stick was what world temperature or conditions should be gone back to as a preanthropogenic ideal. The hockey stick shape has the political potential of justifying any amount of global regulation to return nature to a narrow ideal range and to hold it there. It’s not that I’m worried about the specific hockey stick graph. I know science has passed that by. What had me reacting was just the idea of anyone taking such an obvious fudge seriously, and with its huge error margins, as setting a goal everyone should aim for, as if it was the scientific clarion call to a new millennium that has been vindicated. You may not be a socialist personally, and I apologize for the casual way I write implying that, but the pushing of a scientific consensus that dogmatically includes things like the hockey stick serves that sort of ridiculous socialist political movement.

Thank you for a stimulating and honest response to my post. To be perfectly frank, I’m checking whether I was right, because you seemed to have great self-confidence and to be saying that I shouldn’t have so much. Verification of devastating criticism of the hockey stick: McIntyre and McKitrick, in Geophysical Research Letters and in Energy and Environment, 2005. (I’m referring to the abstracts and comments because I’m not a professional subscriber.)

(Re 142: Thank you Philip for your defense against ad hominem on my behalf.)

Posted by sonny · January 7th, 2006 at 3:29 am

[I should have corrected the statement about tree ring studies to say: The tree ring studies of bristlecone pines included WERE found to be better proxies for CO2 than for temperature.]

What does this all mean?

The essay starting that thread at Crooked Timber was saying the debate has been settled, and that Ross McKitrick has no credibility (with a link to a page of criticisms of his past comments on climate science) as if that ad hominem can stand in place of referring or linking to an answer to the scientific arguments raised in reviewed, published articles where he was a coauthor.

Some humans act like finding the truth is all about producing a hierarchy of credibility, a way of socially rating others to decide whether they believe them and allow them to dictate truth or they disbelieve them and, regardless of their arguments, insult them as discredited, ignorant, and so on. To those, the global warming debate is settled in one camp or another.

The history of religions and governments demonstrates that the credibility method alone does not work. However, some degree of rating and sensing credibility is necessary, such as having scientific journals that have a reputation for accurate information. It doesn't matter to current scientists how crankish they think Newton's interest in alchemy was, they know that his published work in physics, optics, and astronomy has been reviewed by many scientists and was the source of many discoveries and formulae they learned in school, so current scientists count Newton one of the greatest scientists in history. He was doing the equivalent of calculus his own way, genius that he was, with his own notation that didn't catch on, while Leibniz founded calculus mathematically.

The religions and politics of individual scientists shouldn't matter to arguing the truth or falsity of the best work they've published. What should be cultivated to find truth is a skeptical attitude that nothing is absolutely sure and an ability to take arguments for what they say, apart from who says them. (Looking back at the last paragraphs of the essay by John Quiggin on Crooked Timber that started the debate, it's a good example of the opposite of this point of view. "Any analysis on this issue coming out of a think tank that has engaged in global warming contrarianism must be regarded as valueless unless its results have been reproduced independently, after taking account of possible data mining and cherry picking.")

That's all being optimistic about science though. I can feel moderately pessimistic too, and think it's the End of Science, as in the John Horgan book of that title. All science that attempts to move beyond the level of what an individual has time to learn from the ground up and beyond applied science that proves itself in technology every day becomes post-modern science. In post-modern science, complications allow adjusting and correcting data and methods and analyses to produce only result that the consensus calls for, and individual researchers depend on products of that consensus for what they work on in turn.

A gambit of stronger criticism of science as post-modern would be to think science has never really gotten anywhere except to provide a rationalization for technology, and the methods used in technology are self-evident mathematics not really discoveries from natural science, and techniques and working knowledge of materials that are always somewhat separate from what scientists explain you should be able to do with those materials. In this view, those who build particle accelerators are technologists, and the scientists who want them and use them have always been post-modern fantasizers.

Stronger pessimism would be to think humans don't even see the real dangers or problems, while science makes no progress on what we are worried about.

Related links to this post: Philip Stott at A Parliament of Things and EnviroSpin Watch. The site given by the critic of my earlier post, The opposing scientists' websites: more established climatologists, including Michael Mann, RealClimate, more skeptical outsider climatologists, mostly Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit. An apparently not vandalized Wikipedia article that shows the main estimates from several recent major studies in one graph, demonstrating a tendency to show a "Little Ice Age" and "Medieval Warm Period" not the flattened past of the original 1998 hockey stick: Image:1000 Year Temperature Comparison.png.

January 06, 2006

Taking down sidebar links

I'm removing all the external links from the sidebar of Return of the Sasquatch.

Here they are, just for reference:

cultural derealization:

Pop Occulture

(formerly Occult Investigator)

sasquatch emulation:

Ran Prieur

total pessmism about civilization:

The Anthropik Network

moderate pessimism about peak oil:


disaster pessimism:


war and disaster paranoia:

What Does It Mean

not gullible about terrorism:

What Really Happened

political paranoia and channeling:

Signs of the Times

pessimism about government:

Lew Rockwell

optimism about anarchy:

Strike the Root

I thought a lot about what to write about this today, and came up with the following three points:

Links will appear in posts when relevant.

Normal entertainment and periodicals never give static recommendation lists. References occur in context, giving them meaning and weight.

One hot link beats a hundred stale blogrolls.

Really it's more personal than trying to further the art of the blog. I feel tied down by having a list on the sidebar that I feel like I should keep up with to be authentic. Then I feel embarrassed to put the address of the blog into places where I post comments, because one list of a certain pop-media/ bad news genre doesn't represent everything about who I am and whether my comments should be taken seriously or lightly on a given subject.

I want this blog to show development and growth, not becoming a big fan of particular websites just because it seemed cool to have them in the sidebar.

Global Warming still in doubt

Here's my contribution to the global warming debate, which I posted at Crooked Timber:


߬◊, regarding your post 118: That hockey stick graph you link to says right on it: “Data from thermometers (red) and from tree rings, corals, ice cores and historical records (blue).”

Excuse me while I puke over the poor quality of the facade of science being used to justify international socialist regulation of the world. If you’re going to rule the world under the banner of science, could you at least choose some real science, instead of pushing this pseudo stuff onto the podium for forced applause? No, I guess that would be out of character for a real socialist not to make the platform offensive to truthfulness as a test of party loyalty.

(In case you have trouble seeing the problem revealed in the disclaimer for the graph on your own, here are some starter points you should be able to think about for yourself to understand why this is poor quality, unreliable science, which are points in addition to the devastating criticisms of the hockey stick data and statistical methods that have been published:)

Tree rings don’t make a good proxy for temperature, when the species selected are more sensitive to rainfall, humidity, CO2, and maybe a hundred other things than temperature. Corals are an interesting choice of data. That might tell you something about whether there were El Nino oscillations or other changes in circulation in tropical oceans in the past and how strong they were. Ice cores have a selection bias: They can’t possibly exist from places and times that were much warmer in the past. The ice would have melted away. Taking gas content measurement of ice cores as revealing absolute differences in the past requires ignoring that life and chemistry can still happen on and in glaciers.

If a climate historian puts enough proxies that are partial guesses together and averages them, the resulting graph might have some bumps that correlate with what actually happened, but the absolute temperature signal is totally lost in the choice of how to balance various inaccurate estimates.

Posted by sonny · January 6th, 2006 at 3:45 am