Thursday, 28 May 2020

Epistemology Akimbo

Today I'm in a wistful mood and would like to discuss a topic which I have touched on before: Epistemology. Tis a word of Greek etymology and basically means the 'study of knowledge' or more importantly, how do we recognise something as constituting knowledge. I can never spell this word and I’m eternally grateful to the ‘spellchucker’. And as for its pronunciation- don’t make me say it, it's more sonorous in print. We may think we have a commonsense method for distinguishing true knowledge from what is patently false. But commonsense is an elusive commodity and even when present it often leads us astray. Therefore we need an intellectually rigorous means of distinguishing true ideas, concepts, and physical things from stuff that is not part of reality, even if the word for the methodology is difficult to articulate. However, when we delve deeper into the fundamental methodology of epistemology we enter a world full of woe and intellectual contortions/convolutions. If you want it to be, the topic can become immensely complex and technical and hence unavailable for comprehension by the intelligent layman. The subject can be couched in terms full of heavy intellectual promise only partially comprehensible to a certain group of professional philosophers. I'm a simple man at heart (if you believe this you will believe anything) and like to keep explanations as simple as possible. Einstein was of the opinion: "That if you can't explain something simply then you don't understand the subject" (by the way, Einstein probably never said this, although he should have). I suspect it serves the philosophy profession to maintain a barrage of obscurity to exclude the uninitiated. It keeps the profession exclusive/elusive and slightly mystical. Although I'm not against elitism per se- tis the natural order of things after all. I do have a problem with intellectual elitism. Perhaps I will write about this, someday. After this rambling intro, let's get started.

 We need to understand how we gain knowledge at a very fundamental level. How we can reliably, as far as reliability goes, understand the world we inhabit. The ancient Greeks were of the strong opinion that knowledge could be evinced by thinking very hard about a subject using pure logical analysis. Plato and Aristotle were very much attuned to this school of thought. Socrates thought that much of knowledge was innate and not learned. This knowledge could be coaxed from even the unschooled by careful questioning. He considered himself a midwife helping with the birth of preexisting knowledge. When we examine Socrate's dialectic we can see he was being rather disingenuous by encouraging responses with leading questions. By talking to Socrates anyone can become wise.

Of course, the Greeks were wrong in their emphasis on logic and the dialectic. While it is true that knowledge can be obtained in this way it is not the only way. In its purest form such as logic and mathematics, the knowledge found is unequivocally true. Once knowledge has been discovered in this way, and assuming the intervening steps are faultless, this knowledge is irrefutable, forever. As for the dialectic, I will say this: this approach is more suited to questions about the human condition for which there is no true answer.  In a way we are entering the realm of opinion, perhaps learned opinion, perhaps intellectually thought-provoking opinion, but opinion nonetheless. Thus the nature of what constitutes 'courage' or 'morals' are highly amenable to this technique. What Socrates had to say about 'courage' is very relevant today and probably wrong.

The other obvious method of gaining knowledge is through our senses. We can see a table; we can hear a table if we rap it and we can smell the wooden composition of the table. As for tasting the table, I will leave my discerning readers to experiment with this form of cognition. It has been known since the ancient Greeks that this method for gaining knowledge is ultimately flawed. Go and read Hume's, 'An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding' to grasp some of the problems involved. I still think Hume's exposition of the problems of induction remains the clearest explanation ever written, even though he wrote two hundred years ago. I don't have space to write a critique here, but even the dullard can see that there is an issue with obtaining knowledge by the senses. For instance, we can only experience some of the total electromagnetic wavelengths reflected from a table. Once light hits the retina the image is converted into electrical impulses which are processed by our brain to give a representation of the table. This view is fortified by a consideration of quantum mechanics which views the table as almost entirely 'made' of empty space (what is space?) and what we consider as solid is an electromagnetic phenomenon with a probability coefficient. This is not very encouraging for the true empiricist. However, regardless of how defective our interrogation of nature is, together with deduction, these two methodologies remain the only way we can gain knowledge of the universe we inhabit. And of course, reliance on our senses is the basis of the scientific process for gaining knowledge. There is no doubt that science works, although there is a modern strain/stain in society that belittles its achievements.

Some may say that I haven't considered other possible forms of cognition that remain equally valid for discerning knowledge. They will argue that 'faith' and 'revelation', those twin imposters, are relevant pathways for obtaining true knowledge. I would vehemently disagree although I don't have space to criticise these so-called methods here. However, I will lay out my contrary thoughts in the next eagerly awaited post.

I will leave my readers to pontificate and ruminate on alternative ways to knowledge, at the most fundamental level, and I invite all and sundry to leave their thoughts in the comments below. I am always eager to read any alternative theory that may be proposed.  But beware, I can be savage in my condemnation. Arse.             

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Pointless and Boring Headlines Part II

                                   Ducks Are Boring - good advice duck | Meme Generator

The news has been monopolised by the ‘crony virus thingy’ of late. With the world in lockdown otherwise, legitimate news has disappeared as nothing is going on worthy of reporting. Desperate hacks have become parochial and inward-looking. They have been scouring their local environs desperately looking for stories vaguely newsworthy.  The result is a series of piss poor reporting of brain-numbing proportions.  However, all the following headlines occurred before the current crisis....... Read the following ‘news’ and be underwhelmed.  Tis been noted that these headlines are exclusively from Britain- what does this have to say about our national character?

Surely a 'body of water' is a duck's natural element. If you have to rescue a creature from its natural environment then you are dealing with a very crap critter indeed. And what about good old tax payer's gelt? Should the municipal coffers be evacuated for the 'rescue' of useless creatures? What happened to good old natural selection? Darwin would not have approved: adapt or die; survival of the fittest; let drowning ducks drown. Talk about a lame duck.  


Continuing with the 'Duck theme'. Could these ducks be in any way related to our intrepid drowning duck in the previous headline? I think a duck cull is called for in these circumstances. Sometimes evolution needs a helping hand. But in these days of unlimited compassion, it is more likely that the council will be providing duck shelters so that our damp feathered friends can obtain relief from the wetness of water. 


The great custard shortage of 2009. I remember it well. Nary a grain of custard could be found. Distraught mums were driven to use inferior 'mock custard' as a substitute. Some were even forced to serve tapioca and semolina pudding to their uncomprehending offspring. Will this calamity never end?! Luckily it did once the next custard delivery van arrived. But for a time it was touch and go for the doughty burghers of Whitstable.


The old, 'gun up the bum' trick- it takes the concept of 'concealed weapon' to another level.
Nonetheless, I can never understand why the police don't routinely search the general public for anally inserted firearms. I wonder what type of gun was found in this case? I'm assuming the ordinance was not particularly large. A mini-gun perhaps?

O dear lord, this poor girl will be psychologically scarred for life. I'm hoping the offending teacher has been sent for 'reeducation' at the 'Snow Flake Institute for Teachers Calling their Pupils Pirates'. How are our youngsters expected to grow into well-balanced adults if they are subject to such cruel and blatant abuse by their educators? I'm only glad this poor girl didn't have a wooden leg.                                         

I have had the misfortune of visiting Swansea on Sunday and I can vouch that this is probably the most exciting thing that has happened to this town since the great custard shortage of 2009. Apparently, this is the burning hot topic in the coffee room: colour or a black and white copier, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the office to suffer the black and white tones of outrageous fortune, Or to take up a colour cartridge against the blandness of grey. And by opposing monotone end them.

I'm hoping that the councilors of this unpronounceable town (no vowels) vote for the colour copier. Can you imagine the excitement of the staff when they realise that they can photocopy their arses in glorious colour? Polychrome really brings out the brown stains. 

47 Hilariously Underwhelming Local News Headlines | Funny news ...

Pretty un-sporting of old gran. She might not be dead but she certainly does not look well. Perhaps she is resting? You think she would have just gone along for the ride and pretend she was dead. Saves a lot of bother in the near future. I hear cry: 'Bring out your dead and the moribund'.


Tooth sans John Lennon is probably not worth going to see. Even if the tooth was still attached to this troubled 'genius' I wouldn't recommend the effort. After all these years he will be unrecognisable and may pong a tad. This is the inevitable progress/process of decomposition that all biological organisms must follow unless given up for embalming. Bugger, I've just realised: Lennon was cremated.

This is not a sentiment that resonates with me. I suspect that it can be mildly annoying if the scheduled omnibus does not arrive. As for fury- this seems like hyperbole and a bit over the top. As said, this is something I can't relate to as I don't travel by public transport. Tis the travel choice of the poor, bereft, and frankly smelly proles. Add a few mental health patients and you have the typical clientele for this mode of transport. 'Let them buy a car'.

via Buzzfeed

Is Der Fuhrer sporting a new disguise? Has the leader of the Third Reich been reincarnated as Fluffy the kitten? NO. Tis simply a feline with a black smudge in its fur vaguely reminiscent of Hitler's mustache. Has this kitten got a hankering for invading Poland and sending his panzer divisions on an ill favoured jaunt into Soviet Russia? Will said divisions be negotiating the vast disconsolate steppe stopping only at Kiev and Stalingrad to take in the sights/delights of these majestic testaments/tenements to the Stalinist 5-year plan?  Again an emphatic, No! Instead, Fluffy will be dining on flaked tuna and enjoying a well-deserved belly rub from its owner.
                                                    Für die Neugierigen

Image result for kitten that looks like hitler
Heil Kitler

And finally, we come to a very tragic event involving my own 'Alma Mater'. Apparently, my school mysteriously burned to the ground several days after I graduated. No one was caught for this conflagration of doom. I'm not sure whether there is a statute of limitations for this sort of thing. As for the culpable, miscreant incendiary: the identity of the youth with long flaxen hair will always remain a mystery wrapped in an enigma and lost in the great expanse of time Nuff said. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Note Taking at its Finest

In these uncertain times, I thought I'd introduce a note of consistent reality commensurate and concomitant with my current medication cycle.   

In the many photos of the 'Great Leader,' we not only see him pointing gratuitously at stuff, but we also see him surrounded by various sycophants dignitaries, some in uniform, scribbling hard in identical notebooks. The enraptured audience seems to be hanging on Kim Un Poos every word and no doubt are furiously recording the words of wisdom dripping out of the exalted leader like lard oozing out of a cheap sausage roll.

So what is going on and what is Dim Un Sum saying that merits such rapt attention and meticulous note-taking? We will never know because filthy, decadent, capitalist westerners will never be allowed access to the Leader's distilled words of astute/acute sagacity.

The note-taking tradition first became evident during the reign of the founding grandfather, Sim Un Per. It seems that knowledge and wisdom have transcended the generations and have become entrenched in the incumbent ruler, Kum Up Bum. Thus, the 'Glorious Leader' is an expert on every subject and can pontificate according to his want. Tis well known, and written on the wind, that after completing a single semester at the 'Academy of Hard Reading, Difficult Sums and Tractor Maintenance', Rim On Bum learnedicated the whole swathe of human understanding and knowledge. This unprecedented erudition has only been equalled by two people in the annals of human history, Ram Up Bum's father and his father, before him. The fruits of his academic prowess are obvious from the rapt attention and vigorous stenography perpetrated by various panjandrums as they scrawl down his sapient injunctions.  Truly, this is gold. How blessed are these mortals to receive tuition from the greatest intellect to have graced the universe. Woe to those who do not pay entranced attention to the man/god. For it has been written (in a notebook) that these wretches will (accidentally) perish under the tracks of a T64 tank. Life is full of misgivings and chance events. O calamity! Arse.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Blast from da Past. Arse: George & Arthur's Wicked War Time Wheeze- Cough

Britain's secret weapon
In the early autumn of 1941, the German army stood resplendent and ascendant on the battlefield, everywhere- all lay conquered before the mighty Wehrmacht. The British looked on in dismay and frank despair. A confidence-boosting victory was desperately needed. In Britain's darkest hour, Churchill came up with a bold incisive plan......

What if two washed up, piss poor and excruciating unfunny vaudeville entertainers were parachuted into the heart of enemy territory. When ensconced they would head for Hitler's East Prussian fortress, 'The Wolfschanze' and make a half-arsed and inept attempt at assassination. The only suitable candidates who fulfilled all the criteria for this hazardous and scarcely credible mission were none other than our jolly japesters (is this a real word?), Arthur (no arse-in da future) Askey and George (fulsome toothsome) Formby.

At that time, Hitler was protected by his personal bodyguard, the 1st  SS Seamstress brigade. These infamous Valkyries sewed terror wherever they went. Adept at needlepoint and croquet they were renowned for producing delicate stitch work on the soldiers they had slain. It is to be remembered that it was the 1st SS Seamstress brigade who were responsible for the Russian debacle at Kiev when the Russian 63rd Guards army was thoroughly trounced and stitched up like a kipper after some fine and vigorous Bargello embroidery.

Brunhilder Von Mugumbo (woof, woof)

Our mirthless pair were promptly dropped into East Prussia on that fateful Wednesday night. Our George was armed with the latest weapon-grade ukulele designed to fire poisoned darts with a twang of a string. Big-hearted Arthur was furnished and girded with the ‘Busy Bee’ song which was credited with killing a stormtrooper at fifty paces. After a cup of tea and a Marmite sandwich, they quickly approached the ‘Wolf’s Lair’. Luckily for our luckless duo, the guards were engaged in their weekly sewing circle and failed to notice our befuddled buffoons negotiating the intricate, wool weave, perimeter defenses. Once inside, they dashed to the cabin, helpfully labeled, 'Der Führers Schlafzimmer'. The door was unlocked and our beguiled heroes prepared their respective instruments of doom with suitable aplomb. Just then, the fickle finger of fate intervened and Hitler’s pet ferrets, Donner und Blitzen leaped out of the stygian darkness and savaged Arthur’s ankles. Arthur screamed, “I thank you” and our dozy dimwits were promptly surrounded by a trio of voluptuous shield maidens sporting a tailor's bradawl. The game was up and it was decided to execute the humourless pair by sewing machine. But once again destiny intervened and Hitler (denn er ist) decided that our feeble witted dyad should return to Blighty, unharmed. Wisely, he conjectured that Arthur and George would cause mayhem and chaos to the allied war machine just by performing their hackneyed music hall routine. It was hoped, that single-handed, they would destroy the Allied war effort by seriously undermining the troop's morale.

So instead of an unmarked grave, our duet foisted their unbridled and talentless enthusiasm on the poor unsuspecting British Army- thus are the vicissitudes of war and fate (arsch). 

I am not a well man.

To be continued……   

                                                               Take it away, George 

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Survivor Bias and a Few Gentle Musings

O to survive in this world of broiling fortune. What tales the old scarred warrior can tell. Tales of battle and sweated bloodied brow, of deeds long fought, long ago. But what tales of the dead? They remain still and add nothing to the cacophony of war. If only they could speak. What tales would they relate? But dead men tell no tales.   Anon.

Today, I am in a wistful mood and feel moved to write about a couple of things that underly and guide our thinking processes.

During the Second World War, the American military was concerned about the survivability of their bombers conducting raids over Germany. Was there any way that the odds of survival could be raised to ensure that more planes, and men, came back after combat damage? Thus a survey was commissioned. Ground crews were tasked with recording battle damage on returning bombers and once this data had been collated from numerous planes it was respectfully passed on to the military hierarchy for rueful rumination. Below is a representation of that data.  The red dots record aggregated data points of damage.

The point of this exercise was to identify areas of the bomber that could be profitably reinforced with armour. Of course, it was impossible to reinforce the whole plane due to weight restrictions. However, it was possible to place limited armour in those areas likely to sustain combat damage. The Air force 'big hats' looked at the damage profile and pronounced: "We will reinforce those areas covered by red dots. No longer will our aircraft come back bespeckled/peppered with red dots!" The academic head of the study, Abraham Wald was mortified at their conclusion. How could they not see the real areas requiring armour protection? As a statistician, of renown, it was clear to Wald that extra protection was required in those areas not covered in red. Damage to these areas obviously caused catastrophic damage- these planes did not return home to add to the data collection. A classic case of 'dead men tell no tales'. Once pointed out this seems a clear conclusion to most folk. We are faced with similar situations, mayhap not so obvious as the above example, but they confront us on a regular basis, and just like the Airforce supremos we are oft to come to the wrong conclusion.

We are hard-wired to think the way of the 'Air force' as a legacy from our ancient past. Imagine you are on the savannah a million years ago and you are confronted by a large predator. What do you do: you have several options; run away; climb a tree; hit animal with a big stick, or ruminate carefully about the situation making sure you have assimilated all the relevant information before making a sound logical decision. It is my contention that our ancestors who picked the first three options were more likely to survive and thus produce progeny than the logical 'egg head'. We have been very much conditioned by this 'flight or fight' reflex, which served us well in evolutionary terms but has less relevance in modern (at least civilised society) where a measured, sound, and logical thinking process is paramount.   

Here is another example, although perhaps a little more subtle than the 'battle damage' scenario. It has been touted, by those who talk about this sort of thing, that a college education is not necessary for success. Just look at the founders of Apple and Microsoft, Steve Joby and Bill Gates (what happened to Paul Allen?). Both these individuals dropped out of college and went on to run multi-billion companies. Let us follow their lead and stride towards success and perhaps a hint of academic ignorance. Unfortunately, this limited data set is not in tune with wide reality. When we look at the stats we see that college graduates subsequently go on to earn more than their less well-educated brethren; achieve more life success in terms of material wealth and this even translates into a happier personal life. This must be true- statistics never lie. Perhaps we should look at the 'life-stories' of those folk who dropped out of higher education without achieving life-success- the so-called 'failures'. The salutary lessons learned from this cohort are more likely to have relevance to our ultimate reality than listening to Bill Gates, and supposed life coaches, droning on about the essential pathway to success. I suspect that Gate's perception of the 'right thing to do' would get a little hazy if we could whisk him back in a time machine to when those critical business decisions were made by himself and the other bloke. This hindsight thingy is wonderful, shame we can't have it when it is simply insight.

The point I'm trying to make in my peculiar and long-winded way is that there is often a good dose of 'luck' in life's proceeding- probably more than we would like to admit and more than we feel comfortable with. What would have happened to a young Kate Moss if she hadn't been discovered in an airport lounge? If she hadn't experienced a random, rare, and chance event would her innate drive and talent have conquered all anyway and propelled her to mega-success? Or would she have ended up as a checkout gel at the local 'MegaSuperSave Mart', everything under a quid, and owned by Mr. Patel-Mugumbo? I'll leave my gentle readers to judge.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Fibonacci Sequence

Okay, enough with this COVID-19, although it looks as if New Zealand, after 6 weeks of lockdown is about to enter status 2 after a moderate run of no new (or few) cases. Well done NZ! Although it is a lot easier for an isolated island country with a small population to control this sort of thing than land connected, populous nations.

Today, I would like to consider, albeit briefly, the 'Fibonacci Sequence'. This mathematical progression is easy to understand even by those with an intense aversion to everything number and mathematics. Tis a sad reality, that most folk avoid mathematics and consider the concepts too hard to learn. Well, it is true that maths ain't the easiest topic to master (no one can master all mathematics) but it is well worth the effort. If you do bother to put forth the effort then you open a whole new and powerful vista that will put you on the solid path to intellectual Nirvana and you might develop into some form of a deity. Enough bollocks, let's tackle the subject in hand.

The sequence is named after the Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci as posited in his 1202 book, 'Liber Abaci'. Fibonacci was not the first to describe this number sequence and it was appreciated by Indian mathematicians at least 2,000 years ago and perhaps as long ago as 450BC.

The Fibonacci sequence in all its formal glory: An unending sequence where each term is defined as the sum of the two preceding numbers. Let us examine a simple case as outlined below.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34,....... on until infinity and perhaps beyond.

Thus, we can represent this sequence with the following mathematical formulae.
Fn=Fn-1 +Fn-2,
Where n is a positive integer greater than 1 (<1); Fn is the n-th Fibonacci number with Fo=0 and F1= 1. Seems simple, doesn't it?

You may consider this sequence as just an interesting number progression of pure theoretical appreciation without any practical consequence. But oddly enough this is not the case, well at least in certain instances. While it is true that great swathes of pure mathematics are pursued for their own intellectual rigour without any practical benefit, in the case of the Fibonacci sequence unexpected results insinuate and reveal some of nature's dark secrets. As an aside, or digression, I wrote a post in a previous incarnation about Professor (not Mugumbo) Andrew Wile's prodigious effort in proving Fermat's last theorem. You can read it here. As I understand the situation, the proof has absolutely no practical use but it has engaged the best mathematical minds for nearly 400 years. Wile's proof is a clear example of pure intellectual endeavour for its own sake. Some may argue that this is a waste of effort for a brilliant mind. Shouldn't Wiles have been directing his prodigious intellect into a useful practical aspiration like the pursuit of world peace, or the production of fusion power? Obviously, opinion is gravely divided on this topic. I am of the opinion that pure 'blue sky' research is worthy of contemplation and effort even if it produces no obvious benefit; to be honest, most research undertaken, in the majority of fields, is practically useless. After all, I spent three years researching dandelions.   

Dandelions: A very underestimated plant, in my opinion

Getting back to topic.   
If we take any two successive Fibonacci sequences, the ratio of these numbers gives a close approximation to the Golden Ratio (Phi= 1.618034....). And indeed, the larger the numbers used in the sequence the closer the approximation. Phi is another example of an irrational number and therefore represents an unending and unyielding sequence......Some folk aver that if Phi is translated into form and dimension then it represents 'ultimate beauty', whatever this may be. Phi has been imbued with almost magical and majestic qualities. Its form has insinuated its way into art and architecture. The great polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci was fascinated with the 'Golden Ratio', which he termed the 'Divine Proportion', and incorporated its geometry into his works of art including the 'Mona Lisa' (or perhaps not- see later discourse).

The council is about to poison the rabbits in our neighbourhood

The Fibonacci sequence is represented in nature, although perhaps not to the degree as claimed by some adherents. Indeed, there are those of a mystical bent who consider the sequence to represent a secret code of the universe implanted by benevolent aliens (how quaint- what happened to anal probing?). Returning to Leonardo and his weighty tome, 'Liber Abaci': here we are introduced to the association of the Fibonacci sequence with the fecundity of one of nature's most prolific breeders, rabbits. He considered the following scenario. Imagine a male and female rabbit, who love each other very much. In a month they produce issue of a single male and a single female. After a month the progeny (incest works- look at Adam and Eve) also produce a litter of a male and female rabbit. This improbable biological sequence continues and after a year we are in receipt of 144 rabbits which, of course, is in accord with the Fibonacci sequence. Another example involves certain aspects of plant growth. Thus, the spiral configuration of leaves, petals, and pine cones in a variety of plant species follow this benign natural rule. Other supposed associations in nature, oft-repeated by scientists and lay folk alike, have been found to be false and totally unfounded. Famously, the coils of the nautilus shell, and other mollusks, have been deemed to follow this esteemed pattern however on close inspection this has turned out to be a complete fiction (bollocks)- there are other examples; too many to enumerate and stark and persistent rationalist rigour/vigour has found these so-called associations, wanting. It seems that our brain has been fine-tuned, over millenia, by the mechanism of natural selection and evolution, to appreciate patterns in nature that are conducive to our primeval survival. We have a natural tendency to 'over- associate' and herein lies the problem. Add a hefty dose of mystical insanity/inanity fictional  'pattern association' becomes unsurprisingly banal and commonplace (tautology reigns-arse).  

This is not a dandelion

It seems that Da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' may not be a cast-iron example of the Fibonacci sequence (and by extension, Phi), but the results are not definitive and consequently subject to much debate by art experts and mathematicians alike. Although it is true that Da Vinci was well aware of the sequence it is not always obvious that he was consciously inserting this mathematical form into his art- we have no written evidence by the man supporting the Phi contention.

Due to 'blogging' constrictions/restrictions, I will have to leave the topic there, hanging like a ripe plum on a plum tree (what else?). However, I do believe this topic is worthy of further attention. A second more elaborate post is in fruition- just waiting for the plum to fall from the tree. 

Not quite ripe, yet