Friday, October 24, 2008

L/C Minds and Temper

Since none of you seem to be interested in writing an article about our method of L/C analysis, I'm doing the job myself. Here's a draft of the introduction. In writing this I realized that there is an analogy that I have difficulty working out. I would appreciate contributions.


The logic behind the L/C method of analysis is based upon the following principles.
1. Fallibility is common.
2. Roughly half the population have L-minds. Roughly half have C-minds.
3. Each half thinks that the other is irrational with respect to the issues that divide them.
4. Both halves are wrong about the other's rationality.
5. Analysis of the situation requires the participation of both C-minds and L-minds and must be non-partisan and non-confrontational.
6. Any consensus concerning the nature of L-minds and C-minds requires symmetrical dichotomy and neutral language.


As a thinking machine, the human brain leaves a lot to be desired. Living is about making decisions, most of them evolved from binary choices or can be converted to binary choices. Do I go left or right? Do I eat this plant or not? Do I release my arrow now or do I wait for a better shot? We seem to have evolved special mechanisms for making this type of survival related decision. Those mechanisms often get in the way of more complex thinking. In fact, I propose to you that what we call thinking is only an artifact of our primitive decision making skills, thereby creating the illusion that we can reason accurately. Our ability is so faulty that large fractions of the population, given the same facts about a situation will still come to quite different conclusions as to what to decide. That's why in almost every public policy issue which ultimately comes down to voting yea or nay, the population will split very roughly in half, and each half will think the other is mad. The train of decision making starts with faulty perception, proceeds to erroneous communication, a distorted problem statement not to mention bad modeling, optimization and implementation.

L-Minds and C-Minds

Not only does the population split roughly evenly on almost all issues requiring thought, the same people will group together resulting in the establishment of political parties and ideologies. For the most part, we will assume that the L-Minds and C-Minds are hard wired that way. This is not to say that sufficient propaganda, self-interest and concerted effort cannot cause C-minds to behave like L-Minds and vice-versa. Modern L-minds and C-minds can be discerned through the use of a series of questions concerning public policy and personal responsibility issues.

If you grant the above, then our task is to determine a truth using two instruments both of which have a distorted output. In science, the usual way to accomplish this is calibration against a standard for which the ground truth is known. However, in this case the truth is unknown, so what do we do?

An analogy is in the use of thermometers. Temperature is odd in that it isn't a quantity but rather a ranking. It's like the pecking order ranking in a yard full of chickens. We can observe that a chicken is "higher" than another by the fact that it can peck the other chicken on the head, but how much higher is not possible to tell. Physical measurements on a single isolated chicken will not tell us it's rank in the pecking order. We might keep a barnyard full of chickens and see where a new arbitrary bird fits in the pecking order. Similarly, temperature is a rank measurement. To determine an arbitrary body's rank we must bring it in contact with another body in order to see whether or not heat flows to one or the other. Then we can say that one body has a higher "temper" than the other. When no heat flow occurs the two are said to have the same temper. A thermometer is a device we can use for such testing. In the most fundamental sense, we should have a storage place where we keep a large number of standard bodies (or thermometers) maintained at different tempers. Every time we wish to measure the temperature of an arbitrary body, we should take the thermometers out of storage and test which one of them fails to transfer heat to or from the body under investigation. They are then at equilibrium and can be said to have the same temper. The standard thermometers can be assigned any symbol you like so that we can compare temperatures of a body under investigation. Fortunately, in the real world we can save on storage facilities by the use of a single thermometer and secondary measurable properties like expansion, voltage, resistance, etc.) However that doesn't change the arbitrary nature of a temperature scale.

Now let's connect the temperature analogy to L-Minds and C-Minds. Two popular arbitrary temperature scales are the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales. When examining the temperature of something each yields a different number. Suppose there are two people who have grown up using these scales. On a balmy spring day one might say that it's 20 degrees while the other says it's 72 degrees. They disagree about the numerical value of the temper, although they're both correct. However, we aren't concerned with the number as such. Rather we are concerned with the subtile influence the numbers may have on their opinions about the weather or room conditions. For instance, the celsius scale has coarser degrees. A child brought up using celsius might have a coarser perception of temperature than a child brought up using Fahrenheit. In other words, the children senses are calibrated against two different scales and learn to express two different verbal reactions to temperature change. The Fahrenheit calibrated child might say the temperature has changed a lot, while the Celsius child says the temperature has changed very little. (In fact, psychologists find this kind of difference occurs when preparing survey questions about estimates of distances.) Each is sure they are right and believes there must be something wrong with the other's perception.

I'm not at all satisfied with this analogy. Can anyone help?

With respect -Joel

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Carbon Tax" a Loser (Too Bad)

One key issue in the Canadian parliamentary elections this week was the Liberal Party leader, St├ęphane Dion's newfound support for a "carbon tax".

This is a shift for Dion. Previously, only Canada's Green Party supported that type of tax.

Election results indicate the "carbon tax" is a loser. The Conservatives gained 16 seats and the Liberals lost 19. The Conservatives still lack an absolute majority, holding 143 seats to the Liberals 76, with 89 in the hands of three minority parties, the Quebec separatists (50), the New Democrats (37), and the Independents (2). The Greens have zero seats.

As readers of this Blog know I favor a punitive tax on burning of sequestered carbon (oil, gas, coal) as a way to encourage development of nuclear energy and renewable energy (water, wind, biofuels, ...).

All energy used on Earth (with the exception of nuclear) is originally from the Sun.

Some of this energy was delivered to the Earth from the Sun eons ago and was sequestered in the form of carbon and hydrocarbons found in underground deposits of oil, gas, and coal. That carbon was removed from the Earth's atmosphere and, until the industrial age, remained there.

We are now burning increasing amounts of sequestered carbon to energize our mechanized civilization. It is spewing into the atmosphere in the form of man-made carbon dioxide, a "greenhouse gas". Increased levels of carbon dioxide have been detected and are certainly responsible for some percentage of the rise in worldwide temperatures. (The majority of the temperature rise is probably due to Sun and Earth-orbit effects that are beyond our control, but we can control some of the "greenhouse" effects of release of sequestered carbon.)

Nuclear energy is carbon-neutral, and it should be used to reduce cabon emissions, but it is, ultimately, non-renewable.

Until earlier this year, sequestered carbon energy from oil, gas, and coal was considerably less expensive than alternative fuels, which discouraged development of more wind, solar, nuclear, and other sources. The recent spike in oil prices altered that equation, and, as energy prices skyrocketed, many people changed their driving habits and gasoline usage dropped a bit. Interest in alternative energy sources increased.

However, the recent worldwide economic downturn has driven oil prices from about $140/barrel back down to about $70/barrel, half their peak levels. If they remain at these low levels, development of alternate energy will be endangered.

We need to reduce our dependence on sequestered carbon, a non-renewable resource. We must instead power our civilization with the renewable energy that arrives daily from the Sun. As you know, hydroelectric energy is driven by the Sun, which evaporates water from the sea and delivers it as rain that drives our rivers. The Sun also powers the weather, which causes winds that we can capture with wind turbines. Biofuels (including corn and sugarcane-based ethanol) are also powered by the Sun. When we burn biofuels we do release carbon into the atmosphere, but it is carbon that was recently removed from the atmosphere when the crops were grown. As a long-term goal, we may be able to grow crops and then bury them as a way to re-sequester carbon out of the atmosphere.

There are two ways the government can encourage alternative energy. The first is to subsidize it and the second is to punitively tax sequestered carbon as a way to make alternative energy relatively less expensive and allow market forces to do their magic. I favor the second approach. An added benefit of a punitive tax on sequestered carbon is that it will increase the rewards for energy conservation.

According to Wikipedia

The intention of a carbon tax is environmental: to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and thereby slow climate change. It can be implemented by taxing the burning of fossil fuels — coal, petroleum products such as gasoline and aviation fuel, and natural gas — in proportion to their carbon content. Unlike other approaches such as carbon cap-and-trade systems, direct taxation has the benefit of being easily understood and can be popular with the public if the revenue from the tax is returned by reducing other taxes.
As a C-mind, I find it somewhat distressing that my support of a punitive "carbon tax" puts me with the Green Party and Liberal Party of Canada, and other L-minds like President Bill Clinton, and Senators Al Gore and John Kerry. However, Wikipedia notes:

A carbon tax is an indirect tax — a tax on a transaction — as opposed to a direct tax, which taxes income. As a result, some American conservatives have supported such a carbon tax because it taxes at a fixed rate, independent of income, which complements their support of a flat tax.[2]
Prices of carbon (fossil) fuels are expected to continue increasing as more countries industrialize and add to the demand on fuel supplies. In addition to creating incentives for energy conservation, a carbon tax would put renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal on a more competitive footing, stimulating their growth. Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker suggested (February 6, 2007) that "it would be wiser to impose a tax on oil, for example, than to wait for the market to drive up oil prices."[3]

Ira Glickstein