What I’ve been doing

It was gratifying to listen to James Lindsay share his thoughts about the knowledge era we’re leaving, and the one we’re hopefully entering, because it helps me realize a significant aspect of what I’ve been doing.

He said the past era was “knowledge feudalism.” The Enlightenment, beginning in the 17th century, gave us liberation of economy and movement, through the concepts of private property, and free enterprise, but it didn’t actually give us a marketplace of ideas. I hadn’t thought of the past era as “knowledge feudalism,” but looking back at it, he’s right. So much of what we think we know flows from schools of thought that have been established institutions, both (for people like me) in the U.S. and abroad. There have been independent thinkers in the midst of this, but they have been ignored by our society. Lindsay puts the blame for this squarely with our institutions of knowledge.

The potential of the internet has been known since its inception by its creators, but it’s only now being realized by a wider populace. What’s fighting against that potential is the same institutions from which we’ve drawn our knowledge, with the help of traditional media, and social media, because they recognize that the control of the base of knowledge is the key to their power. I’m sure they excuse this effort to reassert control as being for our benefit; that the marketplace of ideas can’t actually exist, because if it did, it would only prefer the lowest common denominator. Our institutions must maintain control, or else we will have disaster. Well, recent history has proven that faith false, with a calamity of disastrous proportions. Our institutions won’t acknowledge or talk about this calamity, instead creating normalizing rationales for it. To do otherwise would buy in to the chaos to institutions that they fear. Their denial leaves the populace to a chaos that we are expected to accept as normal.

Lindsay discussed the book, “The Death of Expertise,” by Thomas Nichols. I like what Lindsay says about expertise, that we shouldn’t just cast it aside, but in the future, we should regard experts as consultants, not gurus, not masters of knowledge, where we just blindly follow what they say. Thomas Sowell introduced me to a phrase in his book, “Intellectuals and Society,”

Experts on tap, not on top.

The liberated future Lindsay outlined is not assured. He described a move by our institutions to maintain their feudal control under a new configuration, adapted to the hi-tech system to which most of us have become accustomed. It’s a future where much more is controlled than before, not just developed, established knowledge, but also less developed knowledge: the new, unconventional; people’s thoughts and communications. The reason for this is less developed knowledge has gained more power because of the internet. This is what’s being called “disinformation.” Our institutions do not want it to become more developed, established knowledge, however that may happen, because that challenges their power.

When I started this blog, I was, in a way, challenging the conventional, established knowledge about computing, but I didn’t see it as challenging institutional power. I really thought of it as an internecine challenge, using knowledge that was institutional, because it was developed through institutions of higher learning, despite harboring original thinkers and doers, but which had historically been ignored, with few exceptions. I thought I was just volunteering to be part of reviving some of that knowledge, which had laid dormant.

I think the reason I put myself in this category is while I’ve thought about returning to the institutional educational environment for many years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the idea, because of what I see that category of institutions doing to themselves. This is why I’ve spent a fair portion of my blog, of late, discussing this subject. I’ve heard of exceptional cases, where academics say, “I don’t see the described corruption going on here.” (For those who don’t understand the reference, I encourage them to listen to Heather Mac Donald for a while.) The truth is they just haven’t been hit with it yet. Very few institutions are actually insulated.

I don’t see the concept of institutions as a problem. We need them in order to maintain civilization, but I see that institutions have a “habit” of preferring the configuration which they have developed for themselves. They’re not so easily moved by societal demands. Perhaps that’s appropriate to their telos. A certain rigidity can be important to an institution’s integrity. What I see with so many, though, is despite their proselytizing for “change,” “justice,” even “revolution,” they don’t want that for themselves. Perhaps the saying, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” applies.

As Lindsay described, this pose is a tactic, not a genuine moral cause.

There have been a few astute observers who have pointed out that the period of history we’re entering will have many parallels to a much earlier period called The Thirty Years War (1618-1648). This is because the conflicts are about the same thing: Control of information, and the grand narrative. What triggered the last conflict was the printing press, invented in 1444.

This didn’t happen right away. As I’ve talked about before, the first use of the press was to ease the task of copying bibles for the clergy. Two-hundred years later, people started to realize it wasn’t just good for copying valued texts, but for promoting discussion of ideas.

What was required first was literacy. This was accomplished through the Protestant Reformation, beginning in the 16th century. Since the idea in Protestantism was that people were to have a direct relationship with God, unfiltered by the Roman Catholic priesthood, they had to be able to read the Bible. This allowed other ideas besides religion to be discussed in a way that was detailed, and which went beyond what could be accomplished with oral traditions. This led ultimately to the development of science, the formation of republics, including the United States, and the toppling of most monarchies.

We are entering a period that is just as contentious. I cannot predict with certainty how it will turn out. One thing I will say is the internet is not the only technology that will influence what our politics will look like. I’ve talked about another in past posts on this blog, but that won’t be realized until there’s a serious re-examination of education, considering how the outlook of science, with the use of computers, can benefit future society.

A history of the Voyager mission

It’s rare to find an amateur documentarian that’s really good. I think this is one of those cases. I was really interested watching “NASA’s Voyager Mission,” by Jackson Tyler (his YouTube channel is “Homemade Documentaries”).

I grew up with Voyager’s mission, from the time when I was 7 years old. I was 9 when Voyagers 1 and 2 reached Jupiter. I was about 19 when Voyager 2 visited Neptune. What I missed was the beginning of the mission. I was too young to keep track of it. I missed the launch of the two probes. So, what’s nice is this documentary covers the beginning, and intimate details of the Grand Tour. It also covers the backstory of when Voyager was planned, in the mid-1960s, who inspired it, and the decisions that were made during the mission’s planning. A surprising thing was the first proposal was just to send these probes to Jupiter and Saturn. A few had the idea to send them to Uranus and Neptune, as well, but they had to fight to get them included in the mission plan.

Something that I found really nice was Tyler went back in history to other scientific observations of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, briefly comparing them to what was found through Voyager, and the Cassini probe, giving a sense of the  progress in planetary science over the centuries.

Even though I am familiar with what these probes got during the mission, this documentary adds more to what I knew. So, enjoy the feast! Prepare for a long ride, too. It’s 2 hours, 45 minutes.

The Dialectical Faith of Leftism

My orientation with this blog has been to try to keep it focused on the best knowledge I can find, in some specific areas, and not tread too heavily into politics, but given events that have transpired, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t address this subject directly, because I think there is a lack of recognition about what is impacting our society, and its implications. Secondly, a certain political faction, what I’ll generally call “the Left,” in our society has insisted upon infiltrating every activity in society, and this has affected the telos of things.

For many years I have seen that there is a lack of recognition that the Left, while denying they are bringing religion into politics, are, nevertheless, acting in a faithful way in our politics, and are bringing their faith directly into government policy that is implemented. This is a direct affront to our First Amendment, which says that we do not allow the establishment of an official state religion.

This is not to say that people shouldn’t be free to practice their faith, but we must not allow a single faith to become official government policy, since it creates critical impositions on people of different faiths; among those impostions, denying people of those other faiths the opportunity to influence government policy in a secular mode.

When I’ve tried to tease out what the god of this faith is, my own conclusion has been that it’s material equality.

James Lindsay lays out his case in the following video that the political Left in our society is a religious faith of its own sort. He lays out his case about why he thinks it is a religion, and he explains his theory of how it works. In short, he explains that the god of this religion, contrary to the view I’ve held, is the perfected man.

He explains what he means by the dialectic: We have flawed ideas about some absolute truth. We try them out in practice, and through the contradiction of that experience, we reach a new synthesis, which through a kind of notional alchemical process, is “lifted up” as a “new idea,” which creates the ground for a new practice to try the process again. There is a notion in the dialectic of it eventually ending; when society has worked out all contradictions between theory and practice, and the end goal of equality and lack of conflict have been achieved.

He says that the central tenet of this faith is that by criticizing all that exists against an absolute that it holds to be true, through the dialectical process, that a good society will eventually be reached–the end of history, an ideal end to the process. If you’ve heard the phrase, “The right side of history,” and, “The end of history,” this is an expression of this belief.

The idea of transformation is central to this belief system; transforming oneself, transforming society.

As a consequence, however, experiment doesn’t cause the faithful to conclude that their belief in their absolute (a state of society in which all inequality and conflict is gone) is wrong. Rather, they think the practice–what they tried to get there–was wrong. If you’ve listened to the Left long enough over the years, you’ve surely heard the phrase, “Communism has never been tried.” That is this belief in the dialectic in action.

He further explained that the terms of the faith change over time, because the faithful believe that it should change through the same dialectical process, and he laid out how it’s changed through history.

He’s explaining this in a Christian church, and he occasionally brings up the religious term “heresy” to explain how the dialectic is in direct opposition to the Christian view of the world.

Lindsay is, last I checked, an atheist, but he came to realize that the influence of this dialectical faith has been infiltrating into the Christian church, and that while he is not personally invested in the Christian faith, he nevertheless values its existence in our society, and has sought to staunch this infiltration into the Christian sphere of influence.

I take Lindsay at his word that he has studied this sufficiently to be able to explain himself (mostly) with clarity, as I have watched him over several years explain what he has come to know about the thinking and intentions of the political Left, over the course of more than a century.

This thinking, this faith, and these intentions are very much in our face now, and I think it’s important that we recognize what it is, and address it appropriately.

Related articles:

A vision of hypermedia for all

I liked this presentation by Justin Falcone a lot, because he sees pretty well something that’s needed. It’s from CSSConf in Australia from 2017. He based his presentation on a product that’s been defunct for many years, called Hypercard, and argued that we should be recreating something like it for the internet. He very accurately talked about the reasons that technologists should be creating it, as well. Now that a broad base of the world’s population has been exposed to the internet, and has gotten some feel for it, there’s a need for personal media of our own that can be shared.

Hypercard was one of Apple’s best products in the 1980s and ’90s, but it was poorly supported by the company, and it became unpopular enough with users that it was cancelled in the late 1990s. It represented an approachable form of personal media that only existed on Macintosh computers, and what could be passed around on floppy disks, or possibly online, through file transfers of card stacks. It’s too bad that no one had the idea to create something like it for the internet, because aside from adding TCP/IP, Hypercard was ready-made for it. It had links in the 1980s. They were just links to other cards in the same stack of cards, not to other stacks.

The idea was that you had screens that were called “cards,” and cards were stored in a collection called a “stack,” a “stack of cards.” With that in place, it was possible to build relationships between cards in the stack using events you could set up, such as clicking on a button or link, or if some programmatic thing happened on a card. It also had some ability to animate objects on the same screen.

Hypercard was approachable, because it presented a reasonably simple interface, where you could just start putting text on the screen, and put in some graphics, insert links and events as you like. It had a programming language that looked rather English-like, which the user could access, as needed. Hypercard could insert code for you, for certain actions, such as clicking on something, but certain things required the user’s intervention, such as if you wanted to have something happen in a loop.

As Falcone said, it made active, dynamic media creation in the digital world something that ordinary people could learn how to do. We could use it today.

Related articles:

The computer as medium

Getting beyond paper and linear media

This is one of a series of “bread crumb” articles I’ve written. To see more like this, go to the Bread Crumbs page.

The sickness in our universities

This has been talked about, and written about for several years by various academics who value higher education for its purpose of passing on to the next generation the essences of our culture, and the gems of our civilization. I could put a list of names here, but I won’t. I was inspired to write this post from an interview Dinesh D’Souza had with Mark Bauerlein on his latest book, “The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: Woke, Entitled, and Drunk with Power”:

https://rumble.com/vw9gp1-vladimir-the-terrible-dinesh-dsouza-podcast-ep281.html (go to 22:12 on the video timeline).

Contrary to how I’m leading into this, my purpose is not to condemn a whole generation of people. What interested me in the interview is Bauerlein described what it’s been like inside his academic milieu, which I’m sure many other academics will find familiar. What he described is a culture of cowardice that’s a pushover for a small number of faculty and students who bully the rest of the faculty into compliance with their social orthodoxy.

What I’ve seen over the years is how this dysfunctional, anti-academic culture has spread. It started in the Ivy League schools, and is now commonplace in many academic institutions across the West.

Something that Heather Mac Donald has encountered when she’s tried to warn academics of this spreading culture is there are some institutions it hasn’t touched. The academics in these places are blithely unaware that it even exists, and seem doubtful that they will be affected by it. What she’s pointed out is this attitude is misguided and dangerous, because this was a common attitude in the institutions where it spread, and took over. No one suspected the existence of this corrosive culture, nor its potential to so devastatingly impact the functioning of a university. I do not speak of its financial health, though that is a potential problem from this. What I’m talking about is its ability to educate students, not just handing out diplomas for a large fee.

What also interested me about the interview with Bauerlein is he talked a bit about the history of “how we got here.” It’s one part guilt for our society’s past sins, and one part lack of confidence in the validity of truth and principle. He spoke about how academics “don’t want to be judgmental,” and don’t want to believe in anything “too much.” It reminded me a lot of a complaint from Professor Allan Bloom in his book, “The Closing of the American Mind, where he wrote in the 1980s that his students thought it bizarre and a bit dangerous to be committed to principles, and to the belief in the existence of an objective truth. He said their attitude was like if they asked you if you believed in witches (as in really believing they have supernatural powers). To them, all truth was relative. Bauerlein spoke to this, saying that when this is the operative assumption, as it is in many academic institutions, then the only thing left is pursuit of power, and all social interactions become about power moves, and social status; taking institutional power for oneself, and one’s allies, and maintaining it. When that’s all anyone cares about, the mission of education is sacrificed in favor of producing ideological missionaries.

Related articles:

The result of capitalizing on peak envy

Our political pathology and its consequences

Trying to arrive at clarity on the state of higher education

On the necessity of a proper respect for the irrational in the pursuit of truth

I’m featuring a video by Dr. Steve Turley, because I think this is an important point. He discusses what I would call moral education, which I have also concluded is missing from education. The video is from Apr. 11, 2017. He uses the uproar at the University of Missouri (“Mizzou”) as the lead-in to this topic.

We need education in how to reason, and to understand what knowledge is. We need education in how to categorize modes of thought, and to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each. We also need education in what is good and what isn’t, by which I mean, broadly, to understand that there is such a thing as better and worse, not only for oneself, but for the society in which we exist, and that it is moral and ethical to prefer the better, even though there will always be negative consequences for some as a result of doing so (in modern terms, we’d roughly call this a “cost/benefit analysis”). It should also be pointed out that we in the West have been learning about that which is better. It’s not a static thing. We’ve learned that in order to learn what is better, we need to venture beyond that which we think is good, to try new things, and see whether they add to our betterment, or not.

What’s come into challenge in the last 15 years is the very ideal of betterment itself; the pursuit of truth. I think Turley’s point regarding “the ordering of our loves” is profound here.

Where I would say we especially need education, in this regard, is where the perception of what benefits us comes in conflict with what someone else believes benefits them, or what we believe benefits society. How do we choose who has the better claim? Who will get the prerogative to act on it, and who must demur? Society has a claim on moral virtue, if it is going to survive, but who speaks for it other than a collective, common understanding of some virtues? The common virtues I speak of for our society are things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, equal protection under the law, equal rights, etc. At times, I’ve called these virtues a meta-morality. They are not part of how we conduct our daily lives, person to person, but we appeal to them when making societal decisions. Even these common virtues have come into challenge in what is taught in our schools. Thereby, their perceived value to our society has been diminished, precisely because they have a moral foundation.

These virtues are not givens. People knowledgeable in history know this.

What’s becoming increasingly clear to me is that what we regard as empirical and philosophical knowledge has a moral basis for its practice, which is the pursuit of truth. The pursuit of truth is in itself a moral claim to virtuous action, precisely because even it has negative consequences for those who do not pursue truth, and see little value in it. It is a deliberate choice that accepts this reality, and prefers it over the historical alternatives, which have resulted in a lower quality of life, a lack of dignity for the vast majority of people, for most of our tragic human history.

I’ll note that with truth also comes beauty, something we also value. I don’t speak just of physical beauty. It also manifests in how we express ourselves, how we act with others, and what we contribute. It’s important, as it nourishes what we would otherwise call “the soul of humanity.”

I’m reminded that the mathematician Jerry King pointed out that many of the most beautiful mathematical truths have also turned out to be useful in science and engineering. So, beauty is not entirely frivolous, as we are tempted to think.

Truth and beauty can be taken to excess. As Aristotle said, any virtue taken to excess becomes a vice. In a healthy moral system, its virtues check each other, hemming in excess.

The benefits of the pursuit of truth are things that our society has taken for granted, but which are now being highlighted by the increasing power of postmodern thought in our education system, and increasingly in our politics, and the policies under which we live.

Turley has brought up repeatedly how in the late 19th century, American universities stopped teaching moral virtues as part of the curriculum, and just focused on empiricism as the basis of knowledge. One might wonder if this started then, why didn’t what we see now in our social state emerge much earlier. My guess is that what made up for it, and may have allowed schools to take this turn without a more obvious impact, is that Americans were still mostly engaged with organized religions, in whatever belief system they chose, and so their religious leadership gave them a moral education that schools no longer provided. Perhaps people became convinced moral education would be safe there. I think we see now this is not the case, as organized religious practice, particularly the Christian variety, has been on the decline in the United States in the last 15, or so, years, and has been in decline in Western Europe for even longer.

The fact is science cannot answer the question of how we should relate to each other. It cannot tell us what is better. It can inform us in making that determination, but it can’t tell us who is more worthy to live or die; who should live free, and who should be punished for violating our society’s standard of peaceful coexistence. It cannot answer what that standard should be. Yet, all of this is of critical importance. Without moral and ethical standards of good quality, we are prey to standards that are slipshod, short-sighted, and which end up degrading our quality of life, and the life of our society. The reason being it’s impossible for humans to act on the basic things that sustain our lives without having a belief system. It’s a fool’s bargain to neglect teaching quality moralities and ethics to the next generation, believing that science can substitute for them. One reason we have tried to substitute one for the other is the basis for these quality belief systems–the theological stories that give rise to them–have problems when looked at under the lens of our society’s analytical tools, or these belief systems cause some negative consequences in society. We’ve seen disappointing, and what are to us horrifying consequences when people have followed religious practices that are of poor quality, or if they’ve followed perverted versions of our society’s religious traditions. What’s beginning to be apparent, though, is when we neglect teaching quality moralities in our society, we undermine the very basis for preferring our analytical tools for determining what’s better. Without a quality moral/ethical foundation, why even pursue truth, when we can imagine that we can create our own world out of whole cloth with our desires (which ends up degrading quality of life)? 

Science doesn’t allow for that way of thinking, but if people see science as a limiting method, rather than a liberating one–when “moral truth is relative,” and our potential is seen as stifled; tricked away from us by our traditions–why use science to inform us about anything? Or, why shouldn’t science only be used as a voice of authority for a moralizing movement of our choosing–a ruse?

For a pursuit of truth to exist, it must first have a moral/ethical foundation that values it, the sense that truth is right, good, and elevates and liberates humanity, by virtue of the fact that it works relatively well for the societies that base themselves on it, and gives people a dignity for which they can strive, and which they can deserve.

The phrase “pursuit of truth” implies a kind of relativism, because it states that the truth is not perfectly known. What we should have in a pluralistic society is multiple moralities contending against each other in discussion and debate, because, since the truth is not known–though it is assumed as an absolute, with reason, to exist–different moralities are going to have some better ideas for addressing it than others, and people can reformulate what moralities they want to follow, based on their judgment of which ideas are better for them. However, what we used to do was make modifications to long-standing traditions, as some among us explored their own moralities. That practice had value. What’s been done recently is to throw out moral traditions entirely, sometimes keeping their names, but throwing out their substance. This came partly from our exercise of rational thought, and partly because we saw the traditions as power plays upon us, which limited our potential.

Throwing out religious traditions doesn’t mean our proclivity to believe in myths ends. What’s happened instead is new, irrational moral paralogies, as James Lindsay has called them, have arisen, seemingly formulated out of whole cloth, but which have roots in political traditions. They do not offer the kind of personal or societal life that traditional religions and philosophies teach. People may believe that these pseudo-religions offer a better life, but from what I’m seeing, they do not. However, that is up to each individual to judge.

Circling back to what I said about the need for a moral education, I don’t mean to suggest it must return to schools. My real intent with this is to appeal to our desire for a better life, and a better future for the next generation. We need to have a discussion in our society about how this should be carried out.

A point that I think needs to be made in our present circumstance is that since we need a moral basis for the pursuit of truth, I think we need to talk to those who would discourage the practice of various traditional religions–because of their failure when subjected to some rational analysis–to point out that what they’re doing is destructive to their own goals. They are undermining the basis for pursuing truth, and as I think we’re seeing, that leads to a growing chaos.

A thought that’s I’m sure disquieting to proponents of rationalism is that our betterment through rational means rests on an irrational foundation. We’ve mistakenly believed that we can toss aside our traditional irrational foundation, and substitute a rationally-derived orthodoxy in its place, because of our desire to be consistent. Along with that, we’ve brought in a worship of what rational thought, we think, has given us entirely on its own. Given human nature, though, this is really asking to have our cake, and eat it, too. While it has seemed to us that giving space to the irrational destroys the benefits of what rational modes of thought give us, actually, shunning, and discrediting certain traditions that have irrational bases creates the environment for lower irrational beliefs to take their place. By doing this, we are in fact embracing a contradiction to our nature. We pride ourselves on our consistency of thought for doing this, but neglect that we are acting in denial to what’s really going on, and what is required to maintain, and advance our society. Indeed, as we have been watching play out in our society for years, rationality can undermine its own foundation.

If anyone brings up the importance of a belief in a deity, our intelligentsia mocks them for having “imaginary friends.” Well, let me address that. I will not assert here that deities do or do not exist, but looking at it from a standpoint I find very useful for regarding such matters, there are such things as important notional inventions that we are neglecting here. Take our notion of time, for example. Yes, we notice that there is a progression of change. Nothing stays the same. To help us deal with this, and measure this change, humans invented a notion of time, but this is our formal idea of change. That notion is not objectively real, but could our society survive if we completely eliminated this idea, because of this? No, it could not. I contend that people’s religious traditions are in a similar category. We take those away, and disrespect them, at our peril. People need moral guidance from traditions that have been instrumental in furthering our civilization. We are not born with that guidance, and a secular “going through the motions” of passing on the religiously-derived notions of right and wrong (by the way!) falls to pieces on critical analysis, because, “Why do any of it?… Why should I care how other people feel, or think about what I do, or whether what I do makes them suffer? What if my desires are the most important to me, or if it’s my identity, and everything I think that’s owed? What if that’s all there is to it? What if I don’t care who judges me?”

If you listen to Scott Adams, and what he describes regarding human cognition and psychology, this will become clearer. If you look around you at the irrational moral claims that dominate our popular discussion now, you can see that nothing about our human nature has changed by quashing our religious traditions, and the moral lessons they convey.

Qualitative differences in morality matter. They make a difference in our quality of life. Making sense requires the pursuit of truth. This requires moral imperatives that value that pursuit, and motivate people toward it. This requires acknowledging and accepting that our irrational nature exists, and must be accommodated, but also kept under some control. That’s where the pursuit of truth becomes essential. It is a tool for keeping our irrational nature from going “off road” to such an extent that it ruins us.

What’s grown up in place of our displaced foundation is an irrational discourse that does not value the pursuit of truth. It behooves us to realize this, to understand what we are losing, and that our future does not have to follow linearly from our present.

Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.

–John Adams, letter to Zabdiel Adams (21 June 1776)

Edit 11/27/2021: Jordan Peterson (in 2017) gave a good summation of one part of my argument here. It’s fair to say his presentation was an inspiration for me to write this post.

The psychology of totalitarianism

I happened to find the linked video below, with Prof. Mattias Desmet, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, discussing this matter with Dr. Reiner Fuellmich, an attorney, and Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, an internist, pulmonologist, and social medicine specialist, at the Corona Foundation Committee (Stiftung Corona Ausschuss), from August 2021. It struck me as an important discussion, as it gets to the roots of totalitarian political systems that we all need to be aware of.

Edit 8/3/2022: I encourage people to read an addendum I’ve written to this post, dated the same as this edit. I’m leaving this post here, but I’ve changed my mind about it.

See video at this link:

Prof. Mattias Desmet – The Psychology of Totalitarianism

The following are my notes from this video.

Desmet talked about four mass psychological factors that can become present in society, which promote “mass formation,” as he called it, for a totalitarian political system:

  • Social isolation/lack of social bonds among the mass population
  • A lack of sense-making in the mass population
  • Many people experiencing a lot of free-floating anxiety
  • A lot of free-floating psychological discontent in the population

By “free-floating” he means a sense of “I’m anxious, or I’m feeling angry/depressed/disappointed in life, but I don’t know why.”

He cited as evidence for this (my guess is he was referring to Germany) the amount of antidepressants that were being taken by the population 2-3 years ago, hundreds of millions of doses.

He put emphasis on the fact that free-floating anxiety is the most painful psychological condition a person can experience.

He then discussed the triggers that can move this mass phenomenon toward totalitarianism:

  • First, mass media in the society provides a “story” (a notion of a sequence of events) that describes an object of anxiety, and at the same time puts forward a convincing strategy for dealing with this anxiety-causing phenomenon. This causes the free-floating anxiety being experienced by the mass population to become defined in the object that is put before them. Now their anxiety is no longer seen as free-floating. It seems to have a cause. People are then willing to implement the strategy they’re given to deal with this object, in an attempt to relieve themselves of the anxiety they’ve been feeling, no matter what the cost.
  • Second, masses of people engage in what they see as an epic battle with this object of anxiety. This causes a new kind of social bond to emerge between these people who had been socially isolated. Along with that, they collectively find a new kind of sense-making for themselves. It is not rigorous. It is not that rational, but it gives them a sense of making sense of the world they experience. Their life is then directed at battling the object of anxiety. It is through this that they find social connections with other people who are engaged in the same sense of fighting against this object. There is a dramatic flip from social isolation to a massive social connection, through this sense of fighting a war against the cause of their collective anxiety. This then leads to what he described as “mental intoxication,” which is equal to mass hypnosis.

Mass formation is a form of hypnosis

Once this happens, it doesn’t matter whether the story that this population has been given can be rationally, scientifically torn to pieces. What matters is their social connection, which led them to this mental intoxication. They will continue to conduct themselves as if the story is true, no matter what. The reason is they will do anything to avoid going back (this is their fear) to their prior state of free-floating anxiety, where it had no definition, identity, or discernable source, and their previous social isolation. They fear that if they accept anything counter to what brought them out of their prior state, they will go back to their prior state. The motive is as simple as pleasure over pain. Searching for truth is irrelevant.

So, Desmet said, the crucial matter is acknowledging this painful state of anxiety, and then searching for how we got into this state of social isolation, lack of social bond, and lack of sense-making, which led to free-floating anxiety, and massive psychological discontent.

He crystalized this mass social phenomenon as a symptomatic solution to what’s a very real psychological problem.

It’s his contention (and I am sympathetic to this POV) that the sense of crisis over Covid-19 is really much more of a societal and psychological crisis than a biological one.

He said that the mental intoxication that’s experienced leads to a narrowing of attention, to only pay attention to what the story they’ve been given tells them is important. This explains why these people only see the harm done by Covid-19, and are oblivious to the collateral damage done by the lockdowns. They are also unable to feel empathy for the victims of the lockdowns. He emphasized this is not from selfishness, but from the effects of this intoxication, the “mass formation,” as he’s termed it.

He said this effect is so powerful, it so focuses their attention, that you can diminish their physical well-being, and they won’t notice it. This goes back to what he said about how it’s a kind of hypnosis. People who are hypnotized can be injured, and be oblivious to the pain.

  • A third action that takes place in mass formation is the population at large becomes intolerant of dissonant voices (dissent). I imagine this is because it’s seen as interfering with the sense of social connection, and the intoxication it produces. Again, the people in the throes of this mass phenomenon do this, because they fear going back to their prior state of free-floating anxiety, and social disconnection.

He indicated that mass formation is not widely known among psychologists. They are not aware of it, and so they are not aware of it happening in their world today.

Desmet was asked by Fuellmich what characterizes the totalitarian leaders, “What kind of person does this?”

Desmet said:

  • They don’t have the same kind of mentality as common criminals, even though their ideology is criminal. They know how to follow their society’s social rules.
  • When they are in power, they make up their own rules for the society, and follow them.
  • They are true believers in their ideologies, and they believe they are creating a paradise.
  • They feel like it’s acceptable to sacrifice a portion of their own population to realize their paradise.

Two books he recommended people read are by Hannah Arendt:

He said that from what’s been observed of such “mass formation” events, it’s impossible to wake up masses of people who are under the influence of it, unless by some catastrophic event. However, he also said free speech is extremely important for tamping down the severity of the crimes committed under these conditions,

You can make the hypnosis less deep by continuing to talk, and that’s what we all have to do.

Dr. Justus Hoffmann, an attorney, made the point that what makes totalitarian regimes so attractive in the short term is that totalitarians create very orderly societies. He said this makes it difficult to talk to people about the danger of such a regime, because they say, “Look, there’s no chaos. … We still have rule of law. Everything’s fine.” Such regimes have a very strict rule of law. He contended they create more law, more agencies, more policing, etc.

Desmet disagreed, saying that there’s a distinction. Totalitarians do not enforce law, they impose rules, and they’re rules that they make up from moment to moment. There is no consistency in either the rules, nor in how they are created.

Desmet talked about a typical distribution with the mass phenomenon: Thirty percent of the population are taken with the story that explains their sense of anxiety, and they create an atmosphere of fear around contradicting that story. Another 40% quietly do not accept the story, but are too afraid to publicly contradict it. There’s another 25-30% who do not accept the story, and speak out.

There was some speculation about what kind of people were resistant to mass formation/the totalitarian drive, and those who are most amenable to it. Desmet seemed more sure about the people who are most likely to join in the mass formation; that they are people who believe they are doing everything to help “the others” (probably society).

Everything is done out of a sense of citizenship. They do it all for the [collective], for the community. They’re convinced of that. That’s also what Hitler said, “I expect of every German that he sacrifices his life without hesitation,” he said, “for the German people.” … That is what Stalin said [as well].

Fuellmich pointed out that it’s been his experience that people who have less formal education, but work a trade, are very educated on weighty issues, and are far more open to having discussions about them than are academics. Desmet responded that Gustav Le Bon saw this in the 19th century, that the higher degree of education you have, the more susceptible you are to mass formation. Viviane Fischer, an attorney, asked why that is. Desmet said that it comes down to what is seen as the purpose of education: Whether it’s an exercise in learning to think for yourself, or whether it’s to convince you to think about everybody else, before yourself. Wodarg added, “You learn to obey.”

They got back to the question of, “What do we do about this?” Desmet threw another activity on the table: Humor is important to “breaking the spell” of mass formation. He said that mass formation relies upon everyone recognizing one authority. The more that someone gives authority to a figure, the more susceptible they are to being hypnotized by that figure. He said it’s important for the humor to be gentle and polite. If it’s too aggressive, it arouses the aggression of the masses. This kind of gentle, polite humor is a good antidote to mass formation, because it subtly delegitimizes the authority without arousing the aggressive response from the masses.

Desmet came back to the topic of cause, though, saying that even if many people come out of their hypnosis in the current sense of crisis, they will fall prey to some other sense of crisis in the future, and go right back into this behavior of mass formation, because what causes this behavior is their sense of anxiousness, disappointment in life, lack of social connection, and lack of sense-making.

He said it’s his educated opinion that a root cause is our culture’s materialistic, mechanistic view of ourselves that causes destruction of our social structures; of social connection, and the feeling in ourselves that “life makes sense.” If you hold the belief that you are just a machine, then by definition, this implies that life is senseless. He asks, what’s the sense of a life that is reduced to just a little part of the larger machine of the Universe? If that’s all we are, then one can reasonably ask what is the point of having meaningful social relations? You don’t have to follow ethical principles, because “the machine” governs what happens and doesn’t happen. There is no right or wrong way for anything to happen. It just is, and will be. This concept destroys one’s “psychological energy,” as he put it, one’s sense of social connectedness, and you end up in this free-floating anxiety he’s talked about.

Wodarg added that in this concept of being “a small piece in the bigger machine,” you also get this sense that you’re a burden for the machine, “It doesn’t need you.” He said the healthier materialist concept is that “You are ‘the machine’. You’re a wonder.” You are not a small cog in the larger mechanism. You are the universe that’s worth something.

Fischer prompted Desmet to take the long view, that the 40% “silent majority” will eventually “run the other way” from this totalitarianism, because a constant in history is that totalitarianism is always self-destructive. The 30% that are hypnotized will never snap out of their delusion, no matter how much destruction happens as the result of their actions and decisions.

Fischer asked whether any sort of positive reward bestowed by the authority on the compliant was necessary to get people to buy in to the totalitarianism. Desmet said that Le Bon observed that the masses prefer harsh and strict leaders who are cruel to their own people. I’m not sure what he meant by “harsh and cruel,” because it hasn’t been my experience that the majority prefers what I think “harsh and cruel” means.

Fischer noted at the end of their discussion that they were livestreaming on a bunch of video services, including YouTube, but that YouTube took down its livestream. That says a lot about them, doesn’t it?…

I’ll end with a nice summary of Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago,” which covers a couple of the same points:

Edit 10/13/2021: Dr. Peter McCullough, who has been treating Covid patients, has been observing what Dr. Desmet describes, with fellow doctors, and other professionals. He calls it a “trance.” I encourage you to listen to what he says starting at 1:10:00 in the following video, because he illustrated what Desmet was talking about:

Vaccination—Concerns, Challenges, and Questions Dr Peter McCullough

The rest of the video is worth watching, as well, but it’s solely on the data relating to Covid treatment, and what therapies have been shown to work.

Edit 1/2/2022: Dr. Robert Malone has come to understand this explicitly. I’m including what he had to say here, as he talks about some promising avenues for breaking the hypnosis. In short, make people aware that there are larger problems than Covid afoot. Sometimes, this happens on its own, as the totalitarianism hits people where they live.

Dr. Robert Malone says billions hypnotized like Germany in WW II

Edit 8/3/2022: It’s not often that I feel like I’ve stepped in it with what I’ve posted on my blog, but I think this is one such case. Take a listen to this podcast with Dr. Peter Breggin, who rips Desmet’s concept of mass formation to shreds. To cut to the chase, advance the slider to 21 mins. The first twenty minutes has Breggin discussing some of his life and background.

Special Solari Report: Mass Formation: A Decoy for Digital Concentration Camps with Dr. Peter Breggin

At first, I couldn’t understand the disdain that both Catherine Fitts and Breggin expressed for Desmet in this interview, and his notion of mass formation, but I think I came to understand it as I listened to them criticize the book he wrote on this concept, “The Psychology of Totalitarianism.” They were not contradicting the idea that something devastatingly destructive to advanced societies around the world is happening. What they objected to was first, that the ideas about how that’s coming about don’t make any sense, and second, that Desmet’s view of common people is insulting.

I must admit I haven’t read Desmet’s book. All I went on when I posted this was the conference call I linked to at the top of this post, and a few podcasts where he was interviewed. What Fitts and Breggin talked about in the book sounded quite different to me from what I heard him talk about in the call. The only commonality I found between that and his book was how he talked about a mass hypnosis, and how that occurs.

Desmet didn’t put a heavy burden of responsibility on the totalitarian leaders, though. When other parties on the call asked about a “conspiracy” to create a totalitarian society, Desmet sort of waved that away, saying there were some actions that we can see are intentional in that direction, but there are some factors that are effectively “accidental,” that “just happen” in a favorable social environment. According to Fitts and Breggin, Desmet is adamantly against the idea of a conspiracy to create a totalitarian society in his book, saying that any such notions are just a coping mechanism used by intellectuals to assuage their “needs” in the face of the alarming things they’re seeing. In the view of Fitts and Breggin, the moves toward a totalitarian society we are seeing are being strongly forced. There is nothing “natural” about this.

Where the book really differs from what I heard in the call was it seems to say that totalitarian leaders bear no responsibility for the society they create, that they’re just responding to the demand for totalitarian leadership from the masses, which have fallen into their deranged state through circumstances beyond their control. Fitts and Breggin also said the book takes a very dim view of “the masses,” saying they’re effectively “useless.” If this is indeed what the book says (Fitts and Breggin make in my mind a compelling case that it does), they are views that I cannot endorse on an ethical level, and they surprise me. I didn’t pick up any hints of this in Desmet’s call with the other participants.

The only part of the discussion with Breggin where I felt like I differed with him was where he said that Desmet had a self-contradicting notion in mass formation, talking about how the hypnotized masses “all move together in formation.” He said it would be very difficult for them to do so, “since they’re all isolated.” In the call, Desmet talked about a process through time, and at least what I took from it was that first, masses of people are isolated, but eventually they come out of that isolation. After they’ve been “hypnotized” through consistent messaging through mass media, the “hypnotized” find each other, and experience the exaltation of finding people with the same previous mental malady of “free-floating anxiety,” and which now have a common enemy, which they think has caused their anxiety. So, Breggin’s notion that “they just stay isolated” doesn’t make sense to me, but perhaps this is how it’s expressed in the book.

Breggin gave Desmet a little credit, saying there were behaviors he identified in his notion of mass formation that are real, but he said where Desmet goes wrong is he attributes them to things that have no basis. For example, he said that where Desmet and others see “hypnosis” is actually the result of a deliberate process of mental entrainment, which cognitively is a different process.

At about an hour into the interview, Fitts and Breggin talked about what they thought from their experience was a more realistic explanation for what we’ve seen, which is that there really are psychopaths in the world that organize themselves politically, grab power, and want to control large masses of people. In the process, they cause great harm. We’ve seen that in history, and that’s what we’re experiencing right now, not just in one or a few countries, but many countries around the world.

They made reference to a couple books as backgrounders for their discussion about Desmet and his book. One is by Peter Breggin and his wife, Ginger, “Covid-19 and the Global Predators: We Are The Prey,” and, “Political Ponerology,” by Andrew M. Lobaczewski. Both are by authors who have sought to understand what creates totalitarian societies, and what constitutes it. My interest in posting this article in the first place was about helping people understand this. So, I hope what I’ve said generates further interest in this subject, because it is a critical one to understand.

Something I’ll make a note about here re. the discussion between Fitts and Breggin is that I think a lot of people will likely feel uncomfortable with a particular feature of their discussion, which is their use of the word “they” a lot, without identifying who they’re talking about. This is a very amorphous concept that most of us are not accustomed to, and many are suspicious of, particularly among the more rational, because, “What’s the difference between something you can’t define and it not existing at all?” To really understand this background might require reading the book on Covid-19 I mentioned in the above paragraph. I don’t know. I haven’t read it yet (though it’s on my reading list). I’ve listened to an interview with Fitts previously, and I get the impression she knows of what she speaks when she talks about people in high-powered positions in our society, and in government, who have done some nefarious things in the past that have had historical consequences. She’s said that she met such people while in government service. She has a sense of knowing how they think, and what they’re capable of. What feels kind of grating is she doesn’t name anybody when she talks about this stuff. So, it’s difficult to tell if she’s talking about real people or events, or if her past experience has spooked her enough that she’s speculating in an unwarranted way. From where I sit, it’s hard to tell. I don’t know her. All I can rely on is my judge of character. She doesn’t strike me as being that paranoid. Though, from what she describes in the interview, she seems to have to check her back from time to time. Anyway, I found this discussion worth listening to as a valid criticism of Desmet’s notion of mass formation.

Some good comments from Alan Kay on goals for improvement in programming systems

This came out of a question about what prompted him to invent object-oriented programming, but he gets into some goals that have not been implemented yet, which sound like good ideas.

The earliest programming was in the forms of the earliest computers: to find resources in memory — usually numbers, or numbers standing for something (like a text character) — and doing something with them: often changing them or making something and putting the results in memory. Control was done by simple instructions that could test and compare, and branch to one part of code or another: often to a part of code that had already been done to create a loop. An instruction not in the hardware could be simulated if there was a way to branch and capture where the branch originated, thus producing the idea of “subroutine” (first used in full glory with a “library” on arguably the first working programmable computer, the EDSAC by Maurice Wilkes at Cambridge, late 40s).

Beginning programming was and is most often taught in this style, and it has been noted that the first programming language and style one learns tends to manifest most deeply throughout the rest of a career. Not a lot has changed 70 years later, partly because many languages started off with this style in mind, and thus the new languages were attempts to make this style more convenient to use (Lisp and APL were different early interesting exceptions).

Another way to look at this is to note that (1) the degrees of freedom of a computer, and of the possible problems to be solved, coupled with the limitations of the human mind, means that anticipating all the tools needed will be essentially impossible. This means that *how to define new things* becomes more and more important, and can start to dominate the “do this, do that” style.

Along with this (2) soon came *systems* — dynamic relationships “larger” than simple programs. Programs are simple systems, but the idea doesn’t scale up very well to deal with qualitatively new properties that arise. Historically, this never quite subsumed “programming” (and the teaching of “programming”). It gave rise to a different group of computerists and did not affect “ordinary programming” very much.

I think it is fair to say today that the majority of programmers reflect this history: most do not regard *definition* as a central part of their job, and most do not exhibit “systems consciousness” in their designs and results.

I think quite a bit of this has to do with the ways programming is taught today (more about this gets even more off topic).

Looking at this, the earliest real “computer scientists” could see that e.g. subroutines were an extension mechanism, but they were weak — for example, to make a new kind of “data structure” was fragile and could not be made a real extension to the language. This led to a search for “extensible languages”.

Other computer scientists could see that “data structures” were not a great idea e.g. sending a data structure somewhere required the receiving programmer to know many details, and the structure itself might not fit well on a different kind of computer. A vanilla data structure was vulnerable to having a field changed by an assignment statement “somewhere” in the code by “somebody”. And so forth.

Most of the programmers were used to the idea of commanding changes to “data”, and so some of the fixes were mechanisms that allowed data structures to be invented and defined: one of the major styles today is “abstract data structures”.

Along with all this were several ideas for dealing with simple smashing of variables (and the essential “variable” that is a data field). This was scattershot and reinvented in different ways. The most prominent way in strong use today is for very large structures: “data bases” that are controlled by the intermediaries of “atomic transactions” and “versioning”, which effective wrap the state with many procedures to ensure that a valid history is kept and relationships between parts of the data base are not violated. Eventually, it was realized that “data” didn’t capture all the important questions that could be asked — for example: “date of birth” could be “data”, but “age of” had to be computed on the fly. This was originally done externally, for some data bases, procedures could be included. (This required a “data base” to eventually be able to do what a whole computer could do — maybe “data” is not the operative idea here, but instead “dynamic relationships relative to time” works better. If so, then the current implementations of “data bases” are poor.

In computer terms, modern data bases” are subsets of the idea of a “server”.

Another line of thought — which goes back before there were workable computers — is that (3) certain easy enough to make computers can simulate any kind of mechanism/computer that can be thought of. This partly led to several landmark early systems such as Sketchpad, and the language SImula.

If you take in the above, and carry to the extreme, its worth noting that only one abstract idea is needed to make anything and everything else: the notion of “computer” itself. Every other kind of thing can — by definition — be represented in terms of a virtual computer. These entities (I’m sorry I used the term “objects” for them) are used like servers, and mimic the behaviors of (literally) any kind) that are desired.

A key point here is that just having practical means for creating objects doesn’t indicate what should be simulated with them. And here is where the actual history has been and continues to be unfortunate. The most use of the idea — still today — has been to simulate old familiar ideas such as procedures and data structures complete with imperative destructive commands to bash state. This again goes back partly to the way programming is still taught, and to the rather high percentage of programmers today who are uncomfortable with design and “meta”.

For example, since “an object” is a completely encapsulated virtual computer, it could be set up to act like a transactional versioned date-base. Or something much better and more useful than that.

Note that most interesting representations of things do “change over time” so something has to be done to deal with this problem. So-called “Functional Programming” has to add features — e.g. “monads” — to allow state to advance “in a more functional way”. This might not be the nicest way to deal with this problem, but something does have to be done.

And note that if you have gotten religious about “FP”, then it is really easy to make a pure FP system and language by using the universal definitional properties of “real objects” (being able to define what you want is the deep main idea!) But before you do, it will be good to ponder in larger terms.

As Bob Barton once remarked “Good ideas don’t often scale” — and neither do most simple programming paradigms. This means that another of the new things that can be built with “objects” — but have to be invented first — are less fragile ways to organize systems.

Along the Barton “qualitative changes” line of hints, one could start contemplating a kind of “request for goals” kind of organization where the semantics of the worlds being dealt with are more richly human and the main center of discourse is about the “whats that are needed” rather than the “hows” that the system ultimately uses.

This was one of the impulses behind some of the HLLs in the 50s and 60s, but the field gave up too early. The original idea behind a “compiler” was to take a “what” and do the work necessary to find and synthesize the “hows” to accomplish the “what”. 60 years ago the “whats” were limited enough to allow compilers to find the “hows”. But the field decided to sit on these and not uplift the “whats” that would require the compilers to do much more work and use more knowledge to synthesize the “hows”. This is another way to miss out on the changes of scaling.

In a “real object language” — with “universal objects” — it should be possible to define new ways to program and define and design any new ideas in computing — I think this is necessary, and that it has to be done “as a language” in order to be graceful enough to be learnable and usable.

Historically and psychologically, *tools* have had a somewhat separate status from what is made with tools (and the people who make tools, and make tools to help make tools, etc. are also somewhat separate from the average maker). But a computer is always also a tool making shop and factory, you don’t have to go to the hardware story to buy a hammer etc. This requires a change in mindset in order to really do computing.

At Xerox Parc in the 70s, we made a “real object language” to walk both sides of the street (a) we wanted to invent and make a whole graphical personal computing system, and (b) we wanted to be able to easily remake the tools we used for this as we learned more. I.e. we wanted to “co-evolve” our ignorance in both areas to reflect our increased understanding. We were motivated both by “beauty” and that we had to go super high level in order to fit our big ideas into the tiny Alto.

This process resulted in five languages, one every two years (thanks to the amazing Dan Ingalls and his colleagues), with one deep qualitative change between the 2nd and 3rd languages. That these languages could be useful “right away” was due to the way they were made (and partly because the languages contained considerable facilities for improving and changing themselves). To make progress on the personal computing parts, the constructs made in the languages had to be extremely high level so that the system could be rewritten and reformulated every few years.

The 5th version of this process was released to the public in the 80s, and to our enormous surprised was not qualitatively improved again, despite that it included the tools and the reflective capabilities to do this. The general programmers used the language as though it came “tight” from a vendor and chose not to delve into even higher level semantics that could help the new problems with the new scalings brought by Moore’s Law. (This was critical because there were somethings we didn’t do at Parc because of the scalings that needed to be done to deal with “10 years later” scalings, etc.)

To answer the current question after the “long wind” here: there are usually enough things “not right enough” in computing to need new inventions to help. Most people try to patch their favorite ways of doing things. A few will try to raise the outlook and come up with new ways to look at things. The deep “object” idea, being one of “universal definition” can be used for both purposes. Using it for the former tends to just put off real trouble a little bit. I think programming is in real trouble, and needs another round of deep rethinking and reinventing. Good results from this will be relatively easy to model using “real objects”.

This is one of a series of “bread crumb” articles I’ve written. To see more like this, go to the Bread Crumbs page.

The sociology of our science

Philosopher Matthew Crawford talked in the interview below about the nature of what science in its technical practice has become, at least in certain fields, which takes it away from its telos. He blames what I’ve heard termed “big science,” because it’s made scientific research big and bureaucratic, requiring the raising of lots of money to build equipment, and to maintain it, so that scientists can push the boundaries of what we know. The problem is the nature of the organization that’s necessary to build this apparatus is political. And so politics is going to be a part of what’s happening with it, while scientists are trying to work within these organizations to carry out their research. It inevitably comes into their research, as part of these organizations, because the power dynamic within them favors the political actors over the search for truth.

What this suggests to me is that “big science” has a point of diminishing returns, where once you reach a tipping point, the endeavor becomes more political than scientific, and so there really isn’t a point in going further in the growth of these particular, ostensibly scientific institutions, because the political focus of the organization just increases as it grows, crowding out the science that it was originally intended to foster.  He also discussed some dynamics that have occurred with the climate issue, specifically, as illustrations of this social effect he was talking about.

Related posts:

The dangerous brew of politics, religion, technology, and the good name of science

Psychic elephants and evolutionary psychology

Reconsidering Darwinian evolution

I liked reading Giving Up Darwin: A fond farewell to a brilliant and beautiful theory, by David Gelernter, because it’s the most thought-provoking article I’ve read in a long time. As I read it, I really wondered if he was going to come out as a believer in Intelligent Design, because he says that theory makes some important points about Darwinian evolution, but that’s not where he goes. He doesn’t reveal this until the end, where he pokes holes in ID, as well. Really what he says is we need a new theory. Some aspects of Darwin’s theory of evolution still hold, but some need reconsideration, because accumulating evidence falsifies them.

I’d think to a scientist, this is an exciting prospect, because it means there’s something significant to discover about the morphogenesis of the species we see in the fossil record.

Edit 2/17/2022: The video below by Anton Petrov illustrates what Gelernter was talking about, that evolution is not completely random. This is being called genetic bias. What some molecular biologists who studied this found is that genetic bias is due to certain essential genes being protected more robustly by DNA repair mechanisms than others. They are also possibly protected by proteins.

Petrov makes an interesting point that since “living fossils” have been found, organisms that were once thought extinct, this means that evolution for some organisms stopped millions of years ago. They have so much protection against mutation that they change very little, or not at all over eons.

In another example, he talked about how a genetic bias has been found for mutation in the HbS protein in people in a large part of the African continent, and some parts of southern Europe, that either protects people against malaria, or produces sickle cell anemia. The European region for this is interesting, because the people there are not in danger of getting malaria. Yet, some of them still have this mutation.

This bias is only evident in populations that call these regions home, for some reason. It’s not evenly distributed in populations across the world. This seems to suggest an environmental pressure on this bias, but that hasn’t been determined yet.